¡¡¡¡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
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
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
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.