Birds Singing Fight Songs in Guizhou

BlackMiao (1 of 25)

During my visit to Guizhou, a province of Southwest China, we spent several days with members of the Black Miao minority group, the ethnic group to which our colorful local leader Mr. Lee belongs. We visited several Black Miao villages, one of which was featured in my previous blog post on the making of indigo (Indigo, A Kind of Blue In Guizhou). We visited another Black Miao village, Yangwu, as a very lively market was taking place. We came across a number of Black Miao working in the fields and joined a festival in the Black Miao village of Paizuo. The Black Miao are named after the dark indigo color used in their everyday clothing. On festive days, however, the women sport an elaborate hairstyle typically decorated with silver ornaments and wear beautiful embroidered clothing.

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Though the headdress and outfits of the ladies were quite impressive, these were not the most memorable aspect of the festival.   While walking around on the festival grounds, I noticed a number of birdcages lined up on the side of a wall. I know that all over China, men keep birds they have purchased in cages to enjoy their singing.   I was quite surprised to see the cages at the festival and concluded that it was very considerate to bring the birds along for a bit of fresh air.   That is, until I realized that these men’s singing companions were also fighting companions.

Yes, singing birds, a species of thrushes (or Hwamei) are trained to fight one another, though thankfully not in a bloody way. At the festival, a large group of men sat for hours looking intently at pairs of birds fighting one another in their cages. From what I could observe, the two cages are put next to one another with open doors allowing the birds to go from one cage to the next. Eventually, one of the birds will jump in the adjacent cage to “fight” with its opponent. After some displaying of what seem to be “power poses” and considerable bickering, one of the birds eventually retreats to the empty cage to safety and is declared the loser of the fight. I would not be “shocked” to learn that money is exchanged depending on the outcome.

BlackMiao (13 of 25) BlackMiao (14 of 25) BlackMiao (15 of 25) BlackMiao (16 of 25) BlackMiao (17 of 25)A group of Chinese men, mostly from the Black Miao ethnic group, watch intently as two fighting birds are about to face one another.

This festival also featured fighting of much larger animals. One of the most popular events at this festival was water buffalo fighting. Here again, water buffaloes owned by various communities are brought in to fight one another for the pride of the village. Large crowds are there to cheer at the event. During dull times between the battles (and there are many) the now familiar sound of the luzhen instrument (Hill Tribes of Remote China) could be heard. The main drama in these fights is when the horns of the water buffaloes get intertwined with one another and get stuck. Then two teams of “bullboys” (my term) will go and try to “unlock” them. As with the birds, the winning buffalo is the one that stays while the losing one runs for safety. I am told that occasionally the animals get hurt but thankfully not this time.

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In Guizhou province, water buffalo fighting is very popular during local festivals. Each village brings its own water buffalo to represent them in the fight.

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Go Bulls (a familiar cheer for a Chicago resident),


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  1. Elise March 27, 2016 at 15:27 #

    Moss sure don’t grow under your boots!
    Do you feel you have reached a pinnacle in terms of your personal growth?
    I love these photos. Maximum interest, graphic beauty…
    Thank you,

    • franceleclerc March 28, 2016 at 11:02 #

      Thank you Elise! Pinnacle???You are kidding right? Unless you mean that there is no hope anymore 😉 Lots of images of birds, for once but I am sure not the way you like to see them 🙁 Best, France

  2. michele zousmer March 28, 2016 at 08:42 #

    interesting to me that all over the world the men need to find some animal to fight and bet over! wonderful capture.

    • franceleclerc March 28, 2016 at 11:12 #

      Thanks Michele. Interesting indeed! At least, here the animals are not harmed like in cockfighting. And it is not clear that this is much worse than us watching american footbal where young men may get their brains destroyed.

  3. Elise March 29, 2016 at 00:44 #

    I do enjoy your bird photos!
    We leave for Iran in April. I hope to emulate your style and expertise.

    • franceleclerc March 29, 2016 at 18:00 #

      I am just back from Iran. Work on your architectural skills. They have amazing structures. Great country to visit.

  4. Kathy Hornsby April 1, 2016 at 18:06 #

    Your superb images took me back to Guizhou….I feel as if I’ve just returned! The lush land, the colorful dress, the spicy food. Although I did see buffalo and dog fights, I had no idea about the songbird fights, which in comparison, seem most civilized! I love the photos of the men sitting and staring at … two bird cages! Thank you, France!

    • franceleclerc April 2, 2016 at 16:06 #

      Thank you Kathy. You are right, the men were sitting and starring at the cages and they did that for HOURS so that all the bird contestants would get their chance. I guess I did not know enough to appreciate the excitement of the fights but watching the men on the other hand…that was quite something!