Making inroads to a place where time stands still

Updated: 2012-11-28 10:35

By Hu Yongqi and Li Yingqing (China Daily)

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Making inroads to a place where time stands still

Li Wenshi, 73, one of the few remaining Derung women with facial tattoos, shares an amusing moment with her daughter Li Yuhua at their home in Yunnan province. Wang Jing / China Daily

Modernity slowly approaches the isolated Derung ethnic group, Hu Yongqi and Li Yingqing report from Nujiang, Yunnan province.

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a regular series of reports brought together under the banner "Lost Horizons", which aims to show life in the less-reported areas of the country and to give a voice to those whose words often go unheard. Slideshows and video footage are also available at

As dusk fell in Xiongdang village, deep in the shade of the Gaoligong Mountains in northwest Yunnan province, Li Songying's relatives and friends gathered around a fire pit fenced with bricks to protect the small, wooden house. The slices of pickled pork suspended above the flames swayed in the warm air and a chicken boiled slowly in a pot of rice wine, diffusing an appetizing smell.

Welcome to a party of the Derung ethnic group. After serving cooked taro and corn, Li Songying, 48, joined the fun and games. Losers in one game, where players attempt to correctly guess the number of fingers their opponent will hold up, have to perform a "forfeit" by quaffing a cup of the lethal "chicken soup".

Making inroads to a place where time stands still

Derung children enjoy afterschool activities at a primary school donated by Yao Ming, who was a famous basketball player.

The party ended at midnight, when the wine jars were finally empty, and the guests lay down to sleep on a piece of plastic sheeting next to the fire.

Next morning, as the first sunlight hit the village, the three hills hugging the contours of the Dulong River - rolling along like a blue ribbon unfolding in a stream of blue and white bubbles - resembled a beautiful landscape painting.

Xiongdang, deep in the hills that straddle the border with Myanmar, is the most isolated settlement in Dulongjiang township, located at the far end of the road that links the two. Even in good weather when the road is free from landslides in the rainy season, it takes three days to travel by bus from the provincial capital Kunming to the Gongshan Derung and Nu autonomous county and a further seven hours by car to the township.

Residents of Xianghong village, which has no road, face a seven-day trek if they need to visit the township government.

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