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Hidden Utopia


Text and photographs by Xie Gang

Tao Yuanming, an Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) poet, wrote prose describing a’Chinese Utopia’ - a peaceful isolated place free from disease and disaster. Surrounded by mountains, the area is only accessible by water, through a cave. Residents there lead tranquil and prosperous lives.

Where is this Chinese Utopia? People have been searching for the place Tao described hundreds of years ago, creating a variety of interpretations. To me, of all the places I have visited, Bamei Village of Guangnan County, Yunnan Province, most resembles the land described by Tao. Located on an open plain embraced by a green stone forest of karst landforms, the village is composed of about one hundred households. No road leads to the village, and only the crystal Tuoniang River connects it to Fali Village to the north and Tangnan Village to the south. Visitors must pass through a dark cave by boat to reach Bamei.

The cave through the mountain of Fali Village serves as the main entrance to Bamei. The Tuoniang River flows slowly through the cave, on which sit small vessels known as”pig trough boats” by locals. As we drifted away from the entrance, becoming swallowed by the cave, the light in the tunnel became dimmer and dimmer. I was greeted with a cool breeze but heard nothing more than the sound of the oars splashing the water. After a while, two rays of light from holes at the top of the cave shot down to the water, dazzling my eyes. Passing the sunbeams, the boat continued gliding through the darkness until sudden brightness revealed the beautiful scenery of Bamei. It took only the duration of drinking a cup of coffee to reach the place.

Once off the boat, I marveled at the jagged mountain peaks and the winding Tuoniang River. The farmland was dotted with hard-working people; the water mills were embraced with bamboo; the modest dwellings were hidden under big banyan trees. Adults were busy working; children busy playing.

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