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Dong picking tea
Primary schools have been established in every village, and middle schools in every district. Parents support the education of their children. However, boys form the greater majority of middle school and, especially, university students. These days many villagers have televisions and most have cell phones. The first cell phones showed up in the early 2000s. By the late 2000s everybody had them. Family members call other family members working in the fields and tell them things like fetch extra firewood or look in forest for mushrooms. Young men who live out of town send text messages to their sweethearts stuck at home.

A village elder council is made up of men over 60. They oversea social welfare and maintain civil order using the Dong code of conduct and their own common sense and reason. These days they decide things like how to set up a large satellite dish that everyone can hook up to rather than getting a bunch of individual dishes.

The town of Zhaoxing was formed on the basis of five clans, which developed into five communities named Ren (benevolence), Yi (justice), Li (propriety), Zhi (wisdom) and Xin (faith). As a result, there are five drum towers, five wind-and-rain bridges and five opera stages in Zhaoxing, making the town richest in traditional Dong architecture.

According to the “Human Use of Insects as a Food Resource: A study that will not sound too appealing to many Westerners is on the presumed health benefits of Chongcha, a special tea made from the feces of Hydrillodes morosa (a noctuid moth larva) and Aglossa dimidiata (a pyralid moth larva). The former eats mainly the leaves of Platycarya stobilacea, the latter the leaves of Malus seiboldii. Chongcha is black in color, freshly fragrant, and has been used for a long time in the mountain areas of Guangxi, Fujian and Guizhou by the Zhuang, Dong and Miao nationalities. It is taken to prevent heat stroke, counteract various poisons, and to aid digestion, as well as being considered helpful in alleviating cases of diarrhea, nosebleed and bleeding hemorroids. Whatever the extent of its preventive or curative benefits, Chongcha apparently serves as a good “cooling beverage" having a higher nutritive value than regular tea. [Source:“Human Use of Insects as a Food Resource”, Professor Gene R. De Foliart (1925-2013), Department of Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2002 ==]

Dong Customs

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,“The Dong are hospitable. Bowls of gruel of sweetened fried flour will be repeatedly offered to the guest. Each bowl is offered with different refreshments. This ritual usually takes one hour or more. The wine before meal is sweet, but bitter wine is offered during the meal. All dishes taste sour: pork, fish, chicken, duck, cucumber, and hot pepper; it is a “sour feast." [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 ++]

There is a Dong custom in Guizhou to receive a guest from each family. A man, representing his family, will bring his family's dishes to the dinner party. Thus, a great variety of dishes will be offered to the guests. A grand occasion of Dong celebration is when all the members of a village call on a neighboring village, usually after autumn harvest: there is a deafening sound of gongs and drums, reinforced by songs and reed-pipe wind music. Dating is common, lasting often late into the night. ++

The Dong have the custom of marking—pulling up or knotting grass or plants in a particular place— to serve as a sign of love or as a warning for things like dangerous, slippery cliffside trail or the presence of hunting traps. A multi-mark site may suggest some kind of back and forth communication. Different marks convey different meanings, often depending on where the marks is placed. The multi-mark may signify a form of punishment. [Source:]

According to Dong folklore, the dragon—regarded as a messenger of good luck— raises its head on the 2nd day of the second lunar month. Villagers bring foods such as meat, eggs, fish, and rice cakes to their local bridge and offer them to spirits of agriculture to ensure a good harvest and then enjoy a feast with the same food. Villagers propose a toast to the agriculture spirits and indirectly pay homage to the dragon. In Dong culture, cattle and water buffalo, can also represent dragons. Thus on the same day as the bridge picnic, villagers line up to pay homage to the cattle as they are led through the village. The villagers play pipes and drums, and bow respectfully to the cattle. Afterwards, one of the cattle is slaughtered and the meat shared among the villagers, and a feast is held, with drinking and a singing toast to the dragon in the form of the "Dragon-return-to-us" song. Afterwards the butchered cattle's horns are buried the livestock area in the center of the village, symbolizing the return of the dragon and hope for a year free of disasters,

Dong Marriage and Courting

Young male and female Dong tribes are permitted to enjoy a "golden period of life" in which premarital sex is allowed and even encouraged. After a woman gets married she continues to live with her parents and only visits her husband on special occasions and holidays. She doesn’t live with her husband full time until their first child is born. If she does not get pregnant, she is expected to move three to five years after her wedding.

The Dong are monogamous. They generally have freedom to choose their spouse. Arranged marriages are rare. Young people of the same family branch or of different generations are not allowed to marry. The children of brothers are allowed to marry the children of sisters and vice versa, but the children of two sisters are not allowed to marry. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]

Dong marriage proposals are delivered in the mail. The answer is delivered in a rice ball. If yes, there is a flower in the middle. If no there are hot chilies. At a Dong wedding, the bride holds an umbrella, accompanied by six women, and walks into the bridegroom's house. At some weddings the bridesmaids are made of girls of from a whole branch of a clan. They are received by boys of the bridegroom's branch, who see the bride to her family's door right after the wedding ceremony. She returns to live with her husband for a few days only during festivals or after the busy season.

Dong Women and Children

Dong families are patrilineal. Traditionally, only men could inherit land, though women had small plots that they farmed themselves. The position of women is much lower than that of men. They are not allowed to touch the bronze drum or other sacred objects. Girls lived separately on the upper floors and men are not allowed to visit them. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]

Dong women do heavy agricultural work in the fields and are responsible for all household chores. They often do farmland in the daytime and do their housework at night. Traditionally in the farming off season, they spun, wove and fashioned clothing, taking about six months and dozens of procedures to transform cotton into finished garments. Despite all their hard work women have a limited right of land with in a family, receiving a "girl's field" from their parents only after their marriage.

Dong Wedding

Much of the child rearing is done by elderly women called “za”. They raise their grandchildren from birth and carry them on their backs all day while they do chores and their own children are working. Lessons about manners, chores and evil things like greed and laziness are conveyed with songs. Baby parties for infants about 20 days old are often bigger events than weddings, with 500 people or more showing up, some coming from considerable distances away.

Za” rule the roost and do many of the day to day chores, much of it done bending over, sometimes with a grandchild strapped to their back. When Amy Tan asked one woman if her back hurt she said, “It never stops hurting because the work never stops.” Even so these women can carry huge loads of firewood and tramp quickly up mountain trails. Cooking and heat are largely provided by wood that is collected in forests around the villages. Hair is washed with sour soup. Many elderly men wear Mao-style hats, play cards and smoke pipes.

Each birth is celebrated with the planting of an “18-year tree,” with the idea that tree will be ready to harvest for timber to build a house when the child reaches marriageable age. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,”Three days (or one week) after childbirth, relatives bring glutinous rice, eggs, and chickens, as well as a hat, for congratulations. Gifts also include 3 — 5 ft of yellow cloth for the baby's clothing. According to Dong custom, one is not allowed to make baby clothes before childbirth. The infant should be draped with used cloths right after its birth. The new clothing should be made of the yellow cloth given by the relatives. The maternal grandmother chooses a name for the baby while sewing the baby's clothes. Girls gather to sing blessing songs until late in the evening. When the baby is one month old, the mother paints the baby's brow with a little tang oil and soot from the bottom of a pan. Accompanied by her mother-in-law, the new mother will bring gifts to her own mother's house, where she will be received warmly. Next day, her mother will send a large glutinous rice cake to her house, indicating that the mother is allowed to call on relatives to present the baby. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]

Dong Houses

Dong houses are usually built of fir wood and have two or three stories. The roof is covered with tiles or bark of China fir. Those located on steep slopes or riverbanks stand on stilts; people live on the upper floors, and the ground floor is reserved for domestic animals and firewood. In the old days, landlords and rich peasants dwelt in big houses with engraved beams and painted columns.

Most Dong live in two-story wooden houses with railings and people living in the top, and animals in the bottom, in small villages with 20 or 30 households. Traditional houses are made of wood and usually have two or three stories sitting under an upswept roof made up mud-clay tiles. Construction involves setting beams in posts, placing planks across the beams, and notching and tying them together so nails are not needed. Grain sheds sit on stilts above pens with pigs and ponds for ducks. Many families would prefer to use brick of stone to make their homes as they are warmer and easier to maintain but are encouraged to use wood and traditional construction methods by government subsidies.

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Houses occupied by branches of the same family are sometimes connected by verandas and open into each other. Sometimes the stilts on buildings at the foot of hills or beside a rivers are almost 10 meters high. A shrine for idols or ancestral tablets is set up in the central room. The “windswept rooms" on both sides are used as bedrooms and fireplaces. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 ++]

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: 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]

Dong Villages

The Dongs typically live in villages of 20-30 households located near streams. But there are also large villages of 700 households or more. Paths inside a village are paved with gravel, and there are fishponds in most villages. These villages have traditionally been surrounded by stockades. One lavish feature of Dong villages are the drum towers. Meetings and celebrations are held in front of these towers, and the Dong people gather there to dance and make merry on New Year's Day. The drum tower of Gaozhen Village in Guizhou Province is especially elaborate. Standing 13 stories high, it is decorated with carved dragons, phoenixes, flowers and birds. [Source:]

Dong villages are usually made up of rows of wooden houses.A typical large Dong village is made of 500 households divided into five clans overseen by a council of elders with 11 members. Houses lie along flagstone or crushed stone paths. Roads often have deep ruts when the weather is dry and deep mud when it is rains. In the center of town is a large courtyard or square where rice is laid to dry in the fall, pigs are slaughtered during festivals and men play cards and children play. The village school often is located nearby. Many Dong villages are self-sufficient agriculturally.

Equally spectacular is folk architecture that goes into the construction of bridges. Wood, stone arches, stone slabs and bamboo are all used in erecting bridges. The roofed bridges which the Dongs have dubbed "wind and rain" bridges are best-known for their unique architectural style. The Chengyang "Wind and Rain" Bridge in Sanjiang is 165 meters long, 10 meters across and 10 to 20 meters above the water. Roofed with tiles engraved with flowers, it has on its sides five large pagoda-like, multi-tier pavilions beautifully decorated with carvings. It is a covered walkway with railings and benches for people to sit on and enjoy the scenes around.

Dong Villages in Guizhou, Guangxi and 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 one. 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.

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.”

Location of Dong Villages in Guizhou, Guangxi and Hunan

Dong Villages in Guizhou (200 kilometers east of Guiyang) are located Liping County, Rongjiang County and Congjiang County: in Shudong Village (N 26°06 22", E 108° 55 21"); Dali Village (N 26°02 26", E 108° 38 21"); Zadang Village: (N 26°00 15", E 108°38 38"); Village (N 25°57 37", E 108°44 11"); Zengchong Village (N 25°54 55", E 108°41 36"); Tang’an Village (N 25°54 03", E 109°12 40"); Xiage Village (N 25°54 11", E 109°12 07"); Gaoqian Village (N 25°51 18", E 108°40 31"); Zhanli Village (25°50 38"N, 108°54 39"E); Gaoshang Village (N 26°01 37", E 108°41 26"); Kezhong Village (N 26°01 37", E 108°41 26"); Gaosheng Village (N 26°01 37", E 108°41 26").

2) Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region: in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County: in Ma’antun, Pingyan Village (N 25°53 37", E 109°38 14"); Pingzhai, Pingyan Village (N 25°54 00", E 109°38 20"); Yanzhai, Pingyan Village (N 25°54 25", E 109°38 18"); Gaoyou Village (N 25°59 02", E 109°52 35"); Yanglan Village (N 26°1.9, E 109°52.4);

3) Hunan Province: 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");

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. [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.”

Dong Food

Food and eating are popular conversation topics. People often call out from open door and windows for family members to come in for dinner or breakfast. Dong food is notoriously hot and spicy thanks to “huajiao”, a fiery berry from a prickly bush that is added to all kinds of things. Fish are raised ponds and rice paddies. Many of them are caught and made into “anyu”, a spicy, fermented paste flavored with five seasonings including “huajiao”. “Anyu” is served at almost every meal and is a part of every major ceremony — births, wedding and funerals.

The Dong staple food is rice. The Dong love sticky rice and hot and sour dishes. In the mountainous areas, glutinous rice is eaten with peppers and pickled vegetables. Some Dong eat dog meat. C. Le Blanc wrote: One of their traditional meals is salted fish or meat. Raw fish or meat is salted for three days, seasoned with spicy pepper powder, ginger, and glutinous rice, and then put in hermetically sealed pots or wooden barrels. The preparation may be served after three months, but only reaches full flavor after many years. The salted fish or meat can be steamed, but the Dong prefer to eat it raw. A gruel of sweetened, fried flour is a favorite dish. Rice is stir-fried with tea leaves, then cooked in water; when it is done, the tea leaves are discarded. To serve, one puts fried glutinous rice, peanuts, walnuts, soybeans, sausages, or pork liver selectively in a bowl, then adds the hot gruel, sweetened or salted. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 ++]

Reporting from Liping County in the heart of the Dong region of Guzhou Province, Mu Qian wrote in the China Daily, “You will learn much about the Dong culture by watching local people's activities, as long as you can stand the sight of ducks being slaughtered in the street and dogs' heads sold along with pork at the market... For dinner, my local friend Xiao Li invited me to a restaurant with "race taste". At the restaurant, I found that we would have a hotpot with niubie. I had heard about niubie when I was in Liping. From my understanding, it is the digested grass in a cow's stomach. "No, that's not the real niubie," said the chef of the restaurant, who allowed me in the kitchen to watch the way he cooked. "The real niubie is taken from the cow's intestine, just before it's too late to eat it." [Source: Mu Qianm China Daily, September 6, 2007]

“After putting some garlic and chili into the hot oil, he took out a Coca Cola bottle of niubie from the refrigerator, which he said was from a cow killed that morning, and poured it into his pot. It was a kind of green thick liquid. Then he added some water and a kind of local herb. Soon, the hotpot was ready and we began to dip all kinds of meat and vegetables in the soup. A lady at our table refused to eat it, for she believed that only niubie served in the morning was fresh. I tasted the soup, and it wasn't bad. A little bitter, but the aftertaste was nice. Probably, it would have been even better if I didn't know where it came from. Li said that niubie is very good for the stomach and intestine, and that we could also have yangbie, the equivalent of niubie from a sheep, but I told him that the niubie hotpot was enough for me for the night. The Dong people have a saying that, "Foods feed the body, while songs feed the soul". When my stomach was full, I felt like having some music.

Fragrant and Sweet Dong Oil Tea

Oil-tea is a traditional food of the Dong people, particularly popular in the Dong areas of Guizhou and Guangxi Provinces. It is both a daily food and festival food, made from tea, tea oil, parched rice and peanuts. Oil-tea is sweet and fragrant. Not only refreshing, the Dong say, it is also good for health. Whenever guests come, as an act of hospitable, Dong welcome them warmly with oil-tea.

To make Dong oil tea: 1) Fry cooked and dried sticky rice in tea oil (edible oil pressed from tea seeds) into fried rice; 2) Stir-fry in condiments and ingredients such as peanuts and soybeans; 3) parch some sticky rice until it is a little burnt and, adding some tea leaves, repeating the process a few times; and 4) pour in warm water and heat the mixture until it boils. ing. Here we have oil-tea water. 5) When the dinner is served, put some chipped shallots, crown daisy, and spinach into a bowl; 6) pour in the oil-tea water, also adding fried rice, peanuts, soybeans, meat, pig liver, and pig large intestines. Some Dong boil round dumplings with sticky rice powder in the oil-tea. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]

There are many kinds of Dong oil-tea, such as lima-bean tea, red pea tea, white pea tea. When drinking it the host and guests all sit around a table or the caldron or stove. The hostess prepares it and people often drink it in a bowl rather than a cup. The first bowl of oil-tea is given to the eldest person or most honored guest, to show reverence and guests are generally served before family members. After one receives he or she must not rush to drink it but rather should wait until the host says "Please", or makes a toast, when all present raise their bowls at the same time and then drink. Only one chopstick is needed—to occasionally stir the mixture—and every guest should drink at least three bowls, otherwise he or she might be considered ungrateful. If you want no more after three bowls, you have to put your chopstick on you bowl, as a sign of enough. Otherwise, the hostess will keep filling or topping off your bowl.

Dong Oil Tea Festival

Dong Justice

The elderly man who started the fire was only one who died. His son was blamed for starting the fire because he left his father alone while he went out drinking with out-of-town relatives. The son had a bad reputation anyway. He had been accused of quarreling with and beating his father, once beating him in front of the Drum Tower during the Spring Festival. The son’s behavior was blamed for putting a curse on the town as well as starting the fire.

The son’s punishment: according to the Dong code of conduct he was banished from the village for three or four for years, He could come no closer than three li (about a mile) to the village and had to pay 10,000 yuan for a ceremony to the God of Land to lift the curse and provide a chicken dinner for the entire village. The son and his family moved into a cow shed near one of his higher fields, their shame expected to last for generations. The son’s two brothers and his son fled the village to escape the punishment and shame.

The ghost of the old man who died was not happy. Villagers said they heard him crying and rustling around. Even villagers who said they didn’t believe in ghosts were scared. Neighbors said they saw the son place the old man’s torso — all that was left him after the fire — into a rice sack and carry it into the mountains, returning empty-handed. Even worse the son never cut down the father’s coffin tree and made it into a coffin. For this the spirit of the old man would have to be placated with a special ceremony or he might inflict more pain and punishment on the village.

Many people thought the fire was an accident or blamed it on the old man’s son. Some however blamed it on malevolent forces, citing over strange happenings such roosters crowing before midnight and a pig falling off a cliff for no reason. In addition, there had been an unusual number of strange illnesses and deaths, including that of a man who died in a typhoon. In 1979, similar unexplained things began occurred such as chickens laying eggs with double yokes were coupled with poor crop yields and all this was blamed on a family who buried their ancestors in places with less than optimal feng shui, depriving the village of positive forces. The villages elders ordered the burial removed. After that 11 members of the guilty family died. This same illegal burial was blamed for the devastating fire and is was decided something had to done.

Dong Medicine

A study by Liu Heng and Long Chun-lin of Dong medicine in Hunan province lists more than 1420 recipes and 686 medicines from 517 kinds of plants, animals and minerals. According to the researchers, the Dong "use different forms of medicine for different persons and diseases." Among those that are considerably different from traditional Chinese medicine are:[Source: Ethnic China]

1) Fish is used as medicine after it is fed water or food enriched with some medicine. For example a common carp fed with Japanese iris is used to cure stomach ache. 2) Clothing is also used as medicine. First a cloth is steamed with medicine and allowed to in a shady place. Clothes steamed with Japanese thistle and Chinese date can is used for treating intestinal parasites in children and infant malnutrition caused by digestive problems.

Tea being grown in Hunan

3) Some medicines are worn by patients sort of like a patch. Dong people think that children suffering from malnutrition can be cured wearing seven pieces of vitex plant. 4) Live animals are placed on infected parts of the patient's body. 5) The Dong extract the essence of some medicines by burning freshly-picked branches of a medicinal plant near cool ironware so that the vapor from burned medicinal plant condenses as a liquid in the ironware.

Study: Liu Yuheng and Long Chun-liu, “Studies on Dong Nationality medicine in Hunan, China.” published in Pei Shengji, Su Yong-ge, Long Chun-lin, Ken Marr and Darrell A. Posey. The Challenges of Ethnobiology in the 21st Century. Yunnan Science and Technology Press. Kunming, 1996

Floods and Fires and the Dong

Fires are big problem in Dong villages. The village that Tan visited suffered a devastating fire in 2006 that destroyed more than 60 homes and a drum tower and damaged 44 more homes. The fire began when an old man dropped his quilt on burning charcoal in a copper basin that kept him warm and was pushed to other buildings by strong winds. People were forced to flee with nothing but the the clothes on their backs to the nearest wind-rain bridge. Efforts to fight the fire were futile as broken pump prevented water from entering the fire hoses. The only thing that saves the rest of the village was tearing down houses to make fire breaks. Rebuilding costs were estimated at be between $2,500 and $5,000 per person. Such fire occur in Dong villages at a rate of about one every 30 years and their cause is often an old man and a charcoal burner. All the villagers, and some from other villages pitched in to help build new homes for those that lost theirs. Some people slept in their homes while they were being constructed. By winter everyone had a roof over their head.

In January 2014, a fire in an ancient Dong village in Guizhou Province destroyed nearly 300 homes, and affected the lives of over 1000 people. The blaze started on the evening of January 25 and according to preliminary reports more than 1000 buildings were ruined before it could be put out. It is still unclear how the fire started. The village is more than 300 years old, and one of the last remaining villages in China with occupants solely from the Dong. The fire broke out at 11:30 p.m. in Baojing Dong Village of Zhenyuan County. It was put out at around 3:50 a.m. on Sunday, local officials said. Baojing Dong Village, built 300 years ago, is the biggest Dong village in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture of Guizhou. It was one of China's most complete such settlements, known for well-preserved ancient Dong-style dwellings. It holds 470 households and nearly 2,000 inhabitants. No casualties have been reported and the cause of the fire is being investigated. [Source:,, January 28, 2014]

In June 2007, a village struck by a fire was also hit by devastating heavy rains and floods Tan wrote: “A small amount of flooding was not unusual in summer...But this rain did not stop. People could hear its splattering on their roofs all night long. The Chief Village Elder, who lived in the flat valley, saw the river rising but was not concerned at first. He went to the mountains at 5:00am to feed his horse. When he returned the river had spilled over its ten-foot-high banks. His family was gone, they had already carried the he television and their valuables to the top floor. The neighbors were in the midst of securing coffins and sacred pigs. He watched from the closest bridge.”

”On the other side of the bridge, water rushed into the ground levels homes,” Tan wrote. “A frightened young woman strapped her baby to her back and she and her in-laws took what they could to the upper level. Other belongings floated away; buckets and stools, pails of anyu and bamboo holsters for scythes. One neighbor’s front door ripped off and became a raft. The narrow road was now part of the river, a dark channel of mud, rocks, debris and logs. Waves slapped on the sides of the shortest bridge, and water gushed through rail slats and covered the benches. It looked like a boat about to leave it mooring. Submerged fields broadened the river, and hundreds of carp rushed downstream. Some landed in fields. People stood on bridge trying to net the rest.

”At 9 a.m. the rain subsided. At 11 a.m. the water began to recede....According to the chief it was the worst flood in 80 to 100 years. Fields were lost. Homes were damaged, roads were washed out, but luckily no one was killed.” The devastation was widespread. All of Guizhou and Hunan Provinces had been affected. Many wondered if the illegal grave curse was still active. Were more illegal burials to be found? A certain sense of relief was achieved when the Feng Shui Master announced that the floods were “a natural disaster, not a supernatural one.”

Dong Agriculture and Economic Life

Farming is a major occupation of the Dongs, who grow rice, wheat, millet, maize and sweet potatoes. Their most important cash crops are cotton, tobacco, rape and soybean. The Dong people grow enormous numbers of timber trees which are logged and sent to markets. Tung-oil and lacquer and oil-tea camellia trees are also grown for their edible oil and varnish.

The most favorite tree of the people of this ethnic group is fir, which is grown very extensively. Whenever a child is born, the parents begin to plant some fir saplings for their baby. When the child reaches the age of 18 and marries, the fir trees, that have matured too, are felled and used to build houses for the bride and groom. For this reason, such fir trees are called "18-year-trees." With the introduction of scientific cultivation methods, a fir sapling can now mature in only eight or 10 years, but the term "18-year-trees" is still current among the Dong people. [Source:]

Most villages are made up of rice farmers who earn less than $500 a year. During the day there are always people working in the fields: harvesting, planting, plowing or tending vegetables grown in the off season. Many rice fields are in terraces situated on the flanks of hills and mountains. Women, many of them elderly, do the majority of the daily farming chores. Sometimes they walk several kilometers on steep paths to get to the fields that they work.

Fish are raised in the rice paddies In the spring carp fingerlings are released into the field during planting, At harvest time the paddies are drained before the harvest by punching holes in the walls that separate them. As the water flows out hundred of hand-size fish are left flopping in the muddy bottom and they are collected. As fish grow they help the rice by eating weeds, algae and pests such as snails and mosquito larvae and get fattened up eating masses of moths that drown in the paddies during the mating season.

Many young adults have gone off to the cities seeking jobs and opportunities, leaving behind children to be raised by grandparents. It is not unusual for half the village residents — and nearly all the young adults — to live outside the village, often earning $200 a month compared to the $200 a year they would earn in their village.

Image Sources: Nolls China website, Dong tea (Global Times and China Daily and Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: 1) “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4), the Chinese government news site |; Amy Tan, National Geographic, May 2008; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Smithsonian magazine, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated October 2022

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