Dali – a Dong minority village in Guizhou

Friday, 31 October 2014

My Guizhou trip was involved with Global Heritage Fund’s work in the region. Guizhou is one of the most ethnically mixed regions of China with minority groups making up more than a third of the total population. The biggest group are Miao people, closely related to the Hmong tribes of South-East Asia. They make up 12% of the state’s population, followed by the Buyei at 8% and the Dong at 5%.

IMG_8582 - drum tower, Dali - 540▲ Dali’s drum tower dominates the village, it’s currently being restored.

Dong villages are typically divided up into different clan groupings, each with its own drum tower and often with associated covered bridges, also known as wind-and-rain bridges or flower bridges. There always seems to be a river running through a Dong village, a reminder of how the whole state is a remarkable mix of hills and valleys.

IMG_8621 - old men 540▲ Two of Dali’s older residents.

Global Heritage have decided to concentrate their Guizhou activities on the village of Dali, not to be confused with the far better known Dali in Yunnan Province. The government is also focussing its attention on the Guizhou Dali so you can expect major changes to follow in the years to come. Guizhou already has some touristically popular villages like Zhaoxing and Zhenyuan, but Dali is totally untouched by tourism at present. Agriculture is virtually the only economic activity in the village and, as in so many smaller towns and villages around China, many of the young people have been called away by the economic pull of the factories and offices of the new China.

IMG_8605 - along the river - 270◄ The stream running through the middle of Dali.

The opening of a new high-speed railway line between Guiyang and Guangzhou is going to make Dali much easier to reach. The train will stop in Rongjiang, an hour from Guiyang or three hours from Guangzhou. From there it’s only half an hour to Dali. At the moment there isn’t even a car parking area big enough to accommodate more than about a dozen cars which make their way down the winding road to the village, let alone a bus! The village has just a single drum tower and at the moment it’s a rather scruffy little centre, but there’s clearly some charm in the old wooden houses clustering around the laneways. There’s also a lot of green countryside around Dali, I can imagine it becoming a busy walking centre in the years ahead.

A few years ago I visited the picturesque Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces near the provincial town of Longsheng in Guangxi province. The beautiful rice terraces around the villages of Long Ji and Ping An had prompted the construction of small village guest houses and restaurants for visitors who came to admire the scenery. Perhaps the scenery around Dali will become as big an attraction as the village itself?