the Wuling Range of western Hunan and Hubei provinces, at elevations
from 400 to 1,500 meters, dwell 8,028,133 people called the Tujias.
They live mainly in the Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture,
Exi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture and some counties in southeastern
Hunan and western Hubei. In these areas, the climate is mild but rainy,
and the land is well-forested.
The Youshui, Fengshui and Qingjiang rivers
intersect there, and on the terraced mountainsides and in the green
valleys grow rice, maize, wheat and potatoes. Cash crops include
beets, ramie, cotton, tung oil, oil tea and tea, with oil tea and
tung oil playing key commercial roles. Timber includes pine, China
fir, cypress and the nanmu tree. The area is rich in rare medicinal
herbs, minerals, aquatic products and giant salamanders.
About 20,000-30,000 people living in
remote areas such as Longshan speak Tujia, a language which is similar
to that spoken by the Yis and belongs to the Chinese-Tibetan language
system. But the large majority has come to speak the Han and Miao
languages, now that the Tujias have been largely assimilated. Their
clothing and customs are very much like those of the Hans. Old Tujia
ways survive only in remote area.
Traditionally, Tujia women wear jackets
trimmed with lace and with short, broad sleeves. They wear long
skirts, and wrap their coiled hair in cloth. They adorn themselves
with necklaces, earrings, bracelets and ankle bracelets. Tujia men
wear short jackets with many buttons in front. The traditional hand-woven
"xi" and "tong" cloth with intricate designs
are the main material for clothing. In pre-1949 times, the gentry
wore furs in winter, while the poor peasants wore thin garments
and were cold.
In the old society Tujia chiefs and
officials had wooden homes with tiled roofs and carved columns,
while ordinary people lived in thatched bamboo-woven houses.
At one time, young Tujias could select
their marriage partners fairly freely, and courting involved a great
deal of singing and dancing. Only approval of a wizard was necessary
for a match. But as the feudal economy developed, marriage became
more a matter of economics. Parents would calculate the value of
their children as potential partners, and choice became limited
by wealth. The new marriage law promulgated in the early days of
the People's Republic made mercenary marriages illegal.
In feudal times, cremation of the dead
was a basic custom of the Tujias. During a funeral, a Taoist priest
would walk in front of a procession while a wizard chanted scripture.
Burial was later adopted following association with the Hans.
The Tujias had some rather distinctive
taboos. Young girls or pregnant women were not permitted to sit
on thresholds, while men could not enter a house wearing straw raincoats
or carrying hoes or empty buckets. Nor were people allowed to approach
the communal fire or say ostensibly unlucky things on auspicious
days. Young women were not allowed to sit next to male visitors,
although young girls could. At worship ceremonies, cats were kept
away as their meowing was considered unlucky.
Although they are dying out as the
Tujias become more assimilated, religious beliefs have included
Taoism, ancestor worship and a shamanistic belief in gods, ghosts
and demons. Formerly, prayers were said before hunting, and when
a person died, wizards were invited to expel evil spirits and ghosts
from the house.
The Tujias are well-known for a hand
dance with over 70 ritual gestures to indicate war, hunting, farming
and feasting. The dance is popular at Spring Festival, the Lunar
New Year, when several thousand people participate. Tujia epics,
which are imaginative, tell of the origins of mankind and of the
migrations and aspirations of the Tujias in dramatic and poetic
ways. Tujia folksongs are usually about love and work, battles and
grief. Virtually all Tujias can compose and sing songs.
Embroidery and weaving stand high among
Tujia crafts and their patterned quilts are especially beautiful.
The Tujia gunny cloth is valued for its durability.
There are several conflicting versions
of the origin of the Tujias. Some say they are the descendants of
the ancient Ba people; others claim they come from the Wuman, who
moved to western Hunan from Guizhou Province; yet another tale claims
they came from Jiangxi Province in the east at the end of the Tang
Dynasty (618-907). In any case, the Tujias were a distinct ethnic
group in western Hunan by the early Five Dynasties period, around
the year 910. After early contact with Hans, they developed metal
smelting and commercial crafts.
Han peasants migrated to western Hunan
in the early 12th century, bringing with them modern tools and farming
expertise. In western Hubei, feudal lords sold some of their lands
to Han peasants and businesspeople, some of whom became landlords.
The feudal lords also commanded the economy. So the Tujias were
exploited by their own chieftains, feudal lords and Han landlords.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644),
Tujia soldiers, together with Han, Zhuang, Miao, Yao, Mulam and
Hui fighters, were sent to the country's coastal provinces to fight
against Japanese pirates pillaging the areas.