In front of a giant wooden drum, Che Jie sprays wine and rice amid a group of mysterious dancers donning red, white and black clothes. He whispers some bizarre words and performs a special ritual as eerie, dramatic music featuring drums and gongs blasts out from behind a pillar covered by smiling oxheads.
It's a performance by the Jinuo ethnic people in the Jinuo Village Tourist Attraction in the lush green mountainous township of Jinuo Mountain in southwest China's Yunnan Province. The township oversees 46 villages, including Jinuo Village.
Che, 63, has played the big drum his entire life. The difference is, in the past, he performed the drum ritual to pay tribute to ancestors or when someone died in the village. These days, he plays during performances for tourists.
Local authorities are betting on the distinctive traditions of the Jinuo people to help power tourism, particularly the drum culture.
Last year, the tourist attraction drew 168,900 visitors. In the first five months of this year, the number of tourists has already exceeded 100,000, according to official figures.
According to local legends, the Jinuo people's creator, a goddess, made a boy and a girl and put them inside a big drum. The two floated on water for seven days, until they settled. They got married and gave birth to human beings.
The drums, usually made of wood and cowhide, must be suspended in the air instead of on the floor, as a way of showing respect to the goddess, Che said.
In 2008, the Jinuo drum dance was listed as a national-level intangible cultural heritage, significantly lifting its profile around the country.
In recent years, as the rural vitalization strategy gains steam, rural tourism is booming in China's countryside. The beautiful scenery and local delicacies, coupled with the mysterious drum culture, are luring a huge number of stressed-out urbanites. Improved infrastructure, like newly built roads, contributed to the tourism boom.
In the Jinuo Village Tourist Attraction area, the drum ritual is performed almost every day, with at least 30 dancers performing in synch. All of them are Jinuo people.
Che came to perform for the tourist attraction in 2016. He currently rakes in about 3,000 yuan (434 U.S. dollars) a month from the performances.
As more visitors come, many of the Jinuo people have jumped on the bandwagon of rural tourism, and have begun to provide unique Jinuo specialties to visitors in the Jinuo Village tourist attraction, where all villagers are eligible to do business.
Che hopes that while the drum culture boosts local tourism business, the Jinuo drum dance will be appreciated more in society.