ĦĦĦĦThe Maonan ethnic
minority has a population of 107,166, living in the northern part
of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
The Maonan communities are located
in sub-tropical areas characterized by a mild climate and beautiful
scenery, with stony hills jutting up here and there, among which
small patches of flatland are scattered. There are many small streams
which are used to irrigate paddy rice fields. Drought-resistant
crops are grown in the Dashi Mountain area where water is scarce.
In addition to paddy rice, agricultural crops include maize, wheat,
Chinese sorghum, sweet potatoes, soybean, cotton and tobacco. Special
local products include camphor, palm fiber and musk. The area abounds
in mineral resources such as iron, manganese, stibium and mercury.
The Maonans are experts in raising beef cattle, which are marketed
in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
People surnamed Tan take up 80 per
cent of the population. Legend has it that their ancestors earlier
lived in Hunan Province, then emigrated to Guangxi and multiplied
by marrying the local women who spoke the Maonan tongue. There are
other Maonans surnamed Lu, Meng, Wei and Yan, whose ancestral homes
are said to have been in Shandong and Fujian provinces.
The Maonan language belongs to the
Dong-Shui branch of the Zhuang-Dong language group of the Chinese-Tibetan
language family. Almost all the Maonans know both the Han and the
Zhuang languages because of long contact with those people.
Long subjected to the oppression of
the ruling class, the Maonan areas developed very slowly. At the
end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Maonans still used wooden
hoes and ploughs. Various iron tools were in use by the time of
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when land was gradually concentrated and
the division of classes became distinct. There began to appear farm
laborers who did not own an inch of land, poor peasants who had
a small amount of land, self-sufficient middle peasants, and landlords
and rich peasants who owned large amounts. The landlords and rich
peasants cruelly exploited farm laborers and poor peasants by means
of land rent and usury. There were also slave girls either bought
by the landlords or forced by unpaid debts to serve landlords all
The Maonan people are chiefly engaged
in agriculture, but also have sidelines which yield more than half
their total income, such as weaving bambooware, raising beef cattle,
making wooden articles and casting iron. Before liberation, their
major farm tools were ox-pulled ploughshares, iron hoes, foot-pedaled
ploughs, scrapers and scythes. Backward tools and farming techniques
kept the agricultural production at a very low level for a long
The land ownership in the Maonan areas
was highly concentrated before 1949. In Yuhuan Township, Huanjiang
County, the landlords and rich peasants -- some 3.8 per cent of
the township population -- occupied 36.1 per cent of the total arable
land; whereas the farm laborers and poor peasants who took up 53.4
per cent of the population only owned 18.7 per cent of the land.
Land rent was mostly paid in kind at an exploitative rate.
Customs and Culture
The Maonans with the same surnames
and from the same clans usually live together in small villages
with only a few households. The biggest village consists of not
more than 100 households. Their houses and clothes are basically
identical to those of their Han and Zhuang neighbors. Houses have
two stories, with mud walls and tile roofs. The second floor is
used as living quarters and the ground floor for livestock.
The major staples of the Maonans are
rice and maize, and then millet, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. They
all enjoy tobacco, alcohol, tea and hot peppers. They pick out big
sweet potatoes with no injuries, dry them in the sun and leave them
in the open at night to be drenched by dew. Twenty or 30 days later,
potatoes are put into cellars or above the cooking stoves. After
another 20 days or so, they are steamed and enjoyed as a delicacy.
The Maonan families are generally small
and monogamous. In the past, marriages were all decided and arranged
by the parents. There were customs like "not settling in the
home of the husband," and a younger brother would marry the
deceased elder brother's wife or vice versa. The remarriage of widows
was greatly restricted. When a person died, a Taoist priest would
be invited to recite scriptures and join in the funeral procession,
the son of the dead person would "buy water" at a river
or in a well to wash the body. Before the burial, chicken blood
was sprayed into the grave to bless the spirit of the deceased and
protect his or her offspring.
The Maonans celebrate the Spring Festival,
Zhongyuan Festival and Pure Brightness Day, similar to those of
their Han and Zhuang neighbors. However, the Fenglong Festival is
unique to the Maonans and is celebrated by offering sacrifices to
God and their ancestors to pray for a good harvest. Married daughters
and relatives living in other places return to their home villages
for the celebration. A special treat is five-colored rice. In the
past, there were many taboos, such as suspending productive labor
on festivals, which hindered the development of production. After
1949, weddings and funerals were simplified, and some superstitious
activities were reformed.
Singing is a popular recreational activity
of the Maonans. In addition, they also enjoy "Maonan opera,"
based on folklore and legends and portraying love affairs, anti-feudal
struggles, joys and sorrows, partings and reunions, and the lofty
ideals of the people.
Maonan carving and weaving have unique
styles. The former comprises wood and stone varieties, delicate
and vivid in imagery. The latter is famous for flowery bamboo hats
and bamboo mattresses.
The Maonans are polite and hospitable,
calling each other brothers and sisters when they meet. When guests
visit, they entertain them with oranges and sweet potatoes. Guests,
important or not, are always solicitously invited to dine with their