Heier: A picturesque Zhuang village
Heier: A picturesque
By Yang Xiujie Photographs by Meng Zhigang
On the train to Shizong County in eastern Yunnan, I tried to imagine how Heier would look: The historic Fameng ferry must lay in the glory of bombax flowers, there must be beautiful mountains on both sides of the spectacular Feitang Waterfall, and the exquisite Heier bronze drum there must be sounding…
A place of natural wonders
The favorable climate in Heier is formed by the circulating low pressure in a basin with an elevation of 700m. People in Heier plant trees on their shares of barren land in the mountains. They regard trees as “gods” and respect natural folk customs, thus forming a sound living environment with beautiful natural scenery.
Setting foot in Heier, you can meet your expectations of a poetic life.
The car went along the mountain road. Heier, hidden in the bottom, gradually showed itself to us. I was sure that I fell in love with Heier at first glance.
The river runs through the center of the village and in April, the village is full of greenery. The cement road connecting to the village looks like a belt, making the terraced fields around it more beautiful. Fields, woods nearby and mountains in distance are all in dark , jade or blackish greens. Local houses feature white bricks and black tiles, and the green colors layer upon layer make the houses more mysterious.
"Compared with the soft and mild Dali, Heier is more clear and unique. Compared with the elegant and beautiful Lijiang, Heier is shy. Compared with Shangri-La which is closest to paradise, Heier is more like a fairyland on earth.” Standing on the mountainside overlooking Heier, you’ll see a giant painting.
We are not poets. Even if we were, the scenery and beauty of Heier are beyond our words. The scenery is not a retouched picture, and you must believe your eyes. Your entry into Heier is part of the picture: all still mountains, clear waters, and misty fog will be your exclusive memory.
The “Buyue” (refers to “Yue people” in the Zhuang language) living in Heier are descendants of the ancient Yue people. They settled in East Yunnan during their journey westwards. However, they have never abandoned their spiritual roots. Over hundreds of years, Heier has been a quiet and rich land regardless of changes in circumstance or affiliation. It has always been a land of idyllic beauty.
A land of abundance
The local residents call Heier as Heier Basin, and farming is what villagers live on.
As we can see, steep mountains stand on the eastern and western sides of Heier. In the south, there is a 70°slope. From the slope foot, a flat basin expands gradually to the northwest.
Heier has high mountains and wide valleys with rivers flowing in between. The low-elevation terrain has formed a unique climate there. With an annual average temperature of 18 degrees, Heier is a typical low and arid river valley area, with very little frost or snow all year round. The unique terrain features and hydrological conditions of Heier provide natural conditions favorable to rice growth.
During the Grain Rain period, rainfall is adequate in South China. The first heavy rain of each year generally occurs at this time, and rice fields are full of farmers ploughing. Local Zhuang people are busy with transplanting rice seedlings. Women there are quick with their hands. Within two minutes, they can get a handful of rice seedlings planted, and their farming works look like a poem. The women wear their traditional clothes with trouserlegs rolled up. In this land, the Zhuang people bow to plough wholeheartedly, breeding a green hope.
When autumn begins, Heier comes to its most beautiful time. Mr. Li , who opened a retail shop at the entrance to the village, is a Heier native. Looking forward from the gate of the retail shop, we can see a wide expanse of rice fields. “Ripe rice is golden. As the wind blows, the rice waves up and down.” Li told us that what impressed him most was the rice fragrance at its maturity. He called it the smell of happiness. “Rice plants wave in the wind, and their fragrance overflows the flat land”. If you are lucky enough to visit Heier in September, the splendor of the fertile soil will never let you down.
The Zhuang people in Heier have always inherited “Na” culture (meaning “rice field” in the Zhuang language). They have kept their original beliefs and worship of nature: Holding a memorial for the field in the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar, inviting in the rice deity during the sixth month, and tasting new rice in the seventh month… the majority of their folk customs are related to rice culture. They pray to keep rice away from pests and diseases, so that they can harvest rice with full grains.
“If you are lucky, you can see monkeys on the mountain.” Following with the directions that a villager showed us, we found high mountains standing in northern Heier. They are named only in the Zhuang l`anguage. In the mountains, the Nanpan River flows peacefully without a trace. Local people say that monkeys frequently appear among the high mountains.
“Has any monkey ever come to the village?” I asked out of curiosity.
“In general, monkeys won’t come to villages. Sometimes, villagers see monkeys on remote trails in the forest.”
In Heier, monkeys live in the mountains with their kings, while people settle near the paddy fields. Each party keeps its own share of land, thus living life to the fullest.
Women among the Zhuang people are pretty and ingenious. They are able to overcome hardships and keep on working in the fields. They can bear responsibilities at home, and their beauty is praised by the public. Therefore, I couldn’t help catching a few glimpses of senior Zhuang women with respect.
Regardless of the age, most women in Heier know how to weave Zhuang brocade.
At the only ethnic clothing shop in Heier, we met with Zhao Disi, who is 55 years old this year. She was absorbed in stitching when we came in. The inside walls were occupied by beautiful pieces of finished or semi-finished Zhuang brocade, including wrapped backpacks for holding kids, small haversacks and clothes. All patterns and styles were designed and embroidered by herself.
"It is the eighth year of operating my clothes shop . " Zhao’s original intention to open the shop was very simple: because she likes it. According to Zhao, “Making clothes and weaving Zhuang brocade seems like necessary meals every day. I won’t feel comfortable if I stop for a day. The skills won’t stay long without practice.”
When she was 14 years old, Zhao did needlework for the first time. “Later, my mother gradually taught me how to use loom and weave beautiful patterns.” Nowadays, Zhao can turn everything in Heier into lively patterns with Zhuang brocade.
The unique feature of Zhuang brocade lies in the crossing of various silk threads and black cotton threads. On a loom, the ratio between black cotton threads and colorful threads is very strict. Any deviation from the ratio will lead to an awkward pattern.
After searching in a cabinet, Zhao took out a piece of square Zhuang brocade. “This is what I made within three months.” The piece is no more than one square meter㎡. However, the required craftsmanship is complicated. The market price per piece is around 600 yuan. “If it is used as a backpack to hold a kid, it won’t deform or break in a dozen years.” Zhao’s little granddaughter is seven years old this year. Zhao plans to teach her how to weave when she turns 14. “Our ancestor’s crafts should be passed down to future generations. There should be successors to inherit all these precious craft skills.”
Leisure life on the Nanpan River
“A river of clear water runs through high mountains . ” What we saw was like an oil painting. With a blue sky scattered with clouds, Heier has a unique view. The Nanpan River is a combination of various colors and a natural matching of light and shadow.
The water of the Nanpan River is clear, breeding various species of wild fish. It has attracted many fishing fans from other counties or even from Kunming. When I unfastened an angler’s fishing basket, I was surprised to see more than ten fat fish in it. There were grass carp, catfish, tilapia, and some other species I cannot tell name. Mr. Li, a retired employee from the Qujing Tobacco Factory, is a long-term fishing fan in Heier. He told us that fishing is his hobby. He came to Heier because of the beautiful scenery and fresh air. The owner of a restaurant on the bank told us that Li is his regular customer. He is used to staying in Heier for ten to fifteen days. Boating, fishing and mountain climbing have made his days full of happiness.
“Heier has beautiful mountains, clear water, tasty rice and good wine. Everything here is fine.” The restaurant owner brought us some small stools while laughing and talking. During our casual conversation, a table of yummy ecological food was prepared, including a soup of free-range silkie, potato slices with hot pepper, cabbage stewed in chicken soup, and fried ham and ginger slices. They were all simple home cooking. In the breathtaking scenery of Heier, however, we had a feeling that we were enjoying an “imperial feast”.
People living in Heier have very simple but exquisite life-styles. The barrel they use for rice steaming is made from the kapok tree. The steamed rice is of great softness with a little faint scent. “Our Heier people are hospitable, and we want each guest to eat up two bowls of rice and drink up two cups of wine.” While talking with us, the restaurant owner filled our cups with corn wine brewed by the Zhuang people. The flavor soon spread everywhere.
We enjoyed the wine and dishes made by the owner, and we had many toasts and talks. Although we were new-comers, we didn’t feel any discomfort. This kind of intimacy is surely an unforgetable experience in Heier.
Having enjoyed myself to the fullest by eating and drinking, I got curious how the anglers could fish when there was no light along the river. “With such a bright moon overhead, they have nothing to worry about, and they usually keep fishing until 2 or 3 o’clock in the early moring.” The owner explained that what those anglers wanted was just a relaxing place in most cases.
I suddenly realized: In Heier, there’s no secullar timetable for daily life. There is no rule or regulation for daily conduct. What you need to do is to follow your heart and fit into the relaxing resort.
Traffic, Catering, and Accommodation in Heier
Traffic: Driving travelers can drive along the Kunming-Shilin highway to Shizong's county seat, and can reach Heier Village after a 15-km drive towards Longqing Township. You can also take a coach bus or a train from Kunming to Shizong, and then change to regular buses from Shizong Bus Center to get to Heier.
Food: Dalian zongzi, ciba (cooked glutinous rice pounded into paste), dessert wine and fried pie are all made of aromatic glutinous rice grown in Heier. They have very special tastes. During the Genshou Festival of the Zhuang, fried sticky rice is dyed by natural dyestuffs each year. Wild river fish and Longqing black ham are also special local food.
Accommodation: There are many clean and simple lodges in Longqing, with prices between 60 and 120 yuan per night. If you choose to stay overnight in Heier, you can only live in the Fishing Rural Inn on the bank of Nanpan River. The fee is 80 yuan per person a day, including accommodation and three meals.
Ferryboat: To visit the Heier gorges, you can take a boat at the Femeng ferry, and the round-trip fee is 100 yuan/person. To go sightseeing on the Nanpan River, the round-trip ferry fee is 50 yuan/person.