¡¡¡¡There are in China
406,902 Shuis, the majority of whom dwell on the upper reaches of
the Longjiang and Duliu rivers that meander across plains and rolling
land interspersed with vast expanses of forests in southern Guizhou
Province. They live in compact communities in the Sandu Shui Autonomous
County and in Libo, Dushan and other counties. Some Shuis have their
homes in the northwestern part of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous
The areas in which the Shuis live are
a land of plenty, abounding in fish and rice. Wheat, rape, ramie
are also grown besides a great variety of citrus and other fruits.
The forests are a source of timber and medicinal herbs. The Duliu
and other rivers teem with fish.
The Shui language belongs to the Zhuang-Dong
branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. The Shuis used to
have an archaic writing script. Some of their words were pictographs,
while others resembled Chinese characters written upside down. Except
for scores of these ancient words that are still used for religious
purposes, the Shuis use Chinese in their daily lives.
The Shuis boast a treasure house of
colorful oral literature and art. Their literature includes poetry,
legends, fairy tales and fables. Among the various forms, poetry,
which consists of long narrative poems and extemporaneous ballads,
are generally considered the most prominent.
Stories and fables in prose style praise
the diligence, bravery, wisdom and love of the Shui ethnic group
and satirize the stupidity of feudal rulers. With rich content and
vivid plots Shui tales are usually highly romantic.
Their songs, which are usually sung
without the accompaniment of musical instruments, fall into two
categories. The "grand songs" are sung while they work,
whereas the "wine songs" are meant for wedding feasts
The Shui people are good dancers. "Lusheng
Dance" and "Copper Drum Dance" are the most popular
dances enjoyed by all on festive occasions. Traditional musical
instruments include gongs, drums, lusheng, huqin and suona horns. The
Shui people make beautiful handicrafts -- embroideries, batiks,
paper cuts and woodcarvings.
The Shuis usually dress
in black and blue. Men have long gowns and black turbans, and women
wear collarless blue blouses, black trousers and aprons, all of
which are embroidered. On festival occasions, the females put on
skirts and a variety of silver earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
They usually wear their hair in buns.
Shui diets consist of rice and fish,
supplemented with corn, barley, wheat and sweet potatoes. A kind
of liquor made of rice goes to entertain guests or is offered to
dead ancestors at sacrificial ceremonies.
A Shui house is either a one-storied
affair or a two-storied building. Dwellers of two-storied houses
usually live upstairs and reserve the ground floor for livestock,
dogs and chickens.
Monogamy is practiced. Young people
had the freedom to choose their spouses three centuries ago. Such
freedom came to an end with the growth of the feudal economy, and
children of rich landed families could only marry those of wealthy
ones, and marriage was arranged by parents.
On wedding day, the groom's family
sent some unmarried men to escort the bride home. The bride walked
all the way to her husband's home under an umbrella and returned
to her parent's home on the same day or the day after. The bride,
as a rule, did not live very often with her husband until six months
after marriage. Such feudal ways as parental arrangement of children's
marriages and extortion of big payments by parents of brides from
the grooms' families have ceased to exist following the establishment
of the People's Republic in 1949.
Shui funerals used to be extremely
elaborate. Livestock were killed as sacrificial offerings to the
dead. Singing, dancing and performance of local operas went on and
on until an auspicious day was found to bury the dead. Such wasteful
funerals have been simplified in the post-1949 years.
The Shuis are believers of polytheism.
In former days a shaman would be employed to say prayers and animals
slaughtered to be offered to evil spirits when someone fell ill
or died or when something bad happened. Catholicism that came to
the area in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) won very few converts.
The Shuis have a calendar of their
own which takes the ninth lunar month as the beginning of a new
year, and their biggest festival is the "duan" holiday
which is celebrated with great pomp after the autumn harvest at
the beginning of the 11th lunar month every year. Garbed in their
colorful costumes, the Shuis gather in their village to watch horse
races and plays, and to feast for days on end.
The Shuis are probably
the descendants of the Luoyues, one of the early tribes that lived
along China's southeastern coast before the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.
24). They adopted their present name at the end of the Ming Dynasty
In the Song Dynasty (960-1279) villages
were formed and rice growing began. By the end of the Song, the
Shuis had entered the early stage of feudalism. The nobles bearing
the surname of Meng initiated in the upper reaches of the Longjiang
River a feudal system which bore the distinctive vestiges of the
communal village. The Yuan rulers (1271-1368) established local
governments at the prefectural level in an attempt to appease the
ethnic groups. The Ming period witnessed a marked economic growth
in Shui communities. The introduction of improved farm tools made
it possible for farmers to open up paddy fields on flatland and
terraced fields on mountain slopes. The primitive "slash and
burn" farming gave way to more advanced agriculture characterized
by the use of irrigation and draught animals. As a result, grain
output increased remarkably.
The Ming imperial court followed the
preceding dynasty's practice of appointing hereditary Shui headmen.
Under this system, the Shuis had to pay taxes to and do corvee for
these court-appointed headmen as well as for the imperial court.
During the two centuries between 1640
and 1840 the Shui economy continued to develop. Farm production
registered a marked increase, with per hectare yield of rice on
flatland reaching 2,250 kilograms. Some quit farming and became
After the Revolution of 1911, national
capitalism gained some ground in the area. In what is now the Sandu
Shui Autonomous County, iron mines and plants processing iron, mercury
and antimony were set up, but later they were either taken over
by Kuomintang monopolist capital or went bankrupt. The comprador
capitalists plundered the rich natural resources, while big landowners
annexed large areas of farmland. Ruthless exploitation through usury,
hired labor and high land rent robbed farmers of 60 to 70 per cent
of their crops, thus ruining a great many farmers.
Changes After 1949
The founding of New China brought
a revival and further growth in production. During the land reform
in the early 50's, full respect for Shui customs was emphasized
and public land was reserved for festive horseracing and dancing.
In 1957 the Sandu Shui Autonomous County was established.
Formerly only 13 per cent of the arable
land was irrigated. Now thousands of water conservancy facilities
have been built to bring most arable land under irrigation.
Abundant mineral resources have been
found and mined. Today local industries include chemical fertilizer,
coalmining, farm machinery, sulfur, casting, sugar refining, winemaking
and ceramics. Handicraft industries such as ironwork, masonry, silver
jewelry, carpentry, textiles, papermaking, bamboo articles have
In the past, transportation was very
difficult in this mountainous area, with only one 17-km highway
traversing the county. Now all the seven districts in the county
are connected by highways or waterways, and many towns and factories
have bus services. The Hunan-Guizhou and Guizhou-Guangxi railways
have further facilitated the interflow of commodities between the
Shui community and other areas and strengthened ties between the
Shui and other ethnic groups.
Before 1949 there were few schools
in the area. By 1981, apart from 10 secondary schools and 145 primary
schools with a total enrolment of 27,700, there was one ethnic minority
school and one ethnic minority teachers' school. Officials of the
Shui people now number over 1,000, or over 30 per cent of the county's
total administrative staff.
In the past malaria was rampant in
the area with an 80 per cent incidence rate, but the only medical
facility was a small hospital with three medical workers. After
1949 a large number of clinics and hospitals were set up. Thanks
to the persistent efforts in the past years, malaria has been brought