After spending a few days touring Miao villages near Kaili (凯里), just two hours east of Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, I headed south to Congjiang (从江), a small town on the Guizhou – Guangxi border.
While the region of Kaili is home to the Miao ethnic minority (except the village of Matang), Congjiang is home to the Dong ethnic minority (but there is a Miao village, Basha, home to the last gun-hunter Miao tribe of China).
On my quest to visit more ancient and ethnic villages in the region, I hired a driver to show me Dong ethnic villages outside Congjiang. Gaozeng (高增) was our first stop. And like every Miao and Dong villages, Gaozeng has a Wind and Rain Bridge and several drum towers (鼓楼).
One Dong village – One drum tower
When I asked my driver about these towers, he told me that Miao and Dong villages share a common architectural feature, the , but what differentiate the Dong villages from Miao’s are the drum towers. He went on and explain that each Dong village has its own drum tower and within each village, each clan has its own tower.
Drum towers are intriguing wooden structures which throne on the village square. They rest on four central beams with an umbrella-shaped top. Their height vary from a village to another. Open structures with or without a gate, they all have a central fire place surrounded by wooden benches where the village’s elders gather.
Vestiges of the past, the Dong drum towers (鼓楼) used to be the place where village’s elder gathered, discussed the affairs of the villages and implemented customary law.
A closer look
The village of Gaozeng (高增) is divided into a lower and an upper village. From the top of the hill that dominates the village, we can see two drum towers : a one round in the lower village and another square one.
The use the Dong people make of their drum tower varies from a village to another. In most of the Dong villages I visited, they have become the gathering place of the village elder who sit around a fire, smoke, talk, watch TV, practice singing or play cards.
Each drum tower is decorated with painted frescoes or carved miniatures which tell different stories. The story of the Dong people, Beyond their social functions, the Dong drum towers of Gaozeng are also unique pieces of art.
Wind and Rain bridge
Like Miao villages, Dong villages are not complete without a Wind and Rain bridge. It seems the one in Gaozeng is rather old. Each side of the bridge is flanked with two wooden doors on which the Guardian Doors (门神) have been defaced.
Yet the wooden structure is simply amazing and shows the carpentry skills of the Dong and the inside of the bridge is covered with paintings depicting miniature life scenes, battles, dragons. In a nutshell, it’s an open-air art museum.
On the other side, there is a little temple. From the stone tablet next to it, we learn that this temple was first built during the reign of emperor Guangxu of the Qing dynasty (end of 19th century).
Destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, it has been re-built during the 1980s with the economic reforms.
Linking it to the rest of the country
The highway which links Zhaoxing (肇兴) and Liping (黎平) to Guiyang is not far and the high-speed train that links Guiyang to Guilin and Guangzhou, three provincial capital cities, and that stops in Congjiang, the region is not that remote any more.
Congjiang is developing. There is much construction going on and a replica of a Dong village is planned : hotels, restaurants, pedestrian streets with shops, service center for tourists and with the demand for ethnic tourism, a village like Gaozeng may know the faith of nearby Zhaoxing.
How to get there
The get to Gaozeng and the surrounding Dong and Miao villages, you will have to get to Congjiang (从江) first. Congjiang is a small town located in southeastern Guizhou province, on the border with Guangxi province. It is easily accessible by high-speed train from Guiyang, Sanjiang (the gateway to Chengyang), Guilin / Yangshuo region and Guangzhou.
There are direct buses from Kaili (凯里), Zhaoxing (肇兴), Rongjiang (榕江), Guiyang (贵阳) and Sanjiang (三江) in Guangxi province. From Kaili and Guiyang, it is a five to six hours bus journey. There is a motorway all the way from Guiyang and Kaili, but it stops in Luoxiang (洛香) and from Luoxiang it’s a bumpy mountain road through villages.
There are no direct bus connection to the surrounding villages, you will have to hire a driver to go to tour Gaozeng and surrounding villages.
Where to stay
At the moment, your best option in Congjiang (从江) is the Aoyue Hotel (奥悦酒店) which was recently renovated. You can get a room for 200 RMB. The best is that the carpet does not stick to you socks and there is an abundance of restaurants nearby.
From the bus station, walk for about ten minutes on the main (and only street), you will pass by a couple of other hotels and guesthouses that look deserted.
The exact address of Aoyue Hotel is : Guangjiang Dongnan Road #9 (关江东南路9号). Call them at this number to book a room : 0855-6411808.