A Travellerspoint blog

September 2009

Guilin - Day 4 - Peach Blossom Garden, Crown Cave

Region Where Minority is the Majority. Strong As Zhuang.

semi-overcast 30 °C

Our first stop this morning is a ethnic cultural theme park. This kinda ethnic park almost always included in a Guangxi province tour package. After all, Guangxi official name is Guangxi Zhang Autonomous Region. China has 5 autonomous regions. A casual glance at the map of China would have detected that all these autonomous regions are on the landlocked fringes of China, bordering with other countires, naturally. Because once upon a time, some of them were another countries. Except for Ningxia, which in a sense borders with another country as Inner Mongolia was not part of China before Gengis Khan. In fact, the people of Mongolia took over China, and with the fall of Yuan Dynasty, it became part of China. Conqueror became the conquered.

Another Chinese ethnic minority was the Manchu (or Manchurian) who ruled China, and are absorbed into China like Inner Mongolia. Where's Manchuria Autonomous Region? I'm glad you asked. The Manchuria 'region' is composed of three dumplings-eating provinces that sits at the north east corner of China, which border Inner Mongolia, Russia, and Korea. It's a cultural diverse region.

Another province that inhabited by a large population of ethnic minority group is Yunnan and it borders with Thailand, Myanma, Loas and Vietnam. So why Yunnan and the provinces in the north east most of China aren't autonomous regions? They should be. But they are not. I could only speculate that it's due to the complex Chinese historical and political background. With the Manchu, its people and culture are being assimilated into China. Or to be precise, when the Manchus conquered China, they desperately wanted to be integrated into Chinese culture to bring harmony to the Qing Dynasty (and the policy worked out well). Think of Catherine The Great who was a German princess. In the funny days of old, she didn't have to learn Russian to rule Russia. But she chose to taught herself the Russian language, and even joined the Russian Orthodox to go an extra mile to show her faith (in God and country). This won her brownie points with the Russian people. The Manchu emperors actively adopted the Han-Manchu One-Family policy. The Manchu-Han Imperial Feast (滿漢全席) is one of the grandest meals ever documented in history that consisted of 108 unique dishes to cement this idea/relationship. Qing Dynasty wasn't overthrown the way Yuan Dynasty was because the ruling elits of the imperial court weren't Han Chinese. The Manchurian Qing Dynasty crumbled because the dynastic era has past its used-by date. Way passed. Not just because since 18th century saw monarchies in all corners of the world handing power over to the people's representatives, but over the long stretch of Chinese history (the longest in the world), there wasn't a single dynasty that have survived more 3.5 centuries, and the last dynasty of China was pushing this envelop, and had proved to be an unbreakable barrier.

Ever since I watched Klingon on Star Trek in the 1980's (never heard of them before that), thoughts of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire would just pop up in my head the way I can't hear Strass' Also Sprach Zarathustra without thinking of the famous scene from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. These two items are inexplicably linked like two peas in a pod. I'm certain that the Klingon Empire is a thin veil of the Mongol Empire - a highly civilized, militaristic, disciplined, empire-building barbarians. Take 'Klin' and replace it with 'Mo' and you will get a scrambled word for 'Mongol'. Maybe Klingon should be called Molgon, but that would be way too obvious, and an insult to the Trekkie's intelligence (and they're a bunch of M & M). I speculate the 'K' in 'Klingon' may have reference to 'Khan'. So we should get Klangon, but Klingon sounds better, and it also sounds like 'cling on' or 'Clinton'. Trekkie should also be a very tolerant bunch too. After all, if they are accepting of many ET races, they would have no problem embracing terrestrial intelligences or otherwise. I suspect Trekkie loves all thing foreign and strange.

When the Klingons live among human (or Humaan as the Ferengi's derogatory term for us or Earthlings by Klingons), I'm thinking Worf or B'Elanna Torres, they would become (not 'assimulated' like the Borg's method) one of us. So too was what happen to Mongolian living among Chinese.

I can't imagine anyone enjoys travelling aren't also Trekkie (Star Trek fans) unless they are thinking Star Trek is about science and have no interest in such thing (nop, you don't have to be a 40 year-old virgin or hold a passport to nerdom to enjoy it). Star Trek is sci-fi, to be sure, oh Danny Boy, to be sure. Or you can be a closet Trekkie and watch the basement (more like a dungoen Trekkie). But there's more (don't you want more?), Star Trek is about different groups of people (be it alien or not) interacting with one another. I like all spin-offs of Star Trek (which there are 4) except Deep Space Nine. It took me a little look in the mirror (while I was cleaning it) to uncover this personal quirk (I also discovered extra wrinkles and greys in the process. It's bad luck to look into the mirror). In Deep Space Nine, there's no spaceship moving through space. I say avid travellers would be Star Trek fans because as the U.S.S. Enterprise hurtling through space at warp 9.5, they encounter new races of people and cultures, and this show is about how human interact with this new cultures amd people. This is what travelling is all about, it's exploring, instead of flying a spaceship, we board a cruise ship (or usually fying in jumbo jets), and boldly explore where most others tourists have gone before (or whatever destination the travel agents suckered us in).

The myriad alien races in Star Trek are modelled on different groups of people on Earth. Klingon are based on Mongols; Vulcan are likely to have drawn from the Indian and Greek's Ascetics whose worldly pleasures and emotions are abstained and given way to the pursuit of spiritual intellect; the Borg are modelled on the bee and/or ant colony, and the use of terms like hive and drone removes all doubts. The closest human society could be a totalitarian extreme left or right wing Communist/Fascist nationalistiic regime where the collective conformity overrides individuality, the good of the state far outweighs the rights of the individuals; the Ferangi is inspired by the Carpetbaggers circa 19th century USA, and so forth, limited by only the imagination. The international cast/intergalactic crew of the USS Enterprise isn't just a cosmic co-incidence. This international crew that includes Afro-American and Asian was light-years ahead in Hollywood lore.

Journey to the West (西游记) - a 16th Chinese literature classic - is probably the original Star Trek. It's inspired by the harsh pilgrimage of the famous Chinese Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang1 to India. Instead of a trek to far reaches of space, it's an arduous and perilous journey to the remote West over the Himalayas. In fact, the West in this magnum opus refers not so much to the geographical compass point but the West Heaven in India or sky (aka space). Instead of a diverse international crew that led by a ship captain, it's a band of motley disciples - Monkey, Sandy & Pigsy - headed by the Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang. Instead of exploring and gathering knowledge, the Chinese gang are fetching the holy scriptures (both are 'fact finding' missions). Instead of fantastical alien encounters in far-flung space, the Chinese version has far-fetched, whimsical encounters in distant land. Instead of fantastic, bizzare alien races and creatrues, this Ming's novel has wacky, weird and outlandish demons, goblins, and creatrues of all sorts. Both are stuffed with adventures into the depth of unknowns.

Since the band of guardians in Journey to the West are reluctant followers who are flawed and disreputable characters at the start of the story. In this 'plot line', it's most akin to Star Trek: Voyager where most of the senior crews are made up of the the Marquis who consists of disreputable characters in the beginning, and are grudgingly serving under Captain Janeway. In both cases, a mutiny are constantly brewing under the surface as they are unwillingly followed their leaders to the end of the earth/universe while harbouring their own hidden agendas. At the end of the journey (home/West), Janeway/Tripitaka has helped the crews/disciples to resovle their hostilities and differences, redeem them, turn them into good guys, and into two happy family/ies.

Ah yes, Journey to the West story is peppered with all manner of things like spartial manipulation, time travel and temporal discrepancies between Heaven and Earth, teleportation, and many out-of-this-world concepts that have became the standard bag of tricks in today sci-fi, all these are entertained in the this inventive 16th century tome. I was enthralled by Journey to the West as a kid the way I'm captivated by Star Trek as an adult (kid at heart).

It's no wonder why Star Trek is so popular, its theme and storyline mirrors to a literature masterpiece that has tested and survived after 5 centuries with its timeless quality and theme. This topic of heroic journey of spiritual growth and of self-discovery is popular of late as evident in TV programs like Lost and Heroes. (Heroes - what an orginal names in a retro-classic kinda way). Parrelles of Lost and Star Trek exists on many dimensions (pun intended). Lost could well have been written by Star Trek writers. We are suckers for this kinda heroic, spiritual pilgrimage, retold ad infinitum (Recycling is very fashionable nowadays).

Where was I? Oh yeah, back to China. This ethnic cultural park, Peach Blossom Garden (桃花源), showcases the cultural architectures, artefacts and peoples of various major ethnic minority groups in Guangxi. If you ask me, I would prefer to see one real ethnic village than a dozen ethnic tourist display villages. I think the name for this park in the similar westerner tour packages might have been called "Peach Blossom Shangri-la", but I'm not sure.

Female Zhuang minority group playing traditional stringed musical instrument ,Yangshuo, Guangxi, China

Female Zhuang minority group playing traditional stringed musical instrument ,Yangshuo, Guangxi, China

As we were free to explore the park, the tour guide didn't accompany us to do running commentaries (like a tennis match). So we were left clueless about the various minority groups roaming around the park. I took the photo above and left to my own device to find out who these lovely gals were. The research can be a formidable task when you considering how many minority groups there are in China. Officially there 55 minority groups in China, give or take. This number is a very broad stroke, and the actually number can be a lot higher depending on the classification criteria. Take Taiwan, it has approx 26 known Taiwanese Aborigines languages, which implies the Formosa Island has at least 26 ethnic groups, and the number should likely be higher. But PRC government count all Taiwanese Aborigines as one group. Think of a country like Vietnam, which has only a fraction the size of China has recognized 54 distinct ethnic groups. Some of the groups like the Yao that you met in my last diary entry, and the Miao, etc live in both countries. If Chinese authority sorts its ethnic groupings the way the Vietnamese or Taiwanese government does, the figure would get bumped up several times over. Indeed, there are many sub-divisions within the Yao people that Chinese authority simply lumps them into as one. Maybe it's a good thing because the diversity simply boggles the mind.

Undaunted, I thought I do the research by narrowly the research with some deliberation. First, not all ethnic minorities in China live in Guangxi. Duh. Even then, there still left with quite a number of minority groups (probably more than 20). I further narrowed it to the largest and most familiar groups - the Zhuangs (壮族), Yaos (瑶族), Miaos (苗族), and Dongs (侗族). I actually heard about the Miao people of Vietnam way back when I was still in my primary school in Vietnam, but didn't know that they also live in China. Starting with my first search of Zhuang, I hit the jackpot right away - I was able to identify costumes of the girls in the photo as the Zhuang people. After all, the official name for this province is "Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region". The Zhuang is not only the largest group in this province, but in fact, the largest in China - some 16 millions strong (Zhuang = 'Strong' in Chinese).

Most minorities have very colourful and flamboyant costumes, the Zhuang traditional dresses are quite simple, typically black and blue. The top looks like a top half of a short-sleeved qipao that are ever so popular in the West.


The unique wooden architecture is the famous Drum Tower of the Dong people. If you have already read my diary entry on "Guilin - Day 2", you would have thought this is a Yao costume (with slight variation), but in fact a Dong costume. That's the thing about this sort of ethnic park, there're different ethnic people walking around different places leaving the tourists like me can't make heads or tails - actually Yaos or Dongs - out of this place. This tower has 5 tiers of roofs, some have many more - as many as 20.

We headed for yet another cave in the arvo. 3 caves in 3 days in a row. I have never been so caved out, especially that I'm not a cave man - I mean a cave person (a civilised cave man). Don't bore me with another set of calcium carbonate formations, I said to myself. This one called the Crown Cave. Having seen Silver Cave two days ago, it takes a great deal to win me over. It didn't top Silver Cave, but it has its own charm. I wasn't as disappointed as I have with Fengyu Cave. Instead of trekking the cave in more or less horizontally, we ascend as we proceed deep into the cave. As we entered the cave's centre piece, standing at the bottom, the steep stairs led our eyes skyward towards the tall and impressive limestone columns on top of the stairs. It reached the top of a very high cave ceiling, with its limestones structures adorn the columns like intricate, exquisite carvings of some Renaissance genius sculptors. For an European, this probably reminds them of a cathedral with soaring columns and vaults. To me, it looks almost exactly like the underwater palace of the Dragon King of the East Sea (東海龍王) that I remember from Chinese movies. Quite spooky and stunning.

We finished the night with the watching of "Impression Liu Sanjie" ("Liu's 3rd Sister" 刘三姐). The show takes place in the open with the backdrop of the picturesque Guilin limestone karsts. The 'stage' is an inlet surrounded by seven limestone hills. Because it takes place at night, several karsts were light up with flood lights. They took on an eerily magical and translucent quality - imagine shine a torch light onto your face from below your chin in the dark. Yep, that same eerily ambience of a ghost story telling writ large provides the backdrop for the show. Most of the dancers perform in water, and I was told they do this all year round. My guide told me that one of his Harbin tourist member told him that winter here is colder than Harbin - the famous City of Ice Festival in the North (in 'Manchuria'). I find it hard to swallow, but what is even more incrediable is that the actors do their performances in water scantily clad. Many performers are fishermen by day, which explains their constitution of an ox that we mere mortals can only admire them from afar in quiet awe, followed by some loud applause. As impressive as these feats of physical endurance, these kinda things come natural to them, what is impressive is asking the farmers and fishermen to turn into performers, which is not something that come natural to them. Isn't this the developing story of China today? While China is trying to turn farmers into factory hands, Zhang turn them into stage performers.

Because the show was done in open air, the audience is susceptible to weather elements and other not so pleasant random Acts of God. It showered before the show started and we were given raincoats at the entrance. Our spirits weren't dampened. Our guide cheered us up by saying that the light rain adds atmosphere. He wasn't too far off the mark.

This show was created and directed by the ever so popular Zhang Yimou. Anyone who had sampled his movies and watched the 2008 Beijing Opening Ceremony knows about his handiworks. I watched the Opening Ceremony and nearly all his subsequent movies starting from "Raise The Red Lantern"2 (Gong Li gave a commanding performance), which introduced me to his cinemas. So I held high expectation of this show,

You can read the rest of the article here..


1 Tang Sanzang (or Xuanzang) 唐三藏, Tripitaka in Sanskrit. 'Tri' = 3 = 三 = san in Chinese. In Japanese, 3 = san as in "San Yo" = "3 oceans". In Korean, 3 = Sam, as in "Sam Sung" = "3 stars". 'Zang' is a category in Buddhist Canon.

'San' (山) can also be 'montain' in Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Although the character '山' is written the same, Chinese pinyin uses 'shan', not 'san'.

Learning Chinese is useful in learning other Sinopheric countries like Japan, Korea and Vietnam the way knowing Latin is helpful in learning European languages in general. To put it another way, Chinese language provides roots to these East Asian countries just as Latin does for European nations.


釜山 = Busan, also spelled Pusan, is a city in the south of South Korea.
泰山 = Taishan or Mount Tai, is an important sacred montain in China's Shandong province (yes, 'Shan' in 'Shandong' = mountain. 'Shandong' is mount in the East).
富士山 = Fujisan or Mount Fuji - the icon of Japan. Also can be written as Fujiyama where 'yama' = 'mountain' in Japanese demotic. In English, you get the word 'liberty' from French and the word 'freedom' from some other language, which I'm too lazy to look up. Look it up yourself.

2 This movie is considered one of 25 movies you must watch before you die. And Guilin HAS to be one of the 25 destinations you must visit before you die. So 2 birds with 1 stone when you visit Guilin.

3 Actually, I don't believe Zhang got his inspiration from the Light and Sound show from Egypt, at least, not just from that. In the 1960 China made a musical called "Liu Sanjie", and it was as popular among the Chinese population as "The Sound of Music" is to the West, which, by the way was made only one year earlier in 1959. These 2 classics affected the same generation of musical lovers in both hemispheres. Like "The Sound of Music" where anyone who watched it can sing the show tune by hearts (I can, and I only watched it 3 times. A record low number by comparison), the songs in "Liu Sanjie" are familiar by all Chinese who watched it. Of course, this "Liu Sanjie" is made in the 1960, and so it's a pure propaganda film. One should be able to watch a movie purely from its artistic standpoint, and ignore its ideological message (especially that you're already aware of its intention). What was the story of "The Sound of Music" anyway? Something to do with some Von Trapp family?

I'm going to get myself a copy of "Liu Sanjie" to watch to complete my experience. I suspect it's not going to be easy (unlike "The Sound of Music"). The backdrops of these two musicals are enough reason to watch them. This "Liu Sanjie" nusical was shot in 1960 probably free of the pollution from the industrialization that both saving and ruining China today.

Posted by FrancisQ 07:00 Archived in China Comments (0)