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Timeless Qiang Culture
Special> Aftermath of the Quake> Timeless Qiang Culture
UPDATED: July 9, 2008  
Hope Amid Devastation

Cheng was astounded when he saw the ruins of the village. He had been struck by its simple ancient charm on his visit the previous year, when locals sunned golden corncobs on the roofs of their earthen houses. He felt numb upon hearing 44 people of the 1,100 villagers had died when their homes collapsed.

The only building that stood firm was the brick and cement primary school. None of the teachers or 200 students in the two-story building suffered injuries.

Precious traces of early Qiang settlers in Sichuan were destroyed. Two tomb sites dating back to the Western and Eastern Han dynasties (206BC-AD220) nearby the village had also been buried in landslides.

Locals gathered under the trees to pool their belongings in temporary shelters.

Cheng spotted a stone carving. In addition to the words "Olympics" and "peace, auspiciousness", the simple carving also included a twig of red cherries, for which the area is famous. A man in his 50s said he had just done the carving.

"Although there has been a major earthquake, our country is holding the Olympics, and we must express our best wishes and support for the Olympics," the man said, gravely.

Beichuan, 168 km north of Chengdu, provincial capital of Sichuan, is the country's only Qiang autonomous county, founded in 2003. When Cheng reached the devastated area on May 18, rescuers from across the country were still searching for survivors.

Of Bechuan's 160,000 population, some 100,000 are Qiang people. But sadly, 30,000 Qiang people perished in the earthquake.

Beichuan is known as the hometown of legendary tribal leader Da Yu, who led his people to overcome rampant flooding. He later became one of three best-known kings of the Chinese nation.

The Beichuan Qiang Folk Custom Museum was totally destroyed in the earthquake. Some 800 cultural relics are still buried in the debris.

As most roads were cut off, Cheng and his colleagues rented a car and drove for some 1,000 km along an old route trodden by the Red Army in 1935 on the Long March.

The pale headlights on their car shone bright enough to reveal collapsed houses, smashed vehicles and scattered furniture. "To tell you the truth, we were afraid, as no one knew what laid ahead," Cheng recalls.

Fortunately, nothing serious happened. They set out again for Taoping, one of the most culturally esteemed Qiang villages, before dawn.

The village's most striking landmarks are its watchtowers, which stand dozens of meters tall against azure skie.

Cheng was relieved to see Taoping had suffered little damage in the disaster. The stone watchtowers built more than 1,000 years ago lost only the platform on which five white rocks are worshiped, according to Shibi ritual. Other towers, built just a few years ago to attract tourists, however, had all collapsed.

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