Images shot with the classic Super-Takumar 28mm f3.5
Xijiang – the largest Miao minority village in the world.
Not my words. How could I have even measured them all?
Still, claiming to be the largest of anything in the world is always a selling point. Or is used as one, at least. Low-hanging fruit aimed squarely at the easily impressed. You have to give people more credit than that, though.
This One Thousand Household Miao Village – again, not my words – was kinda busy during my visit, but I doubt many of my co-Xijiangers were drawn there because it’s the largest Miao village IN THE WORLD.
Not when they could have been drawn by pictures that just make the place look so pretty.
It’s the lush mountains and the babbling river and the local costume and the picture postcard bridges and the wooden homes, isn’t it?
Let’s go to Xijiang, man. Let’s go.
What and where is Xijiang Miao village?
A brief lesson should you need one.
China’s population is made up of 56 ethnic groups. Over 91% of folk are Han. 55 minorities share the other 8.5% or so. Population-wise, the Miao are in the top 10.
Sitting in China’s relatively poor southern province of Guizhou, around 80km from the city of Kaili, Xijiang Miao Minority village is what the name and tagline suggests.
A village home to many, many, many Miao families. It is, after all, the largest Miao village in the world.
And every picture you see makes it look unspoilt and traditional and peaceful and #authentic.
Getting to Xijiang isn’t difficult.
High-speed train yourself to Kaili. Once there, say yes to the first Chinese bloke with a car who says he’ll take you to the village.
An hour later, you arrive. And you see there’s a 100RMB entrance fee.
So you pay it.
You’ve come this far. You want the lush mountains and the babbling river and the picture postcard bridges and the wooden homes already. You want the peace and the authenticity.
You reach the gate. You go in.
And you think what the hell is this?
Arriving in Xijiang village
A reality check should you need one.
You’re not a pioneer. If Xijiang wasn’t a tourist hotspot you probably wouldn’t have heard of it. And every tourist high street in China looks the same.
Reality check over. Get past it. Literally. Keep walking.
That street is part of Xijiang, but Xijiang is much more than that street.
Walk through the crowds, ignore the souvenirs, and head for the hills. Because that’s where you’ll be staying.
Countless guest houses. Some shiny, some rickety. All welcoming. Shop around. Put your bags down. And go see what you came to see.
The lush mountains and the babbling river and local costume and the picture postcard bridges and the wooden homes.
Because that’s all still there.
Xijiang village and its people
Buildings in Xijiang come in three flavours. Old, new, and unfinished.
People come in two. Locals and visitors.
Everything else comes in one. Basic. Practical. Same as it ever was.
Shooting portraits in Xijiang Miao village
I went to Xijiang Miao village having just read an eBook about travel photography.
You can read a review of that eBook here.
One of the things I’d learnt from reading the book was shooting environmental portraits. That means including your subject’s typical surroundings to tell more of a story.
With this fresh in my mind, I was keen to try it out in Xijiang. Candid street shots can tell wonderful stories too, but asking to take a portrait gives a completely different feel to a photograph.
It connects me, the photographer, to the subject, which in turn connects the subject to you, the viewer.
For context, the following shots are of:
- the daughter of the family who owned our guesthouse doing English homework
- a lady cooking in a house we passed
- a lady working in a riverside noodle shop
- two local girls hanging out in traditional dress
- a young boy eating lunch in the sun
- a lady selling local rice wine in her shop
- a lady coming home from working in the fields
Xijiang Miao village rice fields
Good for growing rice. Also good for getting away from the crowds.
It wasn’t the time of year for spectacular photographs of abundant and sweeping paddies as far as the eye can see.
They were kind of bare.
Bare and dog and horse.
Traditional Miao costume in Xijiang village
Visiting a minority village like Xijiang means seeing the local culture for yourself.
Ponder the architecture. Marvel at the song and dance.
Or, just head to the riverside to see tourists grinning for selfies in the traditional dress.
When you talk about Chinese customs and culture and tradition in a place like Xijiang, these kind of photos are firmly on the modern list.
Final thoughts on Xijiang Miao minority village
Not a hidden gem. More tourists than locals.
Firmly on the beaten path. Good for photography.
Is it even primarily a residential village anymore? Who knows.
Enjoyed my two days there and am glad I went.
Wouldn’t go back because there’s no need.
Should you go? If you get chance, I’d say yes.
Just brush up on your travel photography skills beforehand.
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