Living in high-mountain villages in northern Sichuan, the Qiang minority were never exactly well known. After the tragic 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake struck their heartland however, a great deal of attention went to this small minority and the efforts to rebuild their devastated communities. A year later, UNESCO designated the annual Qiang New Year Festival (Qiāngzú Xīnnián, 羌族新年) an endangered piece of intangible cultural heritage.
During the festival, which falls on the first day of the tenth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (14 November this year), the Qiang give thanks to and ask for future prosperity from their mountain deity in a festival that can last from three to five days. Celebrants don brightly-colored traditional garments and, led by the village shaman, begin the festival with a solemn sacrifice of a goat to the mountain deity. In the lively celebrations that follow, epic stories of their history are retold, traditional songs sung, traditional barley liquor passed around and traditional dances performed. After the communal celebrations, families tend to their own offerings and worship.
While there are a number of places in Sichuan to watch the Qiang New Year festivities, attendance is in decline as the population of those keeping the traditions alive dwindles. Continue reading to find out more....
The Qiang culture faces similar stresses to those of other minorities in China. Mandarin Chinese is the gateway to success for many and it's the only language spoken in schools, to the detriment of languages like Qiang and even dialects like Shanghainese. The charm of big city life and all its opportunities pulls young people away from minority villages just as it does from more remote Han Chinese towns and villages. On top of these and many other factors is the Wenchuan Earthquake which devastated the Qiang homeland, killing an estimated 10% of their population including many elders responsible for passing down their traditional culture.
Where to see the Qiang New Year Festival
The government has funded a number of rebuilding efforts since the quake, taking care to incorporate traditional Qiang architectural characteristics. A notable example is Yongchang Town (Yǒngchāng Zhèn, 永昌镇), designated the new county seat of Beichuan County (Běichuān Xiàn, 北川县) after the previous one was destroyed, its ruins remaining as a tribute to those lost. While not a remote mountainside village, lively celebrations have taken place in Yongchang since it was built. It can be reached by taking the train or bus from Chengdu to Mianyang (Miányáng, 绵阳) and then another bus from there.
Traditional mountain communities like Suopo Village and Taoping Village can also be reached about as easily as Yongchang with travel information included in the Suopo travel guide and Taoping travel guide. Alternatively, Songpan, Jiuzhaigou and Ganzi.