The Derung are one of several ethnic groups in China with a population smaller than 10
,000. Living in high mountains in Southwest China's Yunnan Province along the border with Myanmar, they were the last minority to be linked to China's highway network after a road was completed to their township at the end of last year. As the township steps into modern civilization, its tradition and culture are fading quickly. To keep the past alive, the government and experts are busy collecting objects and artwork, recording customs and language, and encouraging residents to pass on their heritage.
As the border areas of Southwest China's Yunnan Province are disturbed by the sounds of gunfire and bombs from Myanmar's war-torn northern regions, an old town 450 kilometers to the north
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, the traditional home of a tiny ethnic minority, is peacefully embracing substantial reforms and the fruits of modernization.
Dulongjiang township, home to the country's Derung ethnic minority people, lies in the Derung River valley in Gongshan Derung and Nu Autonomous county in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province, along the border with Myanmar.
Long-term geographic isolation has kept the Derungs far from modern civilization. But at the end of last year, an 80-kilometer long road, including a 6.68-kilometer long tunnel through the mountains
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, was opened to traffic, helping make their enclave much more accessible to the outside world.
Previously, the town spent half of each year blockaded by snow. Even during the summer, a man had to walk for several days just to reach the nearest town of any size. The newly completed road, whose construction cost 1 billion yuan ($160 million) and lasted four years, has shortened the journey to three hours.
One of the county's poorest towns, the Derungs' average income per capita is only one -tenth the country's average.
Through the new road
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, countless trucks carrying workers, cement, steel bars and other materials, head for the town deep in mountains. The local government is working to help the town shake off poverty and build a tourism industry around the area's stunning scenery.