¡¡¡¡The Qiang ethnic
minority has a population of 306,072 who mostly dwell in hilly areas,
crisscrossed by rivers and streams, in the Maowen Qiang Autonomous
Prefecture in Sichuan Province. A small number live with Tibetan,
Han and Hui ethnic groups in such localities as Wenchuan, Dali,
Heishui and Songpan.
They occupy a fertile land of mild
climate and adequate rain. The mountain slopes are natural pastures.
The area abounds in precious Chinese caterpillar fungus, bulb of
fritillary, antlers, musk and bear's gallbladders, which are used
for medicine. Deep in the forests are such rare animals as giant
pandas, golden monkeys and flying foxes. The region is also rich
in iron, coal, crystal, mica and plaster stone deposits.
"Qiang" was a name
given by ancient Hans to the nomadic people in west China. The Qiangs
were not a single distinctive ethnic group then. According to historical
records, a clan group made their homes in what is today's Sichuan
Province. The Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) court in the 2nd century
had set up an administrative prefecture for the area. During A.D.
600 to 900 when the Tibetan Regime gradually expanded its rule over
the region, some Qiangs were assimilated by the Tibetans and others
by the Hans, leaving a small number unassimilated. These developed
into the distinctive ethnic group of today.
The Qiangs do not have a written script
of their own. They speak a language belonging to the Tibetan-Myanmese
language family of the Chinese-Tibetan system. Owing to their close
contact with the Han people, many Qiang people speak Chinese, which
is also the written form for this ethnic group.
The Qiang and Han peoples have had
time-honored close political, economic and cultural ties. Administratively,
Han courts from the Qin, Han, Sui and Tang dynasties down to the
Ming Dynasty all had political units in the Qiang-occupied areas.
In the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the system of appointing
local hereditary headmen by the central authority to rule over the
Qiangs gave way to officials dispatched from the court. The central
administrative system helped enhance the ties between the Qiang
and Han ethnic groups. With their horses, medicinal herbs and other
native produce, the Qiangs used to barter farm implements and daily
necessities from the Hans. Mutual support and help stimulated the
social and economic development of Qiang society.
For a long period before China¡¯s national
liberation in 1949, the Qiangs lived in primitive conditions marked
by slash and burn farming. A feudal landlord economy dominated production.
Landlords and rich peasants, who accounted for only 8 per cent of
the population, were in possession of 43 per cent of the cultivated
land. Poor peasants and hired farm hands, accounting for 43 per
cent of the population, had only 16 per cent of the land. Many poor
peasants lost their land due to heavy rent coupled with usury. They
became hired laborers, wandering from place to place to make a living.
The Qiangs dress themselves simply
but beautifully. Men and women alike wear gowns made of gunny cloth,
cotton and silk with sleeveless sheep's wool jackets. They like
to bind their hair and legs. Women's clothing is laced and the collars
are decorated with plum-shaped silver ornaments. They wear sharp-pointed
and embroidered shoes, embroidered girdles and earrings, neck rings,
hairpins and silver badges.
Millet, highland barley, potatoes,
winter wheat and buckwheat make up their main staple foods. The
Qiangs drink a great deal of wine and smoke orchid leaves.
They live in blockhouses made of piled
up stones of different sizes. Unique in style, solid and practical,
these houses are two or three stories high. The first floor is for
livestock and poultry, the second retained as bedrooms and the third
for grain storage. The Qiang people are skilled in opening up roads
on rocky cliffs and erecting bamboo bridges over swift rivers. The
bamboo chain bridges they built, laid with boards, stretch up to
100 meters with no nails and piers being used. Some of the Qiangs
are excellent masons and are good at digging wells. During slack
farming seasons they go to neighboring places to do chiseling and
digging. Their skills are highly acclaimed.
Marriages, mainly monogamous, were
arranged by parents in the past. Usually, the wives were several
years older than their husbands. It was common for cousins to marry
and for bridegrooms to live with their wives' families. And it still
is not unusual for brides to live in their parents' houses within
a year or so after marriage. In Qiang society, younger brothers
could make their widowed sister-in-laws their wives and elder brothers
could marry the widows of their younger brothers. Such habits have
been gradually discarded since liberation.
Most Qiangs were believers of Animism,
except for those who lived near Tibetan communities and were followers
of Lamaism. The Qiangs worshipped white stones placed on roofs as
the "Heavenly God."
The Qiang people have created a unique
culture and arts and crafts. The clever and deft Qiang women can
do embroidery and drawnwork extemporaneously without designs. The
Qiangs are good singers and dancers. "Wine song," "plate
song," "mountain song" and "leather drum"
dances with accompaniment of gongs, tambourines, sonas and bamboo
flutes are popular.
The Qiang area was liberated in January
1950. In July, 1958 the Maowen Qiang Autonomous County was established.
By relying on collective efforts, they carried out large-scale capital
construction projects in their rocky region, where productivity
used to be low because of backward local conditions and the shortage
of men. Among the projects are tractor stations, reservoirs, hydroelectric
stations and pumping and drainage facilities. Now more farm machinery
is used and scientific farming methods have been introduced. Grain
output increases every year.
In the Qiang area, which had no industry
and highways before, enterprises have sprung up and two concrete
and 28 steel-chain bridges have been built over the Minjiang River.
The area's total highway mileage has reached 260 kilometers. A postal
route network covers every corner of the area.
The over 20 primary and nine middle
schools that have been built in post-1949 years enroll over more
than 80 per cent of school-age children. Thanks to the efforts of
medical workers, mass screening and treatment has brought black
fever and hook worm, two major epidemic diseases, under control.
New delivery methods have greatly raised the infant survival rate
and the Qiang population has risen markedly.
The Qiang area is dotted with small
hydroelectric power stations. Electricity reaches almost all households
and is used in processing farm and sideline produce and in mining
and industry. People's life has been enriched by village film projection
teams and a broadcasting network.