There are 8 of us and a guide who travel through the primarily rural province of Guizhou in southwest China for seven days. The majority of the people living here are Miao (pronounced “meow”), also known as Hmong. As a minority, their ancestors came to this region from far in the north of China more than 3,000 years ago to escape oppression by the Han majority. There are many different Miao villages, each with distinct dialects, clothing, food, and customs. We visit a number of them, some located in remote mountain areas accessible only by long, winding, roads. Many inhabitants are farmers and rice is their main crop. The landscape is steep, lusciously green, and terraced with rice fields, stunning to behold.
We walk through villages called Long Skirt and Short Skirt (the Long Skirts look down on the Short Skirts because years ago, the latter took land from the former. Intermarriage between the two is frowned upon). Miao villagers are friendly and often invite us into their homes for a meal. The dark brown houses built of stone, brick and wood, have roofs covered with deep charcoal-colored tiles that are locally made and lovely to look at, high up in the verdant mountains. We see rice barns standing on stilts in the water to keep the rats from getting into the rice.
We visit Dong villages whose residents came from southeast China at about the same time as the Miao arrived in Guizhou and for the same reason. One village, Zhanli Dong, is called the “birth control village” due to its long-standing rule prohibiting a couple from having more than two children. What makes this especially interesting is there is an herbalist who assists in determining the sex of each child. Several months before wishing to become pregnant, the woman drinks from one of two wells: acidic if a girl is desired; alkaline if a boy. The herbalist tells the woman what to eat during the same time frame depending upon the desired outcome. Her accuracy rate is said to be 98%. That is, 98% of couples have the desired one boy and one girl families!
We drive on high speed freeways built only recently, tunnels bored through the many karsts (weathered limestone formations) that stud the land. Our guide tells us how quickly China has changed, sky-high skyscrapers springing up at record speed transforming what was farmland 20 or 30 years ago into modern cities of 4 million or more today. Softening the edges, roses of every imaginable color line the roadway medians, a delight for the senses.
We learn about Mao, how he was both good and bad for China. As Chairman, he distributed land to the millions of impoverished farmers to enable them to have a better life, something for which they and their descendants are still grateful. At his direction, intellectuals and landlords, among others, were imprisoned or murdered during the Cultural Revolution, a terrible disaster for the country, by most accounts.