China village gunning for tourists
A RIFLE shot tears the air of a mountain hamlet - met not with terror but cries of delight in China's only remaining village where the authorities encourage gun ownership.
"We start carrying guns from about 15 years old," said Jia Xinshan, fingering a wooden rifle's trigger as tourists snapped pictures of him. "We're the last gun tribe in China."
The armaments in Biasha, a village tucked amid the wooded peaks of Guizhou province, are a reminder of an era of conflict between Beijing and the mountain tribes who still inhabit swathes of China's south-west.
Villagers are allowed to own rifles but are restricted to firing them during displays for tourists - illustrating how once-restive minority groups have integrated with the state.
"We used to use our guns to protect the village," said Mr Jia, 30. "Now we carry them to give tourists an impression."
Biasha's wooden shacks which cling to hillsides are home to members of the Miao minority, an ethnic group of about 12 million people who are more at home in their own languages than Mandarin Chinese.
The name "Miao" was first applied to hill tribes who fought bloody rebellions against the Chinese state. The rebellions were finally put down and Miao leaders executed in 1872 by Chinese army regiments.
Mountain groups "went through a process of adaptation to the new nation-state system", said Siu-Woo Cheung, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The Miao achieved their first official recognition as an ethnic group by the republic that followed the collapse of China's last dynasty in 1912, granting them limited autonomy, a status that continued when the Communist Party took power three decades later.
The Miao's accommodation with the government contrasts with that of other groups such as Tibetans and Uighurs, who continue to clash with the authorities over what they claim is cultural repression.
Villagers in Biasha said just one gun maker remains in a hillside shack.
"It takes two or three days to make a gun," said Gun Laosheng, the craftsman. "My father taught me, because he loved guns and was great at hunting wild birds."
But these days locals prefer to profit from tour groups, he said.