Lijiang’s authorities have belatedly realized the importance of preserving Naxi culture, perhaps mostly to attract tourism, but their efforts are nevertheless helpful. One example of this that we saw was the daily early-afternoon dance in the town’s main square. Huang explained that older women and men are paid RMB 60 (about US $8) to dance every day in the square for the benefit of tourists. It’s a traditional pastime anyway, but of course having the financial incentive to continue it doesn’t hurt.
First the women gathered in the shade, finding their friends and engaging in a good gossip. Then an old granny unwrapped a boom-box and started walking around and softly singing along to the music.
A few minutes after granny led out the first group, a second group with slightly different costumes took up position in another part of the square and fired up another boom box. Soon the two groups were slowly circling in their different dances.
The music and motions were all gentle and soft, so the different tunes didn’t clash. The costumes made for a dramatic display in the brilliant sun.
Even knowing they were paid to do this didn’t change the impression that we were watching something timeless, that would go on whether we were there snapping our cameras or not. Lijiang itself has the same feeling of going about its business, welcoming but not contorting itself for tourists.
We hope it continues to be this way.