Located in Taoping Township of Lixian County in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, about 163 kilometers from Chengdu, the Taoping Qiang Village is regarded as the “Mysterious Oriental Castle”, and it is the best-preserved “living fossil” of Qiang architectural culture and art in the world.
Qiang minority is one of the oldest ethnic groups in China. Communities are generally comprised of 30-100 households, forming “fortress villages”. Their stone structures, bamboo rope bridges and water control technology are very unique. The Taoping Qiang Village is a typical example of the Qiang architectural art.
The Taoping Qiang Village was built in 111 BC, with a history of more than 2,000 years. It was constructed in line with the landform of the mountain, with the Zagunao River running in front of the village. The architectural complex is the integration of stone towers and dwellings. Among all the buildings, the watchtower (called Diaolou in Chinese) is the landmark of the Qiang village. There are three watchtowers in the village, among which the two nine-story watchtowers of about 30 meters are the tallest buildings and the core of the village. The edges of the watchtowers look sharp and straight as if they were cut with a knife; and the surface of the walls are smooth, solid and durable. Standing aloft there for thousands of years, the ancient watchtowers are alive with history, where bright yellow corn on the cobs hang from the roofs.
All the civilian residences of the Qiang people were built with stone and connected with each other by crisscrossed paths and roads, which make the village more cryptic. The Qiang houses usually have 2-3 or 4-5 stories, with a narrow wooden staircase. Livestock is kept on the first floor, and the living room, bedrooms and kitchen are on the second and the third. The fourth is used for storage and the fifth is a place of worship where white stones are arranged upon which sacrifices are offered.
Entering the village lanes, you may think that each house is separated. But when you stand on the house roof, you will find that all the houses are connected by the roofs. The whole village is built just like a maze, presenting a layout of houses adjoining houses with access to one another. In the village, there are 8 entrances and exits radiating from the two highest watchtowers and the 8 entrances and exits are linked to 13 alleys leading to each household, forming a comprehensive communications network. Local people can come and go easily, but it is difficult for strangers to come in and out without the guidance of villagers.
Below the village is the old, complicated and highly effective underground water network. The ancestors of the Qiang people built underground ditches to divert water to every household; water is simply fetched by lifting the stone slab on top. This water network serves as a perfect fire-fighting facility as well as a safe underground passageway. When strolling in the village, you can hear the sound of underground flowing water.
The Taoping Qiang Village is a primitive Qiang village, featuring unusual Qiang customs and lifestyle. The Qiang people abide by strict taboos with regards to birth and death. Strangers are not allowed in the house for 3-7 days following the birth of a baby, and a flail or bamboo basket for boys and girls respectively is hung on the gatepost as a signal. To name the newly-born baby is an important event for Qiang people, and normally a grand baby’s naming ceremony will be held when the baby is one month old. When visiting the Taoping Qiang Village, the Qiang Cuisine, Qiang Embroidery and folk songs and dances will lead you to the history, folk customs and culture of the Qiang ethnic group.
Qiang women are good at embroidery, and the art of Qiang-style embroidery has been handed down for over 1,000 years. The embroidered wallets, handbags and local costumes make ideal souvenirs and gifts.
You can take bus from the Chengdu Chadianzi Passenger Station to Wenchuan County, and there are buses to Lixian County, which will pass the Taoping Qiang Village. Mini buses run regularly from the county town of Wenchuan to Taoping.