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Date: 05/04/2000
Author: YANG SHIZHONG, China Daily staff

Secluded world of ethnic groups dazzles visitors

As a photographer, I thought a camera was all I needed for my job. But during my recent trip to Guizhou Province in Southwest China, I felt for the first time the need for a pen to record my impressions. Pictures were no longer enough to express myself.

So I have tried to write down the significant moments and impressions of my week-long trip to the Miao-and-Dong ethnic populated areas, a secluded, nature-blessed world with dazzling ethnic traditions and cultures.

April 10, Monday

Kaili is the first stop of my trip. It is the hub of the Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture. It serves as a gateway to the minority regions in south-eastern Guizhou Province. With forest coverage reaching 40.7 per cent, the prefecture is regarded an ideal, relatively-unexplored tourist destination.

From Kaili, I was first taken to Nanhua, a small village about 8 kilometres away. Nanhua is inhabited by more than 100 Miao families. Their houses, supported by wooden pillars, are built along the mountain slope. Half shrouded by the dense forest, the village appeared serene and solemn.

But amid the prevailing solitude, I was surprised to find something so shining and dazzling that it brightened up the whole place. The wizardry comes from the Miao women's colourful costumes and delicate silver accessories. Learning embroidery from the age of four or five, Miao girls embroider their dreams and fantasies towards life onto their costumes, especially their wedding gowns. I wonder whether a beautiful blossom or a flying bird on their clothes represents a secret wish; or the jingling of the silver petals of the necklace is the singing from their hearts?

April 11, Tuesday

I left Kaili for Xijiang Qianhu Miao Village in Leishan County. Drizzle made the road bumpy, but I was happy to admire the green mountains camouflaged by a semi-transparent veil of mist. The fragrance of the earth, mixed with the smell of spring leaves, filled the air. I felt an unspeakable freshness which I could not even imagine in the heavily-polluted cities.

The Xijiang Qianhu Miao Village sits at the foot of the mountain of Miaoling. A population of 4,616 makes it one of the largest Miao village in south-eastern Guizhou. Difficult access to the village has helped it maintain its tradition and life style.

Our host family is the village chief Tang Shoucheng. Tang is the third generation to inherit the post, which was originally elected by the villagers. According to the Miao tradition, the chief's family must consist of a boy, adult man and woman and a senior member. Partly for this reason, Tang said he and his wife, both in their thirties, plan to have a baby this year. The chief is in charge of ancestor worshipping ceremonies, grand celebrations and the security of the village.

April 12, Wednesday

Today's trip is to a Dong Village in Rongjiang County. Compared with Miao people, Dong villagers tend to build their houses near the water. As this is the farming season, very few people could be spotted in the village. So I got a quiet moment to admire the hamlet. Surrounded by lush green trees, the thatched houses sit one next to another in tranquility, like little birds resting on their nests.

April 13, Thursday

After three hours' climbing over Moon Mountain, we came to the Bao Village, where I got a glimpse of another Miao custom - the men's hair style, which has remained the same since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Boys from 3 years old and above must grow a lock of hair atop the head, until they reach 15. After joining in the adult's committee, they are allowed to coil the hair atop the head.

After leaving Bao, we headed for Gaozeng Village in Congjiang County, where we were greeted by the locals with their most grand, splendid ceremony - the music parade.

When we came close to the village entrance, a team of Lusheng players, a reed-pipe wind instrument, were waiting for us. The clear, resonate music accompanied us all the way into the village.

April 14, Friday

Wind-and-rain Bridge is the landmark structure of Dong ethnic people. Built across the river, the bridge also serves as a resting place to meet friends or have a good view of the landscape. This kind of bridge can be found in almost every Dong village. But their sizes vary with some in a complex structure while some are made in a simple style.

April 15, Saturday

Today I witnessed the wonder of mother nature. Tiansheng (natural-born) Bridge, in Liping County, is the world's biggest natural bridge. It is 118 metres wide and the span reaches 103.71 metres. A river runs under the bridge all year around. Fish are abundant, doing gymnastics in the limpid water. What makes it more majestic is that trees and plants flourish on the surface, while a dozen kinds of rare birds and animals take it as an ideal home.

April 16, Sunday

The ancient town of Longli is another climax of my trip. If what I have seen in the past few days is typical of ethnic groups, then Longli presents something bearing a strong Han influence. In fact, the whole town - originally an ancient threshold - was designed in an apparent Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) structure.