China Travel Guide

Guizhou & Guangxi

 
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  • Guizhou & Guangxi
  • Guizhou & Guangxi
    Guizhou & Guangxi

    Guizhou and Guangxi share a dramatic mountainous landscape of weathered limestone (karst) pinnacles, which hide some of China’s largest cave systems. Despite the abundant rainfall, the region possesses poor soil, which discouraged Han settlement until the late Ming period. As a result, the area saw little development, and many indigenous groups, especially the Miao and Dong, have retained their traditional customs, including several festivals. Guangxi is also home to the Zhuang, China’s largest ethnic minority, and became the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in 1958.

    Still among China’s least developed regions, Guizhou and Guangxi do have a few sights that are well-touristed and easily accessible. The city of Guilin in eastern Guangxi is fa-mous for the Li River cruise through astonishing karst landscape, and ending at the backpacker haven of Yangshuo. Kaili, a convenient base for exploring sociable Miao villages, is becoming more accessible and popular with tourists. For determined travelers with time on their hands, long bus journeys are rewarded with beautiful Detian Falls, stunning scenery near the Vietnamese border, the wooden Dong villages around Zhaoxing, and the calm waters of bird sanctuary Cao Hai.

    Guizhou & Guangxi

    Villages, Towns & Cities

    Drying chilies
    Drying chilies
    The intricately layered rice terraces of Longji Titian (Dragon’s Backbone Terraces), near Ping An, Guangxi
    The intricately layered rice terraces of
    Longji Titian (Dragon’s Backbone Terraces)
    ,near Ping An, Guangxi

    Waterfalls, Caves & Areas of Natural Beauty

    Chinese Cranes
    The lakes and marshes of China are vital to the survival of eight of the world’s 15 species of crane, many of which are highly endangered. Most breed in northern China, in particular at Zhalong Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang province. All are migratory, but several species – including the tropical sarus and China’s sole endemic variety, the black-necked crane – occur only in the central and southwestern parts of the country. Aside from being naturally elegant birds, cranes have spectacular mating “dances,” where they energetically leap and flap around to attract their lifelong partners. As a result of this display, the crane is a Chinese symbol of fidelity and longevity. The Daoist god of longevity, Shou Lao (also known as Shao Xing), is often depicted riding a crane.

    Festivals

    Geometric embroidery
    Geometric embroidery

    Miao Festivals and Crafts
    The Miao people, or Hmong as they call themselves, believe they originated on the Himalayan plateau, migrating over the last few thousand years to their current homelands in southwestern China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. As Miao communities tend to exist in remote mountainous areas, each village has developed its own customs, and can be identified by their distinct ornamentation, such as the fine silverwork and embroidery made and worn by unmarried girls. These are displayed at the many Miao social festivals where mass dancing is featured.

    Sisters' Meal Festival
    Amid three days of drinking and dancing at this important festival, teenage girls choose their husbands. The man offers a packet of sticky rice; she returns it with two chopsticks buried inside if she agrees, or chilies if she refuses.

    Miao People in the Kaili area call themselves Hei Miao, or Black Hmong, irrespective of their colorful clothing, which identifies the wearer’s village or region. This woman is from the Leigong Shan area. Da Hua Miao, or Big Flower Miao, from western Guizhou, wear wax-resist (batik) dyed skirts, and for festivals, bright red headgear. This Gejia headpiece with orange tassels shows that this Gejia girl is unmarried. These people’s designs are unusual in that they embellish their batik work with embroidery. Embroidery is an integral Miao skill, and girls learn it from an early age. They create elaborate panels for sewing on to their clothes. The finer the design, the better a girl’s marriage prospects. The Changjiao, or Long-horned, Miao of western Guizhou bundle several pounds of their own and ancestors’ hair around horn-like headpieces for festivals.
    Miao People in the Kaili area call themselves Hei Miao, or Black Hmong, irrespective of their colorful clothing, which identifies the wearer’s village or region. This woman is from the Leigong Shan area. Da Hua Miao, or Big Flower Miao, from western Guizhou, wear wax-resist (batik) dyed skirts, and for festivals, bright red headgear. This Gejia headpiece with orange tassels shows that this Gejia girl is unmarried. These people’s designs are unusual in that they embellish their batik work with embroidery. Embroidery is an integral Miao skill, and girls learn it from an early age. They create elaborate panels for sewing on to their clothes. The finer the design, the better a girl’s marriage prospects. The Changjiao, or Long-horned, Miao of western Guizhou bundle several pounds of their own and ancestors’ hair around horn-like headpieces for festivals.

    Miao silverwork ranges from simple earrings to twisted, weighty necklace chains and fantastic headpieces with bells, horns, and animal figurines. This jacket is typical of dark geometric Gejia pieces. It is heavily embroidered and incorporates batik work of abstract buffalo and plant motifs. Two buffalo going head-to-head is a feature of Miao festivals, but buffalo are cherished creatures, and there is usually no bloodshed. Dragon-boat races are held in the Kaili region at least twice a year, celebrating a local victory over invading Chinese armies. Villages send a team of rowers and a long, narrow boat with carved wooden dragon-head prows. Only men play the lusheng, usually at festivals. This instrument is made from a gourd with a mouthpiece and a dozen or so bamboo pipes. It produces a nasal humming sound.
    Miao silverwork ranges from simple earrings to twisted, weighty necklace chains and fantastic headpieces with bells, horns, and animal figurines. This jacket is typical of dark geometric Gejia pieces. It is heavily embroidered and incorporates batik work of abstract buffalo and plant motifs. Two buffalo going head-to-head is a feature of Miao festivals, but buffalo are cherished creatures, and there is usually no bloodshed. Dragon-boat races are held in the Kaili region at least twice a year, celebrating a local victory over invading Chinese armies. Villages send a team of rowers and a long, narrow boat with carved wooden dragon-head prows. Only men play the lusheng, usually at festivals. This instrument is made from a gourd with a mouthpiece and a dozen or so bamboo pipes. It produces a nasal humming sound.

    Chinese Cranes
    The lakes and marshes of China are vital to the survival of eight of the world’s 15 species of crane, many of which are highly endangered. Most breed in northern China, in particular at Zhalong Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang province. All are migratory, but several species – including the tropical sarus and China’s sole endemic variety, the black-necked crane – occur only in the central and southwestern parts of the country. Aside from being naturally elegant birds, cranes have spectacular mating “dances,” where they energetically leap and flap around to attract their lifelong partners. As a result of this display, the crane is a Chinese symbol of fidelity and longevity. The Daoist god of longevity, Shou Lao (also known as Shao Xing), is often depicted riding a crane.

    Miao silverwork ranges from simple earrings to twisted, weighty necklace chains and fantastic headpieces with bells, horns, and animal figurines. Miao silverwork ranges from simple earrings to twisted, weighty necklace chains and fantastic headpieces with bells, horns, and animal figurines. Miao silverwork ranges from simple earrings to twisted, weighty necklace chains and fantastic headpieces with bells, horns, and animal figurines.
    Sarus – world’s tallest crane Demoselle cranes are gregarious and have been recorded in flocks several thousand strong. Their diet is mostly frogs, fish, and insects, though they can also eat grain and carrion. Courting cranes pair for life. They cement the bond with elaborate courtship displays, during which the couple loop necks, toss their heads back, throw around twigs and pebbles, and leap high into the air, parachuting down with wings spread.
    Versatile bamboo stems
    Versatile bamboo stems
    Bamboo painting – or mozhu – is an esteemed art considered to be on a par with calligraphy. Using a monochrome ink the painter attempts to convey the bamboo’s spirit rather than its exact form in just a few fluid and almost abstract brush strokes.
    Bamboo painting
    – or mozhu

    Bamboo
    A fast-growing, long-lived type of grass found throughout central and southern China, bamboo is put to a huge array of uses. The culms (stems) are turned into pipes, hats, furniture, mats, and cooking utensils, while the shoots of certain varieties are cooked and eaten. The body of the plant is a rhizome (a horizontal, underground stem) that, according to type, clumps or runs, putting out regularly-spaced shoots that grow nearly 2 feet (60 cm) per day until they reach full height. Plants might flower only every few decades, or even just once per century, after which they die back. The plant has become part of the religion, philosophy, and culture of the Chinese: it represents Confucian values of devotion and righteousness; the segments on its straight stem symbolize the steps along the straight path to enlightenment; and its strength, grace, and longevity have made it the subject of a great many poems and paintings.

    Bamboo painting – or mozhu – is an esteemed art considered to be on a par with calligraphy. Using a monochrome ink the painter attempts to convey the bamboo’s spirit rather than its exact form in just a few fluid and almost abstract brush strokes.

    In the wild, bamboo covers the hillsides in tall, dense, waving green forests, a sight often called a “bamboo sea.” In gardens smaller plants are often used as symbolic elements (see Garden Views). Split bamboo can be woven into many useful objects such as lattice screens and blinds for use around the home as well as baskets such as these, used for carrying chickens to market. Whole bamboo stems are versatile enough to be sawn, drilled, bent or spliced, while keeping their strength. Items of furniture like these teahouse chairs can be made by a skilled craftsman in a matter of minutes. The strength of bamboo is such that, in the south of the country where it is easily available, bamboo is preferred over steel poles as scaffolding even for high-rises. China’s urban boom is being built on the back of this giant grass.
    In the wild, bamboo covers the hillsides in tall, dense, waving green forests, a sight often called a “bamboo sea.” In gardens smaller plants are often used as symbolic elements (see Garden Views). Split bamboo can be woven into many useful objects such as lattice screens and blinds for use around the home as well as baskets such as these, used for carrying chickens to market. Whole bamboo stems are versatile enough to be sawn, drilled, bent or spliced, while keeping their strength. Items of furniture like these teahouse chairs can be made by a skilled craftsman in a matter of minutes. The strength of bamboo is such that, in the south of the country where it is easily available, bamboo is preferred over steel poles as scaffolding even for high-rises. China’s urban boom is being built on the back of this giant grass.

    Karst
    Huge areas of China’s Southwest comprise visually spectacular landscapes featuring karst – weathered limestone formations. In China, limestone has been created from fossilized prehistoric sea floor sediments, brought to the surface by geological upheavals. The exposed alkaline limestone is then eroded by naturally-occurring acidic rain. Above ground, this results in anything from closely packed “stone forests,” poking a few meters skywards, to the huge conical hills covering half of Guizhou, and the tall, elegant pinnacles around Guilin. Underground, percolating water and subterranean rivers carve out long, interlinked caverns, hung with oddly shaped rock formations.

    Karst formation
    Southwest China’s thick and fractured pure limestone has led to a dramatically eroded landscape. The warm wet climate speeds up the weathering of limestone by acid rainwater and chemicals in rotting plants.

    1. Surface streams lose water to cave systems developing in the limestone. Surface drainage is diverted down sink holes to below the water table.

    Karst landscape
    This cut-away artwork shows an idealized karst landscape, with all the features shown together. Karst topographies usually have a thick layer of cave-ridden limestone, and then, depending on the area’s geology and the age of the formation, a few of the features shown here.

    Fenglin karst, which translates as peak-forest karst, is characterized by peaks that rise near vertically, like trees, 100 to 250 feet (30 to 80 m) above the surrounding flat floodplains. These dramatic tower-like karsts are found in and around the city of Guilin.

    1. Surface streams lose water to cave systems developing in the limestone. Surface drainage is diverted down sink holes to below the water table. 2. Peaks develop from the land left after erosion by the streams. The cave system gets larger as fast-moving subsurface streams bore through the limestone, and the water table drops. 3. Much of the limestone has eroded past the caves down to a layer of shale. Limestone peaks remain, many fractured with small, waterless caves.

    Caves that open out into large halls filled with stunning limestone formations are found throughout karst areas. Minerals deposited by losing streams and water drainage create the strange shapes.

    Fengcong karst, or peak-cluster karst, differ from the straight-sided fenglin. Their peaks are more cone-shaped and one hill meets the next across a depression or doline. Superb fengcong landscape can be seen near the small town of Xingping.

    The Li River cuts through an impressive variety of karst hills. Cruises start in Guilin with fenglin, which gradually give way to dense fengcong.

    Stone forests, such as Shi Lin outside Kunming, are karst formations created by the retreating waters of ancient seas, and wind and rain erosion.

    Fenglin karst, which translates as peak-forest karst, is characterized by peaks that rise near vertically, like trees, 100 to 250 feet (30 to 80 m) above the surrounding flat floodplains. These dramatic tower-like karsts are found in and around the city of Guilin.

    Caves that open out into large halls filled with stunning limestone formations are found throughout karst areas. Minerals deposited by losing streams and water drainage create the strange shapes.

    Fengcong karst, or peak-cluster karst, differ from the straight-sided fenglin. Their peaks are more cone-shaped and one hill meets the next across a depression or doline. Superb fengcong landscape can be seen near the small town of Xingping.

    The Li River cuts through an impressive variety of karst hills. Cruises start in Guilin with fenglin, which gradually give way to dense fengcong.

    Karst landscape

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