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Ancient village at heart of China's quake tourism plans

An ethnic Qiang woman walks among a 1,000 year-old stone castle in Taoping village, home to China's ethnic Qiang minority, in China's southwestern province of Sichuan on November 10, 2008. The village sits along the Longmen mountain seismic fault in southwest China's Sichuan province, in between Yingxiu town to the south and Beichuan county to the northwest, two of the areas hit worst by the devastating quake. Of the 118 families and nearly 600 people who live in the castle, no one was injured or killed in the earthquake. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Taoping, China (AFP) Nov 11, 2008
Zeng Yuyin points up to a narrow crack that runs from the fourth to the sixth storey of a 1,000 year-old stone fortress in Taoping village, home to China's ethnic Qiang minority.

"That damage was caused by the earthquake," she said of the May 12 disaster in Southwest China's mountainous Sichuan province that left up to 88,000 people dead or missing.

Although some of the walls in this sprawling slate castle collapsed during the quake, most of its buildings and others in the ancient village were left standing even as newer structures in nearby towns were flattened.

"Qiang buildings are built well. Our motto is: 'Don't build fast, build strong'," 40-year-old Zeng, whose family has been living in Taoping at least 200 years, told AFP.

The village sits along the Longmen mountain seismic fault, between the towns of Yingxiu to the south and Beichuan to the northwest, two of the areas hit worst by the quake.

"Of the 118 families and nearly 600 people who live in the castle, not one was injured or killed in the earthquake," said Zeng, who is a tour guide and museum curator.

In Beichuan town, also largely populated by the Qiang minority, nearly 20,000 people died or are missing from the quake, while the toll in Yingxiu was 6,000 dead or missing.

According to China's state media, up to 30,000 Qiang were left dead or missing in the quake, a number that represented about 10 percent of the ethnic minority's population about a third of the total estimated fatalities.

Over the centuries, the group largely settled in northwest Sichuan after surviving repeated wars with both the neighbouring Tibetans and the dominant Han Chinese.

Their slate castles, built on a series of winding mazes and tunnels that include running water and huge fire places, were largely designed for defensive purposes.

While some of their villages were destroyed in the quake and other Qiang died in more modern structures in Beichuan and elsewhere, the 3,000 residents of Taoping can thank their ancient stone, timber and mud houses for their survival.

Chinese officials are now looking at trying to have Taoping listed as a World Heritage Site with UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural arm.

"Their unique structure and outstanding quake-resistant feature make them a very eligible candidate," Zhang Bai, deputy director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said in the Chinese press recently.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials are hoping that tourism will help Sichuan province in the long recovery process.

The central government has already allocated 19.7 billion yuan (2.9 billion dollars) to develop the tourist industry in Beichuan county over the next three years.

About 130 kilometres (78 miles) from Taoping, the government has decided to leave the county seat of Beichuan town as it is -- uninhabited and destroyed -- and turn it into an earthquake museum.

The billions of dollars in funding has got local entrepreneurs thinking of ways to cash in on an expected tourism boom.

"We have to live, so for me that means doing business," Tang Hongmei, 38, a Qiang businesswoman whose home in Beichuan was destroyed in the earthquake, told AFP.

"The tourism plan is good, it is a way to create good out of a bad situation."

After seeing most of her beverage and tobacco business in Beichuan collapse, Tang opened two Qiang Family Restaurants in nearby Leigu, which are already doing good business with both tourists and locals.

Although Beichuan town remains quarantined, locals expect it to be opened up in the coming months, with tourists already flocking to a lookout point above the town to see the destruction from afar.

This week the winding mountainous road from Beichuan to Wenchuan county at the epicentre of the earthquake was finally reopened after being cleared of debris and repaired.

The road traverses the Tangjiashan lake, a large reservoir that was formed after a huge quake-caused landslide blocked up the river below.

Besides showcasing the power of the earthquake, the lake is expected to be developed into a recreation area.

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Six months after deadly China quake, jobs are key to recovery
Wenchuan, China (AFP) Nov 11, 2008
When the Sichuan earthquake struck southwest China on May 12, Zeng Shanjun and his wife saw their home collapse and the factory where they worked destroyed. Their world fell apart.

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