In the southwest of China, Guizhou is one of those provinces that wealthy Chinese roll their eyes at the mention of. The stereotype is a poor backwater with no proper infrastructure. Arriving in Kaili on Chinese New Year, this stereotype appeared to be true. It was an ugly town of square buildings covered in cheap bathroom tiles that had discoloured and faded neon signs pointing to cheap noodle shops. The supermarket was full of people carrying live chickens clucking and squawking, totally unaware of their fate as New Year’ dinner. Kaili is the centre of a large rural area home to many ethnic minorities, but the Miao and Dong are dominant. The Miao tend to get a lot of press, however it was the Dong people of Guizhou, who are much lesser known, were the reason I was here.
Several hours in the back of a rickey minibus I arrived in Zhaoxing, the largest village of the Dong people of Guizhou in the area. If you’ve ever watched old Kung Fu movies and seen those bandit villages in the mountains, then you have a pretty good picture of the place. Set in a valley and surrounded by rice paddies, the entire village was composed of simple wooden houses and the main feature was a huge drum tower, the roof of which
looked like sharks teeth menacingly pointing upwards, and a “wind and rain bridge” which is a roofed bridge used as a social gathering site across the large stream which pierced through the centre of the village.
I was woken up at dawn by the sound of a pig squeeling for well over an hour. I don’t know exactly what they did (and I don’t want to know), but it is an unfortunate tradition in these rural parts to slaughter a pig in as cruel a way as possible. The day got better however as the parades began, and all the villagers got dressed up in traditional costume, with some dressed as mandarins from the imperial court,
criminals and ghosts. The constant firecrackers and cymbal clashing made my ears feel like I was at a rock concert, rather than a tiny Chinese village, and the kids throwing the firecrackers at each other didn’t do much to alleviate that.
Later in the day a huge feast was held, the highlight of which was the incredible roast pork, handed out to everyone present. Delicious crackling fat, and juicy meat aside, it was hard to really enjoy it thinking about what I’d overheard in the morning. I’d drank enough homemade rice wine though to numb my conscience. The day finished with a bonfire and singing and dancing well into the night, little of which I really remember as the rice wine did its job!
Chinese New Year is the biggest festival in China, just like Christmas for us it’s a time for family and feasting. However, modernisation has diluted the festivities, so that most city Chinese do nothing more than have a large dinner and watch the New Year Variety Show on TV. However, if you look hard, and go remote enough, you can find celebrations such as this, particularly among the ethnic minorities, such as the Dong people of Guizhou.