China / Society

Singer voices concern for old home

By Yang Jun and Peng Yining (China Daily) Updated: 2015-03-18 07:52

Folk singer Lei Yan, a member of the Miao ethnic group, is determined to protect her cultural identity.

A key part of that identity, she says, is the old wooden house where she was born and raised.

"My great-grandfather was also born in that house," said Lei, 34, from Guizhou province. "Though I moved to the city after I grew up, I always missed the old house."

A typical home in a Miao community is a stilted wooden structure with cattle downstairs and people living upstairs, she said.

Every house has a big tree near the front door, and young women often sit next to an open window embroidering flowers and birds on their clothes.

"I miss the leafy front yard and the smell of wood," she said. "But sadly the houses of my childhood memory are disappearing." Lei said people are sawing down the trees in front of their old houses and building concrete apartments. Many are abandoning their homes to move to cities, and the wooden stilts either become rotten and collapse or are destroyed by fire.

In 2013 and early last year, several towns and historic sites in Guizhou were gutted by fire, and traditional wooden homes were particularly affected.

In January last year, fire broke out at a traditional village in the province's Qiandongnan prefecture. More than 100 houses in a 300-year-old village where members of the Dong ethnic group lived were destroyed.

The village was one of 225 ancient towns and villages in Qiandongnan that were at particular risk of fire due to the wooden materials used in construction and the small distances between buildings. About 40 percent of fires in rural areas are caused by old electric wiring, according to Lei. She says the local government should convert villages into tourism sites so wooden houses can be maintained.

"I want people to keep villages just as they are, and not overdevelop them," she said. Most of the songs she performs are about the Miao ethnic group.

In one, Taste of Hometown, she sings about her mother's embroidery, the wooden balcony of her house and the traditional New Year paintings that hung on the wall.

"The song was inspired by the old houses in my hometown," she said. "If the ancient villages disappear, the Miao culture will die with them."

Su Jiangyuan and Zhao Kai contributed to this story.

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