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Changes bring prosperity to Dong people

By Wang Jinhui and Yang Jun ( China Daily )

Updated: 2016-10-19

The dull thud of wooden mallets striking cloth punctured the gentle calm of the village. Men sat on wooden benches grinning at passing strangers, while old women, dressed in traditional Dong costumes of deepest blue and with combs tucked into their buns, cooed gently at the babies sleeping on their backs, secured by colorful ribbons and blankets tied at the waist and shoulder.

The scene is a typical of many Dong villages, and the place in question is called Zhaoxing Dong village. Located in Liping county in the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture in Southwest China's Guizhou province, the village has an area of 22.92 square kilometers. Roughly 1,300 families live there, making it the largest Dong village in China.

It is also where 39-year-old Chinese-American photographer Frank Chen chose to settle after running a Chinese restaurant in the US for more than 10 years.

"When I first saw the farmland and wooden houses here, I felt I had found the place where I could slow down and take a rest," he said.

In 2014, he opened an inn to provide accommodation and travel planning services for visitors from across China.

"I am not motivated by money," said Chen. "I am looking for a kind of slow and tranquil life, far from the complexity of metropolises." He has taken innumerable photographs of the Dong people. "I want to use my camera lens to record the changing lifestyles of the Dong people under the flow of modernization," he said.

The past two years saw Zhaoxing Dong village undergo many changes as a result of the increasing number of tourists.

Visitors took advantage of the improved transportation links following the opening of the Guiyang to Guangzhou High Speed Railway in November 2014. The new link has cut travel times from Guiyang to Zhaoxing Village's nearest station from 11 hours to around 2.

"The number of tourists has increased since the opening of the high-speed railway," said 32-year-old Luo Jiamei, a woman from the Dong ethnic group.

"I see the changes in the village every time I come back here, and I also saw that I could take advantage of those changes to develop my own career," she said.

Luo returned to the village to run a hotel after spending two years in Singapore.

She said she came home at the same time as several of her friends, as all of them had the aim of starting their own businesses.

Three years later, Luo is the only one that remains. "I am not just interested in the financial rewards," she said.

"As a Dong woman, I take a very personal interest in our culture, and I would like to promote it in my own way."

On the walls and ceilings of her hotel are examples of traditional Dong embroidery. The rooms also house sculpted pendant lamps made of white melons, which Luo said she made herself.

She added that as a result of the many changes in the village, residents' lives are now vastly improved.

"When I was young, villagers used firewood instead of electricity, because electricity seemed like far too much of a luxury. Now, however, most people use electricity since average incomes have risen," said Luo.

Chen Meiling contributed to this story.

Contact the writers at wangjinhui@chinadaily.com.cn and yangjun@chinadaily.com.cn

 Changes bring prosperity to Dong people

A local resident in Zhaoxing Dong village performs on a Lusheng, a musical instrument of the Dong ethnic group.Yang Jun / China Daily

(China Daily 10/19/2016 page22)

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