For generations, residents in a cluster of villages in Hebei province had been government officials, until their privileges were stripped by the Xinhai Revolution, which marked its centennial on Monday.
Yet in the last 100 years, these residents persisted in at least one ancient duty -- guarding the imperial mausoleum of China's last dynasty.
In the county of Yixian, descendants of mausoleum guardians continue to live in villages near the Qingxi Mausoleum (western mausoleum of the Qing Dynasty), where four emperors were buried.
Almost every guardian traces their ancestry back to the elite clans of Qing Dynasty, while some are relatives of the Qing Monarchy. Although the Xinhai Revolution toppled the Qing Dynasty, the mission of guarding mausoleum never ceased.
Na Fengying is a modern mausoleum guardian. Working in the administrative office of the Qingxi Mausoleum, she spent almost 20 years studying the history of the mausoleum and exploring methods of antique protection. She has published several books about her research and the Qingxi Mausoleum.
For those who don't work in the mausoleum's administrative office, their life is still closely connected to it.
Since guardians preserved the imperial mausoleum for centuries, they mastered the art of color decoration and passed the skills down generation to generation, said Guan Yudong, a senior official in the village of Fenghuangtai. Now over one fifth of the people in his village work on color decoration for ancient architecture, he said.
The Qingxi Mausoleum and the well-kept Manchu culture began to attract tourists to the village in recent years. More than 20 households run hostels or inns and Manchu cuisine restaurants, which have created new income for the village, Guan said.
But some guardian descendants still left the village despite the benefits brought by the mausoleum.
Na Fengying expressed her worries that younger generations have become less committed to the mausoleum and prefer to live a different life. Young people in rural areas would like to study and work in richer urban areas where opportunities abound.
But Na said the village is attempting to educate and stir interest in the mausoleum and its history. The village arranges training on ancestors' history and etiquette and requires all children in the village to participate during the Spring Festival holiday, Na said.