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Tujia art troupe brings village light relief

China Daily | Updated: 2018-09-13 09:17

As her colorfully clad students sing folk songs and offer tourists homemade rice wine, 83-year-old Gong Guimei enjoys watching and humming along.

Gong, a member of the Tujia ethnic group, lives in Matouxi village in the mountainous northwest of Hunan province. One of the few village elders who can perform traditional Tujia dances and songs, she established a village art troupe seven years ago.

While Gong's homeland is rich in natural beauty, the rugged terrain means the poverty-stricken village suffers from a lack of transportation and arable land.

"Many young people have left to work in cities," Gong said. "The villagers rarely sing and learn Tujia songs nowadays. At first, I couldn't find the right students to teach."

Zheng Minghua, the village's Party secretary, said he realized in 2011 that "Tujia culture is the pearl of the village and that we must protect it to develop ourselves."

He encouraged the villagers to join Gong's art troupe, saying: "Our village is now left behind. We have to sing about our village aloud and promote ourselves."

Gong wasted no time in recruiting members, directing performances and training troupe members, with only a few days off for harvesting rice.

"Our motivation is to tap our culture to bring a better future for our village and lives," she said.

In 2014, the government of Zhangjiajie's Yongding district, which oversees the village, announced policies to support the distinctive economy by combining culture and tourism.

The next year, a work team arrived in Matouxi to help residents fight poverty, and rural tourism development was accelerated.

Members of the art troupe express their feelings through song and dance inspired by their daily lives, including farm work. The songs and dances create an interesting way for domestic and international tourists to learn about the village.

"Our village is beautiful, and tourists are welcome," the choir sings, expressing their happiness and hospitality to visitors.

The tourism boom has also lured villagers home. Zhang Huarong, lead singer of the art troupe, returned last year to learn the Tujia language and songs. "I came back because my hometown has developed," she said. "I want to contribute my strength to the future of my village."

Today, Tujia songs are once again heard all over the village. The art troupe performs every day, and Zhang's daily income can exceed 300 yuan ($45) in peak seasons.

"They are very focused on every show despite the scorching heat," said Tian Haowen, a painter who spent a few months in the village. "Residents often shared water and peanuts with me. I was impressed by the Tujia hospitality."

Matouxi received about 150,000 tourists last year, and the per capita income of the villagers has increased from 1,890 yuan in 2014 to 5,350 yuan.

The local ethnic culture attracts tourists, and the growing tourism industry provides an opportunity for the conservation of culture and skills that may otherwise be lost.

"By relying on the inheritance and promotion of our own culture to live a better life, all the troupe members are highly motivated," Zhang said.


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