Zhuang, culture of

Zhuang, culture of
The Zhuang, the largest minority in China, number over 18 million. Two sub-groups, the northern and southern Zhuang, are by far the most numerous, accounting for 62 and 23 per cent, respectively. Most live in the Guangxi-Zhuang Autonomous Region where they make up roughly a third of the total population. Significant numbers of Zhuang are also found in the nearby provinces of Guizhou, Hunan and Guangdong, as well as in southeastern Yunnan, where close to a million share with the Miao the distinction of having an autonomous prefecture named after them (Wenshan). In many ways the Zhuang are similar to their Han Chinese neighbours who share the land—they look alike, dress alike, grow rice and seek out the same ecological conditions for agriculture as the Han, and are generally comfortable speaking whatever variety of Chinese is spoken locally. However, the southern and northern Zhuang languages are quite different from Mandarin and from each other, the latter being very close to Bouyei. Some of the numerous southern Zhuang dialects (officially seven, but estimated by some linguists to be as many as fifty) are more accurately classified as distinct languages. Nevertheless, many of the southern Zhuang can also speak a general form of northern Zhuang. Although ancient Zhuang ideographs appeared during the Southern Song period (1127–1276), they never made an inroad, and today a romanized script, introduced in 1950, is used to protect and preserve Zhuang culture.
For more than 2,000 years, the Zhuang have had close ties with both the Chinese and the Vietnamese. However, their historical records go back only as far as the Song dynasty when they first became known as Zhuang. There are, of course, certain features that distinguish them from the Han.
For example, the role of women in their culture seems to be more important, and much of this is discernible in the content of their famous antiphonal singing. One of their most important festivals is sometimes called the ‘singing fest’ when ballads are sung antiphonally in rice fields or outside caves by day, and in the villages by night. Common accompanying musical instruments include the suona (a cornet), bronze drums, cymbals, gongs, the lusheng (wind pipes)—used also by the Miao and the Yi—the xiao (vertical bamboo flutes), and the huqin (a stringed instrument made of horse bone). Their distinctive opera (dating back to Tang times) combines Zhuang folk literature, music, dance and other art forms. Very few Zhuang wear traditional clothing on a regular basis, but they enjoy wearing it at festivals and other special occasions. The majority of Zhuang now live in houses that resemble those of the Han. However, in remote mountain villages many have kept their traditional (ganlan-type) two-storey wood dwellings where the upper level serves as living quarters and the lower as stables and storerooms. These structures are similar to the housing that is characteristic of the Dong, Bouyei (Buyi) and Miao.
Holm, David (2003). Killing a Buffalo for the Ancestors: A Zhuang Cosmological Text from Southwest China. Northern Illinois University Monograph Series on Southeast Asia 5. Illinois: Southeast Asia Publications.
Kaup, K.P. (2000). Creating the Zhuang: Ethnic Politics in China. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.
Lin, Guozhi (1992). Une terre, des peoples: Us et coutumes des ethnies minoritaires chinoises. Beijing: Éditions de l’Art photographique des nationalités de la Chine.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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