Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dong music and buildings artistic wonders

You cannot leave a village of the Dong minority without being impressed with their songs and buildings.

Many of their songs are a reflection of their lives - about nature, labor, love and friendship.

While relaxing and useful for communication, singing has long played another important role.

Without a written language for more than 2,500 years, the Dong people passed on their history and customs from generation to generation through oral literature and art. Songs are key to their oral tradition.

Not surprisingly teachers of songs are respected as the most knowledgeable in a Dong village.

In particular, their a cappella harmonies with a lead singer and no conductor - which can imitate sounds of nature like streams and insects and inspire listeners' imagination - are considered a gift from the Dong people to the world.

Their art hit the headlines in 1986, when a Dong chorus performed in Paris, changing the idea that harmonies exist only in Western music and cannot be found in Chinese music.

Harmonies have long been valued by the Dong people. They only perform them at special occasions like important holidays, group dates and reception of distinguished guests.

In most cases the harmonies are performed in the drum tower of the village, so they are also known as "drum tower chorus".

Another Dong art form - architecture - is also impressive. Wood and stones are used instead of iron and steel as construction materials.

Dong people's skill in building houses and bridges with stones and wood without a nail or rivet marvel visitors.

The drum tower is a typical example of Dong architecture and a landmark in their villages. Without a drum tower, it cannot be counted as Dong.

As one of the highest and most spectacular buildings in the village, the tower is used for holiday parties and other entertainment.

In important matters or emergencies, the drum is beaten and villagers will gather at the tower for a meeting.

In fact it is so closely related to their lives that the Dong culture is also known as Drum Tower culture.

The Fengyu - wind and rain - Bridge, a common sight in almost every Dong village, is also a demonstration of their advanced building skills.

Entirely made of wood and stones, the covered bridges provide shelter for travelers if needed.

As the style of the bridge is also beautiful, it is known as Flower Bridge, or huaqiao, in Chinese.

Today the 2.6 million Dong people live mostly in Guizhou and Hunan provinces as well as Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Liping county in Guizhou has the highest concentration with a population of 350,000 Dong people.

The county has 320 drum towers and 290 flower bridges, thus winning the reputation of a Dong architectural museum.

With a land area of 180,000 sq m and a population of more than 4,000, Zhaoxing village in the county has one of the biggest groups of Dong in southeastern Guizhou. It has five districts - and so five drum towers and five flower bridges

The drum tower cluster has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Source: China Daily

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