Xuejiawan, a small village in northwestern China's Gansu province, used to be known as a hotbed of fortune-telling.
Near provincial capital Lanzhou, Xuejiawan, with a population of 600, has a history of fortune-telling that dates back many generations. The people of Xuejiawan were often compared to gipsies. They spent months on the road and making their living through prophesy based on the I Ching (Book of Changes) and other mystical texts.
"People moved from place to place and had no land to grow crops in the village, so every spring, they would take their donkeys, dogs and children and hit the road," said Gao Jinjiang, a villager in his 50s. "They only came back for winter," he added.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, villagers were allotted land and started to settle down.
"My grandfather was a famous mystic, and my father inherited his gifts," said Gao, who only tells fortunes part-time, though he is still among the most popular in the village, mostly due to his family background. He gets invitations from customers from Beijing and Shanghai. On a recent trip he save a couple from breaking up.
"I used the I Ching to determine their fortune, leading them to believe in unity and harmony," he said.
Fortune telling is by no means a stable source of income. "Sometimes I earn thousands of yuan from a happy customer, but occasionally, I have to pay for my own trip and earn nothing at all," he said.
Gao now spends most of his time growing garlic and cabbages, earning 20,000 yuan a year.
Now, only a few dozen elderly people have knowledge of the I Ching, and far fewer actually practice the craft. Young people have distanced themselves from complexities of the I Ching and found jobs outside the village.
Gao's son and daughter live in Lanzhou. His son works at an IT firm. "Fortune-telling? " Gao shook his head. "Young people are not interested at all."