A Visit to Zhaoxing Dong Village

Culture

A Visit to Zhaoxing Dong Village

by Live in Guizhou


PUBLISHED August 17, 2021 • 6 MIN READ

Liping County is situated at the borders of Guizhou, Hunan and Guangxi provinces. The name literally means “peace and happiness to all residents”. Among the 13 residing ethnic groups, the Dong ethnic group enjoys a population of 400,000, representing 71 percent of the county’s total. It has the largest Dong population in China, and it is home to the highest concentration of the best-preserved Dong culture.
Zhaoxing Dong Village is the biggest dong village in China, honored as the first village of the Dong. It was named as one of China’s most beautiful ancient villages and towns in 2005 by Chinese National Geography, and one of the world’s 33 most attractive scenic spots jointly selected by National Geographic Traveler and National Geographic in 2007. Besides, Zhaoxing Dong Village was also named as the world’s biggest ethnic museum, the most ancient “folk song” that still exists, etc.

1.Dong Village · Drum Towers

Zhaoxing Dong Village is situated in the southeast of Liping County; the drive from the county center to the village takes over an hour.
Drum towers are the symbol of the Dong culture and Dong villages, and those in Zhaoxing Dong Village have been listed in the Guinness World Records. This land is regarded as the “home to drum tower culture and art”.
A folktale regarding the origin of drum towers recounts that during the Three Kingdoms period, Zhuge Liang, a famous military strategist, once stationed troops in Liping on their march towards the south. To facilitate command, he ordered the building of high pavilions in the camp with bronze drums placed inside so as to deliver orders through drumbeats, and just like that, the drum towers came into being. Zhaoxing Dong Village now has five distinctive- looking drum towers varying in, height, size and style, presenting a splendid sight. The construction of drum towers in a Dong village is usually funded by all the villagers, symbolizing good luck and prosperity.
The beauty of the drum towers is reflected in the peculiar and delicate structure which requires no nails or rivets but a couple of poles. The sophisticated building techniques guarantee that the solid and stable structure will withstand the wind and rain over centuries. Such techniques have been added to the first group of
the China’s National Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

2.Dong Village · The Grand Songs

In Liping, Congjiang and Rongjiang counties of Guizhou Province, the main dwelling areas for the Dong people, grand songs enjoy great popularity. They can be easily heard on street, even as ringtones. Over the past few years, the mentioned counties have established some Dong song themed festivals, such as the Drum Tower Art Festival, Dong Grand Songs Festival, and the Sama Festival, in an effort to promote the passing down of the Dong songs.
The Grand Songs of the Dong Ethnic Group were inscribed into the first group of the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2005, and the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. Guizhou Province has now selected more than 300 ‘heirs’ of the grand songs at national, provincial, prefectural and county levels, providing them with subsidies annually. In the present Liping County, all the good-looking people that can sing have joined the chorus to perform and to spread the Dong culture worldwide.
Xiaowei, a performer in the art troupe, said, he had worked in another city for ten years until one night he got a phone call from the former leader of the troupe. He immediately returned to Guizhou the same night and joined the troupe.
It seems to me that Guizhou people possess a natural passion for the Dong grand songs.

3.Dong Village · Song and Moon

There is an interesting Dong custom – Song and Moon.
According to the custom, young men and women, used to gather by the drum towers or on the Wind and Rain Bridge, and get to know one another, and find the one they like by singing love songs. This is an ancient custom of the Dong people and can be considered as the most original “blind dating”. According to the troupe leader, one couple in Zhaoxing Art Troupe met each other at such occasion, where the man wooed his girl, now his wife, by singing.
Dong girls get together to sing at the age of seven or eight, and they would normally be able to sing twenty or thirty songs by the time they are to wed. It is said that Dong girls, when looking for a boyfriend, always take a boy’s singing as a paramount consideration by testing his improvised singing in antiphonal style. So Song and Moon is key for the marriage decision-making of the Dong people.

4.Dong Village · Singing Master

Dong people have teachers for the grand songs. But what makes them different is that their teachers have no music score or lyrics, and their songs are taught verbally.
Dong people have a saying as follows “songs nourish the soul just like rice nourishes the body”. For over two thousand years, the Grand Songs of the Dong Ethnic Group are more than just a performance. Dong people express their thoughts, their feelings and emotions in the grand songs. These folk songs are not just a kind of folk art, but also a code of conduct strictly followed by the Dong people, and from which we can see the esteem in which the singing teachers of the Dong people are held.

5.Dong Village · People down the Drum Towers

Compared with the women busy doing needlework, the men down by the drum tower seemed pretty laid-back. They were seated around the fire at the drum tower, playing cards and chatting away, feeling fairly cozy. Actually, the drum towers, as the symbol of the village, is the gathering venue, as well as the spiritual home of the locals. Only after the building of the drum towers, did the Dong village come into being, then the elderly storytellers started gathering at the drum towers, and then, the Dong legends were born!

6.Dong Village · Wind and Rain Bridge

One bridge in the village has a graceful name – the Wind and Rain Bridge. Legend says that a newly-wed couple was walking on the bridge when all of a sudden a gust of wind carried away the wife into the river. The culprit turned out to be the crab spirit in the river, for it longed for the beauty of the wife.
The husband was so worried that he began to cry. A dragon living under the water was woken up by his wails and moved by his loyalty. The dragon rushed out of the water, killed the crab spirit and saved the wife.
And the couple managed to be reunited. To commemorate the dragon, people carved dragon pattern on the bridge piers and called the bridge Dragon Bridge (Huilong Bridge). Later, it was renamed Wind and Rain Bridge as it shelters people from the wind and the rain.
“Dong people have three treasures, the drum towers, the grand songs, and the Wind and Rain Bridge”. The construction of the bridge, for which no nail or rivet was used, was done using the resilient fir. The Dong village lies at the foot of the mountains and near the river. For the Dong people,the bridges are an indispensable element of their life. Every bridge tells stories about the past and the future of the village.