¡¡¡¡The Blang people,
numbering 91,882, live mainly in Mt. Blang, Xiding and Bada areas
of Menghai County in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture
in southwestern Yunnan Province. There are also scattered Blang
communities in the neighboring Lincang and Simao prefectures. All
the Blangs inhabit mountainous areas 1,500-2,000 meters above sea
level. The Blangs in Xishuangbanna have always lived harmoniously
with their neighbors of both the other minority nationalities and
the majority Han.
The Blang people inhabit an area with
a warm climate, plentiful rainfall, fertile soil and rich natural
resources. The main cash crops are cotton, sugar-cane and the world
famous Pu'er tea. In the dense virgin forests grow various valuable
trees, and valued medicinal herbs such as pseudoginseng, rauwolfia
verticillata (used for lowering high blood pressure) and lemongrass,
from which a high-grade fragrance can be extracted. The area abounds
in copper, iron, sulfur and rock crystal.
The Blangs speak a language belonging
to the South Asian language family. The language does not have a
written form, but Blangs often know the Dai, Va and Han languages.
According to historical records, an
ancient tribe called the "Pu" were the earliest inhabitants
of the Lancang and Nujiang river valleys. These people may have
been the ancestors of today's Blangs.
Before China¡¯s national liberation,
the Blang people were very superstitious. Ancestor worship was a
part of their way of life. The Blangs in Xishuangbanna area believed
in Hinayana Buddhism, as a result of the influence of the Dai tribe.
The Blangs' Buddhist temples and social systems were similar to
those of the Dais.
Blang men wear collarless jackets with
buttons down the front and loose black trousers. They wear turbans
of black or white cloth. Men have the tradition of tattooing their
limbs, chests and bellies. Blang women, like their Dai sisters,
wear tight collarless jackets and tight striped or black skirts.
They tie their hair into a bun and cover it with layers of cloth.
Their staple diet consists of rice,
maize and beans. They prefer their food sour and hot. Drinking home-brewed
wine and smoking tobacco are their main pastimes. Blang women like
chewing betel nut and regard teeth dyed black with betel-nut juice
The Blangs live in two-storied balustraded
bamboo houses. The ground floor is for keeping domestic animals
and storing stone mortars used for hulling rice. The upper floor
is the living quarters, and in the middle of the main room is a
fireplace for cooking, heating and light. When a family builds a
house, nearly all the grown-ups in the village offer help, completing
the project in two or three days.
The Blang ethnic group has a rich store
of folk tales and ballads transmitted orally. Their songs and dances
show the strong influence of their Dai neighbors. Elephant-leg drums,
cymbals and three-stringed plucked instruments provide musical accompaniment
for dancing. People in the Blang Mountain area revel in their energetic
"knife dance." Young people like a courting dance called
the "circle dance." For the Blangs in the Mujiang area,
New Year's Day and weddings are occasions for dancing and singing,
often lasting the whole night.
The Blangs seek spouses outside their
own clans and practice monogamy. With a few exceptions, mainly parental
interference, young Blangs are fairly free to choose marriage partners.
The death of a person is followed by
scripture chanting by Buddhist monks or shamans to "dispel
the devil," and the funeral is held within three days. Each
village generally has a common cemetery divided according to clans
or people having the same surnames. The dead are buried in the ground
except for those dying a violent death, who are cremated.
Past Social Conditions
Before liberation in 1950, social
development was uneven in different Blang localities. The Blang
communities in the Lincang and Simao prefectures were fairly developed
socially and economically, as their members lived together with
Hans and other more socially advanced peoples. Except for cemeteries
and forests, which remained common property, land had become privately
owned. A landlord economy had long been established, with landlords
and rich peasants taking possession of the best land through exorbitant
interest rates, mortgages, pawning and political privileges. Poor
Blang peasants, aside from being at the mercy of landlords and rich
peasants of Blang origin, were exploited by propertied classes of
Han and other ethnic minorities. The Bao-Jia system (an administrative
system organized on the basis of households, instituted by the Kuomintang
government in 1932) tightened political control over all the Blang
areas. The Kuomintang government, in collaboration with local landlords
and tyrants, caused great suffering to the Blang people by excessive
levying of taxes and forced conscription.
The Blang communities in Xishuangbanna's
Mt. Blang, Xiding and Bada areas were less socially developed and
more poverty-stricken. The Blangs had long been subjected to the
rule of Dai feudal lords, who exacted from them an annual tribute
of money and farm produce. The Dai landlords appointed a number
of hereditary headmen called "Ba" from among the Blangs.
Each "Ba" had several Blang villages under his rule and
collected tributes for the Dai masters.
Blang society in Xishuangbanna retained
varying degrees of public ownership of land by the clan or the village,
aside from private ownership. A small number of villages had retained
characteristics of the primitive commune, which was composed of
20-30 small families who had a common ancestor. Commune farmland,
forests and pastures belonged to all the members. Families and individuals
had the right to utilize this kind of land, but could not buy or
sell it. As productivity developed, however, the patriarchs took
advantage of their positions to gradually grab property for themselves,
and began to exploit clan members.
Most Blang villages in Xishuangbanna
had primitive commune features. Each village consisted of some 100
households belonging to several or a dozen clans of different blood
relationships. While farm implements, houses and farm animals belonged
to individual households, land, forests and water sources were the
village's common property. The different clans took permanent possession
of different parts of the public land and allocated their share
to small families under them on a regular basis to enable farming
on a household basis. The households were entitled to the harvest.
Just as each small family depended on its clan membership for the
use of land, each clan relied on its affiliation to the village
for its right to use the village land. Once a clan moved elsewhere,
its land reverted to the village. When a newcomer applied for land,
a meeting of headmen would decide how much to allocate.
Members of a village commune were engaged
in the same kind of political and religious activities. Public officials
of the commune, namely the headmen, were elected.
Gradually, however, private ownership
of land emerged. Many village commune members lost their land, becoming
tenants of headmen or rich households. Their land henceforth assumed
a completely private nature: it could be sold or bought, mortgaged
or rented. Patriarchs or the elected headman of a village commune,
taking advantage of their position, often took permanent possession
of large amounts of good land.
Production was at an extremely low
level before liberation in Xishuangbanna's Blang area. Agriculture
was the economic mainstay of Blang society, with dry rice as the
dominant crop, followed by tea and cotton. At the beginning of the
spring ploughing season, patriarchs would organize clan members
to clear forest land and allocate it among individual households
for farming. Harvests were poor. The Blangs' low income contrasted
sharply with their heavy economic burden, which included tribute,
high interest to money lenders, different kinds of taxes and corvee.
In the spring of 1950, the Chinese
People's Liberation Army entered the Blang area. By driving out
bandits and local tyrants, and taking measures to protect the lives
and property of the people of different nationalities, the army
soon stabilized social order in this frontier region. This was followed
by the people's government sending work teams to help the Blangs
develop production and establish grassroots organs of power. Blangs
sent their representatives to the prefectural and county people's
congresses, where they exercised their rights as masters of their
In light of the actual conditions in
the Blang area, the government conducted a series of social reforms
aimed at gradually eliminating feudal exploitation and vestiges
of primitive backwardness hampering social development. Between
1952 and 1953, a land reform similar to that in the Han areas was
carried out in Zhenkang, Lincang, Yanxian, Jingdong, Jinggu, Mujiang
and other areas. In 1955-56, land reform of a more moderate nature
was conducted in Gengma, Shuangjiang and some parts of Lancang,
followed by the setting up of production cooperatives. In Xishuangbanna
and Lancang's Nuofu area, where vestiges of primitive communism
still existed, social reform progressed more slowly. It was not
until 1958 that some cooperatives were set up there on a trial basis.
Since 1949, with the help of their
Han and Dai neighbors, but mainly relying on themselves, the Blang
people have made much progress in adopting more advanced farming
methods. They have created paddy fields, built water-conservancy
projects, begun using fertilizers and advanced farming tools, and
adopted efficient management methods. As a result, the grain harvest
has kept going up every year, as has the production of tea and cotton.
Commerce, education and health care
have also developed rapidly. An ethnic minorities trading corporation
has been set up in every prefecture; in some villages there are
shops with a fairly complete stock of farm tools and daily-use items.
State trading organizations purchase local produce in large quantities,
resulting in increased income for the Blang people.
There were almost no schools in the
Blang areas before 1949. In some places, young men were able to
learn a little of the Dai language through chanting Dai Buddhist
scriptures as trainee monks. Now all Blang children attend primary
schools, which are evenly distributed in Blang villages.
The absence of any medical facilities
in the Blang area before 1949 used to compel sick people to seek
help from shamans and other charlatans. In the early post-1949 days,
the government sent medical teams to the area, providing free medical
care. Later, clinics were set up, local medical teams formed, and
medical workers of Blang origin trained. Epidemics such as dysentery,
smallpox and malaria were basically brought under control. As a
result, the general health conditions of the Blang people have greatly