Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Splendor and Neglect: The Tombs and Times of the Early Nguyễn Emperors

                                                         by Jim Goodman

       Huế was the last imperial capital of Vietnam.  It was a natural choice for the newly established Nguyn Dynasty regime, for the re-unified nation’s borders now stretched from north to south to what they are today.  Huế was roughly in the middle of the country and had already seen service, officially since 1744, as a capital for the Nguyễn Lords realm, which comprised everything in Vietnam south of the Ghanh River in Quảng Binh province.
mausoleum of Gia Long, Nguyễn Dynasty founder
       With the fall of the Nguyễn Lords’ regime and the triumph of the Tây Sơn insurrection, it became the capital of self-proclaimed Emperor Quang Trung in 1788.  But while the Tây Sơn controlled the north and center of the country, they never established a permanent presence in the south.  They did catch up with the Nguyễn royal family in 1777 and executed all but one of them.  The sole escapee was the teenaged Nguyễn Ánh.
       For the next 25 years Nguyễn Ánh pursued his relentless campaign against the Tây Sơn.  He won and lost Saigon a few times but by 1792, the year Quang Trung died, he had a base in Saigon and ten years later in 1802 marched into Hanoi, deposing the last Tây Sơn emperor.  Nguyễn Ạnh then announced the inauguration of a new dynasty and renamed himself Emperor Gia Long.  As for the country’s new capital, it would not be Hanoi, as it had been traditionally, but Huế, the capital of his forefathers. 
       Gia Long’s first order was the construction of the Citadel on the north bank of the Perfume River that runs through the two parts of contemporary Huế.  The imperial audience hall, royal residences, theater and family temples lay inside the walls, which were surrounded by a moat.  The commoners, shopkeepers and craftsmen lived east of the Citadel or on the other side of the river.
row of guardian statues
Court mandarin, Gia Long's tomb
       Gia Long modeled his administration and new Code of Law on that of Qing Dynasty China, emphasizing Confucian precepts.  That included state rituals like the Sacrifice to Heaven the emperor performed every three years at Nam Giao, following a procession over the river and south about 3 km.  He set up six ministries to run the government, but the Huế Court actually only directly governed the central provinces.  He left his favorite generals in charge of the north and the south.
graceful buildings of Minh Mạng's mausoleum
       He also picked the site of his tomb by riding an elephant to explore possibilities south of the city.  In 1814 he selected a spot 16 km south of the palace, in a pine forest beside a pond, with a view of distant mountains.  He died in 1820, when the compound was all but finished.  His body and that of his chief imperial consort (the Nguyễn Dynasty didn’t have Queens) lie in simple twin tombs in a separate courtyard. 
       The buildings are all aligned on a horizontal axis, one of the features, along with a tranquil natural environment, to be repeated in the mausoleums of succeeding emperors.  Another is the pair of white towers that, in this case, stand across the pond from the temple.  A third is the statues of mandarins, soldiers, horses and elephants that line opposite sides of the main courtyard.
       His successor Minh Mạng was an even more dedicated Confucian.  He viewed himself as an intellectual and all but memorized the works of Confucius and Mencius.  He encouraged education and promoted tuồng theater, the Vietnamese version of Chinese opera, because its stories emphasized Confucian virtues.  The adoption of these virtues, he believed, would establish the harmony essential to a nation and its society.
the natural setting of Minh Máng's mausoleum
       Certainly the principle of harmony dominated the planning of Minh Mạng’s mausoleum.  Geomantic experts took 14 years to find the right location, just over the other side of the Perfume River.  The geomantic team’s leader won a double promotion from the emperor, who died soon afterward, in January 1841.  Construction was completed less than three years later and, in general, the result takes the best ideas from Gia Long’s mausoleum and perfects them. 
       The walled compound lies in a forest glade, with a rectangular peninsula jutting out into the Lake of Impeccable Purity.  The buildings are all laid out symmetrically on an east-west axis, beginning with the Honor Courtyard, flanked by statues of mandarins, soldiers, horses and elephants, then the Stele House and finally the wide-roofed family temple.  Crossing a narrow part of the lake here, the next stop is the elegant, two-story Pavilion of Pure Light, with frangipani trees on either side, as well as two tall white towers like those at Gia Long’s tomb.  In front of it lies a crescent-shaped pond and over its bridge on the hillside is Minh Mạng’s tomb, certainly a most serene location.
the Emperor carried to Nam Giao
Pavilion of Pure Light
       The layout of Minh Mạng’s mausoleum fully embraces the Confucian concepts of order, balance and harmony.  Unfortunately, these concepts did not carry over into Minh Mạng’s administration so much.  Gia Long had allowed the Chinese, Khmer and Chăm communities to retain local autonomy, keeping a promise he made when they joined his side in the war against the Tây Sơn regime.  He also granted autonomy to the northern and southern thirds of Vietnam. 
the lantern dance, a Nguyễn Court favorite
       Minh Mạng upended these arrangements by further centralizing power and expanding his own role.  He insisted on personally vetting, in private meetings, all high government and military officials before allowing them to take office.  He abolished the autonomy of the Mekong Delta provinces, sparking a revolt that he put down with stern ferocity.  He took over the administration of the last Chăm state of Panduranga and began a policy of forced assimilation in the Khmer and Chinese areas.
       He expanded the regime’s penchant for pageantry and spectacle as well.  He added hundreds of participants to the procession to Nam Giao for the Sacrifice to Heaven.  He patronized the royal theater and frequently attended performances of tuồng dramas, lantern dances, acrobatic acts and classical music shows.  He watched the battles staged in front of the Citadel between an elephant, representing the throne, and a tiger, symbolizing the emperor’s enemies.  The elephant always won, of course, but in 1830 a rebel tiger attacked Minh Mạng.  He escaped harm, but then ordered the construction of a Royal Arena across the river, where the contests were subsequently staged.
Thiệu Trị's mausoleum
       He was also an extremely amorous emperor, with 33 wives and 107 concubines, with whom he fathered 142 children.  With his pursuit of pomp and entertainment by day and sex by night, one wonders how much time he spent in contemplating the problems of the country he governed with such concentrated autocracy.  He had shut himself off from Western influence just at the time when Western powers, particularly France, were gearing up their colonial ambitions.
       Gia Long had also closed the country to Western influence, other than military technology.  But Westerners, particularly his long-time friend the Catholic priest Père Pigneau, had been instrumental in helping him win the throne.  In return, he tolerated the existence and even expansion of Christianity among his subjects.  Minh Mạng reversed this policy, arrested foreign missionaries and persecuted Christians, giving the French an excuse to get involved.  
       Things got worse with his successor, Thiệu Trị, who reigned from 1841-1847, a chip off the old block and just as determined as his father to follow strict Confucian orthodoxy, ignore the West and stamp out Christianity. A ban on its practice provoked a French naval expedition to sail into the harbor at Đà Nẵng in 1847 demanding its revocation.  Not getting acquiescence fast enough, they shelled and destroyed the coastal forts and sank three Vietnamese ships.
Stele House, Thiệu Trị's mausoleum
       Enraged, Thiệu Trị ordered the execution of all Christians in Vietnam, but died soon after the incident and the edict was never carried out. The construction of his tomb took place the following year.  It lies in a tranquil rural area 7 km south of Huế, divided into two sections, smaller than Minh Mạng’s, has no compound wall but basically features the same characteristics.  Here also is a courtyard with statue ranks of elephants, horses, soldiers and mandarins, ponds beside the compounds, two tall white towers, this time flanking the Stele House.  As fond of Chinese literature as his father, Thiệu Trị was himself a prolific poet, and several of his compositions adorn the temple walls.
       Another trait he shared with his father was multiple wives and concubines.  In his short life of 37 years he fathered 29 sons and 35 daughters.  His second son became Emperor Tự Đức at 19 years of age and reigned 35 years.  Brought up to revere the Confucian classics, he became more immersed in them after he was emperor.  He spent long hours reading them, composed poems himself, and held lengthy discussions with his mother, also a literary aficionado, on the lives and morals of ancient Chinese heroes, sometimes scribbling down her comments in a notebook.  He was at least equally devoted to theater and was responsible for the writing and production of a couple of the longest tuồng dramas ever, with over a hundred scenes each. 
Stele House, Tự Đức's mausoleum
       In frail health throughout his life, he made virtually no tours of his country and relied totally on squabbling ministers.  In foreign policy his view was that the isolationism that was good enough for his predecessors was good enough for him.  He even banned all foreign trade.
       Unfortunately for him and his country, it wasn’t.  In these rapidly changing times the classic Confucian model of government wasn’t going to work anymore.  It was already failing in China.  The West was growing stronger all the time, in the mood for expansion, and Vietnam’s isolationism only undermined its ability to deal with the threat.  Having a ruler more concerned with the production of a play and the architecture of his mausoleum than discontent in the countryside and threats to the nation’s sovereignty didn’t help.  
       In 1862 the French pressured Tự Đức’s government to cede Saigon and three provinces.  Tự Đức continued to resist his ministers’ calls for reform, French ambitions grew and in 1883, the last year of the emperor’s life, the French forced the Huế government to recognize the entire southern third of the country as a French colony. 
a palace while Tự Đức lived, the family temple after he died
       Construction of Tự Đức’s mausoleum was completed halfway through his reign and he used to spend much leisure time there.  The walled compound, just 5 km south of the city, features a lake on its eastern side, opposite buildings aligned on an east-west axis.  Tự Đức used what is now the main temple as a palace while he was alive and this compound includes a royal theater and quarters for the emperor’s concubines.  He also liked to drink wine and compose poems at an elegant pavilion beside the lake.  His tomb and Stele House are in a smaller compound north of the temple.  Like Ming Mạng’s mausoleum, that of Tự Đức exemplifies harmony and grace in design.
       Tự Đức had scores of consorts, but was apparently sterile, for he had no children.  A violent faction quarrel broke out among the Court mandarins, with the next three successors murdered.  The French proceeded to annex central and northern Vietnam, in 1885 setting up ‘protectorates’ in each.  When the young Emperor Hàm Nghi protested, French troops drove him from the Citadel, ransacked the royal palace, stole everything of any value from gold ornaments to mosquito nets, and from then on, other than the brief Japanese occupation, controlled Vietnam until 1954.
actors as the Nguyễn royal family at the Huế Festival
       Time passed.  People stopped looking after the mausoleums.  20th century wars wrecked damage and after 1975, the government couldn’t care less about the Nguyễn legacy.  Only from 1990 did attitudes begin changing.  Huế people had always been proud of their Nguyễn Dynasty relics and started pushing for restoration and preservation.  The government changed its attitude and began embracing anything characteristic of Vietnam’s special historical and cultural identity. 
       Since early this century the city has also hosted a bi-annual Huế Festival.  With international participation, the program includes everything from Thai classical dances to Germans walking on towering stilts, and on the local side kite-flying contests and village crafts competitions.  Performances at the Citadel and other venues feature Vietnamese dances, new and old, but also actors dressed in imperial garments impersonating the Nguyễn royal family attending the shows, and an early morning re-enactment of the procession to Nam Giao and the Sacrifice to Heaven.
       Nowadays most of the Nguyễn legacy damaged by war has been repaired and mausoleum buildings crumbling from neglect have been restored.  The people of Huế are pleased.  They like having reminders of the city’s past glory around them and in good condition.  They still take pride in Huế’s history. Whatever the failings of the Nguyễn Dynasty, it was the only one Huế could call its own.

the lakeside pavilion where Emperor Tự Đức drank wine and composed poems
                                                                                * * *           
     A stop in Huế is part of the program on Delta Tours Vietnam’s journey through the country.



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Yao Variety in Jinping County

                                                      by Jim Goodman

       Honghe Prefecture is a Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture and so either Hani or Yi officials occupy the top positions in the administration.  One of the two minorities, or both, resides in all of Honghe’s counties.  But in a few counties other minority nationalities are even more numerous than the Hani or the Yi.  Pingbian is a Miao Autonomous County.  Hekou, on the border with Vietnam, is a Yao Autonomous County.  And Jinping, next to it, is a Miao, Yao and Dai Autonomous County.
Landian Yao house near Mengqiao
       Several sub-groups of Hani and Yi live in various parts of Jinping County.  The Miao occupy remote mountain areas and Dai settlements dominate the plains in the south.  The Yao comprise 12% of the county’s population of roughly 350,000 and live mainly in the central and eastern parts.  All of Jinping’s ethnic minorities are still very rooted in their traditional culture, perhaps none more so than the Yao. 
       What makes Jinping special for anyone interested in the Yao minority is the presence of three major sub-groups, compared to the usual existence of just one sub-group in counties elsewhere in Yunnan.  They all speak the same Yao dialect and share the same mythology, history, religious practices and social customs.  They farm the same way, growing mainly rice, maize, bananas and cassavas, in the central and southern areas using the kind of irrigated terraces famous throughout the Ailaoshan area of the lower Red River. 
       The size and architecture of their villages will vary a bit according to sub-group.  More noticeably, the women’s clothing is quite different depending on the sub-group, which makes exploring Jinping Yao areas a great photo excursion, especially since practically all Yao females prefer traditional clothing and so do a large portion of the men.
Landian Yao ladies in Mengping
       The usual way into the county is from the Red River town of Manhao, in southern Mengzi County.  After crossing the river one option is to continue straight to Jinping city.  The other is to make a left turn and head southeast to Mengqiao, a small, nondescript district township with a couple hotels and restaurants, interesting only because the villages all around are mostly Yao.  Mengping, ten km further down the road, is just a large village, but holds market day every pig and snake day in the 12-day animal calendar.  The crowd is almost entirely Yao women, both sellers and buyers.
       The sub-group in Mengqiao district is the Landian Yao, the same as the dominant, black-clad Yao in Yuanyang and Luchun Counties.  But they live in simpler houses of one long building, thatched and sitting on the ground.  To the side of the house stands an open-air, roofed balcony.  Villages for the most part consist of clusters of such houses in a cleared slope below a forest.  Some families live outside the village perimeters, closer to their farms and several minutes’ walk from each other.
silver disc on a Landian turban
Landian woman and child, Mengping
       While the men here wear the same black jacket with coin-buttons and brimless black cap as their counterparts in Yuanyang and Luchun Counties, the Landian women dress a little differently.  They use the same black cloth for components cut and shaped the same way, but the jacket collar is white with black squares, the decorative acrylic woolen threads hang much further down from the collar, way past the waist, are fuller and white or pale pink instead of magenta.  They use the same thread to enhance their thin white belts and the ends of their shoulder bags.
twining thread outdoors,near Mengqiao
       The women’s headdress is also black cloth, like the western Landian, also rises above coils of black horsehair around the hairline, but is peaked, conical and pleated in the back.  The older women in the Mengping market wore their hair in a bun, wrapped in a medium-blue scarf and topped with an embossed silver disc or, if they didn’t own a silver disc, one of plywood or thick cardboard.
       Market day starts early and begins winding down around noon.  On the day I attended it was rather cool in the morning and the Yao women wrapped the woolen thread hanging from their collars around their hands to keep them warm.  But by the afternoon it was much warmer.  As I hiked by the banana plantations, rice fields and cassava patches along the rutty, unpaved road back to Mengqiao I passed several Yao houses where the women were out in the yard, enjoying the fine weather while they twined thread or stitched clothing.  And unlike the somewhat skittish women I met at the market (their first foreigner?) women along the road invited me into the yard for tea and a chat.
Hongtou Yao woman in Jinping
Hongtow Yao woman
       Returning from Mengqiao to the Manhao junction, a left turn takes one through the mountains to Jinping city, about 35 km south.  Jinping lies on a slope, doesn’t have any parks, but has good views from its edges and is blessed with a large ethnic presence, mainly Hani and Yao.  The nearest villages are Hani or Yao and the Yao in this part of the county are the Hongtou Yao.  Compared to the sedate apparel of Landian women, that of Hongtou Yao women is positively flamboyant.
unmarried Hongtou Yao woman
       Their name means Red-headed Yao and comes from the bright red, peaked cap worn by the married women.  It is held in place by a thick silver band around its base and the women knot the hair above it inside the cap, shaving any hair that might appear below the silver band.  This is the most obvious costume component, but not all local Yao women wear it.  Some prefer a plain, bulky black turban instead, crop their hair short, but do not shave it below the turban.  They are known locally as Baotou Yao, otherwise dress identically, and sometimes live in the same villages as the Hongtou.  Young girls of both groups leave their hair long and wear no headgear at all.
       Equally striking are the fully embroidered, shin-length trousers they wear under a long-tailed, black, front-fastened, long-sleeved jacket.  It is trimmed with embroidery along the hem, cuffs and lapel, though not as elaborately as the trousers or the fully embroidered shoulder bag.  The front is decorated with small colored pompoms along the lapel and fastened with simple coin-buttons or, if they can afford it, a row of rectangular silver buckles. The coat is held by a belt with colored ends draping over the buttocks.  Girls add a few embroidered tabs to hang from the belt.  On special occasions women wear silver neck rings, butterfly pendants attached to chains, necklaces with silver coins, and, like Landian women, silver earrings with an arrow piercing a hoop. 
Yao arrow earring
       Many Hongtou women still weave and dye their own cotton cloth, selling their surplus on the county market days.  But embroidery is a skill practiced by all and the most common spare-time activity.  They employ the cross-stitch method, making patterns with tiny x’s stitched into the cloth.  Most patterns have traditional names and meanings and a proper pair of trousers has to have certain patterns in certain rows, divided by lines that symbolize their terraces, though the bulk of the embroidery is left up to the skill and creative imagination of the woman herself.
       Hongtou Yao villages lie both close to the main commercial centers and in the remotest parts of the mountains.  They generally live in wide, one-story houses of mud-brick and wood, with roofs of thatch or corrugated iron.  The Hongtou Yao are avid market-goers, especially the women.  Villagers from nearby Jinping can be seen in the city any day, but especially on the market days, held every six days. 
       The county’s market day schedule runs north to south to west, one day apart; first Adebo (snake and pig days), then Jinping (horse and rat days), Nafa (sheep and ox days), Mengla (monkey and tiger days), Sanguocun (rabbit and chicken days) and finally Zhemi (dragon and dog days).  Enterprising Hongtou Yao women will take their cloth, herbs or whatever to many of these, particularly the string from Adebo to Mengla.  And while they wait for business they will inevitably keep busy with some kind of embroidery work.  They might also have their babies along, strapped across the back, wearing an embroidered cap festooned with charms to repel any lurking evil spirits.
Hongtou baby cap
Yao cloth market in Jinping
       In Jinping the market stalls begin around the center of the city and run all the way downhill and into every lateral street.  The Yao cloth merchants set up near the top, while those hawking vegetables, herbs, molasses or firewood set up further down, often right next to Hani or Yi women selling the same thing.  While the married women run their stalls the young women, in their finest outfits and decked with silver ornaments, manly wander the streets, stop for snacks and chats with friends and possibly keep an eye out for Yao bachelors.
       The Hongtou Yao also attend the market day in Adebo, the day before Jinping’s, but the next venues, Nafa on the Vietnam border and Mengla a little west of Nafa, only those Jinping area Hongtou making the market day runs turn up, and strictly as sellers.  A few Red Yao, who dress similarly, may come to Nafa from the Vietnam side.  But the large number of Yao who attend market days in Nafa and Mengla belong to the third major Yao sub-group in the county—the Sha Yao.
Sha Yao women in Nafa on market day
        Nafa is also known as Jinshuihe, which is actually the name of the river beside it and the border with Vietnam.  It’s a small town, only active on market day.  The border crossing is at a bridge about a kilometer outside town.  A few Vietnamese and ethnic minorities cross over for market day, but the main participants are a Hani sub-group different from the one in Jinping, two kinds of Miao and the Sha Yao.  
       On Mengla’s market day, about a half hour west, there are few if any from Vietnam attending, but the other minorities present in Nafa also come to Mengla, joined by the local Dai.  The Sha Yao are very numerous at both venues.  Some of the older ones set up stalls, but most of the younger ones stroll around in groups.  Encountering this third Yao sub-group after getting used to the ultra-colorful Hongtou Yao is almost like a return to the Landian look.
Sha Yao girl in Mengla
Sha Yao girl in Nafa
       Sha Yao women also dress in black, like the Landian, and decorate the front of the jacket with long, magenta woolen threads hanging down the center, though only about half as wide.  They also wear the same kind of silver ornaments, like the jacket fastener, neck rings, arrow earrings, often two pairs at a time.
       But several differences make the Sha Yao easy to distinguish from the Landian.  A long white apron, with a broad band of printed red and white across the top, is the most obvious.  A cotton cape of white or light blue is another.  Over this they usually sling red shoulder bags with blue sides.  The cap is a red-edged, black piece of cloth folded in three and laid across the top of the head.  They leave a brim of about 7 cm extending in front and wind a string over the brim and tie it under the hair bun at the back of the head.  The rest of the cloth falls loose in the back and hangs to the shoulders.  Females young and old wear the same headgear, in contrast to the Landian and Hongtou.
Longgu Sha Yao village
       Sha Yao settlements are more remotely sited, usually high up in the hills, than Landian or Hongtou ones and are generally much larger as well.  Longgu, for example, east of the Jinping-Nafa road about halfway between the two, an hour’s hike up a steep hill, holds nearly 300 houses, some of them within the forest at the edge of the village.  One of twelve Sha Yao villages in the area, growing mainly papaya, sugarcane and maize, its residents live in long, single story, mud-brick houses with thatched or tin roofs and an open-air balcony.  Stacks of firewood sit next to the houses and small picket fences enclose the yards around them.  Village men who’d just finished some threshing work invited me to have a meal with them while we chatted about Yao life and customs.  We had roast pork, cassavas, peppers and noodles, washed down with rice liquor, a typical Yao meal.
       In short, it was a day similar to a day spent with other Yao sub-groups.  Jinping Yao differ greatly in clothing and aesthetic taste and differ slightly in domestic life and the observance of annual festivals.  All other aspects of their culture, though, are common to all.  And one trait they also share is the habit of grace and hospitality to a guest.  Even unexpected total strangers are welcome.  It’s a custom that guarantees the visitor’s warm reception.

Hongtou Yao women bring in firewood for sale in Jinping.
                                                                     * * *                                                          

                               for more on the Yao and their Ailaoshan neighbors,
                                          see my e-book The Terrace Builders




Saturday, May 7, 2016

At the End of the Burma Road: the Dai of Dehong

                                                     by Jim Goodman

Welcome to Dehong
       A few months after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 the Japanese Army had succeeded in occupying eastern China, forced the Nationalist government to relocate to Chongqing and began blockading all goods shipments to western China.  The government response was to quickly begin building a new road over the ancient Southwest Silk Road from Kunming to Burma, then still a British colony, to facilitate the supply of essentials and war equipment.  Hundreds of conscripted laborers lost their lives to landslides and accidents as the route crossed many mountains and rivers on its way to the terminus at the newly established border town of Wanding, in sw Dehong prefecture.
       So long as the British held Burma, every day a mass of vehicles coming up from Bhamo and Lashio crossed the bridge into Wanding bringing tons of supplies.  After the Japanese conquered northern Burma they closed the entry points into Yunnan and the Allied supply efforts shifted to delivery by air.  Traffic on the Burma Road didn’t reach the level of the first few years of its existence until the 1990s.  And it was still a two-lane, cobblestone road hosting every kind of local traffic—private cars, public buses, big, slow logging trucks, tractor-trailers and pony carts.    
Mangshi's mascots
       A new four-lane super highway opened in the 21st century that ran roughly along the same route, but tunneled through the mountains instead, reducing the travel time from Kunming by over half.  Wanding was still a border crossing, but the highway stretched all the way to Ruili, a city that became a more important border post as trade with Myanmar dramatically increased.  But for non-business travelers just coming for a look at Dehong, the usual first stop is Luxi, the prefecture capital and largest city.
       Luxi is the Chinese name for the city and it means ‘west of the Nu (River).’  People in this part of Yunnan pronounce an initial n as l, which is why it is Luxi and not Nuxi.  The Dai name for it is Mangshi.   The modern city of Luxi was built on the western side of Mangshi, historically an important Dai administrative center, with authority over the plains and hills to the north and south.  The northern and eastern quarters of the city are still Dai neighborhoods and all the temples and pagodas lie east of the main business avenue.
       The city is the capital of a Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, though, and so ethnic motifs influence the new city as well.  Many new buildings have Dai-style peaked roofs and Youyilu, the lane running from the main business street to the government guest house, features shop houses in individual Dai style, in various pastel colors.  The guest house itself is in a tasteful Dai style, in a quiet park near the Mangshi River. At the northern entrance to the city, on a tall, red pyramidal pedestal stand the golden sculptures of the Dai mascot peacocks.  One is crouching, the other raising its elongated neck into the sky; an unusual depiction for Dehong.
Mangshi's Dai quarters
       To publicize the multi-ethnic character of Dehong, the city removed its central market and built a park that features large stone statues of the men and women of the nationalities that reside in Dehong:  Dai, Jingpo, Achang, De’ang, Lisu and Han.  In the city’s southwest quarter is the Nationalities Park, with a garden, small zoo, a set of Jingpo painted Munao poles and a Dai village exhibition.  A few traditional Dai bamboo and thatch houses stand around a small pagoda and well and a staff of young men and women periodically practice or perform dances here.
shops on Youyilu
       Like their counterparts across the Myanmar border, the Dai in Dehong are Theravada Buddhists.  The oldest Buddhist monument in the city is Shubaota, the Tree-Wrapped Pagoda, in the compound of the No.1 Primary School in the southwest part of the old town.  Built in the mid-17th century, one of Dehong’s trees took root on the pagoda itself and over the centuries part of its trunk crawled over the surface of the monument, today almost completely covering it.
       Mangshi’s three historic temples lie northeast of Shubaota.  Puti Temple, on Guangnanlu, built in the late 17th century, is a red, wooden, wide, elevated structure with roofs of corrugated iron.  The entrance is circular, a feature common in Dehong temples.  Putisi is the most popular temple for local Dai Buddhists.  But just 150 meters down a side road the three-story, wooden Wu-in Temple, nearly as old, with tiled roofs, sits in a more attractive setting.  Towering tees flank the temple and an enshrined well lies in one corner of the large courtyard.  Within the temple the main image is of a crowned Buddha, in the style of a chakravartin (Universal Ruler).
dance rehearsal in Nationalities Park
the Tree-Wrapped Pagoda
       The third old temple in the vicinity is Foguangsi--Light of the Buddha Temple.  Erected in the 19th century, it looks a bit different, in a style closer to Han temples, with ornately carved struts and roof awnings.  This temple seems to attract Han devotees more than Dai, which is even truer of the new Guan Yin Temple in the city center, built recently at the turn of the century.
Puyi Temple
       The Dai in Dehong call themselves Dai Luang, or Dai Yai in their own language, the same appellation applied to their ethnic cousins in Myanmar and northwest Thailand.  To outsiders they are also known as Dai Neua and Dai Mao and more recently as Chinese Shans, closely related to the Shans across the border in Myanmar. They had an independent set of small states until the Ming Dynasty, becoming officially part of China in the 15th century, though remaining relatively autonomous under their own saopha rulers until the inauguration of New China in 1949.
       Dai sub-groups also live in other parts of Yunnan and those in the southern parts of Lincang and Pu’er Prefectures also call themselves Dai Neua, except in Menglian, home of the Dai Lem, and in Xishuangbanna, another Dai Autonomous Prefecture, who are mostly the Dai Lu, also Theravada Buddhist.  But the Dai dialects in Banna and Dehong are quite different, such that except for small talk, they are mutually unintelligible.  In fact, even the alphabets are different.
        Dehong Dai villages lie near streams, averaging 40-50 houses and one temple compound, with clumps of bamboo on their edges, but also magnificent peepul, banyan and other long-limbed shade trees.  Villagers take their rest breaks beneath their spreading branches.  Their houses sit on the ground and are made of drab-brown brick with tile roofs, sometimes enclosed by a walled compound.  Auxiliary buildings, and even the main houses of the less affluent, have walls of plaited bamboo and tin or thatched roofs.
Wu-in Temple
       Wells are housed in consecrated shrines, as in other Buddhist Dai areas, and the women carry water in buckets suspended at each end of a pole.  They use the same method to convey crops from the fields or goods from the markets, with woven baskets of split bamboo instead of buckets.
       Men dress like the Han, but are often shirtless in the fields.  Many tattoo their arms and chests.  In former times they completely tattooed their thighs as well.  Women wear the Dai sarong, usually black, with a long-sleeved, pale-colored, side-fastened jacket.  On special occasions they don a jacket of gold silk.  Girls and single women wear their hair loose, but married women tie their hair in a topknot and wrap it in a black silk, tubular turban or one of terry cloth in pastel colors.  Younger women may wear brighter colors and, like their counterparts across the border, apply thanaka powder, made from the soft outer bark of the tree of the same name, to their faces as a sunscreen and skin conditioner.  Some young women wear it all the time, streaking the edges of it at the cheekbones, giving a feline accent to their facial appearance.
Chakravartin Buddha
married Dai women
       The Dai are skillful farmers, blessed with good fertility, reliant and abundant rainfall every year.  They easily obtain two crops a year from their fields, in some places three, thanks to irrigation canals running alongside the fields.  The rice from the Zhefang area, about 40 km southwest, has a national reputation and used to be part of the tribute sent to the imperial court in Beijing.  The pineapples are the best tasting and most nutritious in the province.  Dai cuisine is similar to that in Banna, with the various dishes prepared in the restaurants in the morning and, when appropriate, reheated before being served.  Baked and sour foods are popular, spiced with chili, coriander, lemon grass, etc.
young Dai women in Mangshi
      Dehong was one of the first areas in Yunnan open to foreigners, but rarely received any, as most tourists preferred Dali and Lijiang and anyway, the road to Dehong was a long and rough ride in the 90s.  It seemed only people so fascinated with Yunnan that they wanted to see all of it, like myself, bothered to take the trouble.  In the trips I made there towards the end of the decade and beyond I never saw another foreigner.  I’m sure others came at other times and probably enjoyed it just as much, for Mangshi people seemed well prepared to make the foreign visitor’s stay a very pleasant one.
       Everyone everywhere was polite, smiling when greeting me, whether in a shop or a park.  At the Nationalities Park I arrived during a dance rehearsal and one of the staff members rushed a chair for me to sit and served me a cup of hot tea to enjoy while I observed the action.  When U visited temples the monks insisted I share tea and cigarettes.  If a ritual happened to take place when I was there, the devotees invited me to join them for a vegetarian picnic afterwards.  When I ate in Dai restaurants the owners brought me samples of other dishes than what I ordered, just to try.  Inevitably, of course, I wound up asking for a plate of one of these samples, either then or at the next meal.
traditional-style Dai village house
       Dehong Dai have tenaciously clung to their ethnic identity, even after government-sponsored Han immigration into the area in the 1950s, the depredations of the Cultural Revolution and the influence of rapid modernization in recent decades.  The preference among the women for traditional clothing, among all Dai for Dai-style cuisine, the maintenance of old customs and respectful social intercourse, the use of the Dai language at home and in the markets, as well as the continuation of religious practices all reflect this.
       The temples are most active on the 8th, 15th and 23rd days of the lunar month and especially at the annual festivals.  These include the Water-Sprinkling Festival in mid-April and activities associated with the opening and conclusion of the three-month Buddhist retreat season during the monsoon.  At any time of the year they may also be the venue for a poi, a local festival occurring at the dedication of a new image or the renovation of a temple.  In the past local rich patrons sponsored such events, partly for religion, partly for prestige.  Nowadays they are generally village communal affairs, everyone tithed for the costs.
ritual to the Land Spirit at Mukang village
       Buddhism came to Dehong only in the 17th century.  Some of the original animist beliefs are inevitably still part of local religious mentality.  This became apparent to me on a visit to Mukang, a Dai village 9 km north of Mangshi.  I arrived on a Buddhist holy day and peered through the round entrance while the congregation, divided by sex, recited sutras and kowtowed to the Buddha image.  Afterwards the women moved to the courtyard, carrying little bottles of water and rice liquor, crouched in ranks with their backs to the temple, and prayed while periodically pouring libations of water and rice liquor onto the ground to honor the Land Spirit.
       Dai culture in Dehong did not remain impervious to Han influence.  Weddings nowadays, with the bridal headdress, red candles and procession, are hardly distinguishable from Han weddings.  The Dai bury their dead, unlike most Buddhist Dai, who cremate the body.  Unlike other Dai, they have an opera tradition, too, like the Han, but though the singing style is similar, the Dai version eschews the elaborate make-up and the costumes are classic Dai style.  Yet in most other aspects the Dai continue to follow the cultural norms established centuries ago.  This includes mutual respect between the sexes, abstention from loud, boisterous, rude or impolite behavior and, good news for travelers, a warm and hospitable reception for guests.

rural landscape outside Mangshi
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