We continue our series on China’s 55 ethnic minority groups. This month features the Bonan, Bouyei, Dai, Daur ethnic minorities.
We continue our series on China’s 55 ethnic minority groups. This month features the Bonan, Bouyei, Dai, Daur ethnic minorities.
The Bonan ethnic minority
Major area of distribution: Gansu
The Bonan is one of China's smallest ethnic minorities, with only 11,700 people. Its language belongs to the Mongolian branch of the Altaic language family and is close to that of the Tu and Dongxiang ethnic minorities. Due to long years of contact and exchanges with the neighboring Han and Hui people, the Bonan people have borrowed quite a number of words from the Han language. The Han language is accepted as the common written language among the Bonan.
Judging from their legends, language features and customs, many of which were identical with those of the Mongolians, the Bonan minority seems to have taken shape after many years of interchanges during the Yuan and Ming (1271-1644) periods between Islamic Mongolians who settled down as garrison troops in Qinghai's Tongren County, and the neighboring Hui, Han, Tibetan and Tu people. The Bonan used to live in three major villages in the Baoan region, situated along the banks of the Longwu River within the boundaries of Tongren County.
During the early years of the reign of Qing Emperor Tongzhi (1862-1874), they fled from the oppression of the feudal serf owners of the local Lamaist Longwu Monastery. After staying for a few years in Xunhua, they moved on into Gansu Province and finally settled down at the foot of Jishi Mountain in Dahejia and Liuji, Linxia County. Incidentally, they again formed themselves into three villages -- Dadun, Ganmei and Gaoli -- which they referred to as the "tripartite village of Baoan" in remembrance of their roots.
Dahejia in western Linxia County is the place where the Bonan mainly concentrated. The area is thickly wooded and enjoys a moderate temperature supported by plenty of water and lush grass, which make it suitable for farming and stockbreeding. However, until the mid-20th century, under the heavy burden of feudal oppression and exploitation, the place had been bleak and desolate. In Dahejia, Bonan and Hui bureaucrats, landlords and religious leaders owned large tracts of farmland, forests and orchards. They also monopolized the river transport and owned 20 of the 27 water mills. The majority of the people were reduced to tenants toiling under the severe exploitation of land rents and usury. Rent in kind was a form of exploitation widely practiced in the area. In most cases, rents were as high as 50 percent. Exploitation by the landlords also took on other forms such as hiring farm laborers on a long-term basis and trading in slave girls.
The Bonan people, mainly Muslims, are divided into two different sects -- the Old and the New.
A sideline occupation for which Bonan are particularly noted is the making of knives. A cottage industry, the Bonan knives are famous all over China for their beauty and sturdiness.
The Bouyei ethnic minority
Population: 2.54 million
Major area of distribution: Guizhou
Most of China's 2,548,300 Bouyei people live in several Bouyei-Miao autonomous counties in Xingyi and Anshun prefectures and Qiannan Bouyei-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Guizhou Province. Others are distributed in counties in the Qiandongnan Miao-Dong Autonomous Prefecture or near Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou.
The Bouyei region is on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, which slopes from an altitude of 1,000 meters in the north to 400 meters in the south. The Miaoling Mountains stretch across the plateau, forming part of its striking landscape.
The famous Huangguoshu Falls cascade down more than 60 meters near the Yunnan-Guizhou highway in Zhenning Bouyei-Miao Autonomous County. The thunder of water can be heard several kilometers away, and mists from the falls contribute to a magnificent view.
The Bouyeis are blessed with fertile land and a mild climate. The average annual temperature is 16 degrees Centigrade, and an essentially tropical environment, receiving between 100 and 140 centimeters of rain a year, is ideal for farming. Local crops include paddy rice, wheat, maize, dry rice, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, potatoes and beans. Farmers also grow cotton, ramie, tobacco, sugar cane, tung oil, tea and oil-tea camellia as profitable cash crops.
As the Red River valley is low-lying and tropical, paddy rice yields two harvests annually. Silk, hemp, bamboo shoots and bananas complement the local economy, and coffee and cocoa have also been planted there recently.
The valley is also rich in trees, yielding a variety of timber, which is good for construction, such as pines and China firs. The remote, heavily-forested mountain and river areas provide a habitat for tigers, leopards, bears, musk deer, foxes, golden pheasants and others. Medicinal herbs are abundant in the woods, and the area is also rich in mineral resources, such as coal, iron, zinc, antimony, copper, petroleum, asbestos and mercury.
The Bouyei language is of the Zhuang-Dai branch of the Zhuang-Dong group belonging to the Chinese-Tibetan family of languages. In the past, the Bouyeis had no written language of their own, and used Han characters instead. After 1949, the government helped formulate a Bouyei writing system based on Latin letters.
This ethnic group possesses a rich folk literature, which includes fairy tales, fables, folk songs, proverbs and poems. During weddings, scores of young men and women are invited to join in antiphonal singing of a rich ethnic quality. In the Biandan Mountain area of Zhenning County, old women are invited to sing songs of blessing by firesides. They can sing day and night for up to a week without repeating the words of their ballads. Popular musical instruments of the Bouyeis include the suona horn, yueqin, dongxiao, short xiao, and sister xiao (all vertical bamboo flutes) and a copper drum. Their favorite dances include the weaving dance and the lion dance.
The Bouyeis are skilled in arts and crafts. Their colorful and beautifully-patterned batik dates far back to ancient times. In 1953, a batik factory was built in the city of Anshun with the help of the local authorities, and traditional technology was improved. Now, batik has become one of their best-selling handicrafts, popular both on domestic and foreign markets. In addition, their colorful embroidery, exquisite summer sleeping mats and bamboo hats are not only durable and attractive, but also highly artistic.
They live mostly on plains or in river valleys in villages composed of families from several different clans, in two-storied houses, bungalows or a combination of the two. Often people live on an upper floor, and keep livestock on the lower.
Young Bouyei males generally wear short buttoned jackets and long trousers, with scarves on their heads. Women wear jackets buttoned on the right (although some young women prefer lace-trimmed jackets buttoning down the middle), and long trousers or pleated skirts. They also wear scarves and a variety of silver jewelry.
They are monogamous, but [young men and women] mix freely. When they go to fairs or other festivities, unmarried young men and women get together to sing songs. If a woman is attracted to a man, she will throw him a ball made of silk strips which she has embroidered herself. If the man is agreeable, they then make a date at which they will sing love songs to each other. After several dates, they may announce their engagement. Under the feudal system of the past, however, most marriages were arranged by parents.
In the past, the Bouyeis believed in spirits and worshipped ancestors, although many living near missionary outposts were converted to Christianity. In general, they observe the same festivals as the Han. On June 6 and April 8, however, they celebrate their own festivals in commemoration of the leaders of ancient uprisings and their ancestors. On "Ox King Festival," April 8, special cakes and glutinous rice dyed in five different colors are made and offered to ancestors. After the ceremony, half of these offerings are given to their cattle, which are also granted a day of rest as a reward for their hard work.
Studies of the language, names and geographical distribution of the Bouyeis indicate that they have a common ancestry with the Zhuangs. The ancient Yue people, who were widely distributed, were composed of such ethnic groups as the Xiou and Louyue in Guangdong and Guizhou provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The similarity between the modern Zhuang and Bouyei languages and the ancient Louyue tongue is a strong indication of the origin of the Bouyeis. In addition, many habits and customs of the Yues still prevail among the Bouyeis.
For several centuries before the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), both the Zhuang and Bouyei peoples were referred to as "the alien barbarians," but long separation eventually led to development of different cultures and lifestyles. After A.D. 900, they became recognized as separate minority groups.
After the second century B.C., increasing contacts between the Bouyeis and the Hans boosted the former's productivity, and feudal economic relationships were established.
By the Tang Dynasty, the central imperial court had established in the Bouyei region an administrative system, under which local feudal lords were appointed prefectural governors, and land became their hereditary property. The system lasted for more than 1,000 years, until the Qing court forced minority officials to surrender their powers. Under the rule of minority headmen, the Bouyei society had retained its feudal lord presence until 1911. Feudal lords and local officials owned all the land, but not literally the peasants or serfs within their territories. Lords still subjected peasants to cruel exploitation, but were no longer allowed to kill them at will. Each peasant household was given a piece of land to support itself, but was forbidden to purchase it. Peasants and serfs were thus bound to the land and made to work for the feudal lords for generations.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the imperial court abolished the rule of minority headmen, and appointed officials with limited tenures. As a result, the feudal lord economy collapsed and a landlord economy took its place. As most land was owned by the rich few and exploitation of the peasants by landlords became even crueler, class conflicts intensified and led to many peasant uprisings, the biggest of which was the Nanlong Uprising in 1797.
In the early years of the People's Republic, few Bouyeis took part in management. By 1981, however, there were 8,220 Bouyei administrators, accounting for 65 percent of the total minority managerial staff in the area.
Before 1949, Bouyei agriculture was backward, especially in remote mountain areas, where slash-and-burn farming methods still dominated. Since liberation, tremendous changes have taken place. By 1982, grain output totaled 720,000 tons, nearly twice as much as the 1949 figure, and 12,880 water conservancy projects had been built. These stored 200 million cubic meters of water, and brought 6,600 hectares of land under irrigation -- a six-fold increase over the 1949 area.
Before 1949, there was virtually no industry in the Bouyei region. Since then, however, many industries have been developed, including iron and steel, coal, machine building, chemicals, electronic products, building materials and plastics.
In 1949, the total length of roads came to only 296 kilometers in what is now Qiannan Prefecture. By 1981, 6,100 kilometers of new roads had been built. And three main railway lines (Guizhou-Guangxi, Yunnan-Guizhou and Hunan-Guizhou) run through Bouyei areas in Qiannan, Anshun and Guiyang. In addition, air services now link Guiyang with Beijing, Shanghai and other big Chinese cities.
Education and medical care have also improved greatly since 1949. By 1981, the numbers of secondary and primary schools had already risen to 150 and 3,789 respectively, compared with hardly any in 1949. Teacher training schools and colleges teaching modern farming methods have also been established.
In the past, medical facilities in the area were very poor. Epidemic diseases, such as smallpox, cholera and dysentery were rampant, with malaria alone affecting 58 per cent of the local population. After 1949, the government supplied financial aid, equipment and large numbers of medical workers to help the Bouyeis improve health care. Now, besides major hospitals at prefectural level, every county has its own hospital, epidemic prevention station and maternal health center, and every district has a clinic.
The Dai ethnic minority
Population: 1.02 million
Major area of distribution: Yunnan
The Dai ethnic group lives in the southern part of Yunnan Province, mainly in the Xishuangbanna region. The area is subtropical, with plentiful rainfall and fertile land.
Local products include rice, sugar cane, coffee, hemp, rubber, camphor and a wide variety of fruits. Xishuangbanna is the home of China's famous Pu'er tea. The dense forests produce large amounts of teak, sandalwood and medicinal plants, and are home to wild animals including elephants, tigers and peacocks.
The Dai language belongs to the Chinese-Tibetan language family and has three major dialects. It is written in an alphabetic script.
The history of contact between the Dai and Han peoples dates back to 109 B.C., when Emperor Wu Di of the Han Dynasty set up Yizhou Prefecture in southwestern Yi (the name used to signify the minority areas of what are now Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces). The Dais in subsequent years sent tribute to the Han court in Luoyang, and among the emissaries were musicians and acrobats. The Han court gave gold seals to the Dai ambassadors and their chieftain was given the title "Great Captain."
According to Chinese documents of the ninth century, the Dais had a fairly well developed agriculture. They used oxen and elephants to till the land, grew large quantities of rice and had built an extensive irrigation system. They used kapok for weaving, panned salt and made weapons of metal. They plated their teeth with gold and silver.
In the 12th century, a Dai chieftain named Bazhen unified all the tribes and established the Mengle local regime with Jinghong as the capital, and called it the "Jinglong Golden Hall Kingdom." According to local records, the kingdom had a population of more than one million, and was famous for white elephants and fine-breed horses. It recognized the Chinese imperial court as its sovereign. When Bazhen ascended the throne, he was given a "tiger-head gold seal" by the Emperor, and the title "Lord of the Region." Previously, the Dais in the Dehong region had established the Mengmao Kingdom, with Ruilijiang as the capital.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the Dai area was subordinate to Yunnan Province and the system of appointing hereditary headmen from among the ethnic minorities was instituted; this system was consolidated during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Past Socio-Economic Conditions
The increasing economic and cultural interflow between the Han and Dai peoples, as well as the migration of many Han people to the frontiers, taking with them advanced production skills and culture and science, promoted the economic development of Dai society. The feudal lord system established in the Dai areas at the end of the Yuan Dynasty and the beginning of the Ming Dynasty further promoted social production. The use of iron implements was widespread, new strains of crops were cultivated, and cotton was grown extensively. A number of fairly large commercial townships such as Cheli were established.
The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), on the whole, carried on the practice of the Yuan and Ming system in the minority areas. However, it placed the Dai areas with more advanced economy under its jurisdiction and sent officials to practice direct control. During the Kuomintang rule, a county was set up in the Dai area close to the frontier and the policy of national oppression was carried out through the county administration.
The historical conditions of the Dai communities were not the same, nor were the stages of their social development. So each had its own characteristics as to the form of land ownership, class structure and political system. Such areas as Jingdong, Xinping and Yuanjiang, where the Dais mingled with the Hans, had entered the feudal landlord economy stage earlier because the Dais absorbed the Han's more advanced tools and techniques of production. Social progress was slower in Xishuangbanna and Dehong on the border, particularly Xishuangbanna, which still retained a fairly complete feudal manorial economy.
Since the Yuan, Ming and Qing regimes practiced the system of appointing national-minority hereditary headmen, the "Cheli Official" had for generations been the highest manorial lord and ruler until liberation. All the land, forests and water belonged to him, and he subdivided his domain to be hereditarily ruled by his clan members and trusted followers. Under such a system, part of the land owned directly by the manorial lords became their private manors or served as pay for their household officials. The remaining part was allocated to the serfs and came under the common ownership of the whole village.
The manorial lords established a set of political institutions, and had their own troops, courts and prisons to facilitate their plunder and strengthen their rule.
The frontier Dai areas such as Dehong, Menglian and Gengma were nearly the same as Xishuangbanna, basically having a feudal manorial economy. However, their social economy underwent new changes. The land allocated to the peasants became more stabilized and hereditary, and land rent in kind was widely practiced. In Mangshi and Yingjiang, the landlord economy developed faster and the rich peasant economy also grew, because of the Dai people's frequent contact with the Hans.
For a long time the Dais had grown rice as their main crop, and they had developed a rather complete, intensive farming system and gained rich experience in irrigation. However, under the shackles of feudalism, yields were low. The reckless exploitation by the luxury loving ruling class and the Han landlords and merchants forced many peasants to flee their villages.
The religious beliefs of the Dai people were closely related to their economic development. Residents on the borders generally were followers of Hinayana, a sect of Buddhism, while retaining remnants of shamanism. There were many Buddhist temples in the countryside, and it was a common practice, especially in Xishuangbanna, to send young boys to the temples to learn to read and write and chant scriptures, as a form of schooling. Some of them became monks, while most of them returned to secular life. While staying in the temple, the boys had to do all kinds of hard work, and the Dai people had to bear all the financial burden of the temples.
Customs and Habits
The marriage of the Dai was characterized by intermarriage on strictly equal social and economic status. Polygamy was common among chieftains, who also humiliated the wives and daughters of peasants at will. The patriarchal monogamous nuclear family was the common form among peasants. Pre-marital social contact between young men and women was quite free, especially during festivals. It was common for the groom to move into the bride's home after the wedding.
The graveyards of aristocrats and poor people were strictly separated. When a monk or a Buddhist leader died, he was cremated and his ashes placed in a pottery urn to be buried behind a temple.
Men wore collarless tight-sleeved short jackets, with the opening at the front or along the right side, and long baggy trousers. In winter they drape a blanket over their shoulders. They wore black or hite turbans. Tattooing was common. When a boy reached the age of 11 or 12, a tattoo artist was invited to tattoo his body and limbs with designs of animals, flowers, geometric patterns or the Dai written script. Traditionally, women wore tight-sleeved short dresses and sarongs.
Rice is the staple food. The Dai in Dehong prefer dry rice, while those in Xishuangbanna like sticky rice. All love sour and hot flavors. In addition to beef, chicken and duck, they enjoy fish and shrimp. Cabbages, carrots, bamboo shoots and beans are among the popular vegetables. The Dai also love wine, liquor, and betel nuts.
The villages of the Dai in Dehong and Xishuangbanna are found on the plains, near rivers or streams, and among clusters of bamboo. The buildings generally are built on stilts. Some of the houses are square, with two stories. The upper story serves as the living place, while the lower space, without walls, is used as a storehouse and for keeping livestock.
Dai festivals, closely related to religious activities, included the "Door-Closing" festival in mid-June by the lunar calendar, the "Door-Opening" festival in mid-September, and the "Water-Splashing" festival in spring. "Door-Closing" started three months of intensive religious activities. "Door-Opening" marked the beginning of normal life. "Water-Splashing," still held every year, is the most important festival, during which the Dai splash water on one another, and hold dragon boat races in the hope of chasing away all the illnesses and bad fortune of the past year and bringing about good weather and bumper harvests.
The Dai have a rich, colorful culture. They have their own calendar, which started in 638 A.D. There are books in Dai script for calculating solar and lunar eclipses. Dai historical documents carry a rich variety of literary works covering poetry, legends, stories, fables and children's tales. They love to sing and dance, accompanied by their native musical instruments.
The Daur ethnic minority
Major areas of distribution: Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Xinjiang
Language: Daur and Han
The Daur live mainly in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang Province. About several thousand of them are found in the Tacheng area in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China. They are descendents of Daur who moved to China's western region in the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The Daur speak a language related to Mongolian and used Manchu during the Qing Dynasty as their written language. Since the 1911 Revolution, Mandarin Chinese has replaced Manchu.
The biggest Daur community is in the Morin Dawa Daur Autonomous Banner, which was set up on August 15, 1958 on the left bank of the Nenjiang River in Heilongjiang Province. This 11,943 sq. km.-area has lush pasture and farmland. The main crops are maize, sorghum, wheat, soybeans and rice. In the mountains which border the Daur community on the north are stands of valuable timber -- such as oak, birch and elm -- and medicinal herbs. Wildlife, including bears, deer, lynx and otters are found in the forests. Mineral deposits in the area include gold, mica, iron and coal.
The Daur people are thought to be descended, along with the Ewenkis and Oroqens, from the Khitan nomads, who founded the Liao Dynasty (916-1125). They originally inhabited the lower reaches of the Heilong River.
In the early Qing Dynasty, the Daurs had a diversified economy which comprised fishing, hunting, farming and raising stock. They traded hides for metal implements, cloth and other articles from the more economically advanced Hans.
During the reign of Emperor Shun Zhi (1644-1662), the Daurs moved south and settled on the banks of the Nenjiang River, from where they were constantly conscripted to serve in the armies of the Qing emperors and in garrisons all over the Chinese empire. The Daurs helped to repel Cossack invaders from Tsarist Russia in 1643 and 1651. When the Japanese invaded China’s Northeast in 1931, the Daur opposed them and helped the resistance forces until liberation in 1945.
Traditional Economy and Customs
Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Daur had a well developed agriculture, with per-hectare yield of grain reaching 350 kg. They raised horses and oxen. Those living in the mountainous north of the area were also engaged in hunting, charcoal burning, edible plants gathering, tanning, and the manufacture of carts and wooden pipes. Distribution of land and animals was very uneven, with the big landlords exploiting the majority of the people.
Monogamy was the general rule, and marriages were arranged by the parents. A man from a different clan would go to live with his wife's family, but had no claim on their property. Closest ties are those between brothers-in-law. All important celebrations require the presence of the brothers-in-law and their families, who send gifts to new-born children.
The religion of the Daur was shamanism, while a few were followers of Lamaism. The biggest festival of the year was held in May, when pigs and oxen would be sacrificed to the gods to ensure prosperity for the coming year. At the Spring Festival, sacrifices were made to the ancestors and firecrackers set off in the evening. Everyone joined in a round of visits to their neighbors to partake of steamed New Year cakes and give presents of various delicacies.
Pipes are passed to visitors, men and women alike, as a sign of respect. Girls make elaborate tobacco pouches and slip them into the pockets of young men who take their fancy.
Wrestling, horse racing and archery are popular sports among the Daur. They also play a kind of football with a ball made of ox hair.
Daur villages are neat, usually built on mountain slopes and facing streams, and the houses have courtyards surrounded by wickerwork fences.
The women have always been renowned for their needlework, decorating their clothing with fine patterns. Men wear straw hats in summer or simply tie a piece of white cloth around their foreheads. In winter they wear leather caps with ear flaps. Women wear white cloth socks and patterned shoes in summer, donning leather boots and long gowns in winter.
Typical of the daily diet of the Daur is millet or buckwheat noodles mixed with milk, buckwheat cakes and oat porridge cooked with soybeans. Game figures high on the list of Daur delicacies, especially deer meat, pheasant and duck. They cultivate a variety of vegetables.
Inseparable from the Daur scene is the "leleche" -- a small cart with large wheels drawn by an ox.
The Daur have a rich repertory of folk dances which they love to perform during festivals. Women participate in group singing and most women own a musical instrument called a "mukulian." Men play a similar instrument, but the women are the most accomplished players.
Daur folk literature is mostly based on observations of nature, but it also contains a wealth of legends and fables. One of their most popular stories is called "The Young Stalwart and Dai Fu." It tells of the struggles of the Daur against national oppression and their feudal rulers in the latter part of the 19th century. Also famous among the Daur are stories by Ahlabudan, a Qing Dynasty author, such as "Fringed Iris Pouch," "Song of the Four Seasons" and "Song of Refraining from Drinking." Also well known are tales adapted from classical Chinese novels. The best-read contemporary works are those by a Daur writer named Qin Tongpu, such as "A Farmer's Song," "Song of the Fishermen" and "Song of the Lumbermen." The Daur have a love for poetry, which they compose in several unique verse forms. Their long winter evenings are also enlivened by oral literature, riddles and proverbs, as well as handicrafts such as toy making, embroidery and paper cuts.
The dead are buried in graveyards arranged according to family lineage. Buried along with the deceased are ornaments, tobacco pipes, cooking utensils, and sometimes slaughtered horses.
Nirji Town is the seat of the government of the Morin Dawa Daur Autonomous Banner (County). The town has a People's Cultural Palace, and thriving machine-building, repair, food-processing and chemical industries.
There are more than 100 settlements in the region and seven autonomous townships -- all nowadays linked by roads and a railway. Local cadres have been trained to administer the banner.
Industry has come to the Daur community for the first time, with factories producing electric motors, transformers and chemical fertilizer. Farm machinery and power supply sources have also contributed greatly to the development of agriculture.
With the development of education, nearly all Daur children of school age now attend primary schools. An increasing number of young Daur go to middle schools and colleges.
Epidemics, particularly "keshan" disease which affects the heart, are a thing of the past now that the banner has some 30 medical centers.
Source: People’s Daily Online (http://english.people.com.cn/)