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Ancient Garrison Villages to Bid for World Cultural Heritage List

Cultural heritage authorities of Guizhou Province, southwest China, are expecting to add a group of 600-year-old garrison villages and houses to the World Cultural Heritage list.

Guo Binghong, a cultural official with Anshun city, said they had reported the application plan to and expected approval from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

In the Yunshan and Benzhai villages, located eight kilometers from the Qiyanqiao Town of Xixiu district, Anshun city, stand a group of buildings such as village walls, civil residential housing, temples and opera towers, which were built in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. They were put on the state cultural relics protection plan in 2001.

Yunshan and Benzhai villages are only the representative examples of the over 300 fort-like villages which fan out in an area of 1,340 square kilometers around Anshun city. These villages have a total population of more than 300,000, who are descendants of garrison troops of the Ming Dynasty.

Historical records show that Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty sent 300,000 soldiers to put down riots in the southwest China region, namely the modern Yunnan Province, in 1381.

After two years of warfare, these soldiers settled down to garrison the frontier. They continued military training and were engaged in farming.

Later, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang relocated 200,000 civilians from Yingtian (modern Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu province), and some places of today's Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangxi provinces, east China, to strengthen forces in the Anshun area.

Over the past 600 years, people in the area have adhered to the traditions and customs that were practiced by people in Nanjing area and other places in Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangxi, during the Ming Dynasty. One typical example is that many locals dress in Ming-styled clothes, like loose long gowns in sapphire blue, even today.

Ethnologists have called people in the fort-like villages in Anshun area "Tun (garrison troops) Bao (Fort) People".

"Tun Bao People" have created and maintained a typical culture that distinguishes itself from that of over 20 nearby ethnic groups: they live in stone-and-wood fort-like houses, amuse themselves with Dixi, a kind of Nuo opera that mainly reflects and tells wartime stories in ancient times, making lanterns as an offering to their dead ancestors, and singing folk songs. And they speak dialect their ancestors had spoke over 600 years ago.

Zhang Xiaosong, a professor with Guizhou Education College who has devoted herself to studying the "Tun Bao culture", said "Tun Bao People" have found a way of creating a harmonious relationship between man and nature, and well preserved their own culture in an environment of powerful ethnic cultures and in a fragile ecological environment on a karst land.

She called for further study and protection of the "Tun Bao" cultural community, which was described by herself as a good example of a traditional dwelling place for human beings.

(Xinhua News Agency March 23, 2004)

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