The villages of the Dong people are located among the hills on the Hunan-Guichou-Guangxi borders, China.
The Dong people live in villages of 20-30 households located near the rivers. There are also large villages of 700 households.
The Dong people grow rice, wheat, maize and sweet potatoes for consumption and cultivate cotton, tobacco, soybeans and rapeseed as cash crops. They also sell timber and other forest products.
Their houses, built of fir wood, are usually two or three stories high. Generally, people live on the upper floors, and the ground floor is reserved for domestic animals and firewood. In the old days, the houses of landlords and rich peasants were big and had engraved beams and painted columns.
Pathways inside a village are paved with gravel, and there are fishponds in most villages. Dong people are mainly farmers. They are good at growing rice, raising fish in their rice fields. For domestic animals they raise mainly hens and pigs. They live in huge forest, the forests have special spiritual importance for the Dong people but also provides with a source of income. The Dong people grow enormous numbers of timber trees which are logged and sent to markets. Tong-oil and lacquer and oil-tea camellia trees are also grown for their edible oil and varnish.
They are also famous for their unique carpentry skills which are displayed in beautiful wooden covered bridges. These bridges are called "Wind and Rain Bridges" because there are pavilions built on the bridge that provide shelter to people from the wind and rain. On a raining day, the pavilions on the bridge provide locals an excellent place to meet, relax, socialize, exchange ideas, and even amuse.
Wood, stone arches, stone slabs and bamboo are all used in erecting bridges. Roofed with tiles engraved with flowers, it has on its sides five large pagoda-like, multi-tier pavilions beautifully decorated with carvings. It is a covered walkway with railings and benches for people to sit on and enjoy the scenes around.
A specialty of these bridges is that no nails were ever used in their construction. Rather, the Dong carpenters used groove joints in structural members of the bridge to hold them together and transmit the load to the pier.
Other specific feature of Dong villages are the drum towers. Meetings and celebrations are held in front of these towers, and the Dong people gather there to dance and make merry on festivals. The multi-storey drum tower, the symbol of a Dong village, is usually built in the flat or high grounds of the village center. A square is built in front of the drum tower, and provides a venue for the entire village to come together for meetings, festival celebrations, and other public activities.
Songs and dances are important aspects of Dong community life. All the Dong people can sing their folk songs. The songs called the "Grand Songs" are most popular among the Dong folk songs, especially in the southern part of the Dong villages. The male voice is forceful and vigorous as against the sweet melody of the female voice. Each troupe is composed of members ranging from three to a dozen.
The Grand Songs has become famous throughout China for polyphonic folk songs. While some of these folk songs are accompanied by a string instrument called pipa ( a four strings China music instrument) , most are sung without any musical accompaniment. The Dong ethnic minority have no written language, so they use folk songs to narrate their daily life, express their feelings, and keep a record of their history. All of Dong culture is preserved in these magnificent folk songs.
In 2009, the UNESCO World Heritage Commission formally recognized the Grand Song of the Dong Ethnic Minority as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage.