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Yao traditions enshrined on national list

By Huang Chenkuang (chinadaily.com.cn)

The origins of the Yao people of southern China can be traced back some 2,000 years.

Nestled within the mountains and hemmed in by Hunan and Guizhou to the north and Vietnam to the south, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region is home to a considerable chunk of China's Yao population.

As one of the country's 55 officially recognized ethnic groups, the Yao's unique culture, traditions, and practices have been enshrined and preserved in consecutive lists of the nation's unique intangible cultural heritages.

In Fengshan county, located just outside Hechi, a prefecture-level city in Guangxi, some of the oldest and most unique traditions of the Yao people are strongly observed to this day.

At the age of 13, and adorned in traditional dress featuring striking dyes of blue, red, and orange, Yao boys in Fengshan town take part in a special coming of age ritual to greet their journey into adulthood. The ritual, named Du Jie, or limitation and principle, involves a set of solemn and challenging trials.

Yao traditions enshrined on national list

A 13-year-old Yao boy prepares for the Du Jie ceremony. [Photo/Xinhua]

The 600-year-old ceremony, which is presided over by a Buddhist master, requires the boys to jump over a two-meter-high wooden platform, climb a ladder constructed entirely of knives, and walk along a heated iron chain. If they are successful in these tasks the ceremony is complete and journey from boyhood to manhood has begun.

To the outside observer this ritual may seem barbaric, but no child is actually hurt during the process, as today it is maintained as a ritual observed for its cultural significance in the Yao ethnic group in teaching history, principles, and etiquette.

This tradition has recently been listed as a national intangible cultural heritage.

Another tradition that has been listed is that of the crafting of Ding Guan, a cast-iron pot used for cooking by the Yao people. By using blacksmithing skills, the people of Fengshan town have been fashioning these pots for 300 years.

Yao traditions enshrined on national list
Local craftsmen make Ding Guan using traditional methods. [Photo/Xinhua]

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Hechi is located in the northwestern part of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and the southern foothills of the Yungui Plateau.