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Creating a song and dance for tourists

By Liu Wei | China Daily | Updated: 2012-04-12 14:55

While Longli completely preserves a Han lifestyle, surrounding areas in southeastern Guizhou are known for their Miao and Dong culture.

I set out from Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, and arrived at Xiaohuang village after four hours on bumpy roads.

The Dong village is famous for da ge, or grand songs, a kind of a cappella in multiple parts, sung by many singers in bright voices.

The Dong people do not have their own written language, so they record their history and culture in songs. They sing about animals, mountains, rivers and, most frequently, romance.

During festivals people gather at a building called the drum tower, usually in the center of town, to celebrate.

A group of children about 10 years old were singing in the village's drum tower when I was there. Sitting behind them was a group of old ge shi, or singing teachers. The eldest was more than 80 years old. In every Dong village there are singers who volunteer to teach children in their neighborhoods.

Dong children learn grand songs from their parents when they learn to speak. They go to the teachers' homes to practice and form choruses.

The refreshing melodies can be heard not only during festivals, but also in some small inns opened by villagers.

After feeding my soul with song I was treated to something special for my stomach.

My friends in Liping, a Dong county 90 minutes' drive from Xiaohuang, served me a mysterious hot pot called niu bie, a boiling green soup. It is made of digested grass and herbs from a cow's stomach and intestines.

Locals believe the hot pot is a cure for gastric problems caused by drinking too much wine. And though I wasn't impressed by the look and initial sourness, it grew on me the more I ate.

Another major ethnic group in southeastern Guizhou is the Miao, which shares the same passion for wine and singing as the Dong.

I stopped at Xijiang, the largest Miao community in the world. It takes two hours to get there from Liping.

I both love and dislike the village for the same reason: it caters to tourists.

Being a sophisticated tourist destination meant I could take a shower in my hotel room with views of the valley, green terraces and typical Miao yellow wooden cabins dotting the mountains.

But it also meant that entering the village required me to buy a ticket and the Miao silver accessory shops were crowded.

Miao songs and dances are staged every day in a square. They are engaging and energetic, but have a similar format to a television show.

The most enchanting moment was at night, when the starry sky, mountains and echoing lights of the Miao households created an amazing scene that made up for the frustrations of it being a tourist village.

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