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Life Along the Chong'an River (1)

Anyone planning a Guizhou Provinces in Southwest China should consider a visit to some of the towns along the Chong'an River. Being not far from the capital of Guiyang, this area, however, is seldom seen by tourists. Apart from the beautiful landscape, there are three towns of particular interest along the river, namely Chong'anjiang, named after the river, plus Fuquan and Gulong. The mountains and rivers in this area are virtually untouched by modern industrial society, and life continues mush as it has done for centuries.

The Chang'an River traces its source to the enormous Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, and can poetically be described as a glittering green ribbon. Life here is very peaceful and quiet. Early risers who live along the river punt their boats loaded with grain across the river to a hydraulic mill. These mills have been used here to remove the husk from wheat for perhaps thousands of years. Although the villagers have diesel mills at their disposal, they detest the smell of fuel that pervades the flour during processing. They would much rather spend the extra time and go over to the ancient hydraulic mill. Later as the sun is setting, they return home with their sacks of freshly-ground flour. Spanning the river is the renowned Iron Chain Bridge. Built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), its 16 thick chains are still in good condition, and the old-style bridge lends the town an ancient atmosphere.

Market Day in Chong'anjiang

Backed by a ridge of mountains, Chong'anjiang is a small and beautifully situated town. The houses that line the river, which threads past the town, are reflected in the water, and many of the old buildings still have enclosed walls. At one time a number of quays were located along the river to serve the merchant ships that regularly sailed upstream bringing goods.

Today there are about 60 villages inhabited by Han and Miao people that fall under the juridiction of Chong'anjiang Town.

On market day, I watched people come by boat to Chong'anjiang from the surrounding villages. No matter what ethnic group they belonged to, all of the men wore the blue suits common to Han Chinese, therefore it was difficult to distinguish nationalities unless one heard them speak. The women, however, did wear traditional costumes, making it easy to determine whether they belonged to the Hua (Flower) Miao, Bouyei, Ge or Dong nationalities. Each ethnic group has its own distinctive type of costume, recognizable by the type of silver jewellery they wear and whether their clothes are embroidered, made of batik or of another type of cloth.

At the market the most popular items were the beautiful hats and the beancurd sold at the stalls run by the Miao. The Miao also sold eggs held together by woven straw, a practical and convenient way to carry them. The market lasted the whole day, and at sunset the streets were crowded with people making their way home. I occasionally spotted a villager written on it, which would be used back in his village to celebrate some important event.

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