China's "last cave dwellers" refuse to leave

Updated: 2007-02-14 09:23

An ethnic Miao man carrying buckets walks out of a huge cave at a remote Miao village in Ziyun county, southwest China's Guizhou province February 11, 2007. The village of Zhongdong, which literally means "middle cave", is build in a huge, aircraft hanger-sized natural cave, carved out of a mountain over thousands of years by wind, water and seismic shifts. Picture taken on February 11, 2007. [Reuters]

For Wang Fengguan, a man's cave is his castle.

He lives in a huge one -- and he has no intention of leaving. Neither do any of the other 20 families in his village.

"Where else would we go?" said Wang, sitting in his house, built in the cave where his family has lived for more than half a century, deep in the poor, remote southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou.

"This is our home. We are used to it," he added, in uncertain sounding Mandarin.

Wang's village of Zhongdong -- which literally means "middle cave" -- is built in a huge, aircraft hanger-sized natural cave, carved inside a mountain over thousands of years by wind, water and seismic shifts.

In other parts of China people live in houses tunnelled out of hillsides, but Zhongdong is, the local government believes, the last place in the country where people live year-round in a naturally occurring cave.

The villagers are all ethnic Miao people, supposedly related to Southeast Asia's Hmong, and one of several minority groups who live in Guizhou.

Getting to the cave is extremely difficult. It takes some four hours to drive there from provincial capital Guiyang, the last hour on a dirt road which clings precariously to the side of a mountain valley, high above a river.

But the final way up to Zhongdong is to walk for more than an hour up a steep, rough stone path hewn out of rocks.

Everything must come up the path -- food, concrete and even washing machines.

The government has built houses for the villagers in a valley below the cave, but they don't want to go, saying the houses are "not up to standard" and leak during the heavy rains which characterise Guizhou's damp climate.

"We thought about moving, but we don't want to go," said Wang Houzhong, sitting on the floor splitting bamboo to make mats.

"We are China's last cave dwellers," he added, axe in hand. "Life is very bitter for us."


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