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The Zhuang have their own indigenous language that used to be written with logograms based on Chinese characters for over a thousand years. However, now it is officially written in Roman letters.
Most Zhuang follow a traditional animist/ancestor-oriented religion, however, there are a number of Buddhists, Daoists, Christians, and Muslims in Guangxi as well.
The Zhuang are of Tai origin, a people who migrated south from central China roughly 5000 years ago. The Zhuang settled in what is now Guangxi while other Tai peoples moved to Yunnan. It is suggested the Tai people migrated for food purposes and as the culture evolved they developed a unique irrigation system which was designed for growing rice. Due to the relative infertility of the soil in Central China, the Tai sought out more fertile plains. However, it is highly probable that struggles with emerging Chinese states that rapidly gained power with Mesolithic (Bronze Age) weapons had something to do with their migratory patterns. Long struggles with China around 1100 AD led the Tai people to migrate further south to create the Lao, Thai and Shan peoples of Indochina.
As the Zhuang are mostly comprise of farmers, rice and corn tend to constitute their staple food. Glutinous rice is particularly eaten in the south of Guangxi.
In today's society most of the Zhuang people generally live in modern houses similar to the Hans. The traditional styles however still prevail in many areas of Guangxi. For example the traditional houses in the north of the province have two floors. The first floor is used for living in and the ground floor is where animals such as pigs and chickens are kept. This way any leftovers from meals can be thrown through a trap door to the animals below! Other traditional styles such as those in Yangshuo County are made from mud bricks wood and bamboo and the animals have barns outside.
The clothing tradition has been in steep decline for some time and the Zhuang mostly wear modern clothes that tend to be in China's popular culture. However, for traditional occasions they often wear their traditional dress which includes collarless, embroidered and trimmed jackets buttoned to the left together with baggy trousers, embroidered belts and shoes and pleated skirts for the women. The Zhuang also wear big silver jewellery around their neck, ankles and wrists.
The Zhuang people like to sing, dance and celebrate. They especially use songs as a means to tell their loved ones about their feelings. Typical Zhuang musical instruments include Suona (Chinese cornet), bronze drum, cymbal, gong, sheng (Chinese wind pipe), xiao (vertical bamboo flute), di (Chinese flute) and huqin (a stringed instrument) made of horse bones. The Zhuang Opera is famous and originated from religious rites in the Tang Dynasty. Zhuang dances are playful and always tell a story that is lighthearted and humorous.
The Zhuang have a very distinct custom regarding marriage. On their wedding day the bride is lead by her girlfriends to the husband's house where they will celebrate the wedding. After that she returns back home to live with her parents for the next few years and only visits her husband occasionally on holidays or farming seasons.
The Devil Festival, July 14th of lunar calendar
A significant occasion second only in importance to the Spring Festival. On this day families usually prepare chicken, duck and five-colored glutinous rice to be offered as sacrifices to ancestors and ghosts.
The Cattle Soul Festival
This usually follows the spring ploughing, when every family would carry a basketful of steamed five-colored glutinous rice and a bundle of fresh grass to the cattle pen. After a brief rite, they feed the cattle with the grass and half of the rice. They believe that the cattle have lost their souls because of the whipping during the spring ploughing and that the ritual will call back the lost souls.
The Feasting Festival
This festival is celebrated only by people who live near the Sino-Vietnamese border. Legend has it that a group of Zhuang soldiers, having repulsed the French invaders in the late 19th century, returned in late January and missed the Spring Festival. To pay tribute to them and celebrate the victory, their neighbors prepared a sumptuous feast for them which is celebrated to this day.
The Yaos, with a population of 2,637,421, live in mountain communities scattered over 130 counties in five south China provinces and one autonomous region. About 70 per cent of them live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the rest in Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou and Jiangxi provinces. Historically, the Yaos have had at least 30 names based on their ways of production, lifestyles, dresses and adornments. The name "Yao" was officially adopted after the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. Half of the Yaos speak the Yao language belonging to the Chinese-Tibetan language family, others use Miao or Dong languages. As a result of close contacts with the Hans and Zhuangs, many Yaos also have learned to speak Chinese or Zhuang language.
Before 1949, the Yaos did not have a written language. Ancient Yaos kept records of important affairs by carving notches on wood or bamboo slips. Later they used Chinese characters. Hand-written copies of words of songs are on display in the Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County in Guangxi. They are believed to be relics of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Ancient stone tablets engraved with Chinese characters can be found in a lot of Yao communities.
Most Yaos live in beautiful, humid mountain valleys densely covered with pines, firs, Chinese firs, Chinese cinnamons, tung oil trees, bamboos and tea bushes. The thickly forested Jianghua Yao Autonomous County in Hunan is renowned as the "home of Chinese firs." The places inhabited by the Yaos also abound in indigo, edible funguses, bamboo shoots, sweet grass, mushrooms, honey, dye yam, jute and medical herbs. The forests are teeming with wild animals such as boars, bears, monkeys, muntjacs and masked civets. Rich as they are in natural resources, the Yao mountain areas are ideal for developing a diversified economy.
Called the "savage Wuling tribes" some 2,000 years ago, the Yao ancestors lived around Changsha, capital of today's Hunan Province. Two or three centuries later, they were renamed the "Moyao." One of China's foremost ancient poets, Du Fu (712-770), once wrote: "The Moyaos shoot wild geese; with bows made from mulberry trees."
As time went on, historical accounts about the Yaos increased, showing growing ties between the Yao and the Han people. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), agriculture and handicrafts developed considerably in the Yao areas, such that forged iron knives, indigo-dyed cloth and crossbow weaving machines became reputed Yao products. At that time, the Yaos in Hunan were raising cattle and using iron farm tools on fields rented from Han landlords.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), farm cattle and iron tools spread among the Yaos in Guangxi and Guangdong, who developed paddy fields and planted different kinds of crops on hillsides. They dug ditches and built troughs to draw water from springs for daily use and irrigation. Sideline occupations such as hunting, collecting medical herbs, making charcoal and weaving were pursued side by side with agriculture. Before the founding of the People's Republic, the Yao economy could be divided into three types: The first and most common type, with agriculture as the base and forestry and other sideline occupations affiliated, was concentrated in places blessed with fine natural conditions and the greatest influence of the Hans. Here farming methods and social relations very much resembled those of the Han and Zhuang ethnic groups.
The second type was centered on forestry, with agriculture as a sideline. A few landlords monopolized all the forests and hillside fields, while the foresters and farmers had to pay taxes and rents no matter whether they went ploughing, hunting or fishing, built their houses, buried their dead, collected wild fruits and herbs, drank from mountain streams or even walked on the mountains. When the poor opened up wasteland, for instance, they had to plant saplings between their crops. As soon as the saplings grew into trees, they were paid to the landlords as rent. These exactions caused many Yaos to be continually wandering from place to place.
The third type, engaged in by a tiny percentage of the Yao population, was the primitive "slash-and-burn" cultivation. Although most land was owned by Han and Zhuang landlords, the Yao farmers had some of their own. In such cases, the land belonged to ancient communes, each formed by less than 20 families descended from the same ancestor. The families in a commune worked together and shared the products equally.
The Yaos practiced an interesting form of primitive cooperation called "singing-while-digging." This can still be seen in Guangxi today. At times of spring ploughing, 20 to 30 households work together for one household after another until all their fields are ploughed and sown. While the group is working, a young man stands out in the fields, beating a drum and leading the singing. Everyone sings after him.
Today hunting remains an important part of Yao life. On the one hand, it provides them with a greater variety of food; on the other, it prevents their crops and forests from being damaged by too many wild animals. After hunting, the bag is divided equally among the hunters. Sometimes portions are given to the children carried on the elders' backs, but the hunter who caught the animal is awarded a double portion. Sometimes, part of the bag is put aside for the aged people back in the villages.
For nearly 1,000 years before this century, most Yaos were ruled by hereditary headmen. The headmen obeyed the central government, which was always dominated by the Han or other large ethnic groups. After the Kuomintang took power early in this century, it pursued a system similar to the previous one, which meant rule through puppet Yao headmen and "divide and rule." These policies incited endless conflicts among the Yaos and caused them a great deal of hardship. It was not until the birth of New China that the Yaos realized equality with other ethnic groups as well as among themselves.
Customs and Habits
The Yaos have such unique life styles that the various communities are quite different from each other. According to the Book of the Later Han Dynasty (25-220), the ancient Yaos "liked five-colored clothes." Later historical records said that the Yaos were "barefoot and colorfully dressed."
In modern times, the Yao costumes maintain their diversity. Men wear jackets buttond in the middle or to the left, and usually belted. Some men like trousers long enough to touch their insteps; some prefer shorts akin to knee breechs. Men's dress is mainly in blue or black. However, in places such as Nandan County in Guangxi, most men wear white knee-length knickerbockers. Men in Liannan County, Guangdong Province, mostly curl their long hair into a bun, which they wrap with a piece of red cloth and top with several pheasant feathers. Women's dress varies more. Some Yao women fancy short collarless jackets, cloth belts and skirts either long or short; some choose knee-length jackets buttoned in the middle, belts with both ends drooping and either long or short slacks; some have their collars, sleeves and trouser legs embroidered with beautiful patterns. In addition to the silver medals decorating their jackets, many Yao women wear silver bracelets, earrings, necklets and hairpins.
Rice, corn, sweet potatoes and taros make up their staple food. Common vegetables include peppers, pumpkins and soybeans. Alcoholic drinks and tobacco are quite popular. In northern Guangxi, a daily necessity is "oily tea." The tealeaves are fried in oil, then boiled into a thick, salty soup and mixed with puffed rice or soybeans. The oily tea serves as lunch on some occasions. Another favorite dish is "pickled birds." The cleaned birds are blended with salt and rice flour, then sealed into airtight pots. Beef, mutton and other meat are also pickled this way and considered a banquet delicacy. Many Yaos think it taboo to eat dog meat. If they do eat it, they do the cooking outside the house.
A typical Yao house is a rectangular wood-and-bamboo structure with usually three rooms -- the sitting room in the middle, the bedrooms on both sides. A cooking stove is set in a corner of each bedroom. Some hillside houses are two-storied, the upper story being the sitting room and bedrooms, the lower story stables. For those families who have a bathroom built next to the house, a bath in the evening is an everyday must, even in severe winters.
The Yaos have intriguing marriage customs. With antiphonal singing as a major means of courting, youngsters choose lovers by themselves and get married with the consent of the parents on both sides. However, the bridegroom's family used to have to pay a sizeable amount of silver dollars and pork as betrothal gifts to the bride's family. Some men who could not afford the gifts had to live and work in the bride's families and were often looked down upon.
In old Yao families, the mother's brothers had a decisive say in crucial family matters and enjoyed lots of other privileges. In several counties in Guangxi, for example, the daughters of the father's sisters were obliged to marry the sons of the mother's brothers. If other marriage partners were proposed the betrothal gifts had to be paid to the mother's brothers. This, perhaps, was a remnant of matrilineal society.
Festivals take place one after another in the Yao communities, at a rate of about once a month. Although festive customs alter from place to place, there are common celebrations such as the Spring Festival, the Land God Festival, the Pure Brightness Festival, "Danu" Festival and "Shuawang" Festival. The "Danu" Festival, celebrated in the Yao Autonomous County of Duan in Guangxi, is said to commemorate ancient battles. The "Shuawang" Festival, held every three or five years in the tenth month by the lunar calendar, provides the young people with a golden opportunity for courtship.
The Yaos worshipped a plethora of gods, and their ancestors. Their belief in "Panhu," the dog spirit, revealed a vestige of totemism. Yao communities used to hold lavish rites every few years to chant scriptures and offer sacrifices to their ancestors and gods. In some communities, a solemn ceremony was performed when a boy entered manhood. Legend has it that at the ceremony he had to jump from a three-meter-high platform, climb a pole tied with sharp knives, walk on hot bricks and dip a bare hand into boiling oil. Only after going through these tests could he get married and take part in formal social activities.
With growing scientific and cultural knowledge, the Yaos have, on their own initiative, discarded irrational customs and habits during recent decades, while preserving healthy ones.
The Yaos cherish a magnificent oral literary tradition. As mentioned above, singing forms an indispensable part of their life. When a group of people are opening up wasteland, one or two selected persons stand aside, beating drums and singing to enliven the work. Young males and females often sing in antiphonal tones all through the night. Extremely rich in content, some of the folk songs are beautiful love songs, others recount the history of the Yao people, add to the joyous atmosphere at weddings, synchronize working movements, tell legends about the creation of heaven and the earth, ask meaningful questions with each other or tell humorous stories. In many of them, the words have been passed down from generation to generation.
Besides drums, gongs and the suona horn (a woodwind instrument), the long waist drum, another traditional musical instrument, is unique to the Yaos. It was said to have been popular early in the Song Dynasty (1127-1279). The revived waist drum dance has been frequently performed both in China and abroad since the 1950s.
The Yaos are expert weavers, dyers and embroiderers. In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.220), they wove with fabrics made from tree bark and dyed it with grass seeds. In the Song Dynasty, they developed delicate designs dyed on white cloth with indigo and beeswax. The product became famous all over the country later.
The Yaos have an age-old revolutionary tradition. As early as the Han Dynasty, they fought feudal imperial oppression. During the Tang and Song dynasties, they waged more rebellions against their Han rulers. Still later, in the 15 years from 1316 to 1331, they launched more than 40 uprisings. The largest revolt lasted for a century from 1371. The frightened Ming (1368-1644) emperors had to send three huge armies to conquer the rebels. The famous Taiping Rebellion, led by Hong Xiuquan in the 1850s against the Qing (1644-1911) feudal bureaucrats, received effective support from the Yaos. Many Yao people joined the Taiping army and were known for their bravery. The Yaos played an active role in China's new democratic revolution which finally led to the founding of the People's Republic. The Yao Autonomous County of Bama in Guangxi today used to be the base area of the 7th Red Army commanded by Deng Xiaoping in the 1930s. Democratic reforms were carried out after 1949 according to the different characteristics of the three types of Yao economy. The reforms abolished the feudal exploitation system and enhanced the progress of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and other forms of production.
Meanwhile, autonomous localities were gradually formed for the Yaos. In August 1951, when a central government delegation visited Guangxi, it helped the local government set up Longsheng Autonomous County, the first one for the Yaos. From 1952 to 1963, eight Yao autonomous counties appeared, and over 200 autonomous townships covered smaller Yao communities. The policy of regional autonomy enabled the Yaos to be their own masters, ending the history of discrimination and starting an era of national equality and unity. Local autonomous governments have made successful efforts to improve the people's lives. The Yao Autonomous County of Duan in Guangxi is a fine example. There the Yaos live in karst valleys.
The soil is stony, erosive and dry. An old saying went that "the mountains start burning after three fine days; the valleys get flooded after a heavy rain." Now the saying is nothing more than history, as the government has helped remove the jeopardy of droughts and floods by building tunnels, dams and reservoirs. Before 1949, the Yao area only had a few handicraft workshops. But now, there are many medium- and small-sized power plants and factories making farm machines, processing timber, and making chemicals and cement. In the early 1950s, few Yao people had any education, but today, schools can be found in all villages. Almost every child of school age gets elementary and secondary education. Some elite students go on to colleges. In the old days, the Yaos never knew such a thing as a hospital. As a result, pestilence haunted the region. Now, government-trained Yao doctors and nurses work in hospitals or clinics in every Yao county, township and village. Epidemics such as smallpox and cholera have been eliminated. With the people's health well protected, the Yao population has doubled since the founding of the People's Republic.
The Maonan ethnic minority has a population of 107,166, living in the northern part of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
The Maonan communities are located in sub-tropical areas characterized by a mild climate and beautiful scenery, with stony hills jutting up here and there, among which small patches of flatland are scattered. There are many small streams which are used to irrigate paddy rice fields. Drought-resistant crops are grown in the Dashi Mountain area where water is scarce. In addition to paddy rice, agricultural crops include maize, wheat, Chinese sorghum, sweet potatoes, soybean, cotton and tobacco. Special local products include camphor, palm fiber and musk.
The area abounds in mineral resources such as iron, manganese, stibium and mercury. The Maonans are experts in raising beef cattle, which are marketed in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. People surnamed Tan take up 80 per cent of the population. Legend has it that their ancestors earlier lived in Hunan Province, then emigrated to Guangxi and multiplied by marrying the local women who spoke the Maonan tongue. There are other Maonans surnamed Lu, Meng, Wei and Yan, whose ancestral homes are said to have been in Shandong and Fujian provinces.
The Maonan language belongs to the Dong-Shui branch of the Zhuang-Dong language group of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. Almost all the Maonans know both the Han and the Zhuang languages because of long contact with those people.
Long subjected to the oppression of the ruling class, the Maonan areas developed very slowly. At the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Maonans still used wooden hoes and ploughs. Various iron tools were in use by the time of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when land was gradually concentrated and the division of classes became distinct. There began to appear farm laborers who did not own an inch of land, poor peasants who had a small amount of land, self-sufficient middle peasants, and landlords and rich peasants who owned large amounts. The landlords and rich peasants cruelly exploited farm laborers and poor peasants by means of land rent and usury. There were also slave girls either bought by the landlords or forced by unpaid debts to serve landlords all their lives.
The Maonan people are chiefly engaged in agriculture, but also have sidelines which yield more than half their total income, such as weaving bambooware, raising beef cattle, making wooden articles and casting iron. Before liberation, their major farm tools were ox-pulled ploughshares, iron hoes, foot-pedaled ploughs, scrapers and scythes. Backward tools and farming techniques kept the agricultural production at a very low level for a long time.
The land ownership in the Maonan areas was highly concentrated before 1949. In Yuhuan Township, Huanjiang County, the landlords and rich peasants -- some 3.8 per cent of the township population -- occupied 36.1 per cent of the total arable land; whereas the farm laborers and poor peasants who took up 53.4 per cent of the population only owned 18.7 per cent of the land. Land rent was mostly paid in kind at an exploitative rate.
Customs and Culture
The Maonans with the same surnames and from the same clans usually live together in small villages with only a few households. The biggest village consists of not more than 100 households. Their houses and clothes are basically identical to those of their Han and Zhuang neighbors. Houses have two stories, with mud walls and tile roofs.
The second floor is used as living quarters and the ground floor for livestock. The major staples of the Maonans are rice and maize, and then millet, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. They all enjoy tobacco, alcohol, tea and hot peppers. They pick out big sweet potatoes with no injuries, dry them in the sun and leave them in the open at night to be drenched by dew. Twenty or 30 days later, potatoes are put into cellars or above the cooking stoves. After another 20 days or so, they are steamed and enjoyed as a delicacy.
The Maonan families are generally small and monogamous. In the past, marriages were all decided and arranged by the parents. There were customs like "not settling in the home of the husband," and a younger brother would marry the deceased elder brother's wife or vice versa. The remarriage of widows was greatly restricted. When a person died, a Taoist priest would be invited to recite scriptures and join in the funeral procession, the son of the dead person would "buy water" at a river or in a well to wash the body. Before the burial, chicken blood was sprayed into the grave to bless the spirit of the deceased and protect his or her offspring.
The Maonans celebrate the Spring Festival, Zhongyuan Festival and Pure Brightness Day, similar to those of their Han and Zhuang neighbors. However, the Fenglong Festival is unique to the Maonans and is celebrated by offering sacrifices to God and their ancestors to pray for a good harvest. Married daughters and relatives living in other places return to their home villages for the celebration. A special treat is five-colored rice. In the past, there were many taboos, such as suspending productive labor on festivals, which hindered the development of production. After 1949, weddings and funerals were simplified, and some superstitious activities were reformed.
Singing is a popular recreational activity of the Maonans. In addition, they also enjoy "Maonan opera," based on folklore and legends and portraying love affairs, anti-feudal struggles, joys and sorrows, partings and reunions, and the lofty ideals of the people.
Maonan carving and weaving have unique styles. The former comprises wood and stone varieties, delicate and vivid in imagery. The latter is famous for flowery bamboo hats and bamboo mattresses.
The Maonans are polite and hospitable, calling each other brothers and sisters when they meet. When guests visit, they entertain them with oranges and sweet potatoes. Guests, important or not, are always solicitously invited to dine with their hosts.
With a population of 8,940,116, the Miao people form one of the largest ethnic minorities in southwest China. They are mainly distributed across Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan and Sichuan provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and a small number live on Hainan Island in Guangdong Province and in southwest Hubei Province. Most of them live in tightly-knit communities, with a few living in areas inhabited by several other ethnic groups.
On the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau and in some remote mountainous areas, Miao villages are comprised of a few families, and are scattered on mountain slopes and plains with easy access to transport links.
Much of the Miao area is hilly or mountainous, and is drained by several big rivers. The weather is mild with a generous rainfall, and the area is rich in natural resources. Major crops include paddy rice, maize, potatoes, Chinese sorghum, beans, rape, peanuts, tobacco, ramie, sugar cane, cotton, oil-tea camellia and tung tree. Hainan Island is abundant in tropical fruits.
As early as the Qin and Han dynasties 2,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Miao people lived in the western part of present-day Hunan and the eastern part of present-day Guizhou. They were referred to as the Miaos in Chinese documents of the Tang and Song period (A.D. 618-1279).
In the third century A.D., the ancestors of the Miaos went west to present-day northwest Guizhou and south Sichuan along the Wujiang River. In the fifth century, some Miao groups moved to east Sichuan and west Guizhou. In the ninth century, some were taken to Yunnan as captives. In the 16th century, some Miaos settled on Hainan Island. As a result of these large-scale migrations over many centuries the Miaos became widely dispersed. Such a wide distribution and the influence of different environments has resulted in marked differences in dialect, names and clothes. Some Miao people from different areas have great difficulty in communicating with each other. Their art and festivals also differ between areas.
The Miao language belongs to the Miao-Yao branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. It has three main dialects in China -- one based in west Hunan, one in east Guizhou and the other in Sichuan, Yunnan and part of Guizhou. In some places, people who call themselves Miao use the languages of other ethnic groups. In Chengbu and Suining in Hunan, Longsheng and Ziyuan in Guangxi and Jinping in Guizhou, about 100,000 Miao people speak a Chinese dialect. In Sangjiang in Guangxi, over 30,000 Miaos speak the Dong language, and on Hainan Island, more than 100,000 people speak the language of the Yaos. Due to their centuries of contacts with the Hans, many Miaos can also speak Chinese.
Their clothing has distinctive features which vary from place to place. In northwest Guizhou and northeast Yunnan, Miao men usually wear linen jackets with colorful designs, and drape woolen blankets with geometric patterns over their shoulders. In other areas, men wear short jackets buttoned down the front or to the left, long trousers with wide belts and long black scarves. In winter, men usually wear extra cloth leggings known as puttees. Women's clothing varies even from village to village. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, women wear jackets buttoned on the right and trousers, with decorations embroidered on collars, sleeves and trouser legs. In other areas, women wear high-collared short jackets and full- or half-length pleated skirts. They also wear various kinds of silver jewelry on festive occasions.
In southeast Guizhou, west Hunan, Rongshui in Guangxi and on Hainan Island, the Miaos eat rice, maize, sweet potatoes and millet as staple foods. In northwest Guizhou, Sichuan and northeast Yunnan, they mainly eat maize, potatoes, buckwheat and oats. In southeast Guizhou, Miao cooks make a sour mixture of glutinous rice and vegetables by packing them tightly into jars for up to two months. Before 1949, for lack of salt, many Miao people had to flavor their food with pepper or a sour taste. Many even had to live on wild vegetables. Because timber resources are plentiful in most Miao areas, houses are usually built of wood, and roofed with fir bark or tiles or are thatched. In central and western Guizhou, houses are roofed with stone slabs.
Houses vary greatly in style. In mountainous areas, they are usually built on slopes and raised on stilts. Animals are kept under the stilted floors. In the Zhaotong area in Yunnan and on Hainan Island, most Miaos live in thatched huts or "branch houses," made of woven branches and twigs or bamboo strips plastered with mud. The typical Miao family is small and monogamous. Aged parents are usually supported by their youngest son. In some areas, a son's name is followed by his father's, but generally a Miao person uses only his or her own name. Influenced by the Han feudal patriarchal clan system, the Miaos made efforts to maintain their family pedigrees, built ancestral halls and adopted words in their names to indicate their position in the family hierarchy.
Marriages are usually arranged by parents, but unmarried young men and women have the freedom to court. Mass courting occasions sometimes take place during holidays, when young women from a host village gather to sing antiphonal love songs with young men from neighboring villages. If a couple are attracted to each other, they exchange love tokens. But they must still win the approval of their parents before they can marry. In Chuxiong, Yunnan Province, the practice of setting up public courting houses for unmarried men and women prevailed until a few decades ago. After a day's work, they would visit these houses to sing, dance and court with their partners. The Miaos there also practiced the custom of "kidnapping brides." If the kidnapped girl consented to an offer of marriage, a grand wedding feast was held.
If she did not, she was free to go. Different Miao communities celebrate different festivals. Even the same festivals may fall on different dates. In southeast Guizhou and Rongshui County in Guangxi, the Miao New Year festival is celebrated on "Rabbit Day" or "Ox Day" on the lunar calendar. The festivities include beating drums, dancing to the music of a lusheng (a wind instrument), horse racing and bull-fighting. In counties near Guiyang, people dressed in their holiday best gather at the city's largest fountain on April 8 of the lunar year to play lusheng and flute and sing of the legendary hero, Yanu.
In many areas, the Miaos have Dragon Boat festivals and Flower Mountain festivals (May 5), Tasting New Rice festivals (between June and July), Pure Brightness festivals and the Beginning of Autumn festivals. In Yunnan, "Stepping over Flower Mountains" is a popular festivity for the Miaos. Childless couples use the occasion to repeat vows to the god of fertility. They provide wine for young people, who sing and dance under a pine tree, on which hangs a bottle of wine. Young men and women may fall in love on this occasion, and this, it is hoped, will help bring children to the childless couples.
The Miaos used to believe in many gods, and some of their superstitious rituals were very expensive. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, for instance, prayers for children or for the cure of an illness were accompanied by the slaughter of two grown oxen as sacrifices. Feasts would then be held for all the relatives for three to five days.
The Miao have a highly diversified culture developed from a common root. They are fond of singing and dancing, and have a highly-developed folk literature. Their songs, which do not rhyme and vary greatly in length from a few lines to more than 15,000, are easy to understand and are very popular among the Miaos.
The lusheng is their favorite musical instrument. In addition, flutes, copper drum, mouth organs, the xiao (a vertical bamboo flute) and the suona horn are also very popular. Popular dances include the lusheng dance, drum dance and bench dance.
The Miaos create a variety of colorful arts and crafts, including cross-stitch work, embroidery, weaving, batik, and paper-cuts. Their batik technique dates back 1,000 years. A pattern is first drawn on white cloth with a knife dipped in hot wax. Then the cloth is boiled in dye. The wax melts to leave a white pattern on a blue background. In recent years, improved technology has made it possible to print more colorful designs, and many Miao handicrafts are now exported.
Miao areas differ in their scale of economic and educational development. Early Miao society went through a long primitive stage in which there were neither classes nor exploitation. Totem worship survived among Miao ancestors until the Jin Dynasty 1,600 years ago. By the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220), the ethnic minorities in the Wuxi area had begun farming, and had learned to weave with bark and dye with grass seeds, and trade on a barter basis had emerged. But productivity was still very low and tribal leaders and the common people remained equal in status.
Primitive Miao society changed rapidly between the third and tenth centuries A.D. Communal clans linked by family relationships evolved into communal villages formed of different regions. Vestiges of the communal village remained in the Miao's political and economic organizations until liberation in 1949. Organizations known as Men Kuan in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), and as Zai Kuan during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), were formed between several neighboring villages. Kuan leaders were elected by its members, who met regularly. Rules and regulations were formulated by all members to protect private property and maintain order. Anyone who violated the rules would be fined, expelled from the community or even executed. All villages in the same Kuan were dutybound to support one another, or else were punished according to the relevant rule. By the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Miaos had divided into different social classes. Communal leaders had authority over land, and frequent contacts with the Hans and the impact of their feudal economy gave impetus to the development of the Miao feudal-lord economy. The feudal lords began to call themselves "officials," and called serfs under their rule "field people."
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), some upper class Miaos were appointed prefectural governors by the imperial court, thus providing a political guarantee for the growth of the feudal economy. Under the rule of feudal lords, the ordinary people paid their rent in the form of unpaid service. The lords had supreme authority over them, and could punish them and bring them to trial at will. If feuds broke out between lords, the "field people" had to fight the battles.
By this time, agriculture and handicrafts had been further developed. Grain was traded for salt between prefectures, and Xi cloth was sent as a tribute to the imperial court. High-quality iron swords, armor and crossbows came into use. By the end of the Song Dynasty, the Miaos in west Hunan had mastered the technique of iron mining and smelting. Textiles, notably batik, also flourished. Regular trade sprung up between the Miaos and Hans.
The Miao feudal-lord economy reached its peak and began to decline during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). A landlord economy had taken shape and was in its early stage of development. In 1502, the Ming Court began to abolish the rule of Miao feudal lords, and appointed officials who were subject to recall. During the early years of the Qing Dynasty, these measures were applied to many Miao areas, contributing a great deal to the disintegration of the feudal-lord system and the growth of a landlord economy. In west Guizhou and northwest Yunnan, however, some lords still retained their power, and the feudal-lord economy continued to exist there until the end of the Qing Dynasty.
After 1951, a number of Miao autonomous divisions were established in Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong, and Hunan. Most of these autonomous divisions have taken the form of multiethnic autonomy, as the Miaos have for a long time lived harmoniously with the Tujia, Bouyei, Dong, Zhuang, Li and Han peoples. In some Miao areas, before autonomous authorities were established, priority was given to such things as the election of delegates to the People's congress and the training and appointment of minority administrative staff. Now a large number of Miao people have been promoted to leading posts. In Northwest Guizhou Autonomous Prefecture alone, Miaos account for 68 per cent of the district and township officials.
Before 1949, textiles, iron forging, carpentry, masonry, pottery, alkali making and oil pressing were the only industries in the area. After the birth of the People's Republic of China, many factories and hydroelectric stations were built. Now electricity is widely used for lighting, irrigation and food processing. In mountainous areas, the Miaos have built reservoirs, dug canals and created new farmland. They have also developed a diversified economy according to local conditions. As a result, grain production as well as oil, fiber and starch crops and medicinal herbs have all flourished. This has helped to open up new sources of raw materials and supplies for industry and commerce, and improved the Miao people's living standards. Sheep raising has a long history in Weining Autonomous County, Guizhou, where 265,000 hectares of grassland and trees provide an ideal grazing area. Herds have grown rapidly as a result of the introduction of improved breeds and better veterinary services.
The construction of railways between Guiyang and Kunming, and between Hunan and Guizhou has boosted the development of the Miao areas along the routes. Before 1949, more than half the counties in Qiandongnan Autonomous Prefecture had no bus services.
Cultural, educational and public health provisions have also expanded rapidly. In 1984, there already were 23,000 teachers in Qiandongnan alone, of whom over half were of the Miao or Dong minorities. They set up schools in mountainous areas and brought education to the formerly illiterate mountain villages. Before 1949, the incidence of malaria was as high as 95 per cent in Xinchi village in Ziyun County, Guizhou Province. But since liberation, the disease has been eradicated through massive health campaigns. This is giving rise to the rapid emergence of clean, hygienic and literate Miao villages.
The Yi ethnic group, with a population of 7,762,286, is mainly distributed over the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou, and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. There are more than one million Yis in Sichuan Province, and most of them live in an area south of the Dadu River and along the Anning River. Traditionally, this area is subdivided into the Greater Liangshan Mountain area, which lies east of the Anning River and south of the Huangmao Dyke, and the Lesser Liangshan Mountain area, which covers the Jinsha River valley and the south bank of the Dadu River. There are over a million Yis in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which holds the single largest Yi community in China. Yunnan Province has more than three million Yis, most of whom are concentrated in an area hemmed in by the Jinsha and Yuanjiang rivers, and the Ailao and Wuliang mountains. Huaping, Ninglang and Yongsheng in western Yunnan form what is known as the Yunnan Lesser Liangshan Mountain area. In Guizhou, more than half a million Yis live in compact communities in Anshun and Bijie. Several thousand Yis live in Longlin and Mubian counties in the Guangxi Zhuang.
Most Yis are scattered in mountain areas, some in frigid mountain areas at high altitudes, and a small number live on flat land or in valleys. The altitudinal differences of the Yi areas directly affect their climate and precipitation. Their striking differences have given rise to the old saying that "the weather is different a few miles away" in the Yi area. This is the primary reason why the Yis in various areas are so different from one another in the ways they make a living.
The Yi areas are rich in natural resources. The Jinsha River running through Sichuan and Yunnan and its tributaries surging through the Yi areas in northern and northeastern Yunnan are enormous sources of water power. The Yi areas are not only rich in coal and iron, but are also among China's major producers of non-ferrous metals. Gejiu, China's famous tin center, reared the first generation of Yi industrial workers. Various Yi areas in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains, western Guizhou, and eastern and southern Yunnan abound in dozens of mineral resources, including gold, silver, aluminum, manganese, antimony and zinc. Vast forests stretch across the Yi areas, where Yunnan pine, masson pine, dragon spruce, Chinese pine and other timber trees, lacquer, tea, camphor, kapok and other trees of economic value grow in great numbers. The forests teem with wild animals and plants as well as pilose antler, musk, bear gallbladders and medicinal herbs such as poris cocos and pseudoginseng.
The Yi language belongs to the Tibetan-Myanmese Language Group of the Chinese-Tibetan Language Family, and the Yis speak six dialects. Many Yis in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi know the Han (standard Chinese or Mandarin) language. The Yis used to have a syllabic script called the old Yi language, which was formed in the 13th century. It is estimated that the extant old Yi script has about 10,000 words, of which 1,000 are words of everyday use. A number of works of history, literature and medicine as well as genealogies of the ruling families written in the old Yi script are still seen in most Yi areas. Many stone tablets and steles carved in the old Yi script remain intact. Since the old Yi language is not consistent in word form and pronunciation, it was reformed after liberation for use in books and newspapers.
Historical records written in the Han and the old Yi languages show that the ancestors of the Yi, Bai, Naxi, Lahu and Lisu ethnic groups were closely related with ancient Di and Qiang people in west China. In the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the early Christian era, the activities of the ancient Yis centered around the areas of Dianchi in Yunnan and Qiongdou in Sichuan. After the 3rd century, the ancient Yis extended their activities from the Anning River valley, the Jinsha River, the Dianchi Lake and the Ailao Mountains to northeastern Yunnan, southern Yunnan, northwestern Guizhou and northwestern Guangxi.
In the Eastern Han (25-220), Wei (220-265) and Jin (265-420) dynasties, inhabitants in these areas came to be known as "Yi," the character for which meant "barbarian." After the Jin Dynasty, the Yis of the clan named Cuan became rulers of the Dianchi area, northeastern Yunnan and the Honghe (Red) River area. Later those places were called "Cuan areas" which fell into the east and west parts. The inhabitants there belonged to tribes speaking the Yi language.
In the Tang and Song dynasties, the Yis living in "East Cuan" were called "Wumans." In different historical periods, "Cuan" changed from the surname of a clan to the name of a place, and further to the name of a tribe. In the Yuan and Ming dynasties, "Cuan" was often used to refer to the Yis. After the Yuan Dynasty, part of "Cuan" acquired the name "Luoluo" (Ngolok), which probably originated from "Luluman," one of the seven "Wuman" tribes in the Tang Dynasty. From that time on, most Yis called themselves "Luoluo," although many different appellations existed. This name lasted from the Ming and Qing dynasties till liberation.
Ancient Yis experienced a long primitive society in the Stone Age. Legends and records written in the old Yi script show that the Yis went through a matriarchal age in ancient times. Annals of the Yis in the Southwest records that the Yi people in ancient times "only knew mothers and not fathers," and that "women ruled for six generations in a row." Patriarchy came into being at least 2,000 years ago.
Roughly in the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C., the Yis living around the Dianchi Lake in Yunnan entered class society. In the early Han Dynasty, prefectures were set up in this area, and the chief of the Yi people was granted the title "King of Dian" with a seal. Around the 8th century, a slave state named "Nanzhao" was established in the northern Ailao Mountain and the Erhai areas, with the Yis as the main body and the Bai and Naxi nationalities included. The head of the state was granted the title "King of Yunnan." In the same period, "Luodian" and other groups of slave owners and regimes appeared in the Yi areas in Guizhou. In 937, the state of "Dali" superseded "Nanzhao," when it collapsed under the blows of slave and peasant uprisings. From then on, the slave system of the Yis in Yunnan gradually disintegrated.
After the 13th century, "Dali" and "Luodian" were conquered one after the other by the Yuan Dynasty, which set up regional, prefectural and county governments and military and civil administrations in the Yi areas in Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan, appointing hereditary headmen to rule the local inhabitants. By the end of the Yuan Dynasty, the feudal economy of the Yi landlords in Yunnan had developed rapidly, but remnants of the manorial economy and slavery still existed to varying extents in the secluded areas.
The Ming Dynasty used both administrative officials from elsewhere and local hereditary headmen, and some of the governments consisted of both types of administrators, expanding the influence of the feudal landlord economy. The large number of Han immigrants also promoted economic growth in the Li areas. The Qing Dynasty abolished the system of appointing hereditary headmen and confirmed the appointment of administrative officials. This enhanced its direct rule over the Yi areas, hastened the disintegration of the manorial economy and firmly established the feudal landlord economy.
The Yi people have a glorious tradition of revolutionary struggle. In the recent 100 years or more the Yis waged powerful anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles as well as those against slave owners. Influenced by the Taiping Revolution (1851-1864), the struggles waged by the Yis and other nationalities against the Qing government lasted more than a decade.
In 1935, the Chinese Red Army pushed north to resist the Japanese invaders. The troops on the historic Long March passed through the Yi areas, leaving a good and deep impression on the Yis wherever they went. On their way through northwestern Guizhou and northeastern Yunnan, the Red Army cracked down on local tyrants, wicked gentry and corrupt officials, and opened their barns to relieve the starving Yis. The Red Army distributed confiscated grain, salt, ham, clothes and other such goods among the Yis and people of other ethnic groups, who in return gave enthusiastic assistance to it. Many young Yis joined the Army.
After crossing the Jinsha River, the Red Army pushed towards the Dadu River in two prongs from Yuexi and Mianning. Supported by the Army, the Yis and Hans in Mianning established the Worker-Peasant-Soldier Democratic Government of the county, formed revolutionary troops, abolished the "hostage system" imposed by the Kuomintang government, and set free several hundred Yi headmen and their relatives held as hostages. The Red Army strictly observed discipline, firmly implemented the Chinese Communist Party's policy for minority groups, declared that it aimed to emancipate the minority groups, and proclaimed that all poor Yis and Hans were kith and kin. It called on the Yi people to unite with the Red Army and overthrow the warlords and fight for national equality. Inspired by the Red Army's policies, Yuedan the Junior, the chieftain of a Yi clan in Mianning County, entered into alliance with the Red Army General Liu Bocheng. Helped by the Yis and the chieftain, the Red Army troops passed through the Yi areas without a hitch and won the victory of capturing the Luding Bridge and forcing the Dadu River.
Conditions in the Past
Socio-economic development in the Yi areas was lopsided before liberation, due to oppression and exploitation by the reactionary ruling class, as well as historical and geographical differences. The socio-economic structure fell by and large into two types -- feudalism and slavery. Most of the Yis in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi had entered feudal society earlier on, and a developed landlord economy had emerged in most areas except for remnants of the manorial economy in some areas of northeastern Yunnan and northwestern Guizhou. Certain elements of capitalism had appeared in the Yi areas along the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway and the Gejiu-Bisezhai-Shiping Railway. Slavery remained intact for a long time in the Greater Liangshan Mountain area in Sichuan and the Lesser Liangshan Mountain area in Yunnan. The Yi people in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi, who were under feudal rule, were mainly engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry. The growth of handicraft industries and commerce varied from place to place. Generally speaking, the production level of Yis living near cities and towns was approximate to that of local Hans, but was much lower in mountain areas.
Landlords accounted for 5 per cent of the population in those areas, and poor peasants and farmhands 60 to 80 per cent. The land possessed by landlords was on the average 10 times or several dozen times the amount owned by poor peasants, who were subjected to cruel feudal exploitation. Land rent paid in kind reached 60 to 70 per cent of the harvest and tenants had to bear heavy corvee and miscellaneous levies.
Though the system of appointing hereditary headmen in northeastern Yunnan and northwestern Guizhou was abolished in the Qing Dynasty, some local tyrants, until liberation in 1949, used political power and influence in their hands to bully and exploit peasants as slave owners did, treating poor peasants as serfs.
Slavery kept production at an extremely low level for a long time in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountain areas in Sichuan and Yunnan. While agriculture was the main line of production, land lay waste and production declined strikingly. Slash-and-burn cultivation was still practiced in some mountain areas. The lack of irrigation facilities and adequate manure, coupled with heavy soil erosion, lowered average grain output to less than a ton per hectare. Animal husbandry was a major sideline with sheep making up a large part of the livestock. The rate of propagation was very low due to extensive grazing and management.
For many centuries, barter was the form of trading among the Yis in the Liangshan Mountain areas. Goods for exchange mainly included livestock and grain. Salt, cloth, hardware, needles and threads and other daily necessities were available only in places where Yis and Hans lived together. Occasionally, some Han merchants, guaranteed safe-conduct by Yi headmen, carried goods into the Liangshan Mountain areas. At the risk of being captured and turned into slaves, they went and often made a net profit of more than 100 per cent. Suffering from a severe shortage of means of production and of subsistence, the Yis had to endure heavy exploitation in order to get a little essential goods. One hen was worth only a needle, and a sheepskin only a handful of salt. Many slaves had to go without salt all the year round.
Due to complex historical reasons, the slave system of the Yis in the Liangshan Mountains lasted till 1949. Before 1949, the Yis in the Liangshan Mountain areas were stratified into four different ranks -- "Nuohuo," "Qunuo," "Ajia" and "Xiaxi." The demarcation between the masters and the slaves was insurmountable. The rank of "Nuohuo" was determined by blood lineage and remained permanent, the other ranks could never move up to the position of rulers.
"Nuohuo," meaning "black Yi," was the highest rank of society. Being the slave-owning class, Nuohuo made up 7 per cent of the total population. The black Yis controlled people of the other three ranks to varying degrees, and owned 60 to 70 per cent of the arable land and a large amount of other means of production. The black Yis were born aristocrats, claiming their blood to be "noble" and "pure," and forbidding marriages with people of the other three ranks. They despised physical labour, lived by exploiting the other ranks and ruled the slaves by force.
"Qunuo," meaning "white Yi," was the highest rank of the ruled and made up 50 per cent of the population. This rank was an appendage to the black Yis personally and, as subjects under the slave system, they enjoyed relative independence economically and could control "Ajia" and "Xiaxi" who were inferior to them. "Qunuo" lived within the areas governed by the black Yi slave owners, had no freedom of migration, nor could they leave the areas without the permission of their masters. They had no complete right of ownership when disposing of their own property, but were subjected to restrictions by their masters. They had to pay some fees to their masters when they wanted to sell their land. The property of a dead person who had no offspring went to his master. Though the black Yi slave owners could not kill, sell or buy Qunuo at will, they could transfer or present as a gift the power of control over Qunuo. They could even give away Qunuo as the compensation for persons they had killed and use Qunuo as stakes. So, Qunuo had no complete personality of their own, though they were not slaves.
"Ajia" made up one third of the population, being rigidly bound to black Yi or Qunuo slaveowners, who could freely sell, buy and kill them.
"Xiaxi" was the lowest rank, accounting for 10 per cent of the population. They had no property, personal rights or freedom, and were regarded as "talking tools." They lived in damp and dark corners in their masters' houses, and at night had to curl up with domestic animal to keep warm. Supervised by masters, Xiaxi did heavy housework and farm work all the year round. They wore rags and tattered sheepskins, and lived on wild roots and leftovers. Slave owners inflicted all sorts of torture on those who were rebellious, fettered them with iron chains and wooden shackles to prevent them from escaping. Like domestic animals, Xiaxi could be freely disposed of as chattels, ordered about, insulted, beaten up, bought and sold, or killed as sacrifices to gods. Corvee was the basic form of exploitation by the slave owners. Qunuo and Ajia must use their own cattle and tools to cultivate their masters' land. Qunuo had to perform five, six or more than 10 days of corvee each year. They could send their slaves to do it or pay a sum of money instead. Corvee performed by Ajia took up one third to one half of their total working time. They often had to neglect their own land because of cultivating the land of their masters. Besides corvee, Qunuo and Ajia had to take usurious loans imposed by their black Yi masters.
Ordered about to toil like beasts of burden, the slaves had no interest in production at all. To win freedom, slaves in the Liangshan Mountain areas resorted to measures like going slow, destroying tools, maltreating animal, burning their masters' property and even committing suicidal attacks on their masters. Though it was hard for slaves in remote mountain areas to run away, they still tried to escape at the risk of their lives. Spontaneous and sporadic rebellions staged by slaves against slave owners never ceased. Organized and collective struggle for personal rights also grew, and collective anathema often turned into small armed insurgence.
Rigid rules were stipulated for marriages within the same rank but outside the same clan among the black Yis, who relied on the "mystery" of blood lineage as a spiritual pillar. Some 70,000 black Yis in the Liangshan Mountains formed nearly 100 clans, big or small, of which there were less than 10 big clans each with a male population of more than 1,000. Each clan's territory was clearly demarcated by mountain ridges or rivers, and no trespass was tolerated. There were no regular administrative bodies in the clans, but each had some headmen called "Suyi" (seniors in charge of public affairs) and "Degu" (seniors gifted with a silver tongue), who were representatives of the black Yi slave owners in exercising class dictatorship. They upheld the interests of the black Yis as a rank, were experienced and knowledgeable about customary law and capable of shooting trouble. "Degu," in particular, enjoyed high prestige inside and outside their clans. Headmen did not enjoy privileges over and above ordinary clansmen, nor were their positions hereditary. Important issues in the clans, such as settling blood feud and suppressing rebellious slaves, must be discussed at the "Jierjitie" (consultation among the headmen) or "Mengge" (general conference of the clan membership).
While preserving some of their original characteristics, the clans under the slave system mainly functioned as institutions to enforce rank enslavement and exploitation, splitting and cracking down on slave rebellions internally and plundering other clans or resisting their pillage externally. When subordinate ranks staged a rebellion, the black Yi clans would take collective action against it, or several clans would join hands to suppress it. Under such circumstances, the unanimity of interests among the black Yi slave owners fully manifested itself. Strictly controlled by the black Yi clans, the slaves could hardly run away from the areas administered by the clans. On the other hand, black Yis often fought among themselves in order to obtain more slaves, land or property. It follows that the clan, as an institution, was a force safeguarding and supporting the privileges of the black Yi slave owning class.
The white Yi clans, among the Qunuos and part of the Ajias, while being similar to the black Yi clans in form, were actually subordinate to various black Yi clans. Only a few white Yi clans were not subject to black Yi rule and they formed what was known as the independent white Yi area. The white Yi clans succeeded to some extent in protecting their own members, and at times they would unite in "legitimate" struggles to defend their own interests and win temporary concessions from black Yi slave owners. But, under the rule of the black Yi clans, they became an auxiliary tool of the slave owners to oppress the slaves. Some clan chieftains of the Qunuo rank were fostered by slave owners as proxies, called "Jiemoke" in the Yi language, who collected rents, dunned for repayment of debts and served as hatchet men, mouthpieces and lackeys for slave owners. There was no written law for the Yis in the Liangshan Mountains, but there was an unwritten customary law which was almost the same in various places. Apart from certain remnants of the customary law of clan society, this customary law reflected the characteristics of morality and the social rank system. It explicitly upheld the rank privileges and ruling position of the black Yis, claiming that the rule of slave owners was a "perfectly justified principle." The legal viewpoint of the customary law was clear-cut. Any personal attacks against black Yis, encroachment on their private property, violation of the marriage system of the rank and infringement on the privileges of the black Yis were regarded as "crimes," and the offenders would be severely punished.
In most Yi areas, maize, buckwheat, oat and potato were staples. Rice production was limited. Most poor Yi peasants lived on acorns, banana roots, celery, flowers and wild herbs all the year round. Salt was scarce. In the Yi areas, potatoes cooked in plain water, pickled leaf soup, buckwheat bread and cornmeal were considered good foods, which only the well-to-to Yis could afford. At festivals, boiled meat with salt was the best food, which only slaveowners could enjoy. Cooking utensils of a distinct ethnic color, made of wood or leather, have been preserved in some of the Yi areas. Tubs, plates, bowls and cups, hollowed out of blocks of wood, are painted in three colors -- black, red and yellow -- inside and outside, and with patterns of thunderclouds, water waves, bull eyes and horse teeth. Wine cups are hollowed out of horns or hoofs.
Yi costume is great in variety, with different designs for different places. In the Liangshan Mountains and west Guizhou, men wear black jackets with tight sleeves and right-side askew fronts, and pleated wide-bottomed trousers. Men in some other areas wear tight-bottomed trousers. They grow a small patch of hair three or four inches long on the pate, and wear a turban made of a long piece of bluish cloth. The end of the cloth is tied into the shape of a thin, long awl jutting out from the right-hand side of the forehead. They also wear on the left ear a big yellow and red pearl with a pendant of red silk thread. Beardless men are considered handsome. Women wear laced or embroidered jackets and pleated long skirts hemmed with colorful multi-layer laces. Black Yi women used to wear long skirts reaching to the ground, and women of other social ranks wore skirts reaching only to the knee. Some women wear black turbans, while middle-aged and young women prefer embroidered square kerchiefs with the front covering the forehead like a rim. They also wear earrings and like to pin silver flowers on the collar. Men and women, when going outdoors, wear a kind of dark cape made of wool and hemmed with long tassels reaching to the knee. In wintertime, they lined their capes with felt. But few slaves could afford clothes of cotton cloth, and most of them wore tattered home-spun linen.
Most Yi houses were low mud-and-wood structures without windows, which were dark and damp. Ordinary Yi houses had double-leveled roofs covered with small wooden planks on which stones were laid. Interior decoration was simple and crude, with little furniture and very few utensils, except for a fireplace consisting of three stones. In the Liangshan Mountains, slave owners' houses and slaves' dwellings formed a sharp contrast. Slaves lived with livestock in the same huts that could hardly shelter them from wind and rain. Slave owners' houses had spacious courtyards surrounded by high walls, and some of them were protected by several or a dozen pillboxes.
The Yis are monogamous, living in nuclear families. Before liberation in 1949, marriages were generally arranged by parents, and the bride's family often asked for heavy betrothal gifts. In many places, married women stayed at their own parents' home till their first children were born. In some other places, feigned "kidnapping of the bride" was practiced to add to the joyous atmosphere. The groom's family would send people to the bride's home at a prearranged time to snatch the girl and carry her home on horseback. The girl was supposed to cry aloud for help, and her family members and relatives would pretend to chase after the kidnappers. In other cases, when people from the groom's side went to fetch the bride, her people would first "attack" them with water, cudgels and stove ashes, then treat them to wine and meat after a frolic scuffle, and finally let them take the bride away on horseback. On the wedding night, there would also be frolic fighting between the bride and the groom as part of the ceremony. These were obviously legacies of primitive marriage conventions.
Patriarchal and monogamous families were the basic units of the clans in the Liangshan Mountains. When a young man got married, he built his own family by receiving part of his parents' property. Young sons who lived with their parents could get a larger portion of the property. There were rigid differences between sons by the wife and those by concubines in sharing legacies. Property handed down from the ancestors usually went to sons by the wife.
The Yis traditionally associated the father's name with the son's. When a boy was named, the last one or two syllables of his father's name would be added to his own. Such a practice made it possible to trace the family tree back for many generations. In the Yi families, women were in a subordinate position with no right to inherit property, but the remnants of matriarchal society could still be seen clearly sometimes. The Yis much respected the power of uncles on the mother's side, and relations between such uncles and nephews were close. Slaves' marriages and homemaking were in the hands of slaveholders. The fate of slave girls was even more wretched, and they were forced to marry just to meet the needs of slaveowners for more slaves.
The Yis in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains practiced cremation, burning dead bodies in mountains and burying the ashes in the ground or placing them in caves. After the funeral, the mourners used bamboo strips wrapped with white wool to make memorial tablets, which were wound with red thread and placed in the trough carved in a wooden stick. Again, the stick was wrapped with white cloth or linen. Some memorial tablets were made of bamboo or wood and carved in the shape of figurines, which were placed at the young sons' homes. Three years later, such memorial tablets were either burned or placed in secluded mountain caves.
The Yis in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi believed in polytheism before liberation 1949, combining worship for ancestors with the influence of Taoism and Buddhism. The Yis in the Liangshan Mountains worshipped gods and ghosts and believed in idolatry, and offered sacrifices to forefathers frequently. Their religious activities were presided over by sorcerers.
The earliest Yi calendar divided the year into 10 months, each with 36 days. The tenth month was the period of the annual festival. Influenced by the Han Lunar Calendar, the Yis later divided the year into 12 months, using the 12 animals representing the 12 Earthly Branches to calculate the year, month and date. There was a leap year every two years in the Yi calendar. The New Year festival was not fixed but generally fell between the 11th and 12th lunar months. In celebrating the New Year, the Yis would slanghter cattle, sheep and pigs to offer sacrifices to ancestors. In the Liangshan Mountains, people of the subordinate ranks had to present half a pig's head to their masters to confirm their affiliation. The Yis in Yunnan and Guizhou now celebrate the spring festival as the Hans do. "The Torch Festival," held around 24th of the sixth lunar month, is a common tradition for the Yis in all areas. During the festival, the Yis in all villages would carry torches and walk around their houses and fields, and plant pine torches on field ridges in the hope of driving away insect pests. After making their rounds, the Yis of the whole village would gather around bonfires, playing moon guitars (a four-stringed plucked instrument with a moon-shaped sound box) and mouth organs, dancing and drinking wine through the night to pray for a good harvest. The Yis in some places stage horse races, bull fighting, playing on the swing, archery and wrestling.
The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 ended the bitter history of enslavement and oppression of the Yis and people of other nationalities in China. From 1952 to 1980, the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan, the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture and the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan were established one after another. Autonomous counties for the Yi or for several minority groups including Yi were founded in Eshan, Lunan, Ninglang, Weishan, Jiangcheng, Nanjian, Xundian, Xinping and Yuanjiang of Yunnan, Weining of Guizhou and Longlin of Guangxi.
Transformation of the only existing slave society in the contemporary world over the past 30 years or more has been a matter of profound significance in the Yi people's history. In response to the aspirations of the Yi slaves and other poor people, the people's government, after consulting with Yis from the upper stratum who had close relations with the common people, decided to carry out democratic reforms in the Yi areas of Sichuan and in the Ninglang Autonomous County of Yunnan in 1956. The basic objective of the democratic reforms was to abolish slavery and let the laboring people enjoy personal freedom and political equality; to abrogate the land ownership of the slave owning class and introduce the land ownership of the laboring people to release the rural productive force and promote agricultural production so as to create conditions for the socialist transformation of agriculture and the movement of co-operation.
In accordance with the principle of peaceful consultation, the people's government granted an appropriate political status and commensurate material benefits to those upper stratum people who actively assisted with democratic reforms. In this way, many slave owners were won over, while the few unlawful and intransigent slave owners were isolated. Thus, democratic reforms went on smoothly.
In the spring of 1958, democratic reforms concluded in the Yi areas in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains in Sichuan and Yunnan. The reforms destroyed slavery, abolished all privileges of the slave owners, confiscated or requisitioned land, cattle, farm tools, houses and grain from the slave owners, and distributed them among the slaves and other poor people. In the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture and the Xichang Yi areas, 120,000 hectares of land were confiscated, and 280,00 head of cattle, 34,000 farm tools, houses composed of 880,000 rooms and 8,000 tons of grain were either requisitioned or purchased and given to the poor and needy along with 4,700,000 yuan paid as damages by unlawful slave owners. The reforms emancipated 690,000 slaves and other poor people, making them masters of the new society.
The people's government also built houses and provided farm tools, grain, clothes, furniture and money for the slaves and other poor people and helped them build their own homes. In the Liangshan Mountains, the government set up homes for 1,400 old and feeble slaves who had lost the ability to work under slavery. Many former slaves got married and started their own families, and many families were reunited. The emancipated slaves took the socialist road most firmly and shortly after the democratic reforms formed advanced cooperatives in agricultural production.
The democratic reforms inspired the emancipated slaves and poor peasants to reshape their land and expand agricultural production steadily. The Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan achieved a great success in increasing output of hemp, tobacco, cotton, peanut and other cash crops. The autonomous counties of Ninglang, Weishan and Eshan in the Honghe Yi Autonomous Prefecture built water conservancy projects, which have played a big role in farming.
There was no industry at all in the Yi areas in the pre-liberation days except for the Gejiu Tin Mine in Yunnan and a few blacksmiths, masons and carpenters taken from the Han areas to the Liangshan Mountains. Now people in the Liangshan, Chuxiong and Honghe autonomous prefectures have built farm machinery, fertilizer and cement factories, small hydroelectric stations and copper, iron and coal mines.
Lack of transportation facilities was one of the factors contributing to the seclusion of the Liangshan Mountains. Construction of roads started right after liberation. In 1952, the highway connecting Sichuan and western Yunnan was reconstructed and opened to traffic. At the same time, trunk highways linking the Liangshan Autonomous Prefecture with other parts of the country were constructed. The Yixi Highway was opened to traffic in 1957, linking up the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains for the first time in history. A highway network extending in all directions within the prefecture had been formed by 1961. By the end of 1981, the total length of highways in the prefecture had increased from seven km. before 1949 to 7,368 km. While there were only 18 push carts in the whole area before 1949, the number of vehicles in 1981 reached 11,000, of which 5,000 were motor vehicles.
The local transportation department employed a total of 10,000 people. The Chengdu-Kunming Railway crosses six counties in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture over a distance of 337 km., with 45 stations on the line. With the development of the local economy, people in the prefecture had built 1,480 hydroelectric stations with a total generating capacity of 97,000 kw. By 1981, providing electric power and lighting for 80 per cent of the area.
Being extremely backward in education in the old days, the Yi people now have primary schools in all villages. The autonomous prefecture began setting up middle schools, secondary technical schools and schools for training ethnic teachers in the late 1950s. In 1981, there were 180 middle schools with 220 minority teachers and 12,000 students, 3,780 elementary schools with 3,700 minority teachers and 66,900 pupils. Children of emancipated slaves and poor peasants now have access to education. A new generation of Yi intellectuals with socialist consciousness is coming to the fore, and many Yi cadres hold leading positions at all levels of government in the prefecture.
In the past, there were no professional doctors, and the only way to avert and cure diseases was to pray. Now there are hospitals and clinics in all counties. Serious epidemic diseases such as smallpox, typhoid, leprosy, malaria, cholera have either been brought under control or wiped out by and large. A lot of traditional medical experience of the Yis has been collected, summed up and improved. The world famous Yunnan baiyao (a white medicinal powder with special efficacy for treating haemorrhage, wounds, bruises, etc.) is said to have been prepared according to a folk prescription handed down for generations by Yi people in Yunnan.
The colorful literature and art of the Yis are flourishing. The Yi people have created a great deal of historical and literary works written in the old Yi language and folk literary works handed down orally. The oral folk literary works, numerous and in a great variety, include poems, tales, fables, proverbs, riddles, etc. History of the Yis in the Southwest and Lebuteyi, two encyclopedic works written in the old Yi language and involving philosophy, history and religion have been translated into the Han (main Chinese) language. The epics Ashima, The Song of the Axi People and Meige are popular throughout Yunnan.
Since liberation, many Yi folk tales, epics and songs have been published after being collected and collated. Also published are some new works reflecting the present life of the Yi people, such as The Merry Jinsha River and Daji and His Father. Yi songs and dances are rich in ethnic color. The new folk song The Stars and the Moon Are Together expresses through beautiful melodies the happiness and warmth felt by the Yis in the great family of nationalities in China. The Happy Nuosu, another new song with cheerful and lively melodies, reflects the joyous and energetic life of the Yi people.
The 579,357 Gelos live in dispersed clusters of communities in about 20 counties in western Guizhou Province, four counties of the Wenshan Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in southeastern Yunnan Province and the Longlin Multi-ethnic Autonomous County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Only about a quarter of the Gelos still speak the Gelo language belonging to the Chinese-Tibetan language family. Yet, because of close contact with other ethnic groups, their language has not remained pure -- even within counties. There are Gelo-speaking people unable to converse with each other. For this reason, the language of the Hans, or Chinese, has become their common language, though many Gelos have learned three or four languages from other people in their communities, including the Miaos, Yis and Bouyeis. Living among other ethnic groups, the Gelos have become largely assimilated to the majority Han customs.
How the Gelos Live
The Gelos' living quarters, like those of their Han neighbors, usually consist of a central kitchen and two bedrooms built on a hillside or at the foot of a mountain. Before liberation, poor Gelos lived in mud, bamboo or stone houses, some with thatched roofs. Landlords and wealthier peasants lived in houses with wooden columns and thick stone slabs, with tile or stone roofs. Now, nearly everyone lives in houses of wood. Gelos continued to wear their ethnic costumes until 30 or 40 years ago. Women wore very short jackets with sleeves embroidered with patterns of fish scale. They wore tight skirts divided into three sections, the middle one of red wool and the upper and lower ones of black-and-white striped linen. Gelo women also wore short, black sleeveless gowns which hung longer in the back. Their shoes had pointed, upturned toes. Men wore front-buttoned jackets, and both sexes wore long scarves.
In the mountain areas, the Gelos eat mostly maize, while in the flatlands, they eat wheat, rice, millet and sorghum. All the Gelos -- like many other Chinese -- love to eat hot and sour dishes as well as glutinous rice cakes.
Before 1949, Gelo marriage customs were feudal, with matches made by parents at childhood, regardless of the desires of the children involved. As Gelos were so few and so scattered, marriages were usually made among cousins. To celebrate the marriage, the bride would walk with her relatives, carrying an umbrella, to the groom's home, where they would live apart from their parents.
While funeral customs in most Gelo communities are the same as in Han areas, singing and dancing still marks funerals in a few places, such as Zunyi and Renhuai counties in Guizhou. There, mourners dance in groups of three, one playing a lusheng (reed pipe), one beating a bamboo pole, the third brandishing a sword, and all singing as they dance. In other areas, mourners sing in front of the coffin; family members of the deceased serve wine in gratitude to them. In some places, a shaman who chooses the time and place of burial recites scriptures at the grave. Animal sacrifice usually accompanies the burial. Trees, rather than stones, mark the grave.
Gelo folk literature consists of poetry, stories and proverbs. Poems are of three, five or seven-character lines. Most Gelo folk tales eulogize the intelligence, honesty, diligence and bravery of the Gelo people, and satirize the upper classes. Typical are "The Brave Girl" and "Deaf Elder Brother and Blind Younger Brother Stealing Sheep." Gelo dances are simple and graceful, accompanied by the erhu, horizontal xiao, suona, gong, drum and other string and wind instruments.
"Flower Dragon" and "Bamboo-Strip Egg" are two favorite Gelo games. "Flower Dragon," in fact, is a ball of woven bamboo, a little larger than a ping-pong ball. Inside are bits of broken porcelain, coins and sandstones. The game, especially popular in Zunyi and Renhuai, is played by groups of pairs on hillsides. "Bamboo-Strip Egg" is also a ball, larger and stuffed with rice straw. Two teams of three or five throw and kick the ball, avoiding contact except with the hands or feet.
Most Gelo festivals echo Han traditions, but some practices differ. At Spring Festival-- the Lunar New Year -- Gelos offer a huge rice cake to their ancestors and after it is made, it remains untouched for three days. In Guizhou's Anshun, Puding and Zhenning, Gelo communities also celebrate the sixth day of the sixth lunar month by sacrificing chickens and preparing wine to bless the rice crop already in the fields. The sixth day of the seventh lunar month marks the second most important event of the year, a festival of ancestor worship in Wozi and Gaoyang villages of Puding County. Oxen, pigs and sheep are slaughtered for ritual sacrifices to ancestors.
On the first day of the tenth lunar month, Gelos give their oxen a day of rest. This is the day of the Ox King Buddha, and in some communities on this day oxen are honored and fed special rice cakes.
Prior to liberation, Gelos had a number of distinctive taboos. During Spring Festival, for example, they did not allow themselves to sweep floors, carry water, cook food, clean houses, plough, ride horses or pour water from their houses. In some areas on other holidays, Gelos would not transplant rice or build houses if they heard thunder.
Over the last 2,000 years or more, Gelos have lived in many places in China. Bridges, graves, wells, and even villages in Guizhou Province still bear Gelo names, even where no Gelo still lives. The group's name dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Before then, they were called the "Liaos." Descended from the Yelang, the strongest tribe in the Han Dynasty's Zangke Prefecture, the Liaos moved out of Zangke to Sichuan, where they became subject to the feudal regime, between the third and fifth centuries.
By the fifth century, the Liaos had developed metal spears, shields and fishing tools and copper cooking vessels. They could weave fine linen. At this time, the Liao people elected their kings, who later became hereditary rulers. As with other south-central minorities, the Gelos were ruled in the Yuan and Ming periods (1271-1644) by appointed chiefs, who lost their authority to the central court when the Qing Dynasty came to power.
Until 1949, most Gelos were farmers. They grew rice, maize, wheat, sweet potatoes, and millet. Before the founding of the People's Republic of China, Gelo farmers had no irrigation or ways of storing water. As a result, their maize output was only about 675 kg per hectare. Droughts inevitably brought about devastating consequences. Side businesses, especially cork production, bamboo weaving and making straw sandals were essential to the Gelos for survival.
Before 1949, land mainly belonged to landlords of other ethnic groups. In Pingzheng village of Zunyi County, for example, landlords and rich peasants owned 50 per cent of the land, even though they constituted only nine per cent of the population. Rent was usually paid in kind and every year over half of the harvest went for rent. Gelo farmers also had to pay additional tributes as high as 200 per cent of a year's rent. In western Guizhou, farmers not only paid in maize, opium, soybeans and peppers, but they also had to work -- unpaid -- for 50-80 days a year.
Nestling among the tree-clad hills dotting an extensive stretch of territory on the Hunan-Guizhou-Guangxi borders are innumerable villages in which dwell the Dong people. The population of this ethnic group in China is 2,960,293. Situated no more than 300 km north of the Tropic of Cancer, the area peopled by the Dongs has a mild climate and an annual rainfall of 1,200 mm. The Dong people grow enormous numbers of timber trees which are logged and sent to markets. Tong-oil and lacquer and oil-tea camellia trees are also grown for their edible oil and varnish. The most favorite tree of the people of this ethnic group is fir, which is grown very extensively. Whenever a child is born, the parents begin to plant some fir saplings for their baby. When the child reaches the age of 18 and marries, the fir trees, that have matured too, are felled and used to build houses for the bride and groom. For this reason, such fir trees are called "18-year-trees." With the introduction of scientific cultivation methods, a fir sapling can now mature in only eight or 10 years, but the term "18-year-trees" is still current among the Dong people. Farming is another major occupation of the Dongs, who grow rice, wheat, millet, maize and sweet potatoes. Their most important cash crops are cotton, tobacco, rape and soybean. With no written script of their own before 1949, many Dongs learned to read and write in Chinese. Philologists sent by the central government helped work out a Dong written language on the basis of Latin alphabet in 1958.
Customs and Habits
The Dongs live in villages of 20-30 households located near streams. There are also large villages of 700 households. Their houses, built of fir wood, are usually two or three stories high. Those located on steep slopes or riverbanks stand on stilts; people live on the upper floors, and the ground floor is reserved for domestic animals and firewood. In the old days, landlords and rich peasants dwelled in big houses with engraved beams and painted columns. Paths inside a village are paved with gravel, and there are fishponds in most villages. One lavish feature of Dong villages are the drum towers. Meetings and celebrations are held in front of these towers, and the Dong people gather there to dance and make merry on New Year's Day. The drum tower of Gaozhen Village in Guizhou Province is especially elaborate. Standing 13 stories high, it is decorated with carved dragons, phoenixes, flowers and birds.
Equally spectacular is folk architecture that goes into the construction of bridges. Wood, stone arches, stone slabs and bamboo are all used in erecting bridges. The roofed bridges which the Dongs have dubbed "wind and rain" bridges are best-known for their unique architectural style. The Chengyang "Wind and Rain" Bridge in Sanjiang is 165 meters long, 10 meters across and 10 to 20 meters above the water. Roofed with tiles engraved with flowers, it has on its sides five large pagoda-like, multi-tier pavilions beautifully decorated with carvings. It is a covered walkway with railings and benches for people to sit on and enjoy the scenes around. A typical Dong diet consists mainly of rice. In the mountainous areas, glutinous rice is eaten with peppers and pickled vegetables. Home-woven cloth is used to make traditional Dong clothing; finer cloth and silks are used for decoration or for making festival costumes. Machine-woven cloth printed black and purple or blue is becoming more popular.
Men usually wear short jackets with front buttons. In the mountainous localities in the south, they wear collarless skirts and turbans. The females are dressed in skirts or trousers with beautifully embroidered hems. Women wrap their legs and heads in scarves, and wear their hair in a coil.
Many popular legends and poems, covering a wide spectrum of themes, have been handed down by the Dongs from generation to generation. Their lyrics tend to be very enthusiastic, while narrative poems are subtle and indirect, allusive and profound. Songs and dances are important aspects of Dong community life. Adults teach traditional songs to children, and young men sing them.
Prior to 1949, the feudal patriarchal family was the basic social unit. Women were on the lowest rung of the social ladder, and they were even forbidden to touch sacrificial objects. Girls lived separately on the upper floors allowing no men to visit them. After marriage, women were given a little share of "female land" for private farming. Monogamy was and is practiced. Childless couples were allowed to adopt sons, and only men were entitled to inherit family property.
A newlywed woman continued to live with her own parents. She went to her husband's home only on holidays and on special occasions. She would go to live with her husband permanently after giving birth to her first child. Dong funeral rituals are similar to those of the Hans, but in Congjiang the deceased is put in a coffin which is put outdoors unburied. Before the founding of the People's Republic of China, funeral ceremonies were very elaborate and wasteful. They have been much simplified since 1949. The Dongs believe in ancestor worship and revere many gods and spirits. They have special reverence for a "saint mother" for whom altars and temples have been erected in the villages.
The Dongs have many festivals -- Spring Festival, Worshipping Ox Festival, New Harvest Festival, Pure Brightness Festival and Dragon Boat Festival.
At the time of the Qin and Han dynasties (221 B.C.-A.D. 220) there lived many tribes in what is present-day Guangdong and Guangxi. The Dong people, descendants of one of these tribes, lived in a slave society at that time. Slavery gradually gave way to a feudal society in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Agriculture developed rapidly during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in the Dong areas in southeast Guizhou and southwest Hunan provinces. Rice production went up with improved irrigation facilities. And self-employed artisans made their appearance in Dong towns. Markets came into existence in some bigger towns or county seats, and many big feudal landowners also began to do business. After the Opium War of 1840-42, the Dong people were further impoverished due to exploitation by imperialists, Qing officials, landlords and usurers.
The Dongs, who had all along fought against their oppressors, started to struggle more actively for their own emancipation after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. They served as guides and supplied grain to the Chinese Red Army when it marched through the area during its Long March in the mid-1930s. In 1949, guerilla units organized by the Dong, Miao, Han, Zhuang and Yao nationalities fought shoulder to shoulder with regular People's Liberation Army forces to liberate the county seat of Longsheng.
Post-mid-20th Century Period
A momentous event in Dong history took place on August 19, 1951 when the Longsheng Autonomous County of the Dong, Zhuang, Miao and Yao peoples was founded. This was followed by the setting up of the Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County in Guangxi, the Tongdao Dong Autonomous County in Hunan, the Miao-Dong Autonomous Prefecture in southeastern Guizhou, and the Xinhuang Dong Autonomous County in Hunan.
The establishment of autonomous counties enhanced relations between various ethnic groups and eliminated misunderstanding, mistrust and discord sowed by the ruling class between the Dongs and other ethnic minorities. In Congjiang County, Guizhou, the Dongs n one village once warred against the Miaos in another for the possession of a brook. The people of the two villages remained hostile to each other for over a century until the dispute was resolved through negotiations after the setting up of the Miao-Dong Autonomous Prefecture. They have been living in harmony since.
Another eventful change in Dong life is the carrying out of the agrarian reform, which put an end to feudal oppression under which members of this ethnic group had been groaning for centuries.
The Dongs who were ruled and never ruled have their own people holding posts in the governments of the autonomous counties. Dong cadres in Guangxi number 2,950, and those in Hunan 3,040. Many Dong women, who had no political status formerly, now hold responsible government posts at the county or prefectural levels. Achievements have also been made in many other fields in the post-1949 period. With the opening of schools, all children between 7 and 10 in Longping village, for example, are attending classes. Malaria and other diseases, which used to take a heavy toll of lives, have by and large been eliminated, thanks to improved health care and the disappearance of witch doctors. There was no industry in the Dong areas formerly. Today, small factories are turning out farm implements, chemical fertilizer, cement, paper and other products. Electricity generated by small power installations drives irrigation pumps and light homes in many Dong villages.
The Mulam ethnic minority has a population of 207,352, of which the majority live in Luocheng County in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Others are scattered in neighboring counties.
The Mulam language is a member of the Zhuang-Dong language group of the Chinese-Tibetan language family, but because of extensive contacts with the majority Han and local Zhuangs many Mulams speak one or both of these languages in addition to their own.
Their homeland is one of rolling hills interspersed with lush green valleys. The Wuyang and Longjiang rivers cross their territory, which has an ideal climate for growing paddy rice, maize, beans, potatoes, melons and cotton. The area is famous for its tea and medicinal herbs, as well as mineral resources such as coal, iron and sulfur.
Historical records trace the Mulam ethnic group back to the period of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when their society seems to have been entering the feudal stage. The Mulam villages paid tribute in grain to the imperial court twice a year.
In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the Mulam areas were divided into "Li," under which were "Dongs" -- units of ten households.
The Dong chief was responsible for collecting taxes and law and order. The Dongs were mostly inhabited by families sharing the same surname. Later, when they increased in size, the Dongs were divided into "Fangs."
Even prior to 1949n, the farming economy of the Mulams was comparatively advanced. Farming techniques, crop varieties and tools were basically the same as those of their Han and Zhuang neighbors. Oxen and water buffaloes were the main draught animals, although horses were sometimes used also. Some 60 per cent of arable land was taken up by paddy fields, and the Mulams had long known the use of manure fertilizer. The Mulams' well-developed irrigation system, unfortunately, was under the control of the rich landlords, who channeled most of the water off for themselves. The encroachment of insects and wild animals was a serious problem for the Mulam farmers.
In the past, each household was a basic production unit. The division of labor between men and women was not strict, but ploughing, carrying manure and threshing were usually men's jobs, while women did the rice transplanting, sowing and housework.
Also well developed were sideline products, which included collecting medicinal herbs, raising livestock, blacksmithing, making pottery and weaving cloth.
Prior to the founding of the People's Republic of China, land in the Mulam areas was heavily concentrated in the hands of the rich landlords, especially the most fertile parts. The landlords demanded that their tenants pay rent in kind and provide unpaid labor service. They also exploited the poorer peasants by means of usury.
Customs and Culture
Mulam houses consist of three rooms, usually one-storied, with mud walls and tile roofs. Inside, on the left of the door, the ground is dug away to form a cooking pit. The livestock are kept away from the living quarters.
Rice, maize and potatoes are the staple diet of the Mulams, who also enjoy eating hot peppers and glutinous rice. It is taboo to eat cats or snakes. Mulams who bear the surnames Luo and Wu are forbidden to eat dog meat or the internal organs of animals.
The Mulams used to be famous for their spinning, weaving and dyeing, and their favorite color is deep blue. Traditionally, men wore jackets with large buttons down the front, long, baggy trousers and straw sandals. Young girls wear their hair in braids, which is coiled up onto their heads after marriage. Women's jewelry includes silver earrings, bracelets and finger rings.
Early marriage arranged by the parents was common before 1949. Brides did not live with their husbands until the first child was born. Intermarriage with the Hans and Zhuangs was permissible, but weddings were costly affairs which drained the wealth of a family.
The Mulams used to be animists, and celebrated a festival every month, the most important of which was the Yifan Festival. At this celebration, pigs and sheep were slaughtered, dramas and lion and dragon dances were performed, and the shamans chanted incantations. The lunar New Year's Day was the Mulam's New Year, and the eighth day of the fourth lunar month was "Ox Birthday," when the oxen were given a rest and fed glutinous rice, and wine and meat were offered to the Ox God.
On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month the Dragon Boat Festival was celebrated. Unlike the Han and Zhuang Dragon Boat festivals, the Mulams used to carry a paper boat into the fields and a shaman would chant spells to drive away insects and ensure a good harvest. The 15th day of the eighth lunar month was Youth Festival, when young people gathered to sing folk songs and make lovers' trysts.
Folk songs and "Caidiao" (a form of local drama) are very popular among the people. The songs are antiphonal and sung in the Han language.
There are thousands of local types of flora in the Yangshuo region. Some are grown purposely for agriculture and some grow wild. They all play a vital role in the ecosystem and local economy for the farmers in the region. The Yangshuo Mountain Retreat asks kindly that you do not pick or damage any of the flora in the region. We are always proud to show our guests the beauty of our surroundings and with your help we can keep it beautiful for generations to come.
Bamboo is a group of woody perennial evergreen plants. In Yangshuo you can find giant bamboo, forming by far the largest members of the grass family. New shoots of some of the larger species can grow over 1 meter per day. They are of economic and high cultural significance in the Yangshuo region as a building material as well as a food source. There are 91 genera and about 1,000 species of bamboo but only a few species grow in Yangshuo.
Cotton is a soft, staple fiber that grows around the seeds of the cotton plant. The fiber most often is spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft, breathable textile, which is the most widely used natural-fiber cloth in clothing today. Our famous Yangshuo slippers that we have at the hotel are woven from local supplies of cotton. Cotton production in general is very efficient, in the sense that only ten percent or less of the weight is lost in subsequent processing to convert the raw cotton bolls (seed cases) into pure fiber. In the Yangshuo area you can see cotton growing in fields often between vegetables and rice.
The pomelo is native to Southeast Asia, and grows wild in the Yangshuo region. It may have been introduced into China around 100 B.C. Because of this limited production, pomelo typically sell for about 2 dollars a piece in the USA. In Yangshuo they tend to cost between 1 and 5 RMB a piece. The pulp color ranges between a green and pale yellow and it tastes like a sweet, mild grapefruit - it has very little or none of the common grapefruit's bitterness, but the membrane of the segments is bitter and not very nice to eat. The peel is very thick and hard to penetrate but is also sometimes used to make marmalade and for cooking in certain dishes. In general, citrus peel is often used in southern Chinese cuisine for flavouring, especially in sweet soup desserts. It is the largest citrus fruit in the world, growing as large as 30 cm in diameter and one way to eat it is to remove the rind, then peel the segments to expose the flesh. At the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat restaurant we offer stuffed pomelo when it is in season and in our Charity Shop we sell palmello honey.
At our sister hotel, Yangshuo Village Inn, there is an ancient pomelo grove where guests can enjoy meals or drinks under the shady trees.
Chestnut (Castanea) is the nut of the genus of eight or nine species of deciduous trees. China produces the most amounts of Chestnuts in the world. A specialty in the Yangshuo area is to open one side and roast them. In comparison to Western countries the chestnuts are not roasted until they are soft. They are eaten when they are still hard inside. Chestnut is also used as an ingredient in the local "zhong zi" – a sticky rice package steamed in leaves.
All of the animals mentioned here contribute to the delicately balanced food chain within the local ecosystem. Nature has an amazing gift at being able to finely tune herself, so please don't upset the natural balance of things, and help protect the environment by leaving the animals and insects in peace to do their very important tasks.
The domestic Yangshuo water buffalo is closely related to cattle, gaur, banteng and yaks. All its domestic varieties and breeds descend from one common ancestor, the wild Asian water buffalo, which is now an endangered species. Water Buffalos, are used as draft and dairy animals and can be often seen in Yangshuo pulling ploughs through the paddy.