In Pictures: China's Yao community

Women from the Yao ethnic minority in China's south cut their dark hair only once in a lifetime.


Guangxi, China - About 400 ethnic Yao live in Huangluo village, a mountainous and remote place that was nearly unreachable until 2002 - when China's government launched a "tourism reform" programme.

Yao women are well known for their colourful traditional dresses decorated with bright embroidery. They use wooden looms to weave their clothes, and it can take up to three months to finish a traditional costume.

Growing their dark hair long is a tradition here, with some women's locks almost two metres in length. Yao girls cut their hair only once in their lives between the ages of 16 and 18. It's difficult to trace the origins of the practice, but women here say long hair is the symbol of long life and prosperity. Unmarried women can't show their hair in public, so they cover their heads with a black turban.

Pan Dexiu becomes shy when asked about her age, saying it is "inappropriate" to pose such questions to single girls. Pan hosts a daily show that Yao women perform for tourists at the village. Women sing traditional Yao songs and dance to the music that entertains as well as explains the history of their people. 

Today, there are about 2.6 million ethnic Yao living in China's southern provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou, and Guangdong. Their living conditions have changed greatly after the tourism reform brought development and attracted visitors from around the world.