Mountain Villages in Southern China

Although 92% of China’s population is the majority Han ethnicity there are a number of minority cultures that are often located in remote areas.  Some of these minority people live in beautiful Zhuang, Yao and Dong villages in the mountains of southern China where time seems to have stood still.  There are often no roads to these villages, and you must hike in an hour or more to get there.  The terrain is steep and dramatic, and the villages are nestled gracefully in to the mountainsides.  The farmers tend beautiful rice crops on terraces that have been in operation for generations.  Intricate irrigation systems feed the fields and create the constant sound of moving water.

The wooden houses here generally have a ground floor dedicated to stock, a middle floor for human habitation and a top floor for storing harvests.  The weathered wood and grey tile roofs make the buildings seems like they have just grown out of the soil of the mountain.

Flooded rice fields make swirling patterns accentuating the contours of the mountains.

Very labor intensive farming by hand.

Buildings and terraces are all generated by the contours of the landscape.

Stone entry gate on footpath to Zhuang village.

Wooden buildings are large, but dark and well integrated into the landscape.

Simple, sensible vernacular buildings.

Local forests are primary source of materials.

New construction follows longstanding patterns.

Different floors for different functions is articulated in the massing.

Slopes are steep and difficult for buildings to negotiate.

Bridge over irrigation channel.

A plaque in the bridge gave credit to all of the villagers who donated their time and resources to build it communally.

All transportation is via footpaths.

A few beasts of burden can negotiate the paths.

Mostly, humans are the beasts of burden.

Village life is slow and quiet.

Work is steady and constant.

There is a soft patina of age on everything.

Distinctive vertical stonework.

Emblem in paving that depicts the cooperation of three cultures--three fishes with one head.

Thinking about Cultural Identity
Posted July 24, 2010

  • Yansong

    This is my favorite post! The first picture from Mountain Villages in Southern China is something my parents would immediately think of when they hear “retirement.” It's far away from competition, politics, and… maybe pollution?

    did you climb to the roof to get that picture?

  • Lspeck

    That picture was taken from the window of the room where I was staying.

    Yes, it did seem far away from all of those things. In most parts of China we were constantly asked to show our passports–certainly when we checked in to lodgings. They asked for nothing here. I asked why and was told that there is an old Chinese saying, “The mountain is high and the emperor is far away”.