Dong Ethnic Performance

 

From dusk till dawn, the villages of the Dong people are saturated with the harmonious sound of singing. This ethnic group has become famous throughout China for polyphonic folk songs known as “Dage” or Grand Songs. While some of these folk songs are accompanied by the pipa[1], most are sung without any musical accompaniment. The Dong ethnic minority have no written language, so they use folk songs to narrate their daily life, express their feelings, and keep a record of their history. All of Dong culture is preserved in these magnificent folk songs. The more songs a Dong person knows, the better educated they are considered to be. Singing is so important to the Dong people that supposedly, in the past, if a man couldn’t sing then he would struggle to find a wife!

From the age of five, children in the village will be trained by one of the accomplished local singers free of charge. These singing teachers enjoy a special status as highly revered members of the community. In short, people are always singing their praises! Depending on age and gender, villagers are separated into different choirs, and each choir is distinguished by their particular style of singing and the topics of their songs. For example, choirs of young children will sound sweet and lively, while choirs of young girls sound innocent and full of passion, and choirs of men have a depth to their voices that sounds haunting and powerful. Female choirs incorporate sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, and contraltos, and male choirs are comprised of countertenors, tenors, baritones, and basses.

The most talented singers in any Dong village make up what are called Kam Grand Choirs or Kgal Laox in the native Dong language. The Kam Grand Choir tradition is thought to have originated sometime during the Warring States Period (475BC-221 BC), making it over 2,500 years old! In 2009, it was made a World Class Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. A Kam Grand Choir is a polyphonic choir that sings without the help of a conductor or any accompanying orchestra. Most songs performed by these choirs consist of a prelude, a main body made up of several sections, and an ending.

These songs are designed to imitate the natural world, such as the chirping of insects, the gurgling of streams, the whistling of the wind, and other soothing natural sounds. The singing is meant to spur the soul and originate from the heart, while simultaneously promoting harmony between mankind and nature. The solo singing will be done by the sopranos and the bass section is sung by the rest of the choir. Depending on the style of song, the soprano section will be performed by between one and three individuals.

There are Male Choirs, Female Choirs, and Child Choirs, and each of these is further separated into four main categories based on their styles, melodies, and the content of their songs. In the Dong dialect, these four categories are called Gating, Gama, Gaxiang, and Gaji. Gating or “Choirs of Sound” perform songs that are characterised by an undulating melody and short lyrics, employing the use of several sopranos. This style of song is dedicated almost entirely to imitating the sounds of the natural world, with the famed “Cicada Song” being the finest example. Gama or “Romance Choirs” perform songs revolving around the theme of love and employ slow rhythms and soft voices to heighten their effect.

Gaxiang or “Morality Choirs” perform songs that are designed to educate, advise, or console the audience by praising virtues and condemning inappropriate behaviour. These songs have an even tune in order to draw focus to their lyrics. Finally, Gaji or “Narrative Choirs” perform songs that focus on dialogue and plot, and are characterised by slow, melancholy, or soothing tunes. The Gaji songs are some of the hardest to perform, as they require the performers to remember lengthy lyrics, complicated plots, and various key facial expressions. Usually these songs will be led by only one soprano.

Many folktales are preserved in Dong oral literature, usually in the form of songs. The focus of many popular tales re-count the leaders of past uprisings, such as Wu Mian, who led the 1378 rebellion against the Ming Dynasty during drought and famine, and Wu Jinyin, who revolted in 1740 because of a rise in grain taxes. Non-historical folktales include the two orphan brothers, Ding Lang and the dragon princess, the frog and the swallow, the dog, and the singing tree.

The best time to enjoy the singing of the Dong people is during their New Year festival, which is normally sometime between late October and early November every year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. The New Year celebrations are resplendent with lively singing competitions, joyous folk dances, and vibrant performances that are truly magnificent to behold.

 

[1] Pipa: A four-stringed plucking instrument that has a pear-shaped wooden body and anywhere from 12 to 26 frets. It is sometimes referred to as the Chinese lute.

 

Join a travel with us to enjoy the Performance of Dong Ethnic Minority:  Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Cost of Guizhou Tour

Cost pp:  £1950

Including: 11 nights of accommodation; all entrance fees to the attractions; all meals during the 9 days spent in the mountainous region of southeastern Guizhou; all transportation costs during designated tour times; the services of an English speaking guide; a pdf file with information about Dong and Miao minorities, and the destinations we will visit; help with any further travel in China following the tour.

Single sup:£2350

Please Note: the cost is based on the subscription of no less than 4 participants; the maximum number of participants being 10.

Accommodation: We will stay in 4-Star, 3-Star and local Guesthouses, as specified in the itinerary.

Note: There might not be en-suite bathrooms in the Diaojiaolou Guesthouse because of its design. In this instance, all rooms will have shared toilets and bathrooms.

Food: We will provide 3 meals per day, consisting of local Chinese food, when staying in the mountainous region of southeastern Guizhou. Our guide can help you order food while we are in Guilin.

Transportation: Mini coach

Duration: 12 days and 11 nights

 

Itinerary of Guizhou Tour

Day 1:

Arrive at Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province. We will arrange our meeting time according to everyone’s flights.

As the landmark of Guiyang City, Jiaxiu Tower is a traditional Chinese style building built in 1598, during the Ming Dynasty.

We will visit Jiaxiu Tower in the late afternoon and then we will have dinner nearby. After dinner, you can enjoy the view of the tower at night. You may get to see some local people setting off Chinese lanterns in the square. There’s also the opportunity to walk around and get a feel for local life in a typical Chinese city. Read more about Guiyang.

Accommodation: Four-star hotel.

Note: We can meet at the airport or the hotel. If your flight is in the late evening or the night, you may feel too tired to join us, so you can miss the dinner and go to the hotel directly if you wish.

Day 2:

Travel to Xijiang from Guiyang

Xijiang nightIt will take us 3 hours from Guiyang to Kaili, where we can stop and have  lunch. After that, it will take us about 1 hour to get to the village of Xijiang.

After a guided tour around the village, we may still have some time to explore the village freely before we have dinner.

Accommodation: Diaojiaolou Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Xijiang Miao Cuisine

Day 3

Xijiang Miao Village

Xijiang lifeWe will watch a traditional performance by the Miao people in the morning. After lunch, our guide will organise a hike up the nearby South Hill so we can enjoy a panoramic view of the whole village. Once we’re finished with the hike, everyone is free to enjoy exploring the village at their leisure.

We will go to Langde Upper Miao Village in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: Diaojiaolou Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Langde Miao Cuisine

Day 4

Langde Upper Miao Village

langde01After we’ve taken our guided tour and watched the traditional performance in the centre of the village, you are free to explore the village by yourself or stay with our guide and do some shopping. This would be the ideal opportunity to pick up a few souvenirs related to the Miao ethnic minority, including their jewelry and even their traditional clothes! There are many small shops for you to choose from, but you may need an interpreter to help you translate.

In the afternoon, we will go to the town of Rongjiang.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Rongjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Day 5

Sanbao Dong Village

Sanbao is a typical Dong ethnic minority village lying on the Duliu River Bank. In the morning, we will take a short hike along the river bank. In the afternoon, we will go to the town of Congjiang.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Congjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Basha haircuttingDay 6 

The Dong Village of Yintan and the Miao Village of Basha

In the morning, while it is still beautifully quiet, we will visit the isolated village of Yintan, and then return to Congjiang for lunch.

The afternoon in Basha will be a stark contrast, as the rowdy rifle displays and music performances we will enjoy are bound to be quite noisy!

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Congjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Day 7

xiaohuang dong villageXiaohuang Dong Village

It is time to enjoy the incredible performance of the Dong people’s Kam Grand Choirs! Let’s do it in Xiaohuang, the celebrated “Village of Songs”.

In the late afternoon, we will travel to the village of Zhaoxing.

Accommodation: Zhaoxing Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Zhaoxing Dong Cuisine

Day 8

Zhaoxing Dong Village

zhaoxing01We will dedicate this entire day to exploring this beautiful Dong village. In particular, the five marvelous Drum Towers are an attraction not to be missed!

In the evening, we will have  a second chance to watch a traditional Dong performance in Zhaoxing.  Their performance will be noticeably different from the one we will have seen in Xiaohuang.

Accommodation: Zhaoxing Guesthouse.

Dinner: Traditional Zhaoxing Dong Cuisine

Day 9

The famous Wind-Rain Bridge of Chengyang Dong Village.

In the morning, we will go to Chengyang, which is home to the most beautiful Wind-Rain Bridge of all the Dong villages in China.

This is the last Dong village we will visit, so please feel free to explore at your own pace and soak up the atmosphere.

Accommodation: Well-equipped hotel in Chengyang.

Dinner: Traditional Chengyang Dong Cuisine

Day 10

Guizhou moutainous villageTravel to Guilin

Guilin is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, places in China according to many tourists. It will take us 3 hours to get there, but fortunately we will get to enjoy stunning views of the mountains along the way.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Guilin

Dinner: Not included. Guests are free to explore the area and sample the local food themselves.

Day 11

Boat tour through the Karst mountains

Guilin 03The Li River, also known as Lijiang, is probably the most famous scenic spot in all of Guangxi. It is so prominent that a tableau of the Li River is featured on the Chinese 20 Yuan note. The river is surrounded by Karst Mountains, which boast such unusual shapes and verdant greenery that they have an almost mythical appearance.

We will take a bamboo raft down the Li River to experience the majesty of the Karst Mountains first hand. We will also stop to explore a natural Karst cave.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Guilin

Dinner: Traditional Guangxi-style cuisine

Day 12

Once the tour has ended, you are free to head home or continue your travels in China alone. Guilin has an airport, from which you can easily fly to large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou.

If you plan on continuing your exploration of Guangxi, we strongly recommend you visit the town of Yangshuo. Resting on the Li River and surrounded by the Karst Mountains, this backpacker’s paradise is the ideal place to relax and meet a few fellow foreign travelers.

 

Highlights of Guizhou Tour

Xijiang Miao Village

xijiang01

Nestled on the northern side of Leigong Hill, surrounded by mountains covered in rich greenery and split in half by the fiercely beautiful Baishui or White Water River, Xijiang prides itself on being the largest Miao village in China, and perhaps the largest Miao village in the world. It is actually made up of a cluster of Miao villages, so it is more like a township than a village proper.

The Diaojiaolou, a kind of stilted wooden dwelling built by the Miao people, stretch up the hillsides on either side of the river. The banks of the river are connected by vast numbers of stunning Wind-Rain bridges, which look like tiny palaces hovering over the rushing water…Read more about Xijiang.

 

Langde Upper Village

langde02

There are only 500 villagers living in Langde Upper Village and all of them come from only ten different family lines. The village has become like a museum, preserving ancient buildings and local customs that have been practised by the Miao for hundreds of years.

The village rests by a stream and is nestled deep within the mountains. There are five “flower roads” that lead into the village and three wooden gatehouses, or village gates, at the northern, western and eastern entrances to the village. These roads are paved with smooth blue flagstones or rippling cobblestones that, alongside the looming stilted houses, look incredibly picturesque…Read more about Langde Upper Village.

 

Basha Miao Village

basha04

Basha is a village unlike any other in China. It is home to members of the Miao ethnic minority but it is unique amongst all other Miao communities. This is because it is the only place in China where residents are still legally allowed to own and carry guns. When the Chinese government tried to confiscate the guns from the members of Basha village, they refused and it was decided that they should be allowed to keep their rifles as part of their rich cultural heritage. To this day, visitors are welcomed with a thrilling display of expert shooting by the local men.

Due to their cautious nature, the villagers have virtually isolated themselves from the outside world. They are almost completely self-sufficient and still maintain practices and customs that date back hundreds of years…Read more about Basha.

 

Xiaohuang Dong Village

xiaohuang village

Xiaohuang is often referred to as the Village of Songs because the Dong people in this village are particularly accomplished at performing polyphonic folk songs known as “Dage” or Grand Songs. In 1996 the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China bestowed the title “the Village of China Folk Art” on Xiaohuang because of its preservation of the Dong singing tradition. Over one third of the population of Xiaohuang is made up of professional folk singers. While some folk songs are accompanied by the pipa[1], most are sung without any musical accompaniment…Read more about Xiaohuang.

 

Zhaoxing Dong Village

Zhaoxing01

Zhaoxing is one of the most famous Dong villages in China, in part due to its size but predominantly due to the fact that it has five Drum Towers. Each tower is specially named in order to promote a certain virtue, and is different in terms of its method of construction, size, height and external appearance.

According to local legend, this village was supposedly founded during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), meaning the village ancestors settled there over 840 years ago…Read more about Zhaoxing.

 

Yintan Dong Village

drum tower yintan

Obscured by misty mountains and dense green forests, Yintan is a gem largely hidden from the rest of the world. The gate is flanked by ancient Chinese yew trees, which give the village an air of mysticism as you enter. Even the name “Yintan”, meaning “Small Silver Lake”, has a certain ethereal quality to it.

Almost every household in the village has a barrel for preparing indigo dye and almost every piece of clothing worn by the locals will have been made entirely by them…Read more about Yintan.

 

Sanbao Dong Village

sanbao01

There are actually about 19 small villages that make up Sanbao, with three main villages, making it the largest Dong village in China. This cluster of villages lies along the banks of the Duliu River and is flanked by stunning banyan trees, which stretch for over a kilometre along the river’s banks. Many of them are over 300 years old!

Aside from these marvellous natural wonders, Sanbao is resplendent with stunning architecture, including a series of drum towers that have earned it accolade over the years. The magnificent Chezhai Drum Tower was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and it has remained undamaged for over 130 years, in spite of having been built without the use of nails or rivets…Read more about Sanbao.

 

Chengyang Dong Village

Chengyang Wind-Rain bridge

The main draw to this scenic area is Chengyang Wind-Rain Bridge, which was built in 1912 and is now over 100 years old. Though there are hundreds of wind-rain bridges in the area, this one is considered the most magnificent. It is also known as Yongji or Panlong Bridge and is made up of 2 platforms, 3 piers, 5 pavilions, 19 verandas, and 3 floors, giving it the appearance more of a palace than a bridge! Read more about Chengyang.

 

Guilin Karst Mountains

Guilin 05

In China, there is a popular saying which goes “the scenery in Guilin is the greatest under heaven” (桂林山水甲天下). The lush Karst Mountains, blossoming osmanthus trees, and majestic Li River combine to make an ethereal paradise. It is no wonder that, historically, people doubted its existence! Read more about Guilin.

 

Miao Ethnic Performance

Miao performance

Performances in Miao villages will always be set to music and, when it comes to the Miao people, the lusheng[2] is the instrument of choice, although other instruments like the suona[3] and the copper drum are also popular…Read more about Miao Performance.

 

Dong Ethnic Performance

Kam Grand Choir 01

The most talented singers in any Dong village make up what are called Kam Grand Choirs. The Kam Grand Choir tradition is thought to date back all the way to the Warring States Period (475BC-221 B.C.), with a history of over 2,500 years behind it. In 2009, it was made a World Class Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

A Kam Grand Choir is a polyphonic choir that sings without the help of a conductor or any accompanying orchestra. Their songs are designed to imitate the natural world, such as the chirping of insects, the gurgling of streams, the whistling of the wind and other soothing natural sounds.

 

Diaojiaolou 

guizhou diaojiaolou

Diaojiaolou is a kind of dwelling popular among several of the ethnic minority communities throughout southern China. The word “diaojiao” (吊脚) in Chinese means “hanging feet” and “lou” (楼) means “building”, so diaojiaolou literally means “hanging feet building”. They are so named because of their unusual appearance. The history of the diaojiaolou stretches back over 500 years and they are widespread throughout Yunnan, Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Hubei, and Sichuan province, but differ in appearance depending on the ethnic group who built them. During our tour, we will have the opportunity to compare the Dong-style diaojiaolou with the Miao-style diaojiaolou…Read more about Diaojiaolou.

 

Jiaxiu Tower

Jiaxiu Lou

Jiaxiu Tower has long been the symbol of Guiyang, the provincial capital of Guizhou, and yet it appears to suffer from rather mixed luck. On the one hand, the tower was supposedly responsible for the success of three Guizhou scholars in the imperial examination. On the other hand, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt six times. It is sometimes referred to as First Scholar’s Tower because the term “jiaxiu” can be interpreted to mean “first scholar” or “to come first in the imperial examinations” and the tower was initially built to encourage local scholars to study hard and perform well. While it seems it managed to achieve its aim, evidently whatever good luck the building had went to the scholars and left it with none for itself! Read more about Jiaxin Tower.

 

[1] Pipa: A four-stringed plucking instrument that has a pear-shaped wooden body and anywhere from 12 to 26 frets. It is sometimes referred to as the Chinese lute.

[2] Lusheng: A wind instrument made of multiple bamboo pipes, each fitted with a free reed, that are all in turn fitted into a large, hardwood pipe. Normally there are five or six bamboo pipes that are each of a different pitch. Air is blown into the hardwood pipe to create sound. They vary in size from small, handheld ones to ones that are several metres in length.

[3] Suona: A Chinese wind instrument. It is made up of a horn with a double reed that makes a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound. It comes in several sizes and the size of the horn affects the sound it makes. It is used throughout China in ritual music and folk music.

Miao Spiritual Beliefs

miao Spiritual BeliefsSpiritually speaking, the Miao people are great believers in animism and shamanism. Animism is the spiritual belief that non-human entities, such as animals, plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomena, possess a spiritual essence while shamanism is the belief that certain people, known as shamans, can interact with the spirit world in a meaningful way. Some villages will have shamans whose main purpose is to exorcise evil spirits or recall the soul of a sick person. The Miao also practice ancestor worship and believe in a wide variety of spirits. Animal sacrifice is also widespread throughout many Miao communities.

 

Join a travel with us to discover the Culture of Miao Ethnic Minority:  Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Miao Customs

Receiving Guests

miao minoroty 01Etiquette is incredibly important to the Miao people and certain customs must be adhered to, particularly when it comes to welcoming guests. Guests who have travelled a long way are given what is called “horn spirit”, which is a locally distilled alcoholic spirit that is specifically reserved for special occasions. If you visit any of the larger Miao villages, such as Xijiang, during national holidays or festivals, then you’ll be treated to this ceremony and be invited to try the “horn spirit”. Traditionally Miao people will receive any esteemed guest by slaughtering one of their chickens for the guest to eat. This is followed by a custom known as the poultry ceremony.

In this ceremony, a chicken is killed, cooked and distributed in a specific way. The head is given to the eldest person in attendance and the leg is given to the youngest. The heart is then presented to the guest of honour by a senior member of the host family, who holds it delicately in their chopsticks. The guest must then share the heart with the person who presented it to them. This gesture illustrates how many of the Miao customs have been developed with the aim of bringing Miao communities and clans together. It is important to note that, unlike in Han Chinese culture, it is considered very insulting to overeat in a Miao household if you are a guest. It is better to excuse yourself from eating when you are full, rather than trying to eat too much.

Family Reunions

When a married woman returns to her parent’s home to visit or when other family members come to visit, they will carry a chicken, about 2 to 3 litres of glutinous rice, a large piece of salted or fresh meat and a fish. These gifts are often simply referred to as a “mixed bundle”. When the guests arrive, the host family will call upon all of the cousins, paternal family members and members of the village to unwrap the bundle. They will all drink liquor and have dinner together. The dinner will be made up of the delicacies that the guests have brought and the glutinous rice will be shared with all of the members of the village.

miao dinnerOn the second day through to the third or fourth day, the families who shared the food that the guests brought should in turn invite the guests to their house to eat. The guests will normally visit between four to five families per day, but will always have dinner at the host’s house. This custom is called “disturbing the village” and has been practised since ancient times. It is an important ritual for improving bonds between distant members of the family.

When the guests leave, the host family and anyone who shared the food they had brought should send gifts to them. After the guests have left, the host family will leave their door open until the guests are long gone, in order to show the guests that they are always welcome to come again. As the guests leave the village, the host will see them off. Traditionally the host must lead them along the main road instead of a smaller path, which symbolically means they are wishing their guests a safe journey home. When a guest of significant importance leaves, all of the paternal family members and villagers will see them off. The women will adorn their shoulders with colourful cloths to express good will and the guest should wear these cloths until they get home out of politeness. The women will then propose toasts to the guest and sing what are called “flying songs”, or seeing off songs, loudly and clearly. The guest will then respond with their own song before departing.

 

Join a travel with us to discover the Culture of Miao Ethnic Minority:  Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Yintan

yintan 01

Obscured by misty mountains and dense green forests, Yintan is a gem largely hidden from the rest of the world. This small Dong village just 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Congjiang City is home to 1,700 people in 354 households and, isolated as it is, has harboured traditional Dong culture for generations. The gate is flanked by ancient Chinese yew trees, which give the village an air of mysticism as you enter. Even the name “Yintan” (银潭), meaning “Small Silver Lake”, has a certain ethereal quality to it.

Since it is so remote and has not yet been geared up for tourism, visitors rarely venture to Yintan and this only adds to its undeniably charm. While in the more popular Dong villages you’ll find yourself regularly rubbing elbows with other tourists, in Yintan the peaceful atmosphere means you can truly relax and enjoy traditional Dong culture.

The village is home to numerous Diaojiaolou, or wooden houses suspended on stilts, which climb up the mountain and mingle seamlessly with the natural scenery. These stilted dwellings are punctuated by three magnificent drum towers, which were all built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) but are of different styles. Though their paint may have faded and their wood may be chipped, watching the sun set behind these towering edifices on a balmy summer’s evening is still just as breath-taking.

yintanYintan has also managed to maintain a few ancient opera stages, where performances of all kinds take place. From hearty dancing to piercing opera, the village locals really know how to enjoy the simple things in life! Unlike many other Dong communities, where youths only don their traditional outfits on festival occasions, almost all of the villagers in Yintan regularly wear their characteristic indigo-coloured clothes all year round. These clothes are handmade using the ancient tradition of cloth weaving and dyeing, which was passed on to them by their ancestors.

Almost every household in the village has a barrel for preparing indigo dye and almost every piece of clothing worn by the locals will have been made entirely by them. If you happen to be passing through Yintan on a hot summer’s day, you may even notice the freshly dyed clothes hanging from the balconies. Just don’t stand under them, or you’ll end up with indigo hair!

 

Join our travel to visit the tranquil Yintan Village: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Sanbao Dong Village

sanbao

Long ago, it is said that there was once a huge lake in Rongjiang County, with three rivers running into it. In each river there lived a dragon and, every so often, the dragons would gather in the lake to play. One year, there was a thunderous monsoon that rained for nine days and nine nights, raising the water level of the rivers and disturbing the three dragons. The thunder became louder and louder, until eventually one deafening crash scared the three dragons so much that they all swam into the South China Sea, leaving behind only three precious treasures. When the Dong people’s ancestors arrived, they found each of the treasures and settled three villages there, as it seemed like an auspicious location. The three villages then came to be known collectively as “Sanbao” or “The Three Treasures”.

Magical though this story may seem, there are actually about 19 small villages that make up Sanbao, with three main villages, known as Shangbao, Zhongbao, and Xiabao, being acknowledged as the treasures. When you live in a place called “The Three Treasures” and your village isn’t one of them, I can’t imagine it does much for your confidence! Overall Sanbao boasts about 2,500 households and a population of over 13,000 people, making it the largest Dong village in China. So, unless you’ve seen any Dong villages sprouting up near you lately, this means it’s probably the largest Dong village in the world.

Duliu River SanbaoThis cluster of villages is just 5 kilometres from Rongjiang City and lies along the banks of the Duliu River. Sanbao is flanked by stunning banyan trees, many of them over 300 years old, which stretch for over a kilometre along the river’s banks. Most of them were planted during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and, after hundreds of years of uninterrupted growth, their roots and branches have intertwined lovingly. A cobbled path winds its way around these banyan trees, dubbed “Flower Street” by the locals, and at the end stands a statue of a man named Zhu Feng and a woman named Lang Mei, the veritable Romeo and Juliet of Dong folklore. When even the trees are embracing, you know that love is in the air!

Aside from these marvellous natural wonders, Sanbao is resplendent with stunning architecture, including a series of drum towers that have earned it accolade over the years. The magnificent Chezhai Drum Tower was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and it has remained undamaged for over 130 years, in spite of having been built without the use of nails or rivets. It towers in at 15 metres (50 ft.) in height but is tragically no match for the village’s local behemoth! The Sanbao Drum Tower, which was built in 2001, is over 36 metres (118 ft.) tall and holds the Guinness World Record for largest drum tower in the world. Though it’s not physically as large, this makes it taller than Buckingham Palace!

Alongside these spectacular architectural achievements, the village also boasts nine temples dedicated to the goddess Sa Sui. She is one of the most important deities in the Dong canon and her temples serve as perfect examples of the elegance and decorative quality of Dong architecture. In a place this scenic, you’ll soon realise why they named it “The Three Treasures”. Let’s just hope the dragons don’t decide to come back!

 

Join our travel to enjoy the fantastic Dong performance in Sanbao Village: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Kaili

 kaili guizhou china

Kaili is often referred to as the “City of Festivals”, but don’t confuse it with Reading or Leeds; you won’t find any of the hottest musical acts here! Every year the villages surrounding the city play host to over 120 festivals, from the Miao people’s romantically charged Sister’s Meal Festival to the blazing Torch Festival of the Yi people. In fact, almost every day there’s a party somewhere in Kaili County!

The city itself is about 190 kilometres from Guizhou’s capital of Guiyang and has a population of only about 500,000 people. An approximate 75% of this population is made up of ethnic minorities, including the Bai, Dai, Dong, Miao, Yi, Zhuang, Naxi, and Hani people. So if you thought that London was culturally diverse, imagine a small city with 48 different ethnic groups!

Kaili is an industrial city and, as such, it represents a bizarre mixture of architecture, from characteristically Chinese homes built during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties to the now ubiquitous concrete high-rises. Yet the greatest throwback to ancient culture can be found on Kaili’s small market streets, where Sunday bazaars take place like clockwork every week. This bustling market sprawl offers anything and everything, from locally grown produce and handmade craftworks to discount washing machines and the odd basket of chickens!

酸汤鱼Thanks to the plethora of local farming villages that surround Kaili, the cuisine there is incredibly fresh and has been heavily influenced by the resident ethnic minorities. Spicy and sour flavours are employed to give their specialities an added tang and signature dishes include the Miao hotpot known as Sour Soup Fish and a Dong delicacy known as Pickled Fish. From the glorious traditional costumes and tantalising treats to the vibrant festivals and hand-woven crafts, Kaili is a city defined by its ethnic minority population.

The Kaili Folk Museum is entirely dedicated to these ethnic minorities, with exhibitions displaying their costumes, handicrafts, paintings, and architecture, as well as information about their history, culture, customs, and festivals. Like a colourful patchwork quilt, this museum brings together all of the elements that help to make Kaili, and Guizhou, so special.

Kaili’s superlative feature lies in its status as a cultural hub. The city provides easy access to some of the most popular villages and attractions in Guizhou, such as Langdeshang Miao Village, Xijiang Miao Village, and Leigongshan Nature Reserve. If you want to learn more about China’s vibrant ethnic minority culture, or are simply curious about what a pickled fish might taste like, Kaili is the place to be!

 

Discover more about Kaili on our travel: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Chengyang

Chengyang Wind-Rain bridge

Chengyang is a wonderful little cluster of villages just 18 kilometres away from the city of Sanjiang. The eight villages, known separately as Ma’an, Pingzhai, Yanzhai, Chengyang-Dazhai, Pingpu, Pingtan, Jichang and Guandong, are predominantly inhabited by the Dong ethnic minority. From lofty Drum Towers to elegant Wind-Rain Bridges, their vibrant culture shines amongst Guangxi’s karst mountains. This farming community is punctuated by fields ripe with tea bushes, bubbling brooks winding past misty mountains, and wooden structures of all shapes and sizes. With eight magical places vying for your attention, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

Yet the main draw to this scenic area is Chengyang Wind-Rain Bridge, which was built in 1912 and is now over 100 years old. Though there are hundreds of wind-rain bridges in the area, this one is considered the most magnificent. It is also known as Yongji or Panlong Bridge and is made up of 2 platforms, 3 piers, 5 pavilions, 19 verandas, and 3 floors, giving it the appearance more of a palace than a bridge! It spans nearly 65 metres (211 ft.) in length and was miraculously built without the use of nails or rivets. The local Dong carpenters simply used dove-tailed joints to hold this amazing structure together and managed to accomplish the whole project without the use of blueprints!

In true Dong style, the villagers of Ma’an also hold performances twice every day. The Dong ethnic minority are well-known for their harmonious grand choirs and watching one of these performances represents both an audible and visual feast, from the soulful folk songs of the town elders to the dazzling festive outfits of the local girls. If you happen to be hiking through this cluster of villages, you may even come upon an impromptu performance in a local drum tower. Just be sure to give the villagers a small tip, otherwise the next song they sing might end up being “The Foreign Cheapskate”!

 

Join our travel to visit Chengyang: Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou