Guizhou Village Life
On my second trip to China I made a point of visiting some minority villages in Southern China. Guizhou province is bounded by Sichuan and Chongqing to the north, Yunnan to the west, Guangxi to the south and Hunan to the east. Because our original destination for this vacation was Hainan Island this proved a perfect side trip. Guizhou is home to 48 of China’s ethnic groups, second only to Yunnan Province.
Each of which has developed their own unique customs and dress. Traveling through the Guizhou countryside we visited a number of small villages and several markets. Amongst the villages were Tingdong, Gunzhong and Bameng-Shui. The two markets we visited were Pingjiang and Bajie markets. Our base would be the the town of Rongjiang. At Gunzhong we came upon some villagers who had just celebrated a wedding. Speaking to them in a mixture of their local dialect as well as Mandarin they greeted us warmly with rice wine and offerings of food. Later they asked us to join them for dinner and to stay in the village over night. Reluctantly we could not accept their offer at the time though I would come to regret not accepting their offer and swore that I would not let this opportunity pass by me again.
The Miao live primarily in Southern China's mountains, in the provinces of Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi, Hainan, Guangdong, and Hubei. Some members of the Miao sub-groups, most notably the Hmong people, have migrated out of China into Southeast Asia (Northern Vietnam, Laos, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand). The Dong or Kam people live mostly in Eastern Guizhou, Western Hunan, and Northern Guangxi in China. Small pockets of Kam speakers are found in Tuyên Quang Province in Vietnam. The Dong are famed for their native-bred Kam Sweet Rice, carpentry skills, and unique architecture, in particular a form of covered bridge known as the "Wind and Rain" Bridge and the Drum towers that mark a Dong village.
A Wind and Rain bridge is normally composed of the bridge, a tower and a pavilion made of wood. On both sides of the bridge, there are railings and benches, providing a resting area for passers-by in the roofed corridor. The upturned eaves, towers and pavilions are decorated with dragon and phoenix carvings. A specialty of these bridges is that no nails were ever used in their construction. Rather, the ingenius Dong carpenters used groove joints in structural members of the bridge to hold them together and transmit the load to the pier.
The drum towers provide venues for the whole village to discuss and settle important matters, hold important festivals or entertainments such as singing and the playing of wind instruments. A leather drum is placed in the drum tower. When there are important things to talk about, the drum is beaten by a respected village elder to summon the villagers. There is a fire on the ground where a fire burns almost all year round. In the damp cold weather of November this was a welcome respite.