Visiting Guizhou — Connecting with China’s ethnic minorities

This article appears on page 20 of the October 2010 issue.
Chengyang Bridge, one of several wooden bridges located in the Dong minority region.

by Cornelia Sulzer, Mill Valley, CA

So many people are traveling to China these days, either for work or for pleasure, but do many people know the southern part of China, where the ethnic minorities live?

Musicians of the Dong minority playing handcrafted wooden instruments.

I am always looking for trips “off the beaten track,” so I was very pleased to discover that Arts et Vie Voyages Culturels (phone +33 1 40 43 20 21,, a company based in Paris that offers only French-language tours, at reasonable prices, offered a trip to the southern region of Guizhou.

View of terraced rice fields in the Guizhou region.

The tour, called “Les minorités du Guizhou,” took place April 18-May 2, 2009. The 15-day, 12-night tour cost E2,150 ($2,770), including all hotels and meals as well as round-trip flights from Paris to Canton and, of course, all bus transportation and a tour guide.

Most of the members of these minority groups are found in inaccessible settlements on mountain slopes and along streams and rivers. Guizhou is surrounded by mountains, isolating the region from the rest of the country.

Women of the Shui minority in traditional dress.

Between the mountains, forests, rice paddies and terraces, we were introduced to members of, among others, the Yao, Zhuang, Dong, Yi, Hani, Naxi and Miao minorities. Their costumes, all finely embroidered, vary from region to region.

We drove over high mountains with magnificent views of valleys, terraced rice paddies and undisturbed villages. In many villages we were surprised by locals welcoming us with their singing and dances. They also asked us to sing songs from our country, to which we complied with pleasure. What a wonderful experience to find a way to communicate — through music, dancing and singing!

Little Shui girl.

We also stayed in a few very large cities with the inevitable highrises, like Guiyang and Kaili. When taking a walk early one morning, we were struck by the music coming from everywhere. People of all ages were practicing their Tai Chi exercises. What a marvelous way of socializing!

A pretty, young Miao woman, one of the many members of China”s ethnic minority groups we encountered on a tour of the Guizhou region.

I could not stand just watching, so I joined a group and was welcomed. It was fun!

As generations change, I am afraid that the minority situation is going to change as well and that their beautiful traditions might be lost. I urge you to visit before it’s too late.

The villages are gems. It was one of the most beautiful trips I have ever taken.