I visited my hometown for the first time in 1979, when I was 11 years old. This year was memorable for all Chinese people due to the conflict between Vietnam and China. Because of fear of the war, my family and I decided to leave our home in which we had lived for almost 20 years, and returned to hometown. After a long journey, we finally arrived at our terminal. By this time, everyone knew that the war was already far away from us.
Although my hometown is very remote and unknown, it had a long history. It is located in the southeast part of GuiZhou province, southwest China. The Qianling Mountains stretched out to the southeast and formed a basin. The town is located at the centre of the basin, with boundless virgin forests and uninterrupted hills surrounding it, keeping it isolated from the outside world.
The town is very small, and the stone-paved streets are somewhat slippery and dirty. Log cabins are dispersed in twos and threes on the edge of the forest or along the hillside; they looked very torn and dark. The residents mainly consisted of Tong, and, partially, Miao minority people, both of whom had lived here for generations and generations, maybe, thousands of years. Everyone was simple and hospitable, hardworking and intelligent yet still very poor. One of the reasons, I think, could have been due to isolation from the outside as well as the undeveloped commodity economy. But, however, all of this had nothing to do with us, what was important was that the cruelties and bloodiness of the war was absent and instead there was peace and quiet.
The “wind-rain” bridges and the “drum” towers were the most characteristic architectural features in my hometown. All of them were made from wood; the construction style was the typical trait of the Tong minority. Wind-Rain Bridge was just like a tile-roofed corridor across a stream. Not only could it be used as a pathway directed to the opposite side of a river, but also a structure to shield people from cold wind and rain. Drum towers usually were constructed on the peaks of hills, with 9 to 11 floors. It was not a place people could beat drums, but a place where people could take a rest when they were free of heavy farming work or where they could celebrate some special festivals. During leisure time, people crowded together into the drum towers, entertaining themselves, talking with each other and singing songs. If you jointed them, you or, would have deeply felt the intimate relationships and happiness among them.
Visitors to this region would be taken with great surprise by the music talent of the Tong minority people. Tong people typically like to use their own unique languages and songs to express their feelings and emotions of happiness and sorrow on occasions such as festivals, weddings, and newborn birthdays, and even funerals of elderly people. The annual March 3 festival is typically the most important musical holiday of the Tong people. On that day, hundreds of thousands people congregate from different districts at the sacred cove where their progenitors first arrived. At this time, men dress up in their traditional costumes, and women decorate themselves with heavy complexes of silver ornaments and headgear. Some head ornaments are so exaggerated that they look like a pair of bull’s horns. Song competitions constitute the climax of the musical festival. The crowds divide into many groups of three or five, where sing songs one by one against their competitors, posing questions such as “How many stars are in the sky?” and like this. The most imaginative group would be the winner.
However, the young people are more willing to sing love songs. If a boy falls in love with a girl, he can even make a romantic proposal using his sweet songs. However, it is not certain that the girl will become his wife, yet the boy and his bandsmen proceed to bring plenty of gifts with them, going to the girl’s home and making a formal proposal in the face of the girl’s parents and relatives. They try their best to sing songs against the girl’s relatives and drink much wine. The proposal will not be accepted until the boy and his fellows are finally declared winners and get to have dinner with the girl’s parents.
I came back to my hometown, for the second time, over twenty years later. A newly built highway passed through the town, connecting it to the outside world. Trees were being cut down in large numbers; lumber was being transported outside by the highway. The Wind-Rain bridges and Drum Towers had disappeared and instead were rows of two-floored concrete housing units looked very boring and dull. Young people with hair reddish-yellow and girls wearing lower-waist jeans with their belly button glancing out from inside of their shirts were apparent everywhere. They had become no different from young people in other parts of the world with the exception of the color of their skin. Good singers were not the first choice of their lovers anymore but the new-rich stars. It was so surprising that the traditional life styles and customs of a minority nationality which once so fragile had changed under the huge wave of modernization. Who can say whether the results are good or bad? Maybe, it is another example of the war between tradition and modernization?