Guizhou: Miao and Dong culture in the mountains (5 days)
Hike between villages and enclaves in the mountains of Guizhou Province to get a up-close look at the well-preserved rituals, traditions, terraced hillside rice paddies, and architecture of the Miao and Dong (and more) ethnic groups.
|Day One main activities||Meet up at the airport in Guiyang, drive to Danzhai. Tour of Danzhai. Overnight in Danzhai.|
|Day Two main activities||Drive to Liujiang River, hike into Shui village, hike over to White Bird Miao village. Overnight in Rongjiang.|
|Day Three main activities||Hiking through forest between villages in Dong area, overnight in Congjiang.|
|Day Four main activities||Hike between Miao and Dong villages in Yintan area, overnight in Zhaoxing.|
|Day Five main activities||Tour of Zhaoxing area, drive to Guiyang, trip finishes at Guiyang Airport.|
Guizhou is a landlocked, mountainous province in central south China, sharing borders with the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Hunan, and Guangxi.
The capital of Guizhou is Guiyang, a city of around 4 million located roughly in the middle of the province.
Guizhou's population is close to 35 million people, with nearly 40% of the inhabitants part of ethnic groups other than Han Chinese. With all the different ethnic groups, you'll hear a lot of different dialects while in Guizhou. Standard Chinese is the language most people have in common, but in the mountains the local dialects are used in daily life.
While rich in culture, Guizhou does not do so well economically. Of the 31 administrative divisions of China, Guizhou ranked last in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in a 2013 survey. Key industries of Guizhou are timber, forestry, and also tobacco, of which it is China's third-largest producer.
Guizhou was made a province of the Ming in 1413, but not willingly. Over the years there were several rebellions led by the Miao and Yao. After the Ming, the Qing took over in Guizhou, and, at one point during the Qing Dynasty, Guizhou was actually controlled by the Taiping Rebels. The Long March passed through Guizhou in the 1930's, and it was in Guizhou that Mao Zedong was made leader of the Communist Party. Quite a tumultuous history, and that's only going as far back as the Ming Dynasty!
Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture
We're starting in Guiyang for this trip, but will spend most of our time in the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture.
An autonomous area is a specific area associated with a particular ethnic group, or groups – either by more than 50% of the area's population being made up of ethnic groups other than Han Chinese, or by a historical connection. Some of the areas are province-sized, and others are only townships, and the head of administration of that area will be a member of the particular ethnic group associated with the area.
Autonomous areas have more control over local decision-making than areas controlled directly by the government, with more independence for decisions of finance, economic planning, and arts, science, language, and culture. The continuation of a tradition of hunting with rifles in Basha Village is an example of this—it must be one of the only places in China where you can see regular people with rifles.
Miao and Dong culture
The main two ethnic groups in this autonomous prefecture are the Miao and the Dong, together accounting for more than 70% of the total inhabitants. As with much of China, the urban areas are modernised, but by heading out into the countryside we'll get a great look at the more traditional side of southern Chinese ethnic culture – very different to what we see in Beijing.
The Miao are the sixth-largest of the 56 different ethnic groups in China, with a total population of around nine million people. Around 50% of that total live in Guizhou Province.
There are many sub-groups within the Miao, the most well-known being the Hmong. Some of these sub-groups are not closely linked, and some of the different dialects are not widely understood by those of a different sub-group.
In China, the sub-groups of the Miao are often referred to by the main colour of the women's clothing or some other key characteristic, resulting in names that are either very plain or very descriptive: Red Miao, Black Miao, White Miao; Big Flowery Miao, Small Flowery Miao.
A lot of the Chinese words to do with rice appear to have been borrowed from the Miao, who are perhaps the first rice farmers in China. It's not a coincidence that we'll be seeing a lot of rice paddies and terraces on this trip!
As well as special sorts of clothing, the Miao are also fond of festivals and performances, and we'll see several of those on this trip. Performances often depict rituals and traditions of the Miao, including animism (the worship of natural objects like trees and rocks), shamanism, and courtship and marriage rituals.
We'll get an up-close look at the unique customs of the Miao ethnic group at Basha Village, including the stilt-houses that are a signature style of their architecture.
The Dong are the eleventh-largest of China's ethnic groups, with a total population of some three million people. As with the Miao, around 50% of that total live in Guizhou Province.
The Dong do not have as many sub-groups as the Miao. Their language has two main dialects: North, and South.
They are famous for a rich tradition of song, and their 'polyphonic choral singing' is listed by UNESCO as 'World-Class Intangible Cultural Heritage'. Common topics of the songs include love songs, drinking songs, bride's songs, and morning songs, and you'll definitely hear some of this special singing during the trip.
The Dong also hold to old traditions and superstitions, with elaborate rituals for courtship, weddings, and funerals. Some are animists and/or polytheists, and their folk religion includes divination from rice grains, bamboo shoots, and the entrails of chickens.
A typical Dong village has 200-300 homes, and in the village you'll usually find stilt-houses, covered "Wind and Rain" bridges, a communal fishing pond, grain stores, and shrines for Sa Shui, the female deity who is the most important of the Dong gods.
Another typical feature of a Dong village is a pagoda-like Drum Tower. If a Dong village has more than one drum tower it is because different clans in the village have built their own tower. The larger and fancier the tower, the more well-off that particular clan.
Hiking between villages
It's not a Beijing Hikers trip without at least a little bit of hiking. And this trip features more hiking than most.
As with the hikes we do in Beijing, a long walk between villages in the countryside is an excellent way to get a close look at the real lifestyle of the people of China.
We have long and short hikes almost every day on this trip. Most of the trails we'll walk are dirt tracks, and they can be muddy and slippery after rain.