Cizhong Catholic Church in Deqin County, Diqing

Chinese Name:茨中教堂
English Name: Cizhong Catholic Church in Deqin County, Diqing

The Cizhong Catholic Church is located in Yanmen Township of Deqin County in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. First built in 1867 and rebuilt in 1909, the Cizhong Catholic Church is a model which combines the architecture features of both western countries and China’s Tibet, Han and Bai ethnic groups. The church and its wing-room, gate, cellar and grape yard were well preserved by local government. It was listed as the key national cultural protection relics by the State Council in 2006.

First built in 1867 and rebuilt in 1909, the Cizhong Catholic Church is a model which combines the architecture features of both western countries and China’s Tibet, Han and Bai ethnic groups. The church and its wing-room, gate, cellar and grape yard were well preserved by local government. It was listed as the key national cultural protection relics by the State Council in 2006.

Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, south of Deqin County town 80 km away from Shengping Liangya the Lancang River, a mountain of water, beautiful quiet small village – in Mainz. “Benz”, meaning village, “, the Tibetan language. Jurisdiction of the first group of old village six villages, Gu Ming. Villagers mainly Tibetan, Naxi and Han nationalities of three. Here layers of terraced fields, tree-lined, Whenever the Spring and Autumn season, Huaguo Manshan, Zhengqidouyan and when the height of summer approaching, refreshing sense of Muyu, Qinrenxinpi. Mainz in the 2000 meters above sea level does not, the mild climate, the main production of rice, known as “Yumizhixiang” reputation .

Cizhong Catholic Church was first constructed at Cigu Village in 1867 (the 6th year of the Tongzhi Reign in the late Qing Dynasty), and was torched to ashes in 1905 during the Movement of Expelling Western Religions; it was reconstructed from 1909 to 1921, employing a great deal of labor, quantities of materials and huge amounts of money. Once the church was reconstructed, it became the major church of the Yunnan Parish;and a school and convent were built with it successively. Nowadays, its former houses and dormitories have been preserved and undergone renovations sponsored by the Government in 1989.

Cizhong Church complex is set on the mountainside with lush vegetation and companied by local residences, thus presenting peculiar views of culture and nature. The church complex is centering on the church while compactly fitted with gate, front and back yards, garden of flowers and vegetables, cellar, and vineyard etc, all of which contribute much to its grandiosity. Facing eastwards, Cizhong Catholic church is mainly constructed with brick and stone structures of French (Gothic) style; and its profile goes on a cross basis. At the entrance is a girdle-free stony staircase, 1.3 meters high; the arched porch is made of slab stones and is 6 meters long and 3 meters wide; above the porch is a three-storey belfry (watchtower), 20 meters high. The upper part of the belfry is a pavilion style with wooden pinnacles, employing 4 inner pillars and 12 outer pillars to support the ridge beams; and banisters are further built between the inner and outer pillars. When being in the watchtower, one gets the chance to have a bird-eye view of Cizhong Village and enjoy as well the sceneries in the mountains around.

The gate is composed of a couple of plank doors both of which are 2.72 meters high and 0.74 meter wide. The nave (or the chapel) is 22 meters long and 12.7 meters wide; there are 6 stone columns in two rows supporting the ridge; on the two sides of the navel, a vestry and bathroom are set respectively. The roof of the church is made from glazed tiles, so this grand building looks extremely seductive under the sunshine.

The local farmers of Cizhong have created layers of terraced fields. When it comes spring or autumn, assorted flowers and trees bowed with fruits are seen everywhere in the mountains; while in summer one can enjoy the green sceneries and the fresh air to his or her heart content.

The Village
While there are many other beautiful villages in the area, Cizhong stands out because of the lovely Catholic church that dominates the centre of the village and its surrounding vineyards. The church was built by French missionaries nearly a hundred years ago in a vaguely Gothic style, topped by a three- storey clock tower. Local influences such as the eaved roofs and glazed tiles that were incorporated into the structure, as well as the palm trees flanking its main entrance, lend it a distinctively exotic appearance. The views from the top of the tower over the village and the mountains are dazzling.

Inside, the church is quite austere, but for its ceiling which is painted in different shades of blue and decorated with a mixture of floral and Taoist motifs. Naive paintings showing the different stages of the Way of the Cross hang from the walls with Chinese characters underneath, telling the story. The church benches, which are raised no more than 20 centimetres from the floor, are uncomfortably low for Westerners, unused to squatting, and the sight of the prayer books in Chinese lining them seems incongruous to our eyes.

With its church dominating the village you might think that Cizhong is a uniquely Christian village. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The village is made up of Christians and Buddhists. It seems difficult to get a consensus as to whether there are more of one or the other, or whether the village population is evenly split. The family with whom we had lunch claimed that Cizhong was divided 50/50 and that included them as well, since the husband was Christian and his wife Buddhist. Relations between both communities were obviously good, evidenced by the fact that both groups share each others festivals.

For those who wish to explore further, there are numerous stone paths leading out of the village towards the mountains or to other villages that offer great hiking possibilities. On your way you’ll pass locals picking fruit or harvesting their crops, which at the moment are the main sources of livelihood for the villagers. Wine production and a budding tourist industry promise a more prosperous future for Cizhong’s residents.

The Wine
Apart from its natural beauty, Cizhong has an added bonus. Wine. And plenty of it. The missionaries originally planted the vines in order to have wine for Mass. The locals have kept up the tradition and many house in the village openly sell it. The actual wine produced and sold in Cizhong is certainly not your classic Burgundy or Bordeaux; the taste is somewhat sour, a bit like grape juice with alcohol, but definitely pleasant.
However, the areas wine potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by experts either. Recently one of Beijing’s largest wine companies, Jinliufu Wine C. Ltd., took over the Yunnan Shanglila Winery and invested large sums of money in developing what is now being marketed as Tibetan Dry Red Wine. According to the company, the wine making process both incorporates the brewing techniques brought in by the French missionaries and the traditional methods of the Tibetans. The result is quite a decent red wine. It is much more refined than the cruder version sold in the houses in Cizhong, and for body, aroma and taste it can compete with many cheap Spanish and French reds. If you are in Zhongdian, don’t miss the opportunity to try it with the locally produced yak cheese at the Shangri-la Cheese Shop.

Afterthought
Cizhong belongs to a region undergoing a huge transformation. The isolated valleys of the Langcang and Nujiang rivers are becoming ever more accessible and inevitable changes are on the way. The label of Shangrila, imposed on the whole Zhongdian area by the Chinese Tourist Board, is already drawing increasing numbers of tourists to this environmentally and culturally delicate region. While undoubtedly a haven for hikers, trekkers and anybody genuinely interested in exploring nature, a destination for busloads of camera toting tourists it is not!

On a different, but equally worrying note, it appears that some fundamentalist American Christian groups are looking to open up this area and use it in their – religious – battle against the Chinese Government. While Cizhong and the surrounding areas cannot stop the world from intruding on their isolation, they deserve better than to be used as a proxy in a crazy religious war.

Getting There
A three-hour flight to Kunming from Beijing, followed by a 20-hour bus trip (134 yuan) from Kunming to Zhongdian, the transfer station (buses depart Kunming Panjiawan, and Nanyao Bus Station, from 1pm to 6pm every day), and finally a 9-hour bus journey from Zhongdian to Deqin (23 yuan, 2 buses depart Zhongdian Bus Station from 7: 30am to 8: 30am). To Meili Snow Mountain and Cizhong church, renting cars is the only choice.

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