We’re in Leibo, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, a county seat perched high on a cliffside over the Jinsha River. We got here in just 3+ hours from Yibin, due to the modern marvel of the new gorge-spanning, mountain-piercing highway. This place is being opened up, and that’s probably a very good thing.
Yi minority culture is fascinating to Bayley and me, given how unfamiliar we are with it. Arriving from rather thoroughly homogenous eastern China, we were surprised to encounter the differences here in dress and language. But we should also note that while isolation has probably helped preserve a unique identity, it has also undoubtedly contributed to the very evident poverty and other social ills. As the multitudinous propaganda posters, billboards, and even Hollywood-style hillside signage constantly advertise, there are apparently widespread problems here with drug abuse. We ourselves noted pretty quickly the large amount of public drunkeness. But the government is blasting away at these hard-scrabble mountains, damming up the deep river gorges, and slapping together rows of new apartment blocks in this high-perched little town.
And as access becomes easier, perhaps what unique aspects of the culture here that remain can be helpful in generating tourism and the money that comes with it. There certainly isn’t much yet–when we registered at the single foreigner-approved hotel (the one for visiting cadres, located in the same compound as the police station), the woman completing the registration forms asked me if my passport was the same document as the other photocopied foreigner passports she had on file. (Don’t worry if this question doesn’t make sense to you.) She then pulled, from a worn folder, five passport photocopies from foreigners who stayed in this town since 2007. I pointed to the three American ones and said yes.