Guizhou

A living tapestry of ancient villages, distinct peoples, and unique languages, Guizhou is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse regions in China.

Where We Work

Guizhou’s landscape is kaleidoscopic in its array of geographical and cultural landmarks. Low river valleys are punctuated by dramatic landscapes and steep mountainsides, each distinctly terraced and sculpted with the marks of human habitation. With a population largely composed of ethnic minorities, stepping from place to place is akin to setting foot in a whole new world.

History

The Dong people have made their home in Guizhou for over 1,000 years, carving out a special niche in an area of countless different peoples. Indeed, throughout their time in this stunning rural area of southwestern China, the Dong have developed an architectural style defined by a hybridization of public and private spaces. The architecture of these villages, especially those for public use such as the drum towers and the roofed bridges, intensively reflect the people’s traditional construction skills and cultural landscape, as well as the social role these monuments fulfill for society. The ingenious combination of the single public structure and vernacular houses in these villages represents the harmonious co-existence of the village and its natural environment.

Though it is one of the most culturally and naturally rich provinces in China, Guizhou also happens to be one of China’s poorest and most underdeveloped regions, with the lowest per capita GDP ranking of all the Chinese states. Perhaps that’s why in Guizhou, a favorite saying amongst the Dong people is “Not three feet of flat land, not three days without rain, not a family with three silver coins.” Encapsulating the rugged yet beautiful aesthetic of this rural, mountainous region, it is also emblematic of the determination and natural creativity of its people.

While the rivers, forests, and mountains of the Guizhou villages echo with the old, dull sounds of paper-making and the newer, harsher noises of industry, they resound with cultural memories encoded in song.

As Amy Tan wrote in her visit to one village,

I had heard that you could ask anyone in a Dong village for a song, and he or she would sing without hesitation. I would hear many: a welcome song about keeping out invaders, melodies about growing old, Dong favorites about feckless lovers. And, as reprised by an old woman, the Communist Party hit from the fifties, ‘The East Is Red.’

The rich story of the Dong people is a beautiful development in human history, and Global Heritage Fund is working alongside UNESCO Beijing, the Guizhou Administration of Cultural Heritage (GACH), the Guizhou Province Cultural Heritage Conservation Center (GCHCC), Peking University, Guizhou Normal University, Shanghai Tongji University, and the China Social Entrepreneur Foundation (You-Cheng) to promote community and economic developments in the rural areas of Guizhou through heritage conservation within the local ethnic minority communities.

Threats

Our work has been instrumental in preserving the peerless vernacular architecture of the Dali Dong villages of Guizhou. However, though we have preserved much, there remains far more which we cannot save. As industrialization in the rural eastern provinces of China continues unabated, ethnic minorities are seeing their cultures disappear before their eyes. Traditional landscapes are transformed from vibrant communal centers into industrial dead zones, and the youth assimilate the norms – and the language – of the majority Han culture in the process of discarding their own.

As these changes take place, the definitive elements of the past are eroded away. The traditional uses of public spaces, vernacular housing, agricultural practices, and ancestral holidays and costumes is diminishing as the young flee the countryside for glitzier opportunities in the bustling, prosperous cities of China’s industrial heartland. Without the tangible and intangible resources of their heritage to sustain them, and without an incentive for the younger generation to learn the diverse trades, skills, and stories of the past, minority groups face an uncertain future of weakened community cohesion and a loss of shared being.

Oct 22, 2014 - Dali, Guizhou, China - Views around Dali Dong Village in Guizhou, China.   (Credit Image: ? Vince Michael/Global Heritage Fund)

What We Do

Proper conservation will not only protect the local vernacular architecture and picturesque natural settings from modern encroachment, but potentially also encourage sustainable tourism, as the ethnic minority villages have been included on the Chinese tentative list for World Heritage Site nomination. And, unique among heritage conservation projects in China, the Dong villages initiative is empowering not only local organizations but also young Chinese stakeholders to assume collective responsibility for their cultural heritage and its protection.

Planning

Global Heritage Fund’s conservation efforts in Guizhou’s villages will focus on preserving key built elements in the cultural landscape, including drum towers, covered bridges, craft workshops, barns, wells, ponds, and water and road systems. We will also make the repair and rehabilitation of the vernacular houses a top priority, such that the historic fabric and traditional form can be preserved while being made fit for modern living needs.

After learning the unique needs and challenges associated with conservation in Dong villages, we will then apply these lessons to other villages with a similar building structure. By solving the major issues of abandonment and degradation of historical buildings, we will have the necessary knowledge to repair and restore other villages in Guizhou and throughout the world.

Conservation Science

Global Heritage Fund’s conservation efforts in Guizhou’s villages will focus on preserving key built elements in the cultural landscape, including drum towers, covered bridges, craft workshops, barns, wells, ponds, and water and road systems. We will also make the repair and rehabilitation of the vernacular houses a top priority, such that the historic fabric and traditional form can be preserved while being made fit for modern living needs.

After learning the unique needs and challenges associated with conservation in Dong villages, we will then apply these lessons to other villages with a similar building structure. By solving the major issues of abandonment and degradation of historical buildings, we will have the necessary knowledge to repair and restore other villages in Guizhou and throughout the world.

Community Development

In partnership with You-Cheng, a Chinese NGO, Global Heritage Fund will help to preserve the traditional arts and crafts in each village. We will support tangible crafts such as Heshui’s ancient papermaking and traditional agricultural practices through product innovation and design, business development training, and marketing plans. In addition, we will promote intangible heritage such as traditional song and dance through education and training programs, as well as the revival of traditional festive celebrations will also be supported. Valuable for their uniqueness as well as their contribution to the global human story, their preservation is essential in our community development plans for the Dong villages.

Partners

  • Guizhou Administration of Cultural Heritage (GACH)
  • Guizhou Province Cultural Heritage Conservation Center (GCHCC)
  • You-Cheng (China Social Entrepreneur Foundation)
  • Shanghai Tongji University
  • Peking University
  • Guizhou Normal University.
  • UNESCO Beijing Office
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Why It's Important

Whether the drum towers or the covered bridges, the antique houses or the village squares, we go beyond monuments to directly impact the lives of people in the Dali Dong villages. And that’s why we need your help. With your generous support, we will be able to continue saving the priceless heritage of the Dong culture.

Accomplishments

SITE CONSERVATION

  • Completion of master plan for site development.
  • Documentation from surveys to be published in 2015 as part of a collection of surveys on ethnic villages in southwestern China.
  • Design for Dali Dong Village Eco-Museum proposed and finalized, with construction commencing in 2015.
  • 3 water ponds restored as part of plan to restore the entire traditional water system.
  • 4 historic houses and 1 covered bridge were assessed for the feasibility of restoration work, which began in late 2014 and completed in 2015.
  • 5 wooden covered bridges, 1 drum tower and 3 historic granaries conserved
  • Construction of new bridge begun
  • New public toilet built in the village
  • New wastewater treatment plant constructed outside of the village to prevent further pollution

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

  • Co-op program for traditional Dong textiles founded in partnership with Atlas Studio from Beijing
  • 40 Dong villagers employed as skilled carpenters, builders, and unskilled laborers, along with management provided by the county’s Cultural Heritage Bureau.
  • 20 Dali Village students trained to be involved in cultural and social surveys of their village, as translators, co-interviewers, and so forth.
  • 4 Dong villagers trained in rural conservation and community development.
  • Preservation of traditional song and dance, and historic festivals
  • Training of locals in traditional arts and crafts, such as ancient papermaking.

Local Voices

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