Tra­di­tion un­der fire in ru­ral vil­lage

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA in Congjiang, Guizhou

Like his fa­ther, Jia Shengx­i­ang makes his liv­ing with a gun. His fa­ther used the weapon for hunt­ing; Jia fires it dur­ing per­for­mances for tourists.

“It is our tra­di­tion to carry guns,” said the 42-year-old from the Miao eth­nic group. He lives in Bi­asha vil­lage in south­west­ern prov­ince of Guizhou.

Bi­asha’s 2,500-plus vil­lagers have largely held on to their unique tra­di­tions. The vil­lage is so safe that peo­ple keep their doors open, even when they leave their homes. Vil­lagers don’t marry out­siders, and mar­riage is for­bid­den be­tween peo­ple with the­samesur­name.

Known as the “last gun­ner tribe” in China, Bi­asha’s vil­lagers have used guns to hunt and pro­tect them­selves for cen­turies.

“To us, it is a weapon, but it is not dan­ger­ous, be­cause we rarely have dis­putes,” Jia said. “Even if we have con­flicts, guns are not the right so­lu­tion.”

A com­ing-of-age cer­e­mony is held for boys when they are 15 years old, dur­ing which their heads are shaved, leav­ing hair in the cen­ter that is worn in a bun. They are also given a gun, which sig­ni­fies they are strong enough to hunt.

China banned the pos­ses­sion of firearms decades ago, but Bi­asha’s vil­lagers are an ex­cep­tion, al­though they are no longer al­lowed to hunt.

Like guns, trees also have a lofty role in vil­lage cul­ture.

“Whenwe are born, our par­ents plant a tree for us,” Jia said.

When some­one dies, vil­lagers chop down the per­son’s tree to make a cof­fin be­fore plant­ing an­other tree on his tomb, so that his life “con­tin­ues in an­other way”, Jia said.

Peo­ple in Bi­asha be­lieve that hu­mans, like trees, should be trimmed for healthy growth, which is why men wear a bun with shorn sides.

As China de­vel­ops, Bi­asha’s cus­toms have be­come an at­trac­tion for tourists.

Men­fromBi­asha line­u­pand fire their guns at the sky to wel­come tourists. They per­form Miao dances and show them how to shave with a sickle.

Even if we have con­flicts, guns are not the right so­lu­tion.”

Jia Shengx­i­ang,

vil­lager

Parked cars now line the main road in the once iso­lated vil­lage, and trucks car­ry­ing goods blast their horns as they pass through.

In 1998, Shi Qingx­i­ang opened the vil­lage’s first guest­house, called “Home of the Gun­ners”.

Back then, trans­porta­tion was in­con­ve­nient. Vis­i­tors to Shi’s guest­house num­bered only in the hun­dreds each year — mostly ded­i­cated pho­tog­ra­phers and painters.

Trav­el­ers in­creased af­ter an ex­press­way opened in 2013 and a high-speed train line serv­ing Congjiang be­gan ser­vice in 2014. So far this year, Shi’s guest­house has hosted 10,000 overnight guests.

There are now eight guest­houses in Bi­asha.

Contact with tourists also helped vil­lagers learn about out­side op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Cur­rently, there are more than 100 peo­ple work­ing in the coun­ties or cities. Most of them com­mute ev­ery day,” said Gun Xiangdiu, the 52-year-old vil­lage head.

How­ever, re­luc­tant to ap­pear dif­fer­ent, many mi­grat­ing vil­lagers, like Gun’s two sons, have cut their buns.

“I toldmy fel­low vil­lagers at the meet­ing to keep their buns, but to no avail,” he said with a sigh. Only half the vil­lage men still have their tra­di­tional hair­style.

“If they aban­don their bun and Miao-style dress, Bi­asha will be gone,” he added.

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