กกกกHainan, China's second
largest island after Taiwan, is the home of the Li ethnic group
with a population of about 1,247,814. Most of them live in and
around Tongze, capital of the Hainan Li-Miao Autonomous Prefecture,
and Baoting, Ledong, Dongfang and other counties under its jurisdiction;
others live among people of the Han and Hui ethnic groups in other
parts of the island.
Lying at the foot of the Wuzhi Mountains,
the Li area is a tropical paradise with fertile land and abundant
rainfall. Coconut palms and rubber trees line the beaches and people
in some places reap three crops of rice a year and grow maize and
sweet potatoes all the year round. The area is the country's major
producer of tropical crops such as coconut, arica, sisal hemp, lemon
grass, cocoa, coffee, rubber, oil palm, cashew, pineapple, casava,
mango and banana.
The island is abundant in minerals
like copper, tin, crystal quarts, phosphorus, iron and tungsten.
There are numerous salt pans and many fine harbors along the coast,
and good fishing grounds off the shore. Pearls, coral and hawksbill,
turtles of commercial value are found in the coastal waters. Black
gibbons, civets and peacocks live in the primeval forests which
abound with valuable timber trees.
The Lis had no written script. Their
spoken language belongs to the Chinese-Tibetan language family.
But many of them now speak the Chinese language. A new romanized
script was created for the Li ethnic group in 1957 with government
According to historical
records, the term "Li" first appeared in the Tang Dynasty
(618-907). The Lis are believed to be descendants of the ancient
Yue ethnic group, with especially close relations with the Luoyues
-- a branch of the Yues -- who migrated from Guangdong and Guangxi
on the mainland to Hainan Island long before the Qin Dynasty (221-206
B.C.). Archaeological finds on the island show that Li ancestors
settled there some 3,000 years ago during the late Shang Dynasty
or early Zhou Dynasty when they led a primitive matriarchal communal
life. Ethnically, the Lis are closely related to the Zhuang, Bouyei,
Shui, Dong and Dai ethnic groups, and their languages bear resemblance
in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. People of the Han ethnic
group began to settle on the island also before the Qin Dynasty
as farmers, fishermen and merchants. Together, people of the two
ethnic groups contributed to the development of Hainan. Later, the
Han Dynasty sent troops under Lu Bode and Ma Yuan to set up prefectures
and strengthen government control there and enhance relations between
the mainland and the island.
In the 6th century, Madame Xian, a
political leader of the Yues in southwest Guangdong, Hainan and
the Leizhou Peninsula, pledged allegiance to the Sui Dynasty. Her
effort in promoting national unity and unification of the country
not only enhanced the relationship between Hainan Island and the
central part of China but also helped the development of the primitive
Li society by introducing feudal elements into it.
The Tang Dynasty (618-907) further
strengthened central control over the Li areas by setting up five
prefectures which consisted of 22 counties. In the Song Dynasty
(960-1279), rice cultivation was introduced and irrigation developed,
and local farmers were able to grow four crops of ramie annually.
Brocade woven by Li women became popular in central China.
In the early Yuan Dynasty, Huang Daopo,
the legendary weaver in Chinese history, achieved her excellence
by learning weaving techniques from the Lis. Running away as a child
bride from her home in Shanghai, she came to Hainan and lived with
the Lis there. Returning to Shanghai, she passed on the Li techniques
to others and invented a cotton fluffer, a pedal spinning wheel
and looms, which were the most advanced in the world at the time.
The feudal mode of production became
dominant in Hainan during the Ming and Qing dynasties as elsewhere
in China. Most of the land was in the hands of a small number of
landlords, and peasants were exploited by usury and land rent. Large
tracts of land were seized by the government for official use. Only
in the Wuzhi Mountains did people still work the land collectively,
but even this remnant of the communal system was used by feudal
landlords as a means of exploitation.
Heavy oppression of the Li people kindled
flames of uprising. In the Song and Yuan dynasties, the Lis in Hainan
staged 18 large-scale uprisings; during the Ming and Qing dynasties
14 major rebellions took place. After the Opium War in 1840, Hainan
was invaded by foreign imperialists who brought untold sufferings
to the local Li and Han people, who rose repeatedly against feudal
lords and foreign invaders.
The first worker-peasant democratic
county government in Hainan was founded there, and revolutionary
base areas were set up in the rural areas. Soon afterwards, the
Qiongya Worker-Peasant Revolutionary Army was formed.
The Japanese invaded Hainan Island
in February 1939. People of various nationalities in Hainan rose
in resistance. In the spring of 1944, an anti-Japanese guerrilla
force -- the Qiongya Column -- was formed. It grew into an army
of 7,000 towards the end of the war, liberating three-fifths of
Li women wear buttonless blouses and
tight-fitting long skirts. Women in some places wear pullovers.
They do their hair in a coil at the back and pin it with bone hairpins
and wear embroidered kerchiefs. They like silver jewelry, and some
still tattoo their faces. Men wear collarless jackets, and those
in Dongfang County wear much the same kind of jackets as women.
The Li people like roast meat and pickled
sour meat mixed with rice meal and wild herbs. Arica is a favorite
with women, who chew it with shell ashes wrapped in green leaves;
the juice dyes their lips red. The Lis are also heavy smokers and
Several families related by blood live
together, pooling their labor and sharing the harvest. They dwell
in boat-shaped thatched bamboo houses with woven bamboo or rattan
floors half a meter above the ground. These houses have mud plastered
The Li people are monogamous, and close
relatives are not allowed to marry each other. Before liberation
in 1949, marriages were arranged by parents when their children
were still young and bride prices were as high as several hundred
silver dollars or several head of cattle. Those who could not afford
the bride price were indentured to the bride's family for several
years. Shortly after the wedding, the bride went back to live with
her own parents until she knew she had become pregnant. These old
customs have gradually gone out of practice since liberation.
Death was announced by the firing of
guns, and the body was put into a coffin hewed out of a single log
and was buried in the village cemetery. Before 1949, animism and
ancestor worship were common among the Lis who also believed in
witchcraft. All this has been abolished since the island was liberated
The Lis are known for their skill in
weaving kapok. They are also famed for their knowledge of herbal
medicine. Their remedies for snakebites and rabies have proved very
They keep a primitive calendar and
calculate according to a 12-day cycle, with each day named after
an animal, similar to the 12 earthly branches used by the Han people.
The Li economy was backward and development
was lopsided before liberation in 1949. Over 94 per cent of the
Li area was in semi-colonial, semi-feudal society and the landlord
economy was fairly developed. In general, the level of development
in agriculture and handicraft there was lower than that of the Han
areas, so were commerce and animal husbandry. People were impoverished
under feudal exploitation and the Kuomintang government's heavy
In the heart of the Wuzhi Mountains,
13,000 Lis still lived a primitive communal life of collective farming
by the time of liberation. A communal farm consisted of several
families related by blood. They worked collectively and shared the
harvests. This area was more backward than the rest of the island
economically. The communal farms -- the "Hemus" -- fell
into two major categories: smaller farms based on maternal or paternal
blood relations and larger farms which admitted "outsiders"
who had no blood ties with the original member families.
Each commune had a headman who was
in charge of production and distribution and officiated at religious
ceremonies with his wife's assistance. He was also a social leader
who mediated disputes and was empowered to admit "outsiders"
as communal members. Headmen and members were equals in the old
days but, under the influence of feudalism, some headmen began to
seize public grain reserves as their own and exploit "outsiders."
Some later became government officials and degenerated into local
While farm cattle remained public property,
farm tools, hunting and fishing gear and work tools were privately
owned by families. With the inception of private ownership of cattle
and land, the practice of selling and pawning land became popular,
as did the leasing of cattle and land. Rent was paid in kind. The
exploitation of hired labor began to appear, and the primitive communal
system gave way to serfdom and slavery. The establishment of prefectures
and counties accelerated class differentiation among the Li people.
A social unit called "kom"
existed for a long time in the Li areas. Koms were different in
size, and had strict territorial boundaries between each other.
A big kom consisted of several small ones which in turn were usually
formed by two villages. Most disputes between the koms arose over
infringement of each other's territory for hunting, fishing or wood-cutting
purposes. Like many of the communal farms, the koms were based on
blood relations, and each had one or several headmen chosen for
their administrative ability or seniority. Headmen chaired meetings,
settled disputes and formulated regulations. With the growth of
the feudal economy, the headmen of the koms gradually came to represent
those in power.
Hainan's liberation in May was followed
by the campaign to wipe out remaining bandits and fight local despots.
The Hainan Li-Miao Autonomous Prefecture was founded in July 1952
and the government provided the local people with seeds, farm tools,
cattle and grain to help them develop production. Land reform brought
tremendous changes to the Li areas. New water conservancy projects
and improved farming methods have contributed tremendously to the
growth of the rural economy over the years.
Poor farmers were mostly illiterate
in the past. They made knots on ropes or counted beans to keep records
and notes. Now school age children can go to school.
Hospitals, epidemic prevention stations
and clinics have been set up in the prefecture and all the counties.
Smallpox and cholera, once rampant here, have been brought under
control while the incidence of malaria which once took the lives
of a whole village, has been reduced drastically.