ĦĦĦĦThe number of De'ang
people in China totals 17,935. Small as their population is, the
people of this ethnic group are quite widely distributed over Yunnan
Province. Most of them dwell in Santai Township in Luxi County of
the Dehong Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture and in Junnong Township
in Zhenkang County of the Lincang Prefecture. The others live scattered
in Yingjiang, Ruili, Longchuan, Baoshan, Lianghe and Gengma counties.
Some De'angs live together with the Jingpo, Han, Lisu and Va nationalities
in the mountainous areas. And a small number of them have their
homes in villages on flatland peopled by the Dais The De'ang language belongs to the South Asian
family of languages. The De'angs have no written script of their
own, and many of them have learned to speak the Dai, Han or Jingpo
languages, and some can read and write in the Dai language. An increasing
number of them have picked up the Han language in years after the
In the mountainous areas of Gaoligong
and Nushan ranges in western Yunnan Province, the De'ang people
have been living there for generations. The climate here is subtropical,
and there is fertile soil, abundant rainfall, rich mineral resources
and dense forests. The
dragon bamboo here grows very long and has a stem with a diameter
of 10 cm to 13 cm. The Zhenkang area has been famed for this kind
of bamboo for the past 2,000 years. It is used to build houses and
make household utensils and farm implements. Bamboo shoots are a
The De'angs, who took to farming since
very ancient times, grow both wet and upland rice, corn, buckwheat
and tuber crops as well as walnut and jute. And they have learned
to cultivate tea, cotton, coffee, and rubber after the founding
of the People's Republic in 1949.
The De'angs have been great tea drinkers
since very early times, and now every family has tea bushes growing
among vegetables, banana, mango, jack fruit, papaya, pear and pomegranate
trees in a garden around the house.
De'ang was a name given to this ethnic
group in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Before that time the De'angs
along with the Blang and Va ethnic minorities speaking a south Asian
language inside Yunnan Province were called "Pu people,"
according to historical records. In those bygone times the "Pu
people" were distributed mainly in the southwestern part of
Yunnan Province, which was called Yongchang Prefecture in the Han
Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). Their forefathers settled on the banks
of the Nujiang River (upper reaches of the Salween that flows across
Burma) long before the arrival of the Achang and Jingpo ethnic minorities.
Development of De'ang society has been
uneven. Since the De'angs have lived in widely scattered localities
together with the Han, Dai, Jingpo, Va and other nationalities,
who are at different stages of development, they have been influenced
by these ethnic groups politically, economically and culturally.
Dai influence is particularly strong since the De'angs had for a
long period lived in servitude under Dai headmen in feudal times.
However, some traces of the ancient clan and village commune of
the De'ang ethnic minority are still to be found in the Zhenkang
The production unit of the De'ang ethnic
group is the family, and there is marked division of labor according
to sex and age. The farm tools used are bought from Han and Dai
regions. Generally speaking, the De'angs practice intensive farming
on flatland and on farms near the Han and Dai regions or in paddy
fields. Dry land is not cultivated meticulously.
In De'ang villages in the Dehong area,
the cultivated land used to be communally owned. The wasteland around
each village was also communally owned, but people could freely
open up the land for cultivating crops. If the land was left uncultivated,
it automatically reverted to communal ownership again. In later
times, the selling or mortgaging of paddy fields and gardens led
to the emergence of private ownership. As a result, most of the
paddy fields came into the possession of Han landlords, rich peasants
and Dai headmen.
Without either draught animals or funds,
and burdened down with taxes and debts, the De'angs could not open
up hillside land and gradually became the tenants or farmhands of
the landlords, rich peasants and headmen. Many cut firewood, burned
charcoal and wove in the off-hours to make ends meet.
In the Zhenkang Prefecture, which had
plenty of dry land and little paddy land, private ownership of land
and usury had been uncommon. Yet feudal ownership and tenancy show
such traces of communal ownership of land as strict demarcation
lines between the land of different villages and clearly-marked
signs between communally owned land, woods and small privately owned
plots. Communal land in each village was managed by headmen. And
anyone, from other villages who wanted to rent the communal or private
plots, had to get the permission of village headmen.
Some De'ang people still retain some
traces of the communal system in the way they live. A clan commune
was formed by many small families with blood relations. Usually
thirty to forty people shared one outsized communal house, but each
individual family had its own fireplace and kept its own account.
Primitive distribution on an equal basis was practiced in farming.
But exploitation had appeared with some families owning more cows
and working less.
The De'ang people everywhere used to
live under the sway of the feudal lords of the Dai ethnic group.
De'ang headmen in the Dehong region were either appointed by Dai
chieftains or were hereditary. To control and exploit the De'ang
people, Dai chieftains granted official titles to De'ang headmen
and let them run the villages, impose levies, and collect tributes.
Some De'ang people who lived in or near areas under the Jingpo's
jurisdiction had to pay "head taxes." This constituted
another burden for the De'angs who were bled white by heavy taxes
and rents collected by Dai chiefs or the Kuomintang government.
Landlords and rich peasants of the
De'ang ethnic group made up only two per cent of the population.
Many of them were appointed headmen of Dai chiefs. Being tenants
or farmhands of either Han landlords and rich peasants or Dai headmen,
most De'angs lived in dire poverty.
A new day dawned for the De'ang people
when Yunnan Province was liberated in 1951. The first thing the
De'angs did was to restore social order and develop farm production
after helping the government round up remnant KMT troops who had
turned bandits. In 1955 land was distributed to the De'ang people
who made up half of the population on the flatland and in the semi-hilly
areas of Zhenkang, Gengma, Baoshan and Dehong in an agrarian reform
in which both the De'ang and Dai people participated. Not long afterwards,
the De'angs set up agricultural cooperatives. At the same time,
the rest of the De'ang people living in the mountainous areas of
Dehong, like the Jingpos dwelling there, formed mutual aid groups
to till the land, carried out democratic reforms and gradually embarked
on the socialist road.
The De'ang people, who lived in compact
communities in Santaishan in Luxi County and Junnong in Zhenkang
County, established two ethnic township governments. In July 1953,
the Dehong Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture was established, and
the De'angs had 12 representatives in the government. Many functionaries
of the De'ang people are now serving in government offices at various
levels. Some De'angs in Yunnan Province have been elected deputies
to local people's congresses and the National People's Congress.
The economy in the De'ang areas has
been developing apace. Take Santaishan in Luxi County for example.
People here started farmland construction on a big scale with their
Han and Jingpo neighbors in the wake of agricultural cooperation.
Today, the land here is studded with reservoirs and crisscrossed
by canals, and hill slopes have been transformed into terraced plots.
Tea and fruit are grown, and large numbers of goats, cows and hogs
are raised. The cropped area has increased enormously, and grain
production is four times the 1951 level.
As the people of this minority group
could scarcely make enough to keep body and soul together, no De'angs
went to school in pre-liberation days. Those who could read some
Dai words in those days were a few Buddhist monks. Pestilence and
diseases due to poor living conditions were rampant, and there were
no doctors. People had but to ask "gods" to cure them
when falling sick.
Today De'ang children can attend primary
schools established in villages where the De'angs live. Priority
is given to enrolling De'ang children in other local schools. Large
numbers of illiterate adults have learned to read and write, and
the De'ang people now have even their own college students, teachers
Smallpox which had a very high incidence
in localities peopled by the De'ang people has been eradicated with
the assistance of medical teams dispatched by the government. Malaria,
diarrhea and other tropical diseases have been put under control.
Like most people in the
sub-tropical regions, the De'angs live in houses made of bamboo.
While some dwell in large communal houses, those in the Dehong area
have a two-story house to every family. The upper floor serves as
living quarters, kitchen and storeroom, and beneath it is a stable
for animals and poultry. There are also outhouses in which are stored
firewood and foot-pedaled mortars used in husking rice.
People dress in traditional costumes
studded with silver ornaments. Men wear turbans. Boys look handsome
with their silver necklaces. Most women wear dark dresses lined
with extra large silver buttons at the front, and skirts with red
and black flower patterns. Rattan waistbands and silver earrings
add grace and harm. Nowadays, De'ang boys have the same hairstyle
as the Hans and do not like to burden their bodies with heavy ornaments.
Men have the custom of tattooing their bodies with designs of tiger,
deer, bird and flower.
Monogamy is practiced. People of the
same clan do not marry with one another. Intermarriage is rare with
people of other ethnic groups.
Young people have the freedom to choose
their own partners, and courtship lasts for a long time. When a
girl hears a love song under her window, she either ignores it or
responds. If she likes the boy singer, she tosses a small blanket
down to him. Then she opens the door and lets him in. The boy covers
his face with the blanket, enters her room, and meets the girl by
the side of the fire. The parents are happy and do not interfere.
The lovers often meet and chat until
midnight or dawn. After a few dates, the boy gives her a necklace
or waistband as a token of his love. The more waistbands a girl
gets, the more honored she is. To show his devotion, the boy wears
earrings. The number she gives him is a mark of her love.
If the courtship goes well, the boy
would offer gifts to the girl's family and send people to propose
marriage. Even if the girl's parents disagree, the girl can decide
for herself and go to live in the boy's house.
A De'ang wedding party is gay and interesting.
Each guest is sent two packages, one containing tea and the other
cigarettes. This is an invitation. They bring gifts and firecrackers
to the bride and groom.
The new couple first enter the kitchen
and put some money in a wooden rice tub. This means they have been
nurtured by the cereal, and now show their gratitude. Water-drum
dancing is an important part of the wedding ceremony. The drums
are made of hollowed trunks into which water is poured to wet the
skin and center to determine its tone. Water-drum dancing has a
legend behind it. In ancient times a young De'ang man's beautiful
fiancee was snatched away by a crab monster. He fought the crab,
vanquished it, ate it, and made a drum of its shell. At today's
wedding ceremonies, water-drum dancing symbolizes true love.
The De'angs bury their dead in public
cemeteries but those who die of long illness or difficult labor
The De'angs are Hinayana Buddhists.
Most villages have a temple. The monks live on the offerings of
their followers. Their daily needs are provided by the villagers
in turn. Formerly the De'angs did not raise pigs or chickens. A
rooster was kept in each village to herald the break of day. Today
this old custom has died, and chickens are raised. People do not
work during religious holidays or sacrificial days. Being Buddhists,
the De'angs in some localities do not kill living creatures. This
has its minus side -- wild boars that come to devour their crops
are left unmolested. This at times results in quite serious crop