Nestled amid the stunning natural beauty of Guizhou province, is the spectacular Zhaoxing Dong Village. It is the largest village inhabited by the Dong people in China. This incredibly picturesque village has been frozen in time, as it were. Zhaoxing offers a unique glimpse into the lives of the Dong. With a rich history spanning centuries, incredible architecture, and important cultural significance, Zhaoxing Dong Village is an attraction that simply cannot be missed.
- Zhaoxing Dong Village is located in Liping County, in the Qiandongnan region of southeast Guizhou.
- It actually is comprised of 11 small villages, with a total population of 22,352 (as of 2013).
- Zhaoxing covers a total area of 133 sq km (51 sq miles).
- Zhaoxing Dong Village is world-renowned for its five drum towers. Drum towers are characteristic structures located in the center of ancient Asian towns, housing signal drums.
History Of Zhaoxing Dong Village
The Dong people (also known as the Kam people) are an ethic minority of southern China. Today, their total population is about 2.9 million. Significant populations of Dong can be found in Guizhou, western Hunan, and northern Guangxi. However, Zhaoxing in Liping County, Guizhou, is the largest Dong village in all of China.
The Dong people are renowned for their distinct culture, incredible carpentry skills, and unique architecture, especially a sort of bridge known as a “wind and rain bridge”. They are also internationally renowned for their fantastic polyphonic choral singing.
According to Dong oral history, Zhaoxing Dong Village was first constructed during the Southern Song dynasty (1127 to 1279), in or around 1160 CE. Typical of Dong village design, the dwellings in Zhaoxing were built as Ganlan-style wooden houses (houses on stilts). Over the centuries, five drum towers were also constructed throughout the village. Zhaoxing is renowned for its five drum towers, all built in the exceptionally ornate Dong architectural style.
Throughout its rich and lengthy history, elders of Zhaoxing Dong Village were the leaders of the town. However, from 1911 to 1949, the government replaced elders with appointed village leaders.
In 2009, UNESCO inscribed the “Grand song of the Dong ethnic group” on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Culture Of Zhaoxing Dong Village
The cornerstones of Dong culture include the drum towers, “wind and rain bridges”, and songs about Dong society. Zhaoxing Dong Village is a wonderful example of all three cultural components.
The village is renowned for its five exquisitely crafted drum towers. Not only do these structures house a drum that in the past was used as an warning alarm, they also represent prosperity and luck. Each of the drum towers in Zhaoxing has a name and corresponding virtue attached to it. These towers are fantastic examples of the Dong peoples’ architectural mastery. Although they differ in size, height, and the method of construction, all can be considered masterpieces of the Dong style. The five drum towers are Yi (righteousness), Xin (faithfulness), Ren (benevolence), Li (courtesy), and Zhi (wisdom). Of all five, the Zhi tower is widely regarded as the most beautifully crafted. For the Dong, these towers are often the vocal point of the entire community, and serve as a gathering place for special events and public meetings.
Visitors to Zhaoxing Dong Village will see many of the Dong-style covered bridges known as “wind and rain bridges”. Most were constructed during the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912) in the late 19th century. These unique and exceptionally crafted bridges have tile roofs with ornate flowers, or other sculptures, and come complete with pagoda-like pavilions and corridors. All the bridges found in Zhaoxing Dong Village are extraordinary masterpieces of Dong architecture, and were constructed without a single nail – the Dong method involves mortise and tenon joints that connect two pieces of wood. Constructed using this method, the bridges are able to withstand the regions strong winds and pelting rain.
The Dong people do not use a written language, rather relying on music and song to pass on knowledge and culture. Their polyphonic choir singing is known as “Kgal Laox” in the Dong language. One-part songs about narratives, nature, and children’s songs are widely sung - As are operas, which are very popular among the Dong people. Several stages were built throughout Zhaoxing Dong Village to showcase these performances.
- Visitors to Zhaoxing Dong Village are reminded that it is functioning village, and to be respectful of customs. Always ask permission from local people before entering a drum tower.
- If a rope is tied across the entrance gate to the village, it means the locals are holding a sacrifice ceremony, and permission is needed to enter.
- Zhaoxing Dong Village is the epicenter for many festivals celebrated by the Dong people. The Dong New Year Festival is an amazing time to visit. Likewise, the Lusheng Festival, held from August 13 to 15th of the Chinese calendar is a fantastic time to visit the village.