Friday, November 7: It has been raining here in Nanning off and on all week, and though I’m tempted to just stay inside all day, I don’t want to let the rain defeat me. I have such a long list of things to see in Nanning and in greater China that I feel like I should do at least some kind of outing every weekend, rain or shine, sleet or unlikely snow.
So, I pack an umbrella, bundle up in a rain jacket, and take off for the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, #5 on the Trip Advisor list of 84 Things to do in Nanning. It turns out I find the museum delightful. The exhibits are beautifully done and descriptions are written in both Chinese and English. The museum is huge. It includes 3 floors in the main building, as well as an outdoor village with traditional folk residences representative of those found throughout the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Established in 1958, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is located in the southern border area of China. Guangxi hosts 12 indigenous ethnic groups including the Zhuang, Han, Yao, Miao, Dong, Mulao, Maonan, Hui, Jing, Yi, Shui, and Gelao, and the population of these ethnic groups ranks first in China. The total population of the Autonomous Region was 51.59 million by the end of 2010, of which 19.57 million are those of ethnic groups, accounting for nearly 38% of the total. The Zhuang population of 16.58 million is around 32% of the total (according to information from the museum).
The ethnic groups of Guangxi live together harmoniously and have done so for generations, according to the museum.
I decide to start at the top and work my way down.
Guangxi Museum of Nationalities (GXMN), launched in 2003, sits south of the Qingxiushan Scenic Area on the bank of the Yong River. Construction was started in June 2006; its purpose was to be a professional ethnic cultural museum, centering on the collection, research, protection, exhibition and public education of the physical evidence, cultural and artistic relics, classics, intangible cultural heritage and research results of the 12 native ethnic groups’ survival and assimilation.
The exhibition adopts both dynamic and static methods of display, combining words, materials, live-scenes, and pictures.
I begin my journey in the Exhibition Hall of Homestead.
Every family of the White Pants Yao (named for their distinctive costume) has a barn separated from their house for storing grain. Their design discourages rodents. The pillars are covered with bottomless clay jars, too slippery for rodents to climb up, thus protecting the grain stored above. These exemplify the barns in Nandan.
According to a plaque at the museum, “Jing people make their living by the traditional form of fishing with a stilt. They use stilts to fish in the deep-sea as fishes and shrimps usually live more than one meter below the surface. To solve the knotty problem of catching fish and shrimp, the Jing who live near the sea invented the method of stilt-fishing.” These fishermen can be found in the only coastal area in Guangxi at Beihai.
Taming cormorants to catch fish is a tradition that has lasted hundreds of years on the LiJiang River in Guangxi. The cormorant is a kind of dark-footed, web-footed water bird similar in appearance to a crow, and known colloquially as a “water crow.” Cormorants are good at diving and live near the water. They’re good at catching fish because of their long beaks. They store fish in small throat pouches under their jaws, but fishermen tie a string around their throat, preventing them from swallowing the fish.
The next stop is the Exhibition Hall of Ethnic Costume. Here the exhibit revolves around textiles and the costumes of the various ethnic groups.
The Exhibition Hall of Fine Arts and Craft blows me away with its fascinating exhibits of Dong wooden buildings, cave paintings, lanterns, dragons and other creatures.
The outstanding cultural art of the Dong is their woodwork and wooden architecture. The most famous examples are the wind and rain bridges and the drum towers. Wind and rain bridges consist of 3-5 stacked stone abutments. Pavilions with double-sloping eaves are built above the abutments and then connected to make a bridge. Drum towers always have four symmetrical pillars as their framework in the middle of the structure. The architects and craftsmen follow the rules of balance, symmetry and harmony and use wooden joints with parts crisscrossing vertically with each other. Not a single nail is used in the whole framework, but it is nonetheless sturdy and elegant.
These wooden buildings by the Dong are on my list of things to find in Guangxi while I’m here in China.
Cliff paintings in Guangxi are painted in walls of caves or on cliffs along rivers. Most scenes show sacrificial activities in groups. The cliff paintings along the Zuo River emerged in the Warring States period and the Eastern Han Dynasty.
Next I head into the colorful Exhibition Hall of Traditional Culture. This has so many fascinating displays, I stay in here for quite some time.
The Firecracker Dragon Festival in Binyang County is a unique form of the common Lion Dance held at 7:00 on the 11th day of the first month in the Chinese Lunar calendar. Lion dancers pay a New Year call to every household. People can throw lighted firecrackers at the dancing dragon as they believe the firecrackers will get rid of misfortune and bring them good luck instead. It is also believed to make them prosperous and healthy in the coming year.
“Mang Hao” is a transliteration from the Miao language. Mang means “mask” and Hao is a Miao god. Every year on the 17th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, young Miao men will wear masks and grass-made coats, lurking in the forest like their god “Hao.” They dance wildly to the music of the Lusheng as a prayer to their god for a good harvest in the coming year.
This is something I would love to see!
During a Pan Yao wedding, the bride and groom kneel and kowtow to their parents and relatives many times to show their gratitude under the auspices of a Taoist priest. The ceremony can take one to two days because they are expected to kowtow nine times to every single relative attending the wedding.
Guangxi has long been famed as the “sea of songs,” according to a plaque at the museum. All ethnic people “sing on all occasions and everyone is a singer.” They replace their speeches with songs and meet friends with songs.
The Jinxiu Yao Yellow Mud Drum Dance is also called the Long Drum Dance, involving a female drum and four male drums. It is a sacrifice to the Yao King Pan. Drums can be classified by their pitch male (low) or female (high). During the dance, dancers turn, whirl and jump to pay a tribute to the legends of the King Pan. The dance involves the reenactment of scenes of Yao life such as migrating, ploughing, hunting and sowing.
After visiting all these exhibitions on the third floor, I head to the second floor where I visit the Exhibition Hall of Bronze Drum Culture. By this time, I must admit I’m getting a little tired. Apparently in this section is a Beiliu bronze drum of the West Han Dynasty, which was considered as the king of Chinese bronze drum, but I somehow miss this.
Finally, for my last stop inside the museum, I drop in to the Zhuang Culture Exhibition.
I can see out the window of the museum that it’s still raining, but I’m determined to go outside to see the ethnic village. As it’s rather wet, I zip through quite quickly, but here’s a bit of what I see.
The museum is a great tribute to the 12 aboriginal minorities’ customs, festivals, clothing, and architecture, as well as its precious historical relics, such as bronze ware, pottery ware, porcelain ware, bamboo and wooden articles, jade ware, glass utensil, and lacquer ware. I really enjoy my day at the museum where I am able to experience the cultural achievements Guangxi ethnic minorities have made with their hardworking, intelligence and solidarity.
Now my quest is to experience these minority cultures firsthand in my travels throughout Guangxi.
To get to the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities:
By taxi from the main gate of Guangxi University: It’s about 56 yuan each way. It will take about 45 minutes. (This is what I did)
By bus: Take no. 10, 32, 33, 601, No. 1 or No. 2 Around-the-City-Bus. Stop at Qingxiushan Damen station, then take Sub-line Bus No. 71 and stop on Guangxi Minzu Bowuguan (GXMN) station. Mon-Fri: 8:30 12:30 16:30 / Weekends and statutory holidays: 8:30 10:30 12:30 14:30 16:30 17:00 (From the museum’s brochure – I did not test this out!)
Address: No. 11 Qinghuan Road, Nanning
Tel: 0771-2024599 (Visitor Service Center)