Miao, Mao?


Sorry that I haven’t posted for a while. Internet access was expensive in our Shanghai hotel and I was busy as the trip reached its denouement. No poetry in this entry, just some reflection. During our stay in Guiyang, we took a trip out to the area in Guizhou province where ethnic minorities live. It is an extraordinarily beautiful part of China with the characteristic small hills/mountains, rivers, rice fields, etc. The plan was to visit a village of the Miao people, a minority still trying to hang on to its traditional way of life.

The village was very much out of the way and looked like an authentic, living village. We were greeted with the blast of fireworks and women dressed in costumes offering us quaffs of rice wine (a traditional welcome it seems).


We were then escorted into the quaint, old village and treated to a beautiful performance of traditional Miao dance and music (see first picture). Now I fully expected that the performance would be followed by a shopping opportunity. In fact, nearly every single place we visited in China had some kind of shopping option – even religious sites. However, nothing in the Miao show really revealed what was to ensue next. Little girls from the village invited us to join the traditional final dance and this seemed innocent enough.


As the final dance ended, the village women and girls had ominously gathered around us. With the final notes of music came something quite unexpected and more than a little disturbing. A literal onslaught of manic selling ensued as we were literally grabbed by village women who waved their goods in our faces demanding we buy. Strangely, this selling frenzy was not coordinated and was a free for all with every Miao women out to outdo the other in selling fervor. I was interested in perhaps buying some of their silver jewelry, but my slightest sign of interest resulted in even more insistent hawking of wares. I saw a similar scene around each of us and my colleagues appeared as shell-shocked as I was. As I was grabbed even more firmly by various Miao women, I was unnerved. I shook myself free and made a run for the tour bus. I was soon followed by others of our group.

What to make of this scene? I have thought about this incident off and on for the past few weeks and am still uncertain. I understood that the capitalist spirit had taken hold in China and had seen ample evidence of it in Beijing and Xian. However, I was stunned to find capitalism invading even the most remote and traditional seeming village we had seen. I found myself wondering what Mao would make of the Miao and of China as a whole. One of our group joked upon seeing Mao’s tomb in Tiananmen closed for repairs that this was because Mao was spinning in his grave on seeing China today. Interestingly, a few days later, this question was put to a university professor in Guizhou, who said unabashedly that Mao would have approved of China’s present course. I’m not so sure.

But in any case, I can’t blame the Miao for wanting to get a share of the tourist yuan in China’s burgeoning travel industry. They want to feed and clothe their families. I wondered if the cost to their traditional life was worth it in their view. Probably, I suppose. As we drove out from the Miao village, I couldn’t help noticing the satellite dishes on the small houses lining the road and just shrugged. As the Buddha taught, change is inevitable whether for better or worse.

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