FENGHUANG AND MIAO, TUJIA AND DONG AREAS OF SOUTHERN HUNAN

FENGHUANG

Fenghuang (near Tongren in Guizhou Province and 150 kilometers southwest of Zhangjiajie and 53 kilometers south of Jishou City) is a tourist town famous for its stilt houses along the Tuo River. It is home to the Miao and Tujia ethnic minorities. The capital of Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Fenghuang is famous for beautiful mountains and rivers and charming architectures. In the east and north of Fenghuang, there are two well- preserved watchtowers. Among the other places of interest are the Qing-era Heavenly King Temple, at the foot of Mt. Huanan, and the town’s eight famous scenes, including the Fishing Light in the Dragon Pool and the Moon over the Xiqiao Bridge. The town has a fairly livley nightlife scene with bars and restaurants along the Tuo River.

Fenghuang, also known as Phoenix Town, was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Covering an area of 1.8 kilometers, the old town contains 20 imperial-era streets, dozens of imperial-era lanes and passages and over 200 imperial-era residences. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Fenghuang City is located in the southwest of Hunan Province. It borders Luxi County in the east, Mayang County in the South, Songtao County of Tongren city in Guizhou province in the west and Jishou City and Huayuan County in the north, serving as the strategic gateway connecting Hunan and Guizhou provinces. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

Ancient Fenghuang Town is situated at the foot of mountains and beside waters. Its construction has proved a very practical and scientific exploration in terms of the town site selection as well as layout design and city planning. Following the undulation of the mountainous landscape, the town walls encircle the ridges and span over the ranges while rivers wind along the corridors before flowing out through the town. It is thus by absorbing the artistic philosophy of traditional Chinese garden design and making best of the limited space of the mountain area that the town achieves well-structured layout. Such distinctive building clusters are unique feature of Ancient Fenghuang Town, which has given a full display to the intelligence, talents and enthusiasm of the architects, represented a unique artistic achievement and can be called a creative and genius masterpiece....In Ancient Fenghuang Town, ethnic languages, custom, arts as well as those distinctive architectural remains of Ming and Qing styles all carries large amount of historical information of the witch culture in ancient State of Chu...

Web Sites: Travel China Guide (click attractions) Travel China Guide Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

History of Fenghuang

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: In the 5th year of Xianqing under the reign of Emperor Gaozong in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 660), Tian Zongxian the prefecture governor of Qianzhou sent his grandson Tian Yangming on a punitive expedition eastward to suppress the local ethnic groups. Tian Yangming initiated the Xidong (Xi Cave) Five Stockade Villages System ("Wuzhai") here and Tian Kechang, Tian Yangming's son was appointed by the imperial government as "Five-Cave Prefect" (called Wuzhai Prefect later) in Tuojiang Town where the ancient town now lies. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

In the 2nd year of Chuigong period under the reign of Empress Wu Zetian in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 686), Weiyang County was established with Fenghuangshan (today's Huangsiqiao Ancient Town) as the county site. After the chaotic Five Dynasties period, Weiyang County was abandoned and in the 3rd year of the reign of Emperor Jiatai in the Song Dynasty (A.D.1203) the Wuzhai Office was changed into Wuzhai Legionary and Civil Prefect Office. In the 33rd year of the reign of Emperor Jiajin in the Ming Dynasty (A.D.1554), Mayang Deputy Officer was shifted to command Wuzhai Prefect Office. Since Xisuo (today's Jishou County) and Ganziping Prefect Office was directly under its jurisdiction, it was named Zhengan Town.

In the 39th year of Emperor Kangxi's reign in the Qing Dynasty (A.D.1700) the garrison commander of Yuanzhou was shifted to Zhengan, which was then one of the four towns of the Hu-Guang Prefecture. Then in the 42nd year of Emperor Kangxi's reign (A.D.1703), the replacement of native official by government-appointed ones was enforced and Fenghuang Office was established with its seat at the former site of Weiyang County. In the 46th year of Emperor Kangxi's reign (A.D.1707), the military and political dignitaries of Hu-guang prefecture concluded after an investigation that the Zhengan Town "neighbour Yunnan and Guizhou Province in the west, protrude into the reaches of Chengjiang River and Yuanshui River, connect Sichuan and Hubei Province in the north, and guard Guangxi Province in the south." "With its majestic landscape, it rules numerous towns and villages". Since it was a strategic gateway for Southwest China, the West Hunan Governor of the Chengyuan Jingdao was shifted from Yuanzhou to Zhengan and made it one of the four prefectures of Hunan province. Ever since then the high ranking officials of this prefecture had all stationed in this town. In the 48th year of Emperor Kangxi's reign (A.D.1709), Fenghuang office was also been moved to Zhengan. In the 54th year of Emperor Kangxi's reign, the town was expanded and stone wall city sprang up. A large scale of construction was mounted inside. As a result, as a series of government offices such as of Circuit Intendant's office, Town office, Middle Battalion office, Concurrent Administrator office, etc. The Temple of Literature was built and expended along with the school buildings, academy yards and assembly halls successively, which was to be followed by the shops, stores, and stalls as well as the ancestral temples and other religious buildings.”

In August 2007, a bridge under construction in Fenhuang collapsed, killing 47 people, most of them construction workers who were removing scaffolding from the 268-meter-long, 42-meter-high bridge, which spans the Tuo River An estimated 123 workers were at the site at the time of the accident. Eight-six were rescued. The bridge had four decorative stone arch and was scheduled to open a month later. It was built without steel reinforcement rods because builders wanted to use traditional stone-and-concrete methods. Authorities prevented journalists from investigating the accident, raising suspicions that officials might have allowed shoddy construction materials to be used. One witness told AP, “I was riding a bike with my husband and we just passed underneath the bridge and were about 50 meters away when it collapsed. There was a huge amount of dust that came up and it didn't clear for about 10 minutes. On the rescue effort one nearby residents said, “There were arms and legs were broken, only linked with skin."

Tujia Minority

The Tujia are one of the largest ethnic groups in China. They live in Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in western Hunan and parts of southwestern Hubei and eastern Sichuan provinces. Most live in the Wuling Mountain Range south of the Yangtze. They are primarily an agricultural people who have lived in close association with the Han Chinese and Miao but have many unique folk customs such hand dancing which embraces more than 70 different gestures and is performed around New Year's Day.

The Tujia are also known as Bizika, Bizka, Tuding, Tujen and Tumin. Their original language is only spoken in a few areas. It is a Tibetan-Burman language similar to Yi. Most speak a Chinese dialect. The Tujia had no written language until the Communist government gave them one after 1949. Religious and spiritual beliefs are similar to those of Han Chinese except that shaman have a pronounced roll and the white tiger and the turtle are popular religious totems.

The Tujia inhabit an area that encompasses a vast mountainous region in central China that included parts of Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou and Sichuan Provinces. The Tujia people have nearly a dozen different autonomous administrative units of their own in the four provinces in which they live. The Tujia refer to themselves as the Bizika. They have intermixed with Han and been surrounded by them for many centuries and have largely been assimilated. Their clothing and customs are very much like those of the Hans. Only a small number of Tujia continue to use the Tujia language. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]

Many Tujia live in the Wuling Range of western Hunan and Hubei provinces, at elevations from 400 to 1,500 meters in the Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Exi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture and some counties in southeastern Hunan and western Hubei. In these areas, the climate is mild but rainy, and the land is well-forested. The Youshui, Fengshui and Qingjiang rivers intersect there, and on the terraced mountainsides and in the green valleys grow rice, maize, wheat and potatoes. Cash crops include beets, ramie, cotton, tung oil, oil tea and tea, with oil tea and tung oil playing key commercial roles. Timber includes pine, China fir, cypress and the nanmu tree. The area is rich in rare medicinal herbs, minerals, aquatic products and giant salamanders. [Source: People's Daily]

The Tujia language belongs to the Tibeto-Burmese language family and is closely linked to the Yi language, spoken hundreds of kilometers away. About 20,000-30,000 people living in remote areas such as Longshan and along banks of Youshui River speak Tujia. The large majority of Tujia speak the Han and Miao languages. Old Tujia ways survive only in remote area. [Source: People's Daily]

Tujia population in China: 0.6268 percent of the total population; 8,353,912 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 8,037,014 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 5,704,223 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census and 2,836,814 according to the 1982 census. Statistically the Tujia population grew very quickly in the 1980s and 90s, due in part to the fact that before 1990, many people felt ashamed to belong to a minority. [Sources: People's Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia, Ethnic-China]

Day Trip from Fenghuang

Tianlong Canyon is an hour and 15 minute drive from Fenghuang. One traveler wrote for CRI: “"Tianlong" means "sky dragon" in Chinese. Situated in western Fenghuang County in Hunan Province, a canyon named "Tianlong" lies like a real dragon with beautiful scenery and adventurous paths that attract visitors from across China. The narrowest part of the canyon is only two meters wide where visitors can see only a "line of sky." The cliffs along a river running through the canyon are 300 meters high. The cascades are the most popular hot spots for people to take photos. But to see all of them, you must first conquer the tough paths ahead. [Source: CRI September 8, 2009]

During a day-trip to Tianlong canyon, you can fully experience "walking in the air" on planks built along the cliffs with the river just below you. A one-way trip takes more than an hour, if you stop halfway to take pictures. But many visitors give up before they get to the end because they are exhausted. If you persist and reach the end of the canyon, you will be rewarded with a present from nature — a bottle of drinkable spring water. The spring water drips from a round stone that extends from the ceiling of a cave. The stone is called the "Thousand Threads" because of the continuously dripping water. It is said that the canyon was named "Tianlong" because an ancient Chinese warrior nicknamed "Tianlong" hid here after he failed to murder an emperor who imposed heavy burdens on his people.

Travel Information: 8:30am — Start out from the ancient town of Fenghuang; 10:00am — Arrive at the "Ancient Ghost" valley; 11am — Leave the "Ancient Ghost" valley for Gouliang Miao Village; 11:15:00am — Arrive at Gouliang Miao Village; 11:30am-12: 40pm — See a performance in the village; 12:40pm-1:30pm — Eat lunch; 2pm — Arrive at Tianlong Valley; 4:15pm — Leave Tianlong Valley for Fenghuang town; 5:30pm — Arrive at Fenghuang town.

Qianyang Ancient Town

Qianyang Ancient Town, Hunan (75 kilometers south of Fenghuang) is a charming old town much less well-know that of Fenghuang and therefore less spoiled. Surrounded by water on three sides, Qianyang was once a famous business town on the southern Silk Road, which was an important transportation channel before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) linking China to south and west Asia. [Source: Xu Lin, China.org, April 12, 2012]

Qianyang Ancient Town was established in 202 B.C., making it 1,400 years older than Dayan Ancient Town of Yunnan and some 900 years older than Fenghuang Ancient Town. The town is a successful model planned and established based on its terrain following Feng Shui, the Chinese system of geomancy believed to use the laws of both Heaven and Earth to help one improve life. There are many alleys in the town, and each of them is connected in a T-shape, which looks like a perplexing maze. The design is a combination of traditional architecture with Chinese philosophy. Today, the town's original layout, alleys and the ancient architecture complexes of Ming and Qing dynasties are still well preserved, which is an exception in modern China.

Various temples, ancestral halls, opera halls, guild halls, academies, shops, hotels, residential houses and villas can be found in the town. The tall firewalls, the bended eave corners, the wood-frame windows decorated with carved patterns and the plain counters record the town's long history. Most buildings are of one or two stories, built using either wood or brick. For hundreds of years, local residents have created a unique folk culture, including local operas, music, dances and artwork such as woodcarving handicrafts and bamboo baskets. The Mulian Opera, an integration of folk stories, sideshows and acrobatics,and also known Chinese 'ghost opera', can be found in the town. Mulian Opera is China's oldest theatric genre, dating back to the Tang Dynasty.

Miao Ethnic Group

The Miao are a colorful and culturally- and historically-rich ethnic minority that lives primarily in southern China, Laos, Burma, northern Vietnam, and Thailand. Originally from China, the Miao are animists and ancestor worshipers and have traditionally lived in villages located at 3,000 to 6,000 feet.

The Miao are known in Southeast Asia as the Hmong (pronounced mung). They are ethnically different and linguistically distinct from the Chinese and the other ethnic groups in China and Southeast Asia. Even though they have intermarried a great deal with the Chinese, they are shorter and their eyes and faces look different than those of Chinese. The Miao can be quite different from one another. The difference between Miao groups is often as pronounced as between Miaos and non-Miaos.

Hmong means "free men." Miao means :weeds” or ‘sprouts." The Chinese used to call them man, meaning “barbarians," The Laotians, Vietnamese and Thais call them the Meo, which means essentially the same thing as Miao. Hmong and Miao subgroups---Red Miao, White Miao (Striped Miao), Cowery Shell Miao, Flowery Miao, Black Miao, Green Miao (Blue Miao)---are in most cases named of the color of the woman's dress. There are two main groups in Southeast Asia: the White Hmong and Green Hmong.

The Miao are one of the largest minorities in China. They are widely distributed over Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi and Sichuan provinces, with a small number living on Hainan Island and in Guangdong Province and in southwest Hubei Province. Most of them live in tightly-knit communities, with a few living in areas inhabited by several other ethnic groups. The main Miao settlements are in the Southeastern Guizhou Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, the Southern Guizhou Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, the Southwestern Guizhou Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, the Western Hunan Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, the Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, and the Rongshui Miao Autonomous County in Guangxi Province. The Southeastern Guizhou Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture has the highest concentration of Miao. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Miao have very long history. Because they are scattered very widely, Miao in different places have quite different customs, and they go by many different names, After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, these disparate groups were given the standardized name: "Miao".

Gouliang Miao Village

Gouliang Miao Village (southwest of Fenghuang) is touristy Miao village. The CRI traveler wrote: “ After Fenghuang County became a popular destination for tourists, the Gouliang Miao Village opened to the public. You can watch folk performances such dances and attend marriage ceremonies and festivals. Currently, 300 families consisting of about 1,000 people reside in the village. Many of them do not speak Mandarin. [Source: CRI September 8, 2009]

“Miao people welcome visitors by singing. They stand at the entrance of the village to sing, adding "yo wei" at the end to indicate that a song has ended. According to Miao custom, only those visitors who sing a song in return are allowed into the village. Otherwise, each visitor must drink three big bowls of wine instead. If you plant to visit a Miao village, there are three taboos. First, do not whistle in the village. In the religion of the Miao people, whistles are calls for the devil. Second, do not walk on the threshold of a Miao home. In Miao culture, thresholds symbolize the shoulders of those who live in the house. Trampling on the threshold means you are stepping on the shoulders of the family members. Third, do not walk into a home with an opened umbrella unless you intend to marry a son or a daughter of the family.

Near the Gouliang Miao Village, you will find a group of cascades in a small valley. The valley is named "Ancient Ghost" because of a local tale. It is said that once a couple of lovers eloped here and promised to commit suicide in a deep pool because their families wanted to break them up. The couple promised to jump together after counting to three. The young woman jumped, but her fiancé did not. People say that the young woman's ghost haunts the valley and continues to search for her fiancé who betrayed her.Nowadays, people come to the valley to take pictures and enjoy its beautiful scenery.”

Miao People's Valley

Miao People's Valley (18 kilometers from Fenghuang) is reached by track into the mountains of Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. One traveler wrote in the Global Times: “According to local villagers, their ancestors settled here to stay away from the bandits using the mountains and the rivers as cover. They never thought that what used to protect them would hinder the development of the village now. But in recent years, travel buses began to transport packs of tourists to the village. Although it is one hour's bumpy ride from Phoenix town, they consider it worthwhile to experience the unspoiled Miao ethnic culture and breathtaking natural scenery. [Source: Global Times, September 4, 2009]

“We were struck speechless by the idyllic sight when we arrived at the village gateway. Squares of rice swayed simultaneously with the wind, the tips of the plants beginning to turn golden. Stone houses with gray roofs scattered in the open field. Hardly any people, dogs and hens roam about indolently while strings of red chili and corn hang on the walls to dry. However, we are not in the center of the village yet. You have to take a bamboo raft and flow down to a huge cave before taking another boat to the other side of the mountain. The cave belonged to the head of the Miao village in ancient times. There is a buffalo skull hung on the banner of the cave gate to show the dominance of the leader.The cave is dark and damp, the channel is narrow. Water drips from overhead and occasionally we encounter waterfalls pouring down from high up on the stone walls. When we emerge into the sunlight again, we see an open lake, like a gem embedded in the mountains. After around five minutes of rowing on the lake, we arrive at the small Miao village.

“Girls and boys dressed in Miao costumes wait at the entrance, singing a folk song to welcome us. It is a tradition for the Miao people to welcome their guests with a song and in return, the guests should also sing back. They offer us homemade rice wine before we step into their homes. Low in alcohol and rich in fruit flavor, the rice wine tastes sweet and sour. They also show us their unique stunt-playing tunes using tree leaves. Our guide says that in Miao villages, girls and boys are free to choose their own partners when they are 16 years old. And a boy would show his affection for his girl by playing tree leaves tunes to her. So the feat is actually part of the matchmaking ritual for young lovers of the Miao ethnic minority and most men know how to play.

“To outsiders like us, the skill is incomprehensible, just like the lyrics of the Miao ethnic songs and dances that they perform for tourists. A large number of young people in the village are working as performers under a local tourism company. Long Faqiu's son is one of them. Long Faqiu, a local villager, serves homemade Miao cuisines to tourists. Although he mainly works on his farmland, he is receiving more and more benefit from the emerging tourism in Miao People's Valley. His annual income has doubled from years before the village was opened to travelers.”

Dong Villages in Western Hunan

Dong Villages in southwest China in Guizhou Province, Hunan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. There are many Dong villages around Liping in Guizhou Province. Most of the Dong and Miao that reside here live in stilt houses. Many of the Dong villages have drum towers, pavilions and bridges. The Chenyang Bridge in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region is regarded as the best Dong covered bridge. Tongdao Bridge in southern Hunan Province is another good on. Dimen is a Dong village of 500 households that has a community, cultural and research center and is home to the Dimen Dong Eco-museum. The Dong here were described in a National Geographic article by Amy Tam.

Dong Villages Huan are located in:Tongdao Dong Autonomous County and Suining County: in Gaoxiu Village (N 26°09 26", E 109°42 11"); Pingtan Village (N 26°1.9, E 109°52); Yutou Village (N 26°08 19", E 109°42 22"); Shangbao Village (N26°22 23", E 110°07 46"); Hengling Village(N 26º04, E 109 º43 18");

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The nominated Dong Villages are located in six counties of three provinces (autonomous regions), and consist of 20 villages, covering the settlements where Dong cultural traditions have been well preserved. The nominated Dong Villages vary in their distribution regions, eco-environments, clans and branches, village landscapes, cultural characteristics, etc., which organically constitute a complete cultural value system of Dong Villages, which is distinct from other village cultural landscapes or agricultural landscapes domestically and abroad. Dong Villages are the representative of the cultural landscape of Chinese ethnic minority villages. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“In the context of Dong cultural traditions, Dong people have created various architectural systems with distinct vernacular characteristics. The unique drum towers and the roofed bridges have been preserved for generations. The drum tower is an important type of wooden structure in the Far East. Dong Villages are a classic model of vernacular architecture heritage. The Dong Villages contain historical information of Dong people’s origin, migration and lifestyle in the region. It is a major database with large quantity of historical and cultural information and a concentrated reflection of Dong Nationality’s history and culture. These historical cultures still exist and continue to evolve after more than thousand years and bear a living testimony to an ethnic minority’s cultural tradition which is rapidly disappearing. It is also an important part of the world’s diversified culture.

“The traditional architecture of Dong Villages, especially those for public use such as the drum towers and the roofed bridges, intensively reflect the traditional Dong construction skills and the cultural landscape in the Dong settlements. The ingenious combination of the single public structure and vernacular houses in Dong Villages represents the harmonious co-existence of the village and its natural environment. The architectural elements and landscape features have been adapted and promoted in settlements of Dong people and in other nationalities’ settlements, which became an outstanding example of regional architectural culture.

“The nominated Dong Villages have all undergone hundreds of years’ development at their original locations, their spatial locations are relatively stable and the eco-environments have been well preserved. The development and expansion of the villages, dependent on the macro natural settings, has continuously maintained the authenticity of the location and environment. The public structures and vernacular houses are all built with timber and tree barks harvested from surrounding forests, employ traditional construction techniques and design, and are of classic Dong architectural form and style, thus having preserved the authenticity of materials and substance, design and form, traditions and techniques. Significant heritage elements including the Sasui altar, drum tower, public square, vernacular houses, granaries, roads, etc., are still in use and the authenticity of use and function has been well preserved.”

Dong Ethnic Group

The Dong are related to Thais and Lao and live primarily in the hills along the border of Hunan,Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. They have their own language, Kam, a Sino-Tibetan tongue, and had no written language until the Communist government gave them one after 1949. The Dong grow rice, wheat, maize and sweet potatoes for consumption and cultivate cotton, tobacco, soybeans and rapeseed as cash crops. They also sell timber and other forest products. Most Dong live among the green, rain-soaked mountains of Guizhou. One Dong saying goes: Not three feet of flat land, not three days without ran, not a family without three silver coins." [Source: Amy Tan, National Geographic, May 2008]

The Dong are one of the larger ethnic minorities in China. They are also known as the Gaem. They refer to themselves as "Kam." About 55 percent of them live in Guizhou Province. About 30 percent of all Dong live in the southern part of Hunan Province. About eight percent make their home in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. A few thousand can be found in Hubei Province. Those that live in Guizhou Province reside mainly along a fringe of flat lands that cross the province from north to south. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]

The homeland of the Dong is a 1336-meter mountain that defines the boundary between of Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi called "Three-Province Slope". The Dong people have lived here generation after generation. Otherwise the Dong are found mainly in: 1) Yuping and Tongren Counties, Southeast Qian (short for Guizhou) Autonomous Prefecture of Miao and Dong Ethnic Minority Groups in Guizhou Province; 2) Xinshuang, Tongdao, and Zhijiang in Hunan Province; and 3) Sanjiang and Longsheng in Guangxi Province. They live together with some other ethnic groups such as Han, Miao, Zhuang, Yao, Shui, Bouyei and Tujia. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

Dong are mainly farmers. They are good at growing rice, raising fish in their rice fields. The area they live in is subtropical and relatively good for agriculture. The Dong generally live near the rivers in valleys or in low hills. They are not regarded as a mountain people. For domestic animals they raise mainly hens and pigs. They live in one of the eight huge forest regions in China. The forests have special spiritual importance for the Dong but also provides with a source of income. The Dong are famous for forest tea-oil and tung oil.

The are divided are into two main groups: the Dong of the North and the Dong of the South. In general those of the north have been influenced more by Han Chinese culture, while those of the south have done a better job keeping alive Dong traditions. Drum Towers, Bridges of Rain and Wind, and the Temples of the Goddess Mother Sama, are all characteristic of the Dong of the South. Numerous Dong villages are situated among the tree-clad hills of the extensive stretch of territory on the Hunan-Guizhou-Guangxi borders. Situated about 300 kilometers north of the Tropic of Cancer, this area has a mild climate and an annual rainfall of 1,200 millimeters.

Dong population in China: in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 0.2161 percent of the total population; 2,879,974 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 2,962,911 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 2,514,014 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. [Sources: People's Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Characteristics of Dong Villages

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Residing close to the water is the most important settlement pattern of Dong Villages. The houses are distributed on mountain slopes along rivers The drum tower and Sasui (famous heroine of Dong Nationality) altar are the most important basic elements of a Dong village. The multi-storey drum tower, the symbol of a Dong village, is usually built in the flat or high grounds of the village center. A square is built in front of the drum tower, and provides a venue for the entire village to come together for meetings, festival celebrations, and other public activities. The typical residences of Dong people are called “Diaojiaolou”, stilt houses built with Chinese fir wood and consisting of three or four floors. They feature a wood column-tie structure, and a tiled roof, and are surrounded by corridors and railings. In some regions, the corridors and the eaves are respectively connected between houses. A large number of Dong Villages have fish ponds digged out in front and at the back of the houses and build a two-storey granary on stilts beside. The fish ponds are used to rear fish and for fire safety, features a waterside village. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The village road network uses public structures including village gate and drum tower as nodal points, the road between the gate and public structures is the artery with secondary paths leading to every household. The roads are mostly paved with stone slabs or embedded with pebbles. In large Dong Villages located beside the river, there is often a gate that leads to the waterside dock. Some village gates are integrated with drum towers, providing quite a magnificent view. Roofed bridges (Fengyuqiao) are often seen above the river. They are supported by stacked layers of wood that extends outward to widen the span and minimize shear force of major beams. On top of the bridge is a wooden-structure shelter with a tiled roof. Sometimes, pavilions are built on both ends of the bridge or at the location of the bridge piers.

“On the periphery of the Dong village, one can usually find rows of wooden stands which are called “Heliang”, used to dry the grain. Outside of the village are usually paddy fields, with fish kept in water and featuring the co-existence of rice and fish. Such agricultural and breeding system achieves the ecological balance and can provide adequate and proper nutrition to villagers.

Dong Village Life

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Dong Villages are a perfect integration of humanity and nature, and they reflect the Dong peoples’ principle of adapting themselves to nature for survival and development. The Dong Villages are not only an organically evolving landscape, but also a continuing landscape. It has retained its positive social role in the contemporary society connecting with traditional lifestyle, and is a testimony to the evolution and development history of the Dong Nationality. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“Dong Villages have preserved a wealth of cultural information thanks to its large number, wide distribution, and multiple clans. It is an integration of Dong tangible and intangible cultural heritages, an epitome of Dong social conditions including languages, festivals, song and dance, crafts, cuisine, customs, spiritual beliefs, social systems, etc., and is a living example of cultural anthropology.

“The authenticity of the Dong language, festivals, song and dance, medicine, crafts and other intangible heritages has been well preserved in all the nominated Dong Villages, which make the Dong village culture distinct from those of the local and surrounding Han, Miao, Zhuang and other nationalities. The social life and organizational operation of the village have largely inherited the traditional village management mode which has a history of hundreds of years, thus having preserved the authenticity of its traditional system. The aborigines of Dong Villages have retained traditions of nature worship for mountains, rivers and trees, and the ancestor worship for Sasui (famous heroine of Dong Nationality) and ancestors of “major branches”. All these manifest the authenticity of Dong people’s spirit and emotion. It is especially important to emphasize that the core of the authenticity of Dong Villages as a classic model of living heritage lies in the indigenous people and their community, and this element is the carrier of the above three aspects of authenticity. The indigenous people and their community have maintained the authenticity of the extant tangible and intangible heritages of Dong Villages, and they will continue to pass on the authenticity in the future.

“The Dong Villages are a representative of a traditional human settlement lifestyle featuring Dong people’s adaption to nature and harmonious co-existence with the environment, and also an outstanding example of Dong people’s sustainable utilization of land and resources in the past nearly one thousand years. They are a manifestation of Dong people’s wisdom generated during the long-term production and living, and precious heritage of traditional agricultural civilization in the mountainous area. With the violent and rapid transformations brought about by modernization, urbanization and globalization, these Dong Villages have become one of rare “cultural solitary islands” retaining the age-old traditions.

“The intangible cultural heritage of Dong Villages is also remarkable and unique. The “Grand Song” of Dong Nationality has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The Dong Medicine and the living and production traditions, the autonomous administration of the villagers, the marriage and courtship customs, the funerary customs, music and drama, traditional costumes, weaving skills, etc. have all been well preserved.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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