กกกกThe Zhuangs ethnic
minority is China's largest minority group. Its population of 16,178,811 approaches that of Australia. Most of the Zhuangs live in
southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, which is nearly
the size of New Zealand. The rest have settled in Yunnan, Guangdong,
Guizhou and Hunan provinces.
While most Zhuang communities concentrate
in a compact area in Guangxi, the others are scattered over places
shared by other ethnic groups such as Han, Yao, Miao, Dong, Mulao,
Maonan and Shui.
Lying in Guangxi's mountainous regions,
the Zhuang area is high in the northwest, undulating in the middle
and low in the southeast. Limestone is widely distributed in the
area, which is known round the world for its karst topography. Many
rocky peaks rise straight up from the ground, and the peaks hide
numerous fascinating grottoes and subterranean rivers. Guilin, a
tourist attraction in Guangxi, is an excellent example of such landscape.
As the saying goes: "The landscape at Guilin is the best on
earth; and the landscape at Yangshuo is the best in Guilin."
Wuming, Jingxi and Lingyun counties are also known for their scenic
Crisscrossing rivers endow the Zhuang
area with plentiful sources of water for irrigation, navigation
and hydropower. The coastline in south Guangxi not only has important
ports but also yields many valuable marine products including the
best pearls in China.
The Zhuang area enjoys a mild climate
with an average annual temperature of 20 degrees centigrade, being
warm in winter and sweltering in summer in the south. Plants are
always green, blossoming in all seasons. Abundant rainfall nurtures
tropical and subtropical crops such as rice, yam, corn, sugar cane,
banana, longan, litchi, pineapple, shaddock and mango. The mountains
in southwest and northwest Guangxi abound in Liuzhou fir, silver
fir and camphor trees, rare elsewhere. Mineral resources include
iron, coal, wolfram, gold, copper, tin, manganese, aluminum, stibium,
zinc and petroleum. The area is also rich in tung oil, tea, tea
oil, mushroom, Chinese cinnamon, pseudo-ginseng, Chinese gecko (used
in traditional Chinese medicine to help regain vitality), fennal
and fennal essence. The last four items are the Zhuang area's special
"Zhuang" was one of the names
the ancestors of the ethnic group gave themselves. The term was
first recorded some 1,000 years ago, in the Song Dynasty. The Zhuangs
used to call themselves by at least a dozen other names, too.
The Zhuang areas first came under the
administration of China's central authority 2,000 years ago. In
221 B.C., the First Emperor of Qin, China's first feudal emperor
to unify the country, conquered the area and established three prefectures
there. The emperor had the Lingqu Canal built to facilitate irrigation.
He also started a project to move people from other places to the
area, strengthening its political, economic and cultural ties with
the central-south part of the country.
In the centuries that followed, a number
of powerful clans emerged in this area, who owned vast tracts of
land and numerous slaves and servants. Still later, during the Tang
and Song dynasties, social and economic development was such that
irrigated rice paddies, farm cattle, iron, copper and spinning and
weaving spread far and wide.
However, the Zhuang area still lagged
behind central China economically. Quite a number of places retained
the primitive mode of production, including slash-and-burn cultivation
and hunting. The dominant social system was feudal serfdom and people
were classified into three strata: hereditary landowners, tenant
farmers and house slaves. The system was eliminated during the Qing
Dynasty (1644-1911), the last feudal monarchy in China.
Administratively, most of the Zhuang
area was governed by the headmen system all through the over 1,000
years from the Tang to Qing dynasties. Backed by the central authorities,
the local headmen oppressed and exploited the Zhuangs, forcing them
into hundreds of uprisings.
In 1851, the Taiping Revolution, the
biggest of peasant uprisings in Chinese history, broke out in this
area. Thousands of Zhuangs joined the Taiping Army, forming its
spine in its march to the north. Many of them became important leaders
of the army and the Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping.
Inhabiting China's southern frontier
areas, the Zhuangs have played an important role in defending the
country's territory. In the 1070s, they repulsed the Annamese aggressors;
in the middle 16th century, they beat back the invading Japanese
Towards the end of the 19th century,
French troops that had occupied south Vietnam pushed northward and
invaded China. People of Zhuang and Han nationalities in Guangxi
formed the Black Banner Army and trounced the French invaders near
Hanoi in 1873. They again routed the French at Hanoi in 1882.
When the French invaders made new incursions
into China in 1885, the local Zhuang and Han people helped the Chinese
army win a crucial victory at Zhennanguan, a pass on the Sino-Vietnamese
The Zhuangs also made great contributions
to the Revolution of 1911, China's first democratic revolution led
by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Many Zhuangs became key members of the Tong
Meng Hui, an organization Dr. Sun formed to advance his revolutionary
The Zhuang language belongs to
the Chinese-Tibetan language family. Ancient Zhuang characters appeared
in the South Song Dynasty (1127-1279), but never got popularized.
So, the Zhuangs wrote in the Han script until 1955, when the central
government helped them create a writing system based on the Latin
alphabet. The Romanized script has been used in books, magazines
The Zhuang ethnic group's ancient culture
and art are not only rich and colorful but also outstanding with
their indigenous characteristics. For example, 2,000-year-old frescoes
have been found at more than 50 spots on the precipices hanging
over the Zuojiang River running through southwest Guangxi. The best
known of them is the Huashan fresco in Ningming County which is
over 100 meters long and 40 meters wide, featuring 1,300 figures.
Drawn in rugged and vigorous lines, it reflects the life of the
Bronze drum, a special relic of minority
groups in central south and southwest China, dates back well over
two millennia. Guangxi alone has unearthed more than 500 of such
drums, which are in different designs and sizes. The largest exceeds
one meter in diameter and the heaviest weighs over half a ton while
the lightest several dozen kilograms. The tops and sides of the
drums are decorated with designs done in relief.
However, explanations are diverse in
so far as the use of these drums is concerned. Some people believe
that they were meant for military music, others argue that they
were for folk music, and still others think they were for religious
rites or to symbolize power and wealth.
Zhuang brocade is a splendid handicraft
which originated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Woven in beautiful
designs with natural cotton warp and dyed velour weft, the brocade
is excellent for making quilt covers, table-clothes, braces, aprons
and handbags. Winning national fame during the Ming and Qing dynasties
(1368-1911), Zhuang brocade has been steadily improved and at least
40 new designs have been developed in the past few decades.
Legends, fairy tales, stories and ballads
frame the folk literature of the Zhuangs who have also been reputed
for their singing. Sweet songs can be heard wherever you go in the
Zhuang area. Extemporaneous melodies and lyrics and clever use of
metaphors, riddles and cross-examinations add charm to their songs.
It is said that, in the Tang Dynasty, a Zhuang woman singer called
Third Sister Liu became known not just for her beautiful singing
but especially for the courageous exposure in her songs of the crudeness
of local tyrants. Today her name is a household word throughout
China thanks to a successful film about her made in the 1950s.
In the old days, every Zhuang community
held its regular songfests at given venues. On those occasions,
young people from nearby villages would come together in their holiday
best to meet each other and choose their lovers through songs.
Common Zhuang musical instruments include
suona (Chinese cornet),
bronze drum, cymbal, gong, sheng
(Chinese wind pipe), xiao
(vertical bamboo flute), di
(Chinese flute) and huqin
(a stringed instrument) made of horse bones.
Zhuang dances are characterized by
distinct themes, forceful and nimble steps, jocular and humorous
gestures and true-to-life emotions. The Rice-Husking Dance, Silk-Ball
Dance, Shrimp-Catching Dance, Tea-Picking Dance, Shoulder-Pole Dance
and Bronze-Drum Dance not only vividly depict the Zhuangs' life
and work, but also display their straightforward, unbending nature.
Yet what combines the Zhuangs' folk
literature, music, dance and other forms of art is the Zhuang Opera,
which first originated from religious rites in the Tang Dynasty.
Customs and Habits
Most Zhuangs now live in one-story
houses the same as the Hans. But some have kept their traditional
two-story structures with the upper story serving as the living
quarters and the lower as stables and storerooms. The old housing
style, they think, suits the mountainous terrain and the humid climate.
Contemporary Zhuang clothing is in
general close to the wear of the Han people. But traditional dresses
remain in many places or are worn for special occasions. In northwest
Guangxi, for instance, elderly women like collarless, embroidered
and trimmed jackets buttoned to the left together with baggy trousers,
embroidered belts and shoes and pleated skirts. They fancy silver
ornaments. Women of southwest Guangxi prefer collarless, left-buttoned
jackets, square kerchieves and loose trousers -- all in black.
Tattoo used to be an ancient Zhuang
custom. A great writer of Tang Dynasty, Liu Zongyuan, mentioned
it in his writings. Chewing betel nuts is a habit still popular
among some Zhuang women. In places such as southwest Guangxi, betel
nuts are a treat to guests.
Rice and corn make up the Zhuangs'
staple food, and glutinous rice is particularly favored by those
in south Guangxi.
The Zhuangs are monogamous. But they
have a strange custom -- the wife stays away from the husband's
home after marriage. At the wedding, the bride is taken to the bridegroom's
home by a dozen girls of the same generation. She returns to live
with her parents the next day and visits her husband only occasionally
during holidays or the busy farming seasons. The woman will move
permanently to the man's home two or three years later. This convention,
which often impairs the harmony between husband and wife, has been
going out of existence.
While sharing many festivals with the
Hans, the Zhuangs have three red-letter days of their own: the Devil
Festival, the Cattle Soul Festival and the Feasting Festival. The
Devil Festival, which falls on July 14 on the lunar calendar (usually
in August on the Gregorian calendar), is an important occasion next
only to the Spring Festival.
On that day, every family would prepare chicken, duck and
five-colored glutinous rice to be offered as sacrifices to ancestors
The Cattle Soul Festival usually follows
the spring ploughing, when every family would carry a basketful
of steamed five-colored glutinous rice and a bundle of fresh grass
to the cattle pen. After a brief sacrificial rite, they would feed
the cattle with the grass and half of the rice. They believe that
the cattle have lost their souls because of the whipping during
the spring ploughing and that the ritual would call back the lost
The Feasting Festival is celebrated
only by people who live near the Sino-Vietnamese border. Legend
has it that a group of Zhuang soldiers, having repulsed the French
invaders in the late 19th century, returned in late January and
missed the Spring Festival. To pay tribute to them and celebrate
the victory, their neighbors prepared a sumptuous feast for them.
The Zhuangs are polytheists, worshipping
among other things giant rocks, old trees, high mountains, land,
dragons, snakes, birds and ancestors. Taoism has also had a deep
influence on the Zhuangs since the Tang Dynasty. In the old days,
there were semi-professional Taoist priests in the countryside,
and religious rites cost a lot of money. Foreign missionaries came
to the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but their influence
was limited to cities and towns.
Development After 1949
Land reforms began in the Zhuang
area immediately after the founding of the People's Republic. Land
was confiscated from evil landlords and distributed among the poor
peasants. Later producers' cooperatives were formed while the socialist
transformation of handicrafts and private industry and commerce
was carried out.
Starting from 1952, the policy of regional
ethnic autonomy was implemented in the area. At first, a Zhuang
autonomous region was set up in the western part of Guangxi, which
was enlarged to cover the whole of Guangxi and renamed the Guangxi
Zhuang Autonomous Region in 1958. Shortly afterwards, the Wenshan
Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture was established in Yunnan Province
and the Lianshan Zhuang-Yao Autonomous County in Guangdong Province.
According to statistics tabulated in 1984, there were more than
207,208 Zhuang government employees at various levels in Guangxi,
making up one-third of the total number in the region. The case
in Wenshan Prefecture and Lianshan County was about the same.
The Zhuang area is basically agricultural,
but before 1949 the local people never had enough to eat despite
their hard work and the favorable natural conditions. By 1983, they
had raised grain output by 158 per cent thanks to improved field
management and the 500,000 water conservancy projects built since
Forestry in the Zhuang area has grown
even more rapidly, with timber output 150 times what it was before
The rapid growth of agriculture and
forestry has contributed to the development of modern industry,
which started from scratch after liberation in 1949. In the early
1980s, Guangxi annually produced 4,400 tractors and 3,600 farm lorries.
In transportation, highways now reach
every township in the region, railway mileage has almost quadrupled
and shipping services have been opened on the main rivers.
Education and medical services have
also taken on a new look. There were three colleges in Guangxi in
the early 1950s but higher education was still beyond the reach
of the minority groups because of their lack of elementary and secondary
education. Today the autonomous region has over 20 universities
and colleges, and the Guangxi Ethnic Institute alone has turned
out over dozens of thousands minority graduates, half of whom were
Zhuangs. Elementary and middle schools have increased in large numbers
so as to enroll all school age children.
In the past, the Zhuangs had such a
shortage of medical services that for generations they suffered
from infectious or contagious diseases like cholera, smallpox, snail
fever and malaria. The incidence of malaria, for example, exceeded
90 per cent. Now these diseases have almost been eliminated since
hospitals cover all cities, counties and townships, and every village
has its clinic.