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Dongxing, a Longevity City in Guangxi | Updated: 2012-05-11 14:06
Dongxing, a Longevity City in Guangxi

Dongxing's beautiful coast line. [Photo/]

Among China's ethnic minority groups, the Jing people are the only group that lives on the sea, with a minute population of about 23,000. The Jing ethnic group lives on three small islands on the southern tip of a peninsula in Dongxing city in southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Adjacent to the waters of Vietnam, the three Jing Islands are known throughout China for their large proportion of centenarians.

In today's On the Road, we're going to visit the islands to find out more about the Jing ethnic group.

This is 103-year-old Ran Jiezhong singing the Ha song, a traditional local style folk song. Ran is a member of the Jing ethnic group. He was born on August 4th, 1908 in Wutou, one of the three islands. He has remained here his whole life.

Ran says he does not work anymore because of his age. Every morning, after breakfast, he and the other old folks on the island gather at the Hating Pavilion in the center of the island to sing songs. He says everyone enjoys singing and they enjoy old age together.

Ran lives with his wife, 100-year-old Wu Xiulan, and their daughter, 74-year-old Ran Fang. As Dongxing City is one of the most developed areas in China, old people in the village enjoy better pensions than most other longevity areas in the country.

Covering a total area of 21 square kilometers, the three Jing islands are tiny and each of them is referred to as a village by the local people. Chen Jianliang is head of the Wutou village committee. 

Chen says in addition to the regular old age pensions issued nationwide, old people in the village enjoy additional subsidies provided by different levels of local governments. The members of the village committee pay regular visits to the old people's homes to see if they require help.

Dongxing city was recently named as China's 16th longevity area by the Geriatric Society of China. Among the city's 120,000 people, those above the age of 80 account for two percent of the total population, surpassing the 1.4 percent standard required for a longevity area in China. The majority of this long-living segment of the population is found on the Jing Islands which are home to 25 centenarians.

Among the three islands, Wanwei is the southernmost island. In the village, residential buildings line both sides of the main roads and family cars are parked outside many buildings.

Village roads extend in all directions and the local transport industry busily ferries fish and shrimp to the markets for trade.

The Jing ethnic group claims to have migrated to China from Vietnam 500 years ago and have traditionally sustained themselves through fishing.

Su Mingfang is head of the village committee in Wanwei. He says this was a very poor village two decades ago. The residents had to catch fish and travel long distances through the mountains to trade their wares with others for food.

Su says Wanwei was an isolated island in the 1970s. Transportation was very difficult. People often had to wait until the tide retreated before they were able to set out for the markets.

But life began to change two decades ago when the central government adopted the reform and opening up policy to improve people's living standards. The village discovered numerous sources of income such as processing and general trade in addition to fishing and aquaculture.

Once they became more affluent, the villagers also adopted more modern lifestyles. 101-year-old Liu Jingming and his wife, 96-year-old Huang Zhaoying have six children. Liu says the key to longevity, if there is one, is that he is not particular with his food.

The centenarian says he likes fatty meat, fish and vegetables.

Liu Yong, Liu Jingming's son says the five sons in the family each pay their share of their parents' living expenses on a monthly basis. Each month, Liu Jingming and his wife get about 1,200 yuan, a little less than 200 US dollars, to spend on everyday life, which is a sizeable amount on the island.

But no matter how their environment and living styles change, the Jing people still worship their traditional gods and ancestors.

Most of China's 23,000 Jing people live on the three islands, but the rest can be found all over China. They gather on the islands every year for the traditional Changha Festival in June.

During the festival, people congregate in Wanwei Village to worship the gods and their ancestors at the Hating, or Ha Pavilion; a white walled building adorned with red tiles at the village entrance. The building is a perfect example of Jing architecture.

The most popular activity during the festival is Changha, or singing songs.

That was the Ha song. The villagers sing this when offering sacrifices to their gods and ancestors.

Village head Su Mingfang explains how the festival first originated.

Shortly after the Jing peoples' ancestors settled in the area, they went out fishing and became caught in a rainstorm. They had to go to the island of Wanwei to shelter from the storm. June the 10th was the date when these fishermen completed the construction of the first Hating pavilion. So, they refer to this day as the Changha Festival. According to local custom, only the most beautiful and the most talented singers are chosen to sing the Ha song in the pavilion.

55-year-old Huang Yuying is the oldest of the five Ha singers in the village. She is considered one of the best singers among the ethnic group.

This is Huang Yuying singing the Ha song to the accompaniment of the single-stringed fiddle, a unique musical instrument of the ethnic group.

25-year-old Zhao Xia, a talented young musician explains how the single-stringed fiddle works.

Composed of three major parts, the single-stringed instrument is 80 centimeters long and shaped like a rectangular box. As its name implies, the instrument only has one string. The performer holds the fiddle in their left hand and plucks the string with a tiny piece of bamboo in their right hand. The instrument is usually played during the Changha Festival as an accompanying instrument, but it's also good for solo pieces.

This piece of music is called "Crossing the Bridge" and is one of the group's classic folk songs. Other popular melodies include "High Mountains, Flowing Streams", and "Riding on a Horse".

Village head Su Mingfang says the local government invests money every year in an effort to encourage young people to learn the art of Ha singing and other Jing traditions.

To preserve the group's ethnic traditions and culture, the local government spends a large amount of money every year training singers and performers. In addition, a Jing ethnic cultural base is currently being built on the island. Aside from the Changha Festival, another popular communal activity of the Jing People is the Dragnet fishing activity. The fishing net used is usually a thousand meters long, weighing 2,000 kilograms, at a cost of 10,000 yuan. More than 30 people cast the net in the sea during the morning. The whole process usually finishes by noon and the catch is divided by everyone who takes part in the activity.

Shen Aidong is an official with the county government. He says that the Dragnet activity has become a form of entertainment rather than a method by which people can make a living.

During the Dragnet activity, everyone works together and shares the catch. The Jing group used to make a living by fishing for generations. But recently, great changes have taken place to the framework of their local economy. Trade and tourism across the border has grown, and the Dragnet activity has become an important form of entertainment for the local people.

Living next to the sea and situated on the border of the country, the Jing people have taken advantage of their location to develop tourism in addition to the traditional aquatic and fishing industries.

The top party official of Dongxing city government, Liao Rufen says the number of centenarians has continued to rise in China thanks to economic development and an improved quality of life and healthcare. Dongxing will make use of its longevity culture to promote the tourism sector.

The party official says longevity is part of the city's brand. The municipal government will continue to raise subsidies for the area's elderly people to further improve their living standards.

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