Ethnic Groups in Southwest China

China, a multinational country, is home to 55 ethnic groups in addition to the Han majority. Miao, Dai, Yi, Bai, Zhuang, Dong and Naxi, mainly inhabiting the southwestern provinces and regions of Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Sichuan, distinguish themselves by their unique clothing, food, housing, lifestyles, customs and practices, which are drawing multitudes of tourists to the area.

The Yi people, who have created their own language including a few written words, have a population of 7,770,000. They uses to be addressed as Laoyibao (meaning old Yi) or Manzi (meaning barbarians), terms which are considered very insulting today. A typical Yi man is dressed in black turban, a banian (loose shirts) and trousers with a trousers over his shoulders while a Yi woman is characterized by a scarf, a cardigan and a pleated skirt with chaplet hairstyle.

The Yi ethnic group in southern Yunnan find their lodgings in the flat-roofed Tuzhangfang constructed mainly on slope. A house of this kind, mostly one and occasionally two or three stories high, differs from others by its warmth in winter and coolness in summer, owing to the adobe or earth walls and the bedrock base. The flat roof offers a great space for Yi people to dry their grain and various other goods.

Inside the Tuzhangfang sits a huotang (a facility for cooking and heating), the center of Yi family life. Guests, if there are any, are seated to the right rather than the left as the latter serves the purpose of storage and sleeping. It is advisable that any guest should abstain from stepping on the Huotang or jumping over it or any wood pile. Any offered food should be accepted and one can eat as much as one can on the condition that noe is taken away as a symbol of kindheartedness and brotherhood.

When wine is served, the guests, even those non-drinkers, are supposed to drink to show their gratitude. For the Yi, it is not a square meal without wine and any wine can make a banquet. Even more amazing is that they pass a goblet and drink by turns (called zhuanzhuanjiu in local dialect) anywhere on the ground in a circle with both friends and strangers, without any dishes to accompany the beverage.

Torch Festival is a traditional holiday celebrated in July. Cattle are slaughtered on day before the holiday for people to taste fresh beef. On the eve of the Torch Festival a tourch parade is held, which is then followed with bull-fighting, sheep-fighting, horse-racing, and singing and dancing over the next two days when everyone is decked out in holiday best.

Unmarried women take advantage of the holiday season to express their love by proposing toasts to their beloved. From July 23 to 28, 2012, Torch Festival, an important component of Visit China 2012, will be held in Liangshan, Sichuan Province, and will include singing contests.

The Bai ethnic group, concentrated mainly in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan, has a population of 1,860,000. Mandarin Chinese is generally accepted despite their own native language. A typical Bai man is usually clad in a white banian, a short black coat, a white or blue turban and knee-breeches.

Bai women look charming in black-and-red shirts, red waist coats, embroidered aprons and below-the-knee trousers with puttees. A blue turban distinguishes a young girl from a married woman, who usually wears a red knitted hat.

Bai people prefer cold and sour food and live in 2-story, brick-and-wood or wood-and-stone buildings. Six is their lucky number and any gift of six pieces caters to their sense of enjoyment.

The Dai, with a population of 1,260,000 are mainly distributed in the Dai autonomous prefectures of Xishuangbanna and Dehong in Yunnan Province. Dai men prefer Chinese-style jackets, short, right-buttoned jackets with tight sleeves, long trousers and black or white turbans. Tight-sleeved summer blouses and long tight skirts are traditional attire for Dai women. Dai people love sour and hot food, fish, shrimp and betel nuts. Two-story bamboo buildings are typical of their homes, with the second floor for family members and the first floor for storage and cattle.

The Water-Sprinkling Festival, New Year’s Day according to the Dai calendar, usually falls in mid-April. On the last day of the year people go in their holiday best to Buddhist temples to pay their respects to Buddha before they hold any ceremony to welcome the new year. Then water is sprinkled everywhere. Although everyone gets soaked through to the bone, they don’t tend to steer clear of water on this day which carries a blessing. Dragon-boat races and cockfights add more to the cheer of the holiday.

From April 13 to 15, 2012, a grand Water-Sprinkling Festival, a part of Visit China 2012, was held in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. It was included xianjjiaogu (elephantfoot drum) dance, bazaars, Gaosheng (self-made rockets) and dragonboa racing. Meanwhile, the Dai Customs Village in Mandou, Jinghong County, Yunnan Province was also be open to tourists, where they could follow Dai customs and experience Dai routines by tasting the cuisine, joining in folk dances and participating in holiday activities.

The Miao population totals 12,000,000, scattered in Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Sichuan and Hunan. Turbans, short jackets and black puttees are Miao men’s favorite, while Miao Women in Chinese-style jackets and pleated skirts are famous for their novel hairstyles: buns on the top with turbans of different colors, hair wound over a frame on the top and capbill-like hair above the forehead shaped with shaped with vegetable oil. Girls not only know how to beautify themselves but also how to print with wax, a traditional handicraft which remains the pride of the ethnic group. The Miao ethnic group have a custom called Fenjixin (sharing a plate of roast chicken heart). Anyone who helps a Miao will be invited to the family on festivals or family celebrations, and treated like a close relative or distinguished guest with servings of roast chicken and duck. At the dinner table, the guests will be honored with a chicken heart presented by the most revered member of the family. And they will lose the family’s respect if they fail to share it with the other senior family members seated around the table.

In 1997, the China National Tourism Administration has designed a special travel route for southwestern China. These ethnic villages have been open to visitors for 16 years: the Ethnic Village in Haigeng and the Dai Village in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province; the Dong Villages in Hongfenghu and the Miao Village in Heitu, Guizhou Province; the Dong Villages in Sanjiang, Guangxi, and the Zhuang Villages and Yao Villages in Longsheng, Guangxi.


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