Revisiting the mountains of the Yao people
LAST DECEMBER  I went on a visit to the Dayao Mountains in the Guangxi Zhuang (Kwangsi Chuang) Autonomous Region on China’s southern border. An old stamping ground of mine, it was here 43 years ago that as a university graduate majoring in anthropology I did ethnological investigations. I was utterly astonished by the changes that had taken place in the intervening years—changes so great that the best way to sum up my impressions is to say that I had come to a different land.
The Dayao Mountains were once contemptuously described as “beyond the pale of civilization.” They have been the home of generations of yaos, a people who in years gone by suffered all the hardships and humiliations of being a national minority under Han chauvinistic rule. In 1952, not long after the Chinese people liberated themselves under communist Party leadership, the yaos founded the Jinxiu yao Autonomous County, thus becoming one of the first minorities in China to achieve local autonomy. The new aspect of things here today shows that in the family of peoples of China any nationality, whatever its size or cultural level, can traverse in a few short years or decades the distance covered by other peoples in the world in hundreds, even thousands of years—once it gets rid of the forces of exploitation and oppression that block its progress.