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A disappearing culture
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ALL THAT REMAINS: A Qiang woman tidies up quilts dug out from the ruins of her village, destroyed by the earthquake

With 3,000 years of history behind them and only 300,000 of them left in the world, China's Qiang ethnic group is a nationality with an interesting yet little-known culture.

That culture came into the light recently with the opening of a new exhibition at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities of Beijing called Qiang Culture in the Earthquake-hit Areas of Sichuan Province.

It has attracted particularly large crowds because Beichuan, the only Qiang autonomous county in China, was shaken severely by the earthquake in Sichuan on May 12.

The exhibition, which opened on June 14, presents more than 100 items related with the Qiang culture, including utensils, clothes and musical instruments. The items were collected from other counties that are also inhabited by the Qiang people but were less affected by the earthquake. There are also around 300 photographs taken by journalists showing the customs, constructions, and living habits of the Qiang people.

"We lost 805 items of Qiang cultural relics in the earthquake," Gao Zeyou, Director of Beichuan Qiang Folk Museum told Beijing Review. "Almost all the museums in Beichuan County were destroyed and all the items in the Qiang Folk Museum were damaged. The destruction has been ruinous."

QIANG FASHION: An exhibition of Qiang culture held in the Cultural Palace of Nationalities shows the beautiful clothes of the Qiang people (YUAN YUAN)

The history of the Qiang ethnic group can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C.-1046 B.C.). According to China's census of 2000, there were 306,000 Qiang people, living mainly in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Nationality Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. Beichuan, one of the counties in the prefecture, has a history of 1,400 years, and has long been a gathering place for the Qiang people. It is now the only Qiang Autonomous County of China. Among the 169,000 inhabitants of Beichuan, 60 percent are Qiang people. In the earthquake, around 30,000 Qiang people lost their lives.

Unique characteristics

The Qiang people have a rich culture. Their homes, clothes, food, music, dance and language all have unique characteristics.

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