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Life Along the Chong'an River(1)
Anyone planning a Guizhou Provinces in Southwest China should consider a visit to some of the towns along the Chong'an River. Although not far from the capital of Guiyang, this area is seldom seen by tourists. Apart from the beautiful landscape, there are three towns of particular interest along the river, namely Chong'anjiang, named after the river, plus Fuquan and Gulong. The mountains and rivers in this area are virtually untouched by modern industrial society, and life continues mush as it has done for centuries.

The Chang'an River traces its source to the enormous Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, and can poetically be described as a glittering green ribbon. Life here is very peaceful and quiet. Early risers who live along the river punt their boats loaded with grain across the river to a hydraulic mill. These mills have been used here to remove the husk from wheat for perhaps thousands of years. Although the villagers have diesel mills at their disposal, they detest the smell of fuel that pervades the flour during processing. They would much rather spend the extra time and go over to the ancient hydraulic mill. Later as the sun is setting, they return home with their sacks of freshly-ground flour. Spanning the river is the renowned Iron Chain Bridge. Built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), its 16 thick chains are still in good condition, and the old-style bridge lends the town an ancient atmosphere.

Market Day in Chong'anjiang

Backed by a ridge of mountains, Chong'anjiang is a small and beautifully situated town. The houses that line the river, which threads past the town, are reflected in the water, and many of the old buildings still have enclosed walls. At one time a number of quays were located along the river to serve the merchant ships that regularly sailed upstream bringing goods.

Today there are about 60 villages inhabited by Han and Miao people that fall under the juridiction of Chong'anjiang Town.

On market day, I watched people come by boat to Chong'anjiang from the surrounding villages. No matter what ethnic group they belonged to, all of the men wore the blue suits common to Han Chinese, therefore it was difficult to distinguish nationalities unless one heard them speak. The women, however, did wear traditional costumes, making it easy to determine whether they belonged to the Hua(Flower) Miao, Bouyei, Ge or Dong nationalities. Each ethnic group has its own distinctive type of costume, recognizable by the type of silver jewellery they wear and whether their clothes are embroidered, made of batik or of another type of cloth.

At the market the most popular items were the beautiful hats and the beancurd sold at the stalls run by the Miao. The Miao also sold eggs held together by woven straw, a practical and convenient way to carry them. The market lasted the whold day, and at sunset the streets were crowded with people making their way home. I occasionally spotted a villager written on it, which would be used back in his village to celebrate some important event.
Boating in the moonlight

As for me, I returned to the house that was my temporary lodging. My host had dinner all prepared for me, and as we ate I told him about my day at the market, and he in turn asked me about city life. Like everyone else here, he led a simple, quiet existence. The house was spick and span both inside and out, and in traditional Chinese style, auspicious couplets were pasted on either side of the door. The first thing every morning my host would light candles and incense, and kowtow to his ancestors.

In the evening after dinner, candles were again lit for his wife to see by as she mended and sewed. I decided to go out and enjoy the night air, so I hired a boat and rowed out under the moonlight. Ripples glittered on the water's surface, and flames from resin torches fluttered in the distance. Gentle songs echoed along the water's surface. I rowed the boat towards the place where the songs were coming from, feeling as if I were in a dream. Suddenly the quiet was broken by my host, calling to me from the back. Only then did I realize that it was already quite late, so I turned round and slowly rowed back.

Sailing downstream along the Chong'an River the next day, out boat arrived at an ancient town named Fuquan. Construction of Fuquan's town wall first began in 1368, the first year of the Ming Dynasty, and was completed 30 years later in 1398. From the top of the steps one can see that the walls are still solidly linked together after all these years, and one can begin to imagine how the town must have looked centuries ago.

In Fuquan I visited a place called the Mayang (Horse-and-Sheep) Cave. There were no lights inside, therefore we carried resin torches and groped our way forward in the darkness. Overhead were all sorts of strangely-shaped stalactites. Another site worth visiting in Fuquan is the Gejing Bridge, built between 1573 and 1620 during the Ming Dynasty with funds donated by a man called Ge Jing. Each flagstone on this bridge is 30 square centimetres in size, looking a bit like pieces of beancurd, hence the bridge is also called "Beancurd Bridge" by the locals. This triple-arched stone bridge is over 20 metres high and 50 metres long, with its western section actually hollowed out of a sheer cliff. It is hard to imagine the difficulties involved in building a bridge like this using the simple techniques available at that time. Although it was constructed 370 years ago, the bridge--not as soft as its name suggests!--still remains solid and intact.

A Visit to Hua Miao Village

The Hua Miao are a sub-group of the Miao nationality, and the region along the Chong'an River is the only settlement where they live in compact communities. We set out early one day to visit a Hua Miao village, crossing green fields with row upon row of persimmon trees laden with fruit.

The village was small, yet it had its own village head (the eldest of the villagers) and strict village rules. Whoever wants to enter must first say the password or they are turned away. At night, to keep unwanted visitors out, a lorry is parked on the path, blocking the way to the village. The villagers also take security measures to protect themselves from theft by outsiders. Within the village, however, they have no such fear, since stealing is considered extremely shameful.

In this quiet mountains area, the Hua Miao live a simple, peaceful rural life. They grow maize on the mountain slopes and hang it in strings on their door or window frames to dry, to be group up later into meal or flour. Since there are no modern forms of entertainment such as TV or clubs in this mountainous area, as night falls groups of young people often get together at one person's house to play Lusheng pipes and sing and dance. The host entertains the visitors with food, while everyone else takes park in helping out the host with chores, singing all the time.

As they have few outside visitors, out arrival was a major event and we were given parties by one family after another, with one party often lasting several hours. Perhaps time is one thing the people here have in great abundance. When it was time is one thing the people here have in great abundance. When it was time to leave the village, I learned about an interesting Miao custom-no visitor of glasses of "farewell wine", which of course does not make leaving any easier! (more)

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