Tibet's Deng people, a branch of the native Tibetan who lived in west China's Tibet, have started their modern life with modern household appliances such as telephones and TV sets.
However, in the 1950's, they led a primitive life in which they cut rope into different lengths to record events and they cultivated farmland by reaphook while controlling weeds by spreading fire.
The Deng people, also known as the Dengba, lived in Tibet's Zayu county and virgin forest areas between the Himalayas and the Hengduan Mountains at an elevation of 1000 meters.
At present 1,320 Deng people are living in the Zayu County which now has nine Deng villages.
Although they have no written language, the Deng people have their own spoken language, which derives from the Tibetan-Myanmese branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family.
Their clothing is unique. Women favor silver ornaments while most of the men wear black headscarf and always carry a knife on their belt.
Before the 1950's, the Deng people were always looked down upon because of their poverty and were even nicknamed "monkey" or "wild man".
Today, each Deng family has its own beautiful wooden residence, surrounded by flourishing flowers and trees and a good view of distant green terraced fields.
Local villager Dongwei built his new house a few years ago, planting his courtyard with thriving flowers and fruit trees and installing a disk antenna in his yard.
His two-floor house is economically used. The first floor is for livestock or storing goods. On the second floor, several rooms leading off a corridor are arranged in an orderly manner for family members.
In his living room, the television set, VCD and a pile of CDs are in the cabinet, showing the well-off owner's modernity.
His little sister is a movie star fan. Movie star posters are stuck everywhere in her room.
Dongwei says that being raised in poverty, his father got used to the simple life in their old house, which was dark and damp but warmer than new house in winter.
Songniao, a local official who is also a Deng ethnic, says that in the past, most Deng people lived in shelters which were set up halfway up a hill, in order to plant corn with simple tools.
The annual output was so low that villagers were short of food eight to nine months of the year. Sometimes they had to survive by hunting wild animals or searching for wild fruit and herbs.
Social researchers believed that until the 1950's, the Deng people did not have any social strata, hierarchy and privacy. At the time, they were still living a primitive life style.
According to Songniao, from 1966 to 1968, the central government spent 160,000 yuan (US$20,000) to build new houses along the Zayu River to relocate the local Tibetans. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) helped the Deng people move away from the isolated mountain areas.
After moving to their new homes, the Deng people blended in well with local villagers. The younger members began learning Tibetan and mandarin, cultivating farmland with advanced modern tools.
So far, over 90 percent school-aged Deng children are receiving an education. Many Deng people have been trained as officials.
Until the early 1980's, the Deng women still retained a convention of smoking. At the time, it was very common to see in Deng villages that young and old women with long-stemmed tobacco pipes, smoking and chatting in the middle of the street.
Today, women in Deng villages can seldom be seen smoking. They prefer to go dancing or listen to music in their spare time.
Recently, the local government spent over 400,000 yuan (US$80,000) to set up the 10th Deng village and built a recreation center for the villagers.
Kapuxia, a young Deng villager says that in the language "Deng" originally meant impoverishment, but today it has a new meaning. Nowadays, "Deng" is interpreted as the synonym of "happiness".
(Xinhua News Agency January 5, 2002)