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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: August 6, 2012 NO.32 AUGUST 9, 2012
A Taste of the Southwest
Miao culture in Guizhou toasts to tourism
By Yu Lintao


JOINING IN: Tourists dance together with local villagers in Xijiang Miao Village in southwest China's Guizhou Province By (WAN QUAN) 

Li Sulan gets up early in the morning to begin her daily routine. She prepares a breakfast of traditional rice noodles for her customers at a rural home inn where she is the owner. Li is of the Miao ethnic group from the Xijiang Miao Village of Leishan County in southwest China's Guizhou Province. Xijiang Village is home to well-preserved aspects of aboriginal Miao culture, and is now a widely known cultural tour destination.

"As many tourists from China and abroad learn about the Miao ethnic culture, we've seen a sudden boom in tourism in the past few years in our village," said Li with a smile. The flourishing tourist industry boosted the local service sector and revived the traditional Miao culture, bringing a host of benefits to local villagers like Li.

Li's inn, A'wang Miao Home, is a four-story building located on a sharp slope midway up a large hill. With about 10 guest rooms, the small hotel can accommodate 10 to 20 tourists at a time.

"There are more than 200 home inns like mine in Xijiang. Most tourists prefer to stay at a home inn rather than hotels when they visit the village because they want to taste the aboriginal flavor of the Miao culture," said Li.

Xijiang Village is about a 40-minute drive from Kaili City, capital of Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture. The village, also called Qianhu Miao Village (Qianhu means "a thousand households"), is known as the largest community for Miao minority in the world. More than 1,200 households contain a total population of about 6,000.

Located in a valley of Leigong Mountain, Xijiang Village is surrounded by green mountains. A river runs through the village, endowing the place with unique natural beauty. Like terraced fields, the houses of Xijiang Village are built along the mountains from the foot of the hills to halfway up, adding another unique element to the village scenery.

The superior natural landscape and environment makes Xijiang a very livable place. The area's geography surrounding Leigong Mountain is rich in negative ion oxygen, possibly explaining why many Xijiang villagers live long lives.

As the world's largest Miao community, Xijiang is dubbed a living artifact of the Miao culture by historians and researchers. In 1992, Xijiang was named one of the most important cultural relics by the Guizhou Provincial Government. Since then, the village has been under provincial-level protection.

"Xijiang is the epitome of the Miao culture. It is well protected. Here, you can get a good sense of the historic background of Miao, including the Miao folk architecture, festivals, food, costumes and arts," said Long Huaizhao, an official of the Public Information Office (PIO) of Leishan County.

Traditional Miao houses are mostly built of wood without any iron nails. Propped up by wooden supports with standing ladders, most of the houses are three-story buildings. The first floor serves as a livestock stable, the second for living spaces and the third as barn. A balcony is often on the second floor, which is usually used as a place for family members to have a rest or enjoy recreation. Miao women often make cross-stitch work and embroidery there, so the balcony is called meirenkao, the "beauty rail." Some Miao families decorate the surface of their houses with dark red maple wood blocks, which appear golden in the evening glow.

Miao people are very hospitable, and often practice unique rituals to welcome visitors.

"The major ones are serving Lanmen wine and the long-table dinner," Li said.

Presenting Lanmen wine is a polite way to greet guests. When visitors enter a Miao village, they should drink at least one cup of local rice wine. The most special Lanmen wine ritual is called "bullhorn drinking." When taking a sip of wine from a goblet, the guest should pay careful attention when touching their lips to the cup. If they do, the guest is expected to drink again.

"Wine plays a major role in the Miao people's daily life. With the development of tourism, Lanmen wine has become a delightful way for the Miao people to greet guests," Li told Beijing Review.

When Miao people treat their guests, they will set up a long table and serve all the local dishes. The hosts sit on one side and the guests sit on the other. The housewife gives everyone a cup and fills it with rice wine. As soon as the wine is poured, she will sing a folk song and propose a toast to the guests. Other family members sing one by one and repeat the ritual. It's a local custom that guests should not refuse to drink. Meanwhile, some family members may play a local musical instrument called lusheng. Drinking with the music and songs, some guests might find themselves drinking too much. Therefore, the local wine has a nickname, Biangdang wine, which is a mimetic word, the sound of which can be likened to the sound of people being drunk and then falling down.

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