¡¡¡¡The 709,592 Shes
are scattered in Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces.
They live in villages of several dozen households or live along
with Hans. Most reside in hilly country 500 to 1,500 meters high.
Rivers have carved out their valleys. The climate is mild and humid,
the frost season brief, and the land fertile. Agricultural products
abound: rice, sweet potatoes, wheat, rape, beans, tobacco and potatoes
are just a few.
Timber and bamboo are important commercial
commodities for the Shes; other native produce include tea, oil
tea, dried and cured bamboo shoots, peanuts, ramie, mushroom, camphor
and medicinal herbs. Mineral resources include coal, iron, gold,
copper, alum, graphite, sulfur, talcum, mica and many other non-ferrous
The She language is very close to the
Hakka dialect of the Hans, and most Shes speak Chinese instead of
their ethnic tongue; a few Guangdong Shes speak a language similar
to the Miao.
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How the Shes Live
Shes like to sing. They
sing in the fields as well as on special festival occasions, and
every year Shes participate in several singing festivals. Shes like
to sing duets, but they sing alone as well.
Women wear clothes with flowers, birds
and geometric embroidery. Often they wear bright-colored sashes
or bamboo hats, decorated with pearls and trimmed with white or
red silk lace. Lace is also used to trim clothing.
In some areas, women wear shorts year-round.
When they do so, they wrap their legs and wear colorful waist sashes
and jackets with lace. They coil their hair on top of the heads
and tie it with red wool thread. On her wedding day, a She bride
will wear a phoenix coronet held in place by silver hairpins.
The She families are organized by "ancestral
temples" together with people of the same surname or clan.
Each such temple has a chief responsible for settling internal disputes,
administering public affairs and presiding over sacrificial ceremonies.
Within each temple are the "fangs," under which blood-related
groups live together.
The basic living and production unit
remains the patriarchal family, led by the eldest man. Still, She
women enjoy a higher status than their Han sisters. In fact, She
men often live with their wives' families and adopt their surnames.
Today, She marital customs are much
like those of the Hans. But under pre-1949 feudal conditions, parent-arranged
marriages were common, as were outright sales of daughters. Brides'
dowries usually included farm tools, bamboo hats and rain capes.
The wedding ceremony was simple. The groom would go to the home
of the bride's family for a feast. Finding the table empty, he would
sing out what he wanted, calling for chopsticks, wine and traditional
wedding food. At the end of the banquet, he would sing again, this
time ordering the dishes to be removed. The cook, in turn, would
return his songs with melodies of his own. The newlyweds would say
prayers to their ancestors and bid farewell to the bride's relatives.
With the groom in front, they would walk to his family's home, each
holding an umbrella and singing in echo. The groom's parents would
welcome them at the front door, completing the wedding ceremony.
As the feudal landlord system evolved,
parents and matchmakers became more important in making "correct"
marriages; bride prices became exorbitant, and the poorest peasants
were unable to afford marriage. Because of so many pre-arranged,
loveless marriages, folk singing gatherings became a means for people
to spend time with their lovers -- in defiance of the feudal marriage
Centuries ago, Shes cremated their
dead, but by the 1940s earth burial was common.
Like Hans, Shes celebrate the Spring
Festival, Lantern Festival, Pure Brightness Festival (in memory
of the dead), Dragon Boat-Racing Festival, Moon Festival and the
Double-Ninth Festival. In addition, the third day of the third lunar
month is a holiday on which no work is done. Ancestor worship is
the center of another festival on the eighth day of the fourth lunar
month. Sacrifices are offered to the "Duobei King" in
October, and people have a day off on the 19th of the second lunar
month to mark the Buddha's attainment of Nirvana.
Traditionally, every clan was symbolized
by a dragon-headed stick, a sign of the Shes' totemic beliefs. Moreover,
Shes used to trace their ancestry to a legendary "Panhu,"
who helped an emperor put down a rebellion and won the love of his
princess. Legend has it that Panhu and the princess had three sons
and a daughter, who became the ancestors of the Shes. Shes used
to worship a painting of their legendary ancestors and make sacrificial
offerings to them every three years.
Until education became widespread after
the founding of the People¡¯s Republic of China, Shes believed in
hosts and spirits. Superstition used to hamper people's minds and
production. Among the old and the uneducated, it still does.
Scholars disagree about the true origins
of the Shes. Are they descendants of the ancient Yues? Do they share
common ancestry with the Yaos? Most believe that the Shes' ancestors
originally lived in the Phoenix Mountains in Chaozhou, Guangdong
Province. They left their native place to escape the oppression
of their feudal rulers. That's why they called themselves "guests
from the mountains."
In their new homes, the Shes were ruled
by the central government for the first time in the 7th century,
when the Tang court organized prefectures in Zhangzhou and Tingzhou
in Fujian Province. Feudal patterns among the Shes were well established
by the Song Dynasty (960-1279). At that time, the Shes were planters
of rice, tea, sugar cane and ramie.
By the 14th century, many Shes had
migrated into the mountain areas in eastern Fujian, southern Zhejiang
and northeastern Jiangxi. Although they worked hard alongside Hans,
many were impoverished by feudal lords who seized large tracts of
land. Others had to work as hired laborers, or fled to find a living.
The situation improved under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Some
prosperous Shes were picked to govern the rest in the interests
of the Ming court.
Throughout history, the Shes struggled
against exploitation and oppression imposed by their rulers. During
the First Revolutionary Civil War (1924-27), She peasants in eastern
Guangdong organized to fight landlords, and similar uprisings sprang
up in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces. Revolutionary activities exploded
in eastern Fujian during the Agrarian Revolution (1927-37), and
most of the She areas were under the worker-peasant democratic power.
The Shes made great contributions to the Anti-Japanese struggle
(1937-45) and in the struggle against the Kuomintang. Most She areas
were revolutionary bases during the war for China's liberation in