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Progress, but at what cost?

By Hou Liqiang | China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-24 07:33

My interest in traditional culture means I am always looking for places with well-preserved traditions and unaffected rural people.

To my mind, Fanpai village, Guizhou province, is definitely such a place. Row after row of houses on the mountain slope create a maze I would like to enter and lose myself in. The houses display the traditional characteristics of the Miao people - some are newly built, while others have stood for decades topped by moss-covered roof tiles made from tree bark.

In the "maze", dogs and hens, followed by chicks, searched busily for food, while water washed the stones in the stream that runs across the village. Occasionally, a rooster crowed and a few dogs barked.

As I took in the scene, the sudden squeal of a piglet led me to one of the houses. I didn't imagine I would soon witness a traditional Miao ceremony.

A large jar of homemade wine, a bowl of rice with an egg on top and firewood had been laid out, and a black piglet was being dragged into the yard.

Holding a pickax with a rope wound around the top, a shaman cleared his throat and began chanting. The end of each section of the chant was signaled by the shaman hitting a sheet of metal with the pickax. Occasionally he scattered rice on the ground.

He chanted for about 30 minutes before the villagers headed to the mountain. Once there, the complex ceremony continued for more than two hours.

The piglet squealed continuously until it was slaughtered and cooked.

The ceremony - called nonggui, literally "driving the ghost away" - is performed when people believe spirits are bringing trouble. Usually, only 12 men participate.

Despite being an outsider, I was allowed to watch the full ceremony. I was treated well and offered food, except for one dish that was reserved for the 12 participants.

I would not have been concerned about the future of this "fairyland" if I had not met a group of amateur photographers, guided by a professional lensman, who had paid the villagers for the privilege of taking shots of performances of the local cultural heritage.

They were a group of "overnight millionaires", each with several long lenses hanging over their shoulders. From the moment they arrived, they began throwing their weight around, telling the locals "You do this, you do that". They never said "please". Some pressed the shutters of their cameras while holding expensive cigarettes.

They may not have realized that the local seniors don't speak Mandarin, but that doesn't excuse their rudeness when they failed to coerce a group of female seniors to pose for them.

One woman became annoyed and barked, "Just throw them a 100 yuan ($15) note."

While I understand that the development of tourism is one of the few ways for traditional villages to eradicate poverty, I am now concerned that ignorant visitors may contaminate these fairyland villages across the country.

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