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Where drum towers set life's tempo

By Yang Jie And Yang Jun In Jiangkou County, Guizhou ( China Daily )

Updated: 2016-03-07

Yang Yuanju's family offers ritualistic sacrifices to their ancestors in a 19-story drum tower in the village center on Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve.

The buildings - constructed with notched boards and not a single nail - are central to ethnic Dong life in every sense. They're the anchoring landmarks that soar over every settlement - even the tiniest hamlet.

It has been this way since time immemorial. Nobody knows when the ethnic group erected the first. Their language is without written form.

But oral history declares that whenever and wherever Dong have settled, there has been a drum tower.

The buildings are believed to have initially served as alert-broadcast systems for village chiefs, who'd become percussionists to implore the people to convene because of invasions or to call town-hall meetings.

Most are over 20 meters wide. They're built without blueprints with timber each family donates.

Yang and her husband run a restaurant at the Fanjing Mountains' foot in Guizhou province's Jiangkou county.

The 42-year-old says many from her community's 62 households rehearse Dong dances and dramas in the drum tower's square.

It hosts a 40-member dance troupe since the area has recently won recognition for its ecology, anthropology and scenery.

Guizhou in 2016 for the first time earned a spot on the New York Times' top "52 places to go" list for its "unhurried pace" and "authentic feel".

The largely inaccessible region in China was praised as "authentic Chinese hill tribes without mass tourism - yet".

Yang's village hasn't received many foreigners.


"Once, a blond, blue-eyed foreigner, who couldn't use chopsticks, ate at our restaurant," she recalls.

"I gave him a plastic fork from an instant noodle package because we don't have knives and forks."

Many of her customers are headed toward the Fanjing Mountains' UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, 3 kilometers away.

The range is the only habitat of the rare Guizhou snub-nosed monkey and a place of Buddhist pilgrimage.

Local temples host special blessing ceremonies during Spring Festival.

More efforts should be made to take full advantage of the unique local cultural and scenic resources to better develop the tourism industry, says Xia Qingfeng, Party chief of Tongren city.

Seasonal rituals illustrate that, while those who came before should be venerated, people living today need all the luck they can get.

It's a philosophy that marches to the beat of the drum tower.


 Where drum towers set life's tempo

Ethnic Dong people dance in the front of a drum tower during a celebration in Jiangkou county, Guizhou province. Provided To China Daily

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