Customs of Dong People in Xinhuang County

By Chen Min and Bu Aihua, Center for Hunan Cultural Heritage at Huaihua University, contributors, exclusive to ChinaInsight.info.

Editor’s Note: This is the 22nd article in the series on the Dong ethnic group by The Center for Hunan Cultural Heritage as U.S.-China cultural and educational exchange and research. The Center for Hunan Cultural Heritage is in Huaihua University, southwest Hunan Province, China. It is a provincial translation institute dedicated to the preservation and development of Hunan’s diverse ethnic communities and the sharing with the global community and exclusively appearing at ChinaInsight.info.

Chen Min is an associate professor from the Foreign Language School of Huaihua University. His research covers translation, comparative education and cross-culture. This paper is sponsored by his research project of Philosophy and Social Science of Hunan Province: “Lin Yutang’s Compilation Strategies and the Study of Cultural Translation in the New Era” (No: 20WLH26)

Professor Bu Aihua is the head of International office, Centre for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Exchange as well as the dean of International School of Huaihua University. In 2017, she spent a year in Minnesota as a visiting scholar at the University of Minnesota and Concordia University. In recent years, her major research interest covers translation and dissemination of Chinese Culture, biculturalism and bicultural active living lifestyle with a special focus on the Hmong youth in western part of Hunan Province and the state of Minnesota.

Xinhuang county, located in the west of Hunan province, is home to a few minority nationalities and Dong is one of them which has unique customs as follows.

  1. Sitting rules

When you call on a Dong family, you should respect their sitting rules. First of all, don’t sit on the threshold of the house with your butt facing the divine wall of the main hall, for it is considered that you do not respect the ancestors of the host. In addition, don’t sit on a new red paint four legged stool, which cannot be used casually. A family with such a stool shows that they have just got a new daughter-in-law. The stool is a only for the newly married woman, which is given by her parents as a dowry. After she gives birth to a child, the stool can be used freely. What’s more, there is usually a “Huo-pu” with a fiery pit in the center in the kitchen of a Dong family, where the host cooks food and receives guests. If you are invited to sit on the front seat of the Huo-pu, which is only for a distinguished guest, you should sit with dignity and don’t open your legs wide, because this sitting posture would be considered disrespectful to the hostess. You can’t cross your legs either, which would be considered as putting on airs and looking down on the host family.

Sitting around a “Huo-pu”—photo from https://image.so.com/view

  1. Having a banquet

When a Dong family holds a banquet for cerebrating a happy event, such as wedding, having a new baby or moving to a new house, etc., they should present their written invitations to the potential guests or inform them orally one or two days in advance, and invite them again to come on the day of holding the banquet to show his hospitality and courtesy. In addition, they would prepare good dessert, tea, wine and cigarettes as well as various kinds of delicious food for  the attendants, who would give the host gift money in return.

Having a banquet—photo from https://image.so.com/view

  1. Boundary knots

Dong people live in the mountainous areas with large pieces of fields and forests which are difficult to distinguish from one another. They have kept a long tradition of using knots to demarcate the boundary lines between their fields and forests or to indicate that a certain piece of field is preserved for afforestation. The knots are usually made of grass or straw and hung on the trees every ten meters away around the preserved field. The knots should be made every year because they are easy to decompose because of weathering and erosion. Those for afforestation are made in spring to prevent people from cutting firewood and grass in the preserved area, while the ones for economic forests are labeled during the harvest season. As long as a knot is hung, people will consciously abide by it. Another function of the knot is to show that something has got its owner and can’t be owned by someone else.

  1. Gan’ao parties

Gan’ao, a big party, has been a traditional custom for the Dong people in Xinhuang County. It is generally held on a local festival or a fixed date of the lunar calendar. The Gan’ao in Chaping Town falls on the sixth day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar every year, while the ones in Liangsan Town are held yearly on the lunar 19th day of the second month, the 19th day of the sixth month and the 19th day of the ninth month respectively. The location of the big party enjoys quiet environment and beautiful scenery because it is usually held on a flat mountain col with clear springs, dense woods, beautiful flowers and green lawns. Tens of thousands of local people would attend the party every time. This is also the best time for the boys and girls to find their beloved ones.

A Gan’ao party—photo from https://image.so.com/view

  1. Birds raising and fighting

It is common for Dong people to raise birds. People in the countrysides mainly raise golden partridges, bamboo partridges, thrushes, and starlings; while those from urban areas often raise some rare species of birds such as parrots, golden canaries, and leiothrixes, etc. Good birds are often regarded as treasures for the reason that they can bring great happiness to their masters who can enjoy their fighting and singing. Thrushes are the most popular birds because they can not only fight, but also sing beautiful songs. Therefore, on every festivals and big days, Dong people would gather together to have their thrushes fight with each other. The winners would be rewarded  and have red silk draped over their cages.

Birds in the cage—photo from https://image.so.com/view

  1. Lusheng dances

The Dong people from Xinhuang County like to perform Lusheng dance in their villages, which is often held on a fixed date and place. There are some large-scale Lusheng dance parties in this county, such as the Lusheng dance party in Xinjie village and that in Mianhuadi village on the lunar 15th day of the seventh month, the Lusheng dancce party in Shaba village on the second day of the first month and the one in Chongneng village on the 4th of the first month, etc. On each of these big days, Lusheng teams from villages dozens of miles around are all dressed up to attend the party, which is very lively and attractive.

A Lusheng dance —photo from https://image.so.com/view

  1. Dragon and lion dance

In Xinhuang county, Dong people from every village like to have dragon dance, lion dance and other activities on lantern festivals. Dragon and lion dances are often accompanied with  various kinds of beautiful lanterns, which are very spectacular. After dance performance, the dragon would enter the main hall of each house of the village to send the best regards to the families on the new year.

A dragon dance —photo from https://image.so.com/view

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