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A Visit to an Ancient Shui Village
Ethnic minority groups account for nearly 40 percent of Guizhou’s population. Among them the largest groups include the Miao, Buyi, Dong and Shui people. The country’s western development drive has put Guizhou under the spotlight, and sweeping changes have made the once remote, backward and mysterious villages of the people feel the impact of modern life.

For me, what I want to visit most on this Guizhou tour are the zhaizi, or the villages. After all, I’ve only ever read about them in books. And this is a rare opportunity to visit and interview some people.

Starting in the morning in a mini-bus from Duyun, the capital of Qiannan Buyi and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in southern Guizhou, we ride on the newly built Guixin highway and head south for Shuipa, a small ethnic Shui village.

This part of Guizhou is typical of Karst landscape, and splendid scenes abound along the way – clear, winding brooks, strange limestone caves, dense green forests, and ripening yellowish crops. As we continue southward, we find ourselves entering a sub-tropical area where paddy fields and palm trees dominate the scene. The hills here look much more like those hills in Guilin, a famous scenic spot whose landscape scenery have very typical Karst features.

We arrive at Shuipa at noon, after a few minutes drive along a sandy road off the highway.

Like most of the villages in Guizhou, Shuipa nestles quietly in the mountains. Looking from a distance, the timber-made diaojiaolou, or houses supported by wooden stakes over ground, stand in rows at the foot of the hills. The only brick building here is the primary school, located right at the entrance of the village. Beneath two towering cypress trees is a table of rice wine, dyed eggs, glutinous rice and home made sausages, all set out in preparation for the ceremony held to greet visitors.

The traditional practices of the Shui people are still thriving. A group of young women sing a welcoming song to every visitor. Meanwhile, they present each of us with a thin bamboo tube containing rice wine, a few slices of sausage and a glutinous rice ball, and then hang a coloured egg around our neck so that we can enter the village.

All the elderly people, women and children have gathered to join in the fun. We talk to Pan Shenggao, one of the villagers.

“We’ve grown and prepared all this food ourselves. And each family contributes a little when important visitors come. In my family there are five people. Besides growing crops, we also raise pigs and cows. I can speak some Mandarin, but it’s very limited. We only speak the Shui language at home.”

There are 40 families in Shuipa; they have been working the land for generations, growing mainly rice and a little rape.

Wu Zuguo has been head of the village for 20 years. He says limited access was a big headache in the past, but the new road built right in front of the village last year has made things much easier. After that, most of the young people left for towns and cities in Duyun, Guiyang, and some even went as far as Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces to do manual labour, where they can earn much more money. Only the women, the elderly and children are left to look after the land.

Though previously a remote and backward village, Wu Zuguo says that Shuipa, like the rest of the country, is undergoing great changes. The most important thing now is agricultural restructuring, because the villagers have realized that growing rice the traditional way has put them at a disadvantage in the market.

“The output of fruits here is very low. So we’ve decided to make use of the barren hills to grow fruit trees. And we’ll also plant more vegetables to sell in the market in town. Township leaders and technicians have been sent here to help us do this in a more efficient and scientific way. The villagers have gradually accepted modern farming methods and learned to apply science and technology.”

Wu Zuguo says with the problem of transportation now solved, the biggest headache remaining is the language barrier. He explains that many villagers, especially the older generation, still don’t understand Mandarin, which makes it hard for them to communicate or do business with the outside world.

Fortunately, he says, kids can now all go to school to study both Mandarin and the Shui language. Since last year, the village has received an annual allocation of 70 yuan for each child from the local government to guarantee that he or she goes to school. And the children we meet here, though a little shy, can all chat with us in Mandarin.

The kids told me that they have just started their schooling. Their teacher is a fellow villager who teaches them both the Shui language and Mandarin.

Before we left the village, I visited Pan Shenggao’s home. Like most traditional diaojiaolou, the ground floor of his house is where the domestic animals are raised, while Pan and his family live on the upper floor. Standing here, I find that apart from basic household utensils and facilities, the only expensive looking things are the TV set and the framed photos hanging on the wall. Pan says his eldest daughter, who is working in town, took the pictures there and sent them back to him.

I was impressed to find lots of books in the room belonging to Pan Shenggao’s son. Pan explains that his son is now a second grader in high school.

“I’ve economized on daily expenses all these years in order to send all my three kids to school. The world is moving dramatically forward now and we’ve all realized the importance of education. Only with good education, can they keep up with the rest of the world.”

Compared with the luxuriously furnished apartments in big cities, Pan Shenggao’s diaojiaolou is still on the shabby side. But Pan says compared with their lives before, things have greatly improved. Roads have been built here and electricity reaches every household. Every family possesses a TV set. But the elderly people seldom watch it because few understand the programs in Mandarin. The TV sets were bought for the children, Pan says. They are the hope and future of the village.

(CRI November 22, 2002)

Unique Flavor and All the Best From Guizhou
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Miao Ethnic Girls Have a Good Education in Guizhou Province
Miao Ethnic Folklores Well Preserved
Miao Tradition Lives on
Tourists Bring Prosperity
Guiyang – City of Gardens
Xifeng Hot Springs
Caohai Lake
Haungguoshu Falls
Maotai Village
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