Basha is the only place in China exempt from the country’s strict prohibition on firearm possession. The government issues special permits to 80 percent or more of village householders that allow them to carry their traditional musket-style powder rifles, whose range is limited to 20 meters. The weapons are made by local specialist craftsmen in Guandong and Longtu of Liping county in Qiandongnan Prefecture. Basha men prize their firelocks as precious heirlooms passed down for generations. Generally dressed in dark clothes, a knife in a woven sheath at the waist and rifles slung over the shoulder, Basha men resemble ancient warriors.
Miao communities in the village live according to the time-honored tradition whereby “men till and women weave.” They subsist on farming and hunting, and the gods of the sun and of trees are their deities. The hanging fish baskets I saw in some homes signify the role that fishing still plays as a food source, in addition to farming and hunting, although less so now than in earlier times.
Stories on Stilts
Basha villagers still live in traditional stilted houses, some of the older ones roofed in tree bark. Luxuriant bamboo groves act as natural borders between clusters of dwellings. The oldest house, its pillars and columns chopped and shaped by axe, is said to have been built 250 years ago. Newly built houses have relatively modern features, such as glass window panes rather than sliding boards to let in the sunlight, but retain the common architectural structure. The first floors of these stilted residences are used for storage or keeping livestock. The second is generally the living area, and commands a stunning vista of the rooftops below and coils of cooking smoke rising against a backdrop of terraced fields. Villagers sleep on mats on the floor rather than in beds.
Younger people still keep to time-honored traditions but also appreciate the comforts of a more modern lifestyle, though to a far lesser degree than city dwellers. Older residents have seen such changes as tiles, rather than piles of tree bark, on roofs that often overlay steel sheets – a modification that protects against storm and gale damage.
The oldest flight of steps in the village consists of hewn tree trunks with wooden railings on either side. The hillside ascending from the road is laced with rows of wooden trestles, five meters tall and four meters wide, on which to dry ears of rice. After a harvest the hillsides are resplendent in these golden sheaves.