Birds Singing Fight Songs in Guizhou

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 vivacious market was taking place. We came across several 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 everyday clothing. On festive days, however, the women sport an elaborate hairstyle typically decorated with silver ornaments and wear beautiful embroidered clothing.

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 several birdcages lined up on the side of a wall. I know that men in China 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 bringing the birds along for a bit of fresh air was very considerate.   That is until I realized 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 into 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.

This festival also featured the 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 village’s pride. 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 water buffaloes’ horns get intertwined 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 the animals get hurt occasionally, but thankfully not this time.

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


P.S.   You can follow me on Instagram at franceleclerc



8 Responses

  1. 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,

    1. 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

    1. 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.

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

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

  3. 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!

    1. 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!

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