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Another patient woke up with a stabbing pain in her throat. The herbalist told her she was inhabited by the ghost of a man who had been hanged. A woman whose body hurt all over was inhabited by an ancestor who was unhappy that he never had a tombstone these past 200 years. The herbalist soothed his frightened patients. “Prepare the anyu and wine. I’ll come tonight, and the ghost will be gone.” For a baby with diarrhea caused by drinking unboiled water, he headed to a hillock, where he plucked various leaves and long grasses to make a potion.

He charged nothing for his healing services. But his grateful patients gave small gifts, an egg, some rice. He argued with one woman who tried to give him two kwai, about 20 cents, for a rice fortune that would tell her future. “It’s too much,” he said, and pushed the money back.

Suddenly a young man ran in. His mother had grown worse, and the pigs had also stopped eating. As the Chief Feng Shui Master walked calmly to the patient’s home, I ran, struggling to keep up. It was as if he was flying without effort, and I was crawling on stiff knees.

“It’s superstition,” said a Singing Teacher in his 30s. “It’s just the old people who believe in ghosts.”

The old people still exert considerable influence in the Dimen world. The za, or elder women, strap their infant grandchildren to their backs and care for them all day, until the parents return from work. If the parents work in other cities, the za raise them from birth and immerse them in Dong ways. They sing songs to them about table manners and field chores, about the moral good of selflessness, and the moral evil of greed. They wash their hair in sour soup. They take them to the clinic, where they are put on IV antibiotic drips for whatever ails them, be it stomachache or runny nose. And if that doesn’t cure them, the za go to the Feng Shui Master to learn if they are inhabited by ghosts.

Eleven Village Elders, men over the age of 60, apply reason and reasonability in overseeing social welfare and civil order according to the Dong code of conduct. The oldest of the elders has seen radical changes over the years: from when the communists first came to Guizhou through the period of the Cultural Revolution when the educated youth came to be reeducated as farmers. Seven years ago the first television with a choice of 20 channels made its debut. In other villages satellite dishes sprouted on rooftops like spores after rain. The Village Elders in Dimen found a more sophisticated solution: one large dish shared by a network.

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