The photo shows Yakou Village in Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China's Yunnan Province. [CRIENGLISH.com]
Yakou Village in Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province has seen tremendous changes in recent years. Located 2100 meters above sea level, the previously agrarian village is plagued by prolonged frost each year. In the past, villagers had to get by with an annual per capita income of less than 1500 yuan.
Since 2006 however, the majority of the 350 households in the village have responded to the local government's appeal to develop tourism. By decorating their houses in typical Yi style and entertaining guests following traditional Yi customs, locals have developed the village into a tourist hotspot, transforming their lives in the process.
Zhou Lianying is a Yi woman in her fifties, who lives by the road running through the valley of Yakou village. On a typical day, she tends to the corns and wheat in the farmland, takes care of her grand-daughter and helps her daughter at her snack stand near her house. Everywhere she goes, she wears traditional Yi clothes: pink shirt with embroidered red flowers, covered with a black jacket with red and blue linings. She makes those herself, a practice she has been doing since she made her wedding dress as a young bride-to-be. Today, she is aware of the changes happening around her.
"The young girls today can no longer make such clothes. They may be able to do the embroidery, but it is the elders in their family that help them complete their wedding costumes."
Comparing the past and the present, Zhou Lianying nonetheless feels happier about the current situation. In the last two months, the family has made more than 8000 yuan by selling baked corn at the snack stand. In her large sitting room, there are two sets of sofas, along with a TV set, a water dispenser and a stereo set.
The modern lifestyle affords Zhou's family with a much easier way of living than they had experienced in the past. For the same reason, many Yi households in Chuxiong build western-style houses after they become wealthier, keeping with popular trends. However, this is not the case in Yakou Village where the buildings still adhere to the Yi style. Duan Zhigang is the vice director of local tourism bureau.
"The Yakou Village started developing tourism at an early stage. Now, each household can afford to build a modern house, some even own cars. However, since we convinced them about the economic and cultural benefits of keeping their homes decorated in Yi style, they've learnt to protect their own culture."
So, most of the houses in Yakou village have retained the typical Yi style. They are basically quadrangles encircled by two storey buildings with tiled roof. Like most traditional Yi households, the second floor of Zhou Lianying's house is used as storage room for grains and farm tools. There, on the wall facing the window, stands a wooden shelf holding two wooden figurines.
"When an elder dies in a Yi family, we need to go up the mountains and harvest a piece of wood and then carve it into a wooden figurine. During important family events or major festivals, we pray to our ancestors before we start doing anything else."
In Zhou Lianying's large sitting room, two Yueqins hang on the wall. The traditional Yi musical instruments reveal her husband's talents. As a brilliant singer of Yi music, Zhou's husband is often invited over by people in the neighborhood to perform on special occasions.
Her husband also receives a 300 yuan subsidy each month from the local government as an inheritor of traditional Yi culture.
Efforts to preserve the local cultural heritage don't stop there. On the days of major Yi festivals, people enjoy paid holidays to hold celebrations. To improve the living conditions of traditional villages, the government builds toilets and takes care of the garbage, but allows villagers to decide on the building styles and interior decorations. So far, the people in Yakou have managed to maintain the traditional appearance of a Yi village, and this exterior may hint at something deeper.
Our reporting crew left the village on a sunny Friday afternoon, when the busiest Yi style restaurant had yet to begin business. Three young girls sat in the yard and practiced their embroidery skills, with the sunlight shining on the colorful clothes in their hands, and also on the future of Yi culture.