The Kaiping Diaolou (simplified Chinese: 开平碉楼; traditional Chinese: 開平碉樓; pinyin: kāipíngdiāolóu, watchtowers) are fortified multi-storey towers, generally made of reinforced concrete. These towers are located mainly in Kaiping County, Guangdong province, China. Kaiping together with its neighbouring counties of Enping, Taishan and Xinhui are collectively known as the "Four counties" (it was from the four counties that many of the Chinese labourers to North America, Australia, and Southeast Asia originated from).
The first towers were built during the early Qing Dynasty, reaching a peak in the 1920s and 1930s, when there were more than three thousand of these structures. Today, approximately 1,833 diaolou remain standing in Kaiping, and approximately 500 in Taishan. Although the diaolou served mainly as protection against forays by bandits, a few of them also served as living quarters.
Kaiping has traditionally been a region of major emigration abroad, and a melting pot of ideas and trends brought back by overseas Chinese. As a result, many diaolou incorporate architectural features from China and from the West. The towers built in the beginning of the 20th century were mainly paid from money, of chinese abroad in North America. Some of the structures were never claimed by their investors.
In 2007, UNESCO named the Kaiping Diaolou and Villages (开平碉楼与村落) in China as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO wrote, "...the Diaolou ... display a complex and flamboyant fusion of Chinese and Western structural and decorative forms. They reflect the significant role of émigré Kaiping people in the development of several countries in South Asia, Australasia, and North America, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the close links between overseas Kaiping and their ancestral homes. The property inscribed here consists of four groups of Diaolou, totaling some 1,800 tower houses in their village settings."