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Field Reports
Cover Stories Series 2011> Wenchuan Quake:Three Years Later> Beijing Review Exclusive> Field Reports
UPDATED: October 18, 2011 Web Exclusive
Qiang Culture Preservation


This is the Minjiang River in Wenchuan County, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Sichuan Province. As one of China's oldest ethnic groups, the Qiang people live on Minshan Mountain near the Minjiang River. Their high-altitude lifestyle earned them the nickname "cloud dwellers."

People of Qiang ethnicity call themselves erma. Located in the Longmenshan fault zone, both the homeland and the unique culture of the Qiang people were seriously damaged by the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12, 2008.

Many ancient ethnic stone towers and homes were destroyed. Some elder Qiang cultural inheritors died in the earthquake. Their numbers had already been dwindling before the catastrophe.

A crucial issue for the local government is how to protect the fragile and precious Qiang culture and pass it on to the coming generations following the reconstruction.

Beijing Review took a closer look at the current situation of the damaged culture in three Qiang villages at the time of the third anniversary of the earthquake in Wenchuan, the epicenter.

In Wenchuan's Luobozhai Village, lots of Qiang buildings--made of yellow mud--were destroyed by the quake.

Villagers moved into the newly built village with assistance from Jiangmen Construction Co. of south China's Guangdong Province.

Running water was supplied to new houses for the first time thanks to the reconstruction. Despite the upgraded living standards, villagers still cling to the memory of their old village, according to the village head Ma Qianguo.

"We live in a new home, but our souls are still there in the old ones," Ma said.

In the old village, houses and yards were located along contour lines and closely linked by a complex network of crisscrossing passageways, like an ancient castle. The new village mimics the fortified appearance of the original one.

Fortunately, the Bureau of Arts and Sports in Wenchuan has included destroyed Qiang architecture within the realm of relic protection, allocating funds to repair the previous site. Villagers will be allowed to move back to their old houses once repairs are complete.

As the weather-affected yellow mud can keep its solidity and stickiness in certain periods of the year, April and September became the optimal times for repairs. This lengthens the reconstruction period.

Near Luobozhai, Dongmenzhai is located in Lianhe Village in Longxi Township. Qiang buildings here are made of carved stone and yellow mud. They are typically square, flat-roofed buildings of three stories.

The first floor is for keeping livestock; the second floor for daily life; and the third is used for storing grain and other sundries. The roof serves as a shrine for "white stones", which Qiang people worship as sacred tokens.

Eighty-three-year-old Qiang woman Wang Zhenzhi lives in Lianhe Village. Wang's dwellings were damaged by the quake three years ago. Now, her life has returned to the way it once was thanks to the local government, which allocated 20,000 yuan ($2,942) to repair her house.

"After Qiang people worked together with the help of the government and partnership assistance from Guangdong Province, those demolished villages are being restored to what they once were," Yang said.

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