Which Chinese province has the cutest girls?

The forgotten province

A Miao girl rushes over to greet them. Together with six other villagers, she serves visitors a welcome drink. They all wear magnificent silver crowns on their heads, shiny amulets stick in their hair, which fall in long braids on their shoulders and back. The women's headdress tells of the centuries-old traditions of the Miao, an ethnic minority in China. The Miao people live mainly in the forested mountain areas of southern China, but also in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

Nanhua is the name of the village we are visiting. It is located in Guizhou Province. In the past few years it has developed into a showcase village and the starting point for a journey on which holidaymakers can discover another, still relatively unknown side of the gigantic Asian empire. It is a China off the beaten track with its mega cities Beijing and Shanghai.

The houses stick to the mountain like swallow nests piled on top of each other - pile dwellings with stone roofs and artfully curved gables. A magnificent stone gate protects the entrance to the village, and thick sheaves of corn on the cob hang on the houses - signs of a good harvest. Wooden panels above the doors promise residents that those three wishes that form the foundation of Chinese happiness will be fulfilled: wealth, health and longevity.

This is what the Miao girl had wished the guests to do when they greeted them. Later, the women will perform their traditional dances on the large square above the village - dances about the mythology of their people, who were expelled from Siberia by Mongolian tribes and immigrated to China as early as the 12th century.

A steep path leads up to the dance floor. It is newly paved, decorated with various geometric patterns and lined with stalls where the villagers sell their souvenirs - embroidered handicrafts and wooden pearl necklaces, bottles with rice schnapps and colorful buffalo horn combs. Daily visiting routine. Because Nanhua has long since advanced to become a museum village and has completely adjusted to the strangers. The tourists buy, dance and take photos. And the villagers take pictures back - with their new cell phones.

China is considered to be the most ethnically diverse country in Asia. Certainly, at first glance the population looks homogeneous, after all, more than 90 percent are Han Chinese. The remaining ten percent of this fourth largest country in the world, in which around 1.5 billion people live today, are divided into more than 50 different population groups. These include minorities with exotic names such as Yi and Dong, Miao and Buyi. Most of them live in the provinces of Guizhou and Hunan. "It's this diversity that makes southern China so interesting," says Hong Zhang, the Chinese tour guide. “Guizhou Province is a mixture of different peoples and cultures, original and colorful. And the Miao people form the most beautiful splash of color in this mosaic. "

The street, littered with potholes, winds its way through villages that have lost their original character. Faceless prefabricated buildings tower over the few huts that have been able to defy the changing times to this day. Aluminum works and brick factories on the outskirts of the village blow clouds of black smoke into the mist-shrouded sky.

We continue to Kaili, a town with around 600,000 inhabitants. It is a prime example of the rapid change in the Middle Kingdom. A few decades ago it was still a place without a supermarket, without traffic lights, without a gas station. Today, more and more coaches are parked in front of the modern hotels in the center of the city. The landscape changes behind Kaili: rice fields as far as the view extends. Yellow, green and brown they slide up the slopes on terrace steps. The road squeezes through valleys, past vertically sloping limestone gorges. Water buffalo wallow in pools. Miao women meet the visitors, their long, black hair pinned up into elaborate hairstyles. They balance bundles of rice straw on their backs; Baskets of melons and sweet potatoes rock on the carrying bars on their shoulders.

Belonging to an ethnic minority in China usually means a meager, undemanding life, a laborious existence on the edge of the economic optimism that characterizes everyday life in the Middle Kingdom today. The government in Beijing has long since recognized the sovereignty of the Miao, granted them self-administration and educational autonomy, guaranteeing the maintenance of their own culture, language, script and religion. In many villages there is still poverty and unemployment. In addition to agriculture, there is often only tourism as a secondary income.

Until two decades ago, the Miao were largely cut off from the world. With technological progress, Miao life has improved, there is electricity and new schools. But the tourist hype is not right for everyone. "In the past, people here protected themselves from the Miao by building a wall, but today the Miao should be protected," says an old Chinese man who sells party badges, postcards and old Mao Bibles in an alley in the old town of Fenghuang.

The wall on the outskirts of Fenghuang, built 600 years ago as a protective wall against the belligerent Miao tribes, is now only a relic; Fenghuang, however, already on the territory of the neighboring province of Hunan, has risen to become one of the most important cultural and commercial centers of the Miao. The city is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in China - an architectural jewel that, with its canals, the city wall and the narrow streets, could be a mixture of Venice and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Medieval stilt houses line the banks, small wooden ships, similar to the Venetian gondolas, shuttle across the river, which turns into a floating sea of ​​lights every evening - with thousands of glowing lotus blossoms. The inhabitants call their city Phoenix City. Phoenix, because Fenghuang has risen to a new beauty in recent years, lifted out of the valley of oblivion - just like the culture and people of the Miao.