A village we recommend to anyone hoping to avoid the kind of commercialism that mars so many Miao settlements these days is Shidong, in Taijiang County. Once a prosperous trading post on the Qungshui River, in February it hosts the famous ‘Sisters’ Meal Festival’, in which young local women don their finest silverware and pleated, embroidered skirts to perform a series of elaborate rituals and dances with the aim of attracting a potential partner. Unmarried men flock in to present parcels of sticky rice to girls that may have caught their eye, and these are returned with a set of chopsticks if the attraction is mutual (or a red-hot chilli if not!). The event is accompanied by buffalo fights, horse races, drumming recitals and lots of playing of bamboo lusheng pipes.
On the 24th day of the fifth lunar month (which usually falls in May, Shidong hosts another famous event, the ‘Dragon Boat Festival’ when, to pray for a successful harvest, giant fir tree trunks are carved into ceremonial canoes, decorated with flags and spectacular dragon-shaped mastheads, and raced by teams of 36 oarsmen in traditional garb – a superb spectacle. A cacophony of drums and gongs accompanies the progress of the boats along the river.