The death-knell of a Tibetan village | Cizhong, Yunnan

In northern Yunnan, the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the upper Mekong Valley is going to change the Tibetan villlage of Cizhong 茨中 forever. This is a short post for the travelers who are planning to head to Cizhong to visit the century-old Catholic church.

Cizhong, Yunnan

In the Upper Mekong valley in north Yunnan, near Cizhong

The apostolic district of Cizhong

Nested on a plateau above the Mekong River, Cizhong is famous for its Catholic church built by French missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century. With a population of Tibetan and Tibetanized Lisu people, 80% of the population is Catholic and 20% practices Buddhism. Locals were proud of this religious harmony and explained how Budddhist and Catholic alike were all celebrating Christmas and the Chinese New Year. The church, a classified historical monument, attracted tourists and travelers to Cizhong where a wine cottage industry had sprung up.

Cizhong, Yunnan

Cizhong church

Announced change

Back in April 2007 when I visited the village for the first time, rumors circulated in the valley that a road would one day link the Mekong to the Salween valley and that the construction of the dam would spell the end of several villages.
When I came to Cizhong, the drought had pushed the villagers to hike to Cigu graveyard, where Father Dubernard was beheaded by disgruntled Buddhist monks during the anti-Christian wave of 1907 – 1908, to pray for rain. But the road from Zongdian (Shangri-la) to Deqin and Cizhong was still difficult, and the rumors of new roads and dams seemed far away.

Cizhong, Yunnan

Overlooking the Mekong River from Cigu graveyard


The construction of the Wunonglong dam has already begun and will result loss of agricultural land as well displacement of non-Catholic population from the nearby village of Yanmen (which will be flooded) to Cizhong. For everyone planning to go to travel to Cizhong, I encourage you to read the article “No Recourse: Upper Mekong Dam Spells End for Tibetan Village” published on and written by Brian Eyler who explains in detail the complex situtation, the challenges the village is facing and the forseeable changes Cizhong will have to cope with.

Cizhong, Yunnan

Women praying for rain during a ceremony