DONG CULTURE: CLOTHES, SINGING AND ARCHITECTURE

DONG CULTURE

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Many popular legends and poems, covering a wide spectrum of themes, have been handed down by the Dongs from generation to generation. Their lyrics tend to be very enthusiastic, while narrative poems are subtle and indirect, allusive and profound. According to legend birds brought corn seed to the Dong. Songs and dances are important aspects of Dong community life. Dong sing lively and cheerful songs and are famous for the hand-in-hand circle dance.Adults teach traditional songs to children, and young men sing them. The Dong women produced have fine brocades for more than a thousand years. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]

Good Websites and Sources: Dong Song Video YouTube ; Dong Dance Video metacafe.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; National Geographic article nationalgeographic.com ; Dong Photos stevenqfrost.net

Sources on Individual Ethnic Minorities in China: (click the ethnic group you want) Ethnic China (very good site with good academic articles) ethnic-china.com ; Cultural China (site with nice photos) cultural-china.com ; China Travel chinatravel.com ; Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; OMF international (a Christian group) omf.org ; People’s Daily (government source) peopledaily.com.cn ; Ethnic Publishing House (government source)e56.com.cn ; Paul Noll site` paulnoll.com ; China Highlights (on some groups) China Highlights

Sources on Ethnic Minorities in China: Book on Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ; Chinese Government Law on Minorities china.org.cn ; Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Minority Travel: China Trekking (click under Minority Towns) China Trekking ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Interactive Map nytimes.com ; Ethnic Groups in China (Chinese government site) chinaethnicgroups.com

Links in this Website: MINORITIES IN SOUTHERN CHINA--- HISTORY, RELIGION Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES IN SOUTHERN CHINA---LIFE AND CULTURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES IN SOUTHERN CHINA---AGRICULTURE, GOVERNMENT Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES GROUPS IN SOUTHERN CHINA---ACHANG TO HAKKA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES GROUPS IN SOUTHERN CHINA--JING TO PUMI Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES GROUPS IN SOUTHERN CHINA---SHE TO ZUANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; HANI MINORITY Factsanddetails.com/China ; MIAO MINORITY: HISTORY, RELIGION, MEN WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/China ; MIAO MINORITY: SOCIETY, CULTURE, FARMING Factsanddetails.com/China

Dong Clothes

The Dong have traditionally worn clothes made with home-woven and home-dyed Dong cloth: short jackets, trousers and big headbands for the male; and short jackets, trousers or skirt with lots of ornaments for the females. Finer cloth and silks are used for decoration or for making festival costumes. Machine-woven cloth printed black and purple or blue is becoming more popular.

Men and women wear a long sarongs. Traditional hats are adorned with silver. Many elderly women wear turbans or wraps made f cloth they weave and dye themselves or Vietnamese-style conical hats when they are working to protect their skin from the sun.

Men usually wear short jackets with front buttons. In the mountainous localities in the south, they wear collarless skirts and turbans. The females are dressed in skirts or trousers with beautifully embroidered hems. Women wrap their legs and heads in scarves, and wear their hair in a coil. The Dong are very fond of silver ornaments: necklaces, chains, bracelets, earrings and especially their crown-like headdresses worn by Dong women. It is believed that the more ornaments a female wears, the more beautiful she is. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]

Dong Silver Ornaments

Dong girls love wearing silver ornaments. They think that the more silver they wear, the more beautiful and nobler they are, The weight of the ornaments a girl wears ranges from a few dozen grams to a few kilograms. There is a popular folk song in the Dong villages: "A peacock is even more beautiful when it has spread open its tail, so a Dong girl is more beautiful when wearing silver ornaments, as flowers are added to flowers." A with only a few silver ornaments regards herself as not so beautiful, and her parents consider her to be lower of status than other girls. So the parents try whatever they can, even scrimping on their daily food and other necessities, to buy as many silver ornaments for their girls as they can afford. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Dong women in Tongdao, Sanjiang and Longsheng all wear silver earrings, rings, bracelets, necklaces and silver combs in their daily life. For big events like festivals and weddings, they cover themselves with silver from head to toe: silver flowers in the hair, layers of broad silver rings dangling before their breasts, layers of silver necklaces around their necks, silver armguards and bracelets around the wrists, silver rings around their fingers, and pairs of silver earrings hanging from the ears. It is not unusual for all the silver ornaments together to weigh 3 to 3.5 kilograms. ~

The Dong girls in Congjiang and Gaozeng are regarded as the most gorgeous and beautiful of all Dong girls. They are also known for the copious amounts of silver ornaments they wear. Girls from these areas usually wear long hair in two braids, coiled respectively on their heads, fixed with a wooden comb or silver clasp full of elegant and graceful patterns. The clasps are generally 17 to 20 centimeters long with a rounded end with a flower design and a pointed end that is inserted in the hair bob. Engraved images and decorations include various kinds of silver flowers, dancing phoenixes and coiled dragons. Sometimes the clasps fit on the head like a crown. On the top of the crown, there is often a beautiful silver cock with a long tail. When the girls walks, the cock quivers and shines. ~

Even young Dong children are dressed up with silver ornaments, of which the silver cap is the most exquisite. These are typically decorated with images as the 18 arhats (Buddhist gods), the eight gods crossing the sea (Taoist Gods) and gods of good fortune, good salary, longevity and happiness. Variations of this include the children's dog-head cap, fish-tail cap, tiger-head cap, lion-head cap or windproof cap. Some silver caps are decorated in a particularly creative and distinctive way: on the edge of the cap are the 18 arhats on the upper line. Beneath them 18 are orderly arranged plum flowers, which means "the 18 arhats are protecting the child from any demon or ghost." At the front, between two silver moons, are the patterns of a phoenix flying to the sun, two dragons running for a jewel, Wu Gang (a legend hero) chopping a tree on the moon, or Chang E (a legend fairy) flying to the moon. Around these patterns are colorful clouds and water waves. A pair of lions sit at the bottom.

The Dong not only love wearing silver ornaments, they love giving them as precious gifts. When young people fall in love, silver ornaments are usually given to each other as tokens of love. There is a Dong saying often found in songs that goes: "The girl loves to give silver ornaments to her lover and tell him what is in her heart. The silver ornaments are worn on her lover, and they two will love each other for good." When a Dong young man meets a girl for the first time, and if the young man wants to propose ("begging for a belt" in Dong) and the girl is willing to accept it, she will give him one of the ornaments she wears, to show her acceptance. To seal an engagement, the future groom’s family presents precious silver ornaments as gifts to the future bride’s family.

Every Dong Can Sing

It has been said that you can walk up to any Dong and ask them to a sing a song and they will willingly oblige on the spot without hesitation or reservations. In the absence of a written language, songs have been vital to passing down culture, history and traditions that are over a thousand years old. The history of a typical village is kept alive in an epic song with a hundred or more verses that are sung for hours with a “bluesy, repetitive melody.” Sometimes only a single person, an elderly woman, knows all the verses. When asked about the epic songs, a pair of teenage Dong girls told Tan,”That old song is boring. We’re too busy to learn something we don’t like.”

Amy Tan wrote in National Geographic, “In Dimen people sing nearly every day. In classrooms students sit with perfect posture at their desks. They repeat in perfect a capella pitch what their teacher has just sung. On weekends a troupe of older girls dressed in jeans and pink tops stand before the Singing Teacher and practice fast-paced songs, each taking a solo. Two gravelly voiced elderly women respectfully called za by all, guide the younger children in reciting simpler chorals.”

The Dong are good at singing and dancing and dong songs are known for their rhymes, graceful melodies and beautiful lyrics with profound meaning. Dong villages have the reputation of being "a hometown of poetry and an ocean of songs." The Dong poetry has strict rhythm and a wide range of themes and can easily be adapted to songs. The essence of their traditional culture is Dongzu Dage (great songs), with multiple voice parts and no instrumental accompaniment. These are valued both as literature and music. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Mu Qian wrote in the China Daily, “Music has a special place in the Dong people's lives. Without a traditional written language of their own, the Dong people have recorded much of their history and culture in their songs. The "big song" (da ge in Chinese, ga lao in Dong language) of the Dong people was one of the most special forms of folk music that I have ever heard. It is a kind of a cappella in different parts, sung by a group of singers in bright voices that have been shaped by the unique environment of the area.[Source: Mu Qianm China Daily, September 6, 2007]

In 1986, a Dong chorus gave performances at the famous Sharles Palace Theatre in Paris during an arts festival. The chorus consisted of nine girls from the Dong country of Southeast Qian Autonomous Prefecture of Miao and Dong Ethnic Minority Groups in Guizhou Province. They sang an elegant but simple Dong grand song. The President of the Art Festival—a former culture minister of France— praised the Dong song as "music shining as the clean fountain, which is quite rare in the world." In 1988, the same chorus was played at the World Folk Art and Culture Conference, in which 90 countries took part, and performed in 40 cities in Italy and seven other West European countries.

Types of Dong Songs

Dong songs are divided into many categories according to content and situation. The Dong have special welcome songs about keeping out invaders, festival songs about feckless lovers and hymns about growing old. They also sing Communist favorites like the The East Is Red. There are etiquette-and-custom songs, hall-treading songs, wine songs, and love songs. Way-blocking songs, hall-treading songs and wine songs are free in rhythm, frank and hearty in singing. Sometimes they are passionate and powerful; other times they are light and gentle.

1) Etiquette-and-custom songs, like way-breaking songs and way-blocking songs, are usually sung in public. The generally led by a solo singer, accompanied by a female chorus single double tones. Lyrics can be traditional or improvised. 2) Hall-treading songs—such as hall-entering songs, Sasui songs, amusing songs, parent songs, elopement songs — are mainly sung at festivals. At festivals and feasts, the host and the guests often sing wine songs antiphonally. First is an opening song sung in a question-and-answer manner; then girls sing toast songs. In the middle of the dinner, the two groups ask and answer in songs, and those who cannot answer have to take a drink. After the dinner, guests sing thanks songs. 3) Love songs are mostly sung by young single men and women. When young people gather in the "moon hall" or work on the hillsides, they sing love songs to exchange feelings and get to know each other. Love songs are rich in content, free in rhythm, and bold and unstrained in the expression of sensations. These songs are often short, sweet, harmonious, graceful and melodious.

4) Grand songs, known as "Galao" in the Dong language, are perhaps most representative and characteristic of Dong songs. Public chorus songs, they are associated most with Dong people from Liping, Rongjiang, Congjiang of Guizhou Province and Sanjiang in Guangxi Province. Grand songs come in various types, mainly: A) the narrative style, with story plots and dialogues; B) the lyric style, mainly about love between the young men and women; C) the morality style, mainly about religious and morality expostulations; and D) the vocal style, mainly showing off the beauty of musical melody and the voices of the singers. There are and also the etiquette-and-custom grand song, the drum-tower grand song and the local opera grand song.

There are male voice grand songs, female voice grand songs and child's voice grand songs. A traditional chorus is made up of one family. The formal performing place of grand songs is the drum-tower and there is a formal etiquette process precedes a performance. Usually a host group invites visiting guests to sing in the antiphonal style. The singing has to be done between groups of different genders. Song groups of the same gender cannot invite each other to sing. The singing style of grand songs includes solo and chorus parts. The chorus is made up of multiple voice parts: alto, tenor and bass or only alto and bass. Bass is the main component. While performing, the bass lasts for a long time, lingering like the murmuring of a brook. An alto soloist is free to express itself, imitating hundreds of birds twittering at the same time. Grand songs are harmonious, with graceful melodies and free quick or slow rhythms. Sometimes, they are calm and fluent, full of sentiments. Sometimes they are smart and bold, full of heroism and grandiosity. Other times they are sweet and clear, echoing and attractive.

Dong Dage Singers

According to the China Daily: “For generations, Dong folk singers have developed a unique style of chorus called "dage" in which a group of mostly young men and women sing without any instrumental accompaniment.Known as the birthplace of dage, Yandong Town, located 28 kilometers from Liping County, has cultivated generations of well-known folk singers such as Wu Peixin. In 1957, Wu dazzled a Western audience with her wonderful singing in Moscow. It was not until then that Dong folk singing was known to the world. In October 1986, when the dage Chorus of Dong Ethnic Group participated in the Paris Art Festival, the beautiful and pure human voice emulating the sound of cicada enthralled Western audiences and musicians. [Source: China Daily, October 10, 2003 <>]

“Some researchers of Dong ethnic history believe dage came into being during one of the prime times of the group's history, because without such an era of prosperity it's difficult to explain how an ethnic minority with a population of only 1 million could retain such mature and harmonious music. For the Dong people, singing has always been an indispensable part of their lives. They like to sing after a day's hard work, at festivals, weddings and funerals, and to communicate happiness and wishes. The songs are about anything they see and hear, or anything they feel and think. <>

“Most Dongs begin to study singing in their early childhood - generally with their mothers as their first teachers. By the age of 6 or 7 they join a singing group, which is formed by several clan members or relatives, and become apprentices of a well-known master singer in the village. They start their study from the basic singing techniques to the traditional folk songs. Teenage singers start to take part in singing gatherings, where they are able to further their studies, without the guidance of their parents. Within a few years most are able to sing several traditional folk songs, and they start to participate in formal singing competitions. From then on, they will step into the golden time of their singing career. On the sixth day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, the local Dong people dress in their best festival attire and gather at the Yandong Town to watch bull fighting, local Dong Opera and demonstrate their singing skills in friendly competition.

Liping County: Ground Zero for Dong Singing

Dong folk music at its finest is showcased at a festival during the National Day holiday in Guizhou’s Liping County, which is home to 320,000 Dongs Folk singers of the Dong and Miao ethnic groups from Guizhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Hunan Province take part in the three-day festival. In addition to this Lipining County host regular concerts.

Mu Qian wrote in the China Daily, “Zhaoxing, a small town located at the joint area of Guizhou Province, Hunan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and a subordinate township of the Liping County of Guizhou, is a long way from any major city. I had spent nine hours on a bus from Guizhou's capital city Guiyang to Liping, and then another two hours in a car to Zhaoxing. Though hard to get to, the joint area of Guizhou, Hunan and Guangxi, occupied mostly by the Dong ethnic group, has preserved some of the most original natural beauty and cultural traditions in China. [Source: Mu Qianm China Daily, September 6, 2007 <=>]

“Luckily for me, a troupe from the Tongdao Dong Autonomous County of Hunan Province was visiting Zhaoxing, and there was a joint performance by them and a local troupe at an outdoor stage that evening. When we got there, the small square before the stage was already packed with people. We had to squeeze into the crowd. My local friends explained the lyrics to me. Some were about nature, while the antiphonal songs were mostly about courtship. Most impressive was the Cicada Song, in which the singers imitated the flickering of cicadas' wings with quick sextuplets. <=>

“Choirs of big songs have won many awards at national competitions and have participated in international arts festivals. More and more tourists who come to Zhaoxing want to see them perform, and now travel agencies and hotels in Zhaoxing can arrange concerts. The performance I saw was good, but I regretted not coming here last spring. They told me that during Spring Festivals, those who went out to work returned home, and married women in their home villages. The Dong people then gathered to sing songs for days, not to perform, but to enjoy themselves.” <=>

Dong Festivals

Major feasts and festivals are held on holidays and to commemorate births, weddings and funerals and the raising of the central beam in new houses. They usually feature slaughtered pigs and ceremonies with anyu fish paste. There are many Dong festivals. Among those shared with the Han Chinese are: Spring Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and Tomb-Sweeping Day. Among those unique to the Dong are Dong New Year, the New Rice Festival, the Forest King Festival, the March 3rd Singing Festival, Bullfight Festival. and the Fair-Going Festival. Dong festivals are known for their "Duoye" (congregation singing and dancing) and colorful traditional entertainments such as grabbing fireworks and husband carrying. Manyue is an old celebration for a one- month-year-old babies.

Dong New Year falls during 1st to the 11th day of the eleventh lunar month after the harvest. Not every village follows this schedule. In some villages, the festival takes place in the tenth month. The Dong Year is as important to the Dong as the Spring Festival is to the Han Chinese. In the days leading up to the new year, the Dong people make new clothes, clean their houses, make glutinous rice cakes, and slaughter pigs and cattle. On the eve of the New Year, the Dong usually prepare "cold dish" with bean curd and homemade vinegar. It gets its name from the fact it is put outside the winter air to freeze or at least get very cold. It is given as an offering to one's ancestors. Dong Year is celebrated in 72 Dong villages in the area in and around the city of Rongjiang in Guizhou Province. The exact date varies but falls during the period late October to early November. Public celebrations include a the Lusheng Festival and water buffalo fighting. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

New-Harvest Eating Festival takes place after the harvest in the autumn after the grain has been reaped, husked, and polished. It is cooked up and served up with delicious dishes such as fish, chicken, and duck, all as sacrifices to the spirit gods. After the sacrificial ceremony, the villagers eat the same dishes in a big feast with songs, opera performances, and bullfighting. \=/

Sisters' Festival is celebrated on the 8th day of the forth lunar month. calendar, when married women make a ritual return to the homes of their mothers. Together with their sisters and sisters-in-law, they prepare and eat a special kind of food, black glutinous rice cake. When the married women return to their own homes, they bring with them some of the black glutinous rice cake and give it their spouses as gifts. This is a symbolic compensation on the part of the woman for having left her husband to fend for himself for the day. \=/

Dong Bullfighting Festival is held on Hai day of the Chinese lunar calendar (in late August or early September of the Western calendar) Before the bullfights (water buffalo fights) starts all of the participating teams get together to inspect the bulls and to arrange the schedule of fights. The best contests are held at the end. Bullfighting is a component to many other Dong festivals, including Han Chinese ones. Dong people enjoy bullfighting a lot and raising and training of water buffaloes for bullfighting is an important aspect of Dong village life.

San Yue San and the Dong Rocket Festival

San Yue San is three day festival celebrated on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month (usually late March, Early April) by the Li, Zhuang, Dong, Miao, Yao, She, Mulao and Geleo minorities in China's southern and central provinces. Sometimes called Venus Day, it is a time when boyfriends and girlfriends are chosen and villages celebrate the occasion with singing, dancing, archery, wrestling, playing on swings, tug of wars, pole climbing and other activities. The Dong and Miao celebrate the first day of the festival by eating and drinking milky white wine. On the second day girls give baskets of shrimp and fish to the boys they fancy. On the third day everyone meets in the town square to participate in "drum treading" and "reed-pipe" dances.

On the night of the third day girls dress up in their most beautiful tribal costumes and go upstairs in their bamboo houses to sing to the boys who are waiting downstairs. Boys then follow the girls to the gate of the bamboo houses and sing their reply. All of the minorities perform the Money Bell and Double Daggers Dance. In this dance one man holds two daggers in his hand. Another man holds a money bell. The man with the daggers tries to stab the man with the money bell, who in turn tries to run away.

The Dong Rocket Festival is celebrated during the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month in late March or early April by the Dong people. The "rocket" is a tea-cup-size iron ring---decorated with colorful silk threads symbolizing happiness---tied to an iron gun that launches the "rocket" into the sky about 30 meters. Members of village teams, with 10 to 20 players, try to snatch the rocket and take it to a rostrum. The teams should have the same number of players. Sometimes two teams compete against one another. Other times three or more teams compete. Pushing , grabbing, blocking, passing the rocket and interception are all allowed. But hitting, kicking and using weapons is not allowed.

When the rocket is fired in a cloud of choking smoke, the players dash to where they think it might fall. All hell breaks loose. Eventually somebody emerges with the rocket and runs over to the rostrum. The winners of the two out of three series are awarded red stained eggs and glutinous rice cakes. Other activities at this event include Dong operas, bird competitions, shooting games and antiphonal singing.

Love and Singing Among the Dong

In each Dong village there are public houses where young people meet each night, particularly during times when there is not so much farm work to do. The girls usually arrive at those houses in the evening where, they chat and embroider clothes while waiting for the boys. The boys are usually from a different village. They organize themselves into a group and walk to the neighboring villages to seek out the girls. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com\*\]

"Xingge Zuoyue" — traveling to sing and sitting in the moon — is the name used to describe the social and entertainment activities of young men and women in the south Dong areas. In different places different names are used. Some call it "Zouzhai" —travelling among villages (for the young men), and "Zuoye" — sitting in the evening (for the girls) or "Zuogetang" — sitting in the singing hall. According to tradition, they are mentioned together as "Xingge Zuoyue" or "Xingge Zuoye". The young men often carry self-made musical instruments like a Niutui qin (a stringed instrument) or a lute when they travel among local villages looking for available girls. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The boys and girls often sing to each other rather than talk. When the boys arrive in the village, the boys and girls sit around the fire pool, exchanging love songs, or the boys play their musical instruments while the girls sing. Songs with different contents are sung in different seasons. In the question-and-answer singing, those who are are modest but possess the most knowledge are favored. The gatherings can be large or small, and partners are not fixed. Boys often get to know many girls and visit many villages and singing halls. ~

The girls often begin singing first and the boys reply. While boys and girls sing a series of antiphonal songs with romantic themes the boys try to gain access to the house where the girls are. Once inside the doors, the courting continues among them, always with the help of songs. Here the boys sing first and the women follow them. Little by little, couples break off from the group, with the singing often continuing until dawn. Through these songs the boys aims to win the trust of the girl and become more intimate with her. In some areas the couples sing in shifts, showing their friends that love has been born. Love is consolidated slowly through the exchange of small gifts, signs of commitment. The lovers sometimes meet in the forest, but only during the day. At night they say they are afraid of wild animals. \*\

Once the man has won the woman's heart, it is still necessary obtain the permission of her parents to marry. To accomplish this, the boy usually requests a relative to speak with the girl's parents and make arrangements for the wedding. Although the parents have the last word regarding the wedding, numerous legends of unhappy loves due to the intervention of the parents prevent them from insisting too much in their preferences. Lovers that go against the wishes of their parents can marry secretly, and ask their relatives to forgive them afterwards. \*\

Dong Bullfights

Bullfighting is one of the favorite activities of the Dong people, and particularly popular in Liping, Rongjiang, Congjiang and Jinping. There, every village raises "fighting bulls" (water buffaloes) exclusively for bullfighting, with the yop one representing the village known as the "buffalo kings". The pen of the "bull king" is usually built near the drum-tower, which is sometimes called "the palace of the bull". The bull king does not do farm work. Certain persons are especially assigned to taking care of it. They perform chores such as mowing special grass, carrying water and mixing the animal feed, which often includes lard, honey and rice wine. A Bull king is usually big and strong, with bulky and sharp horns, and a strong-sounding name, such as "fierce tiger king", "thunderbolt king", "spring thunder king". [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Bullfight Festival is on the 18th day of the second and eight lunar month every year. Before the festival, young people, playing lusheng (musical instruments with multiple bamboo pipes) travel to another village to "send the invitation" for a bullfight. After "sending the invitation", they come back to the "palace of the bull" and play lusheng music and worship the bull respectfully for three days. This is done to "foster the spirit" of the bull. The bullfight field is usually located in a valley or a plain surrounded by hills. Often more than ten thousand people show up to watch. Sometimes the fight takes place in a special "bullfight pool". Spectators and supporters gather around the field, cheering, singing, waving colorful flying flags and banging drums and gongs.

Just before the fight begins, participating bulls go to "tread the field", accompanied by laughter and music. A youth walks proudly at the front, holding a 60 square centimeter "horse board". Behind the youth is a musical group and guardian team with wooden "weapons". The "bull king" is covered with bright iron sheath on his horns and crimson satin on his head. He carries a bull-king tower ("two dragons running for a precious stone") and four flags. Two very long pheasant tail feathers on the tower, make the bull look like an ancient general, holy and inviolable. Bells hang from the buffalo’s neck, tinkling as he moves. When the "treading field" is finished, the bulls withdraw.

Three shots from an iron cannon and music from Lusheng and drums signal the start of the bullfight. The bull keepers throw burning fires in front of the "bull kings" and and let go of the halters in their hands. As the two bulls fight, the spectators cheer loudly. The bulls fight for a designated period of time. The loser typically is the one that backs off and runs away. If no bull is the clear winners after the designated time is up, the bulls are pulled apart and the fight is called a draw. The main purpose of the this activity is not to claim victory, but to receive blessings from the gods for good weather in the coming year, the health of the Dong people, and high reproduction rates among cattle, water buffalo and other livestock.

20080305-Dong -bridge dong beifan.jpg
Dong bridge

Dong Architecture

The Dong tend to live in two-story wooden houses with railings and people living in the top, and animals in the bottom, in small villages with 20 or 30 households. These villages have traditionally been surrounded by stockades. Traditional houses are made of wood and usually have two or three stories sitting under an upswept roof made up mud-clay tiles. Construction involves setting beams in posts, placing planks across the beams, and notching and tying them together so nails are not needed. Grain sheds sit on stilts above pens with pigs and ponds for ducks. Many families would prefer to use brick of stone to make their homes as they are warmer and easier to maintain but are encouraged to use wood and traditional construction methods by government subsidies.

Dong are famous for their distinctive drum towers and wind and rain covered bridges. They serve as places where village leaders meet, announce news and address grievances.The drum towers can be up to 13 stories high. Meetings and celebrations are held there and clan affairs are discussed and decided upon.

Dong villages are usually set beside a river with a covered bridge being the focal point of the village. It is customary to hold large banquets inside them. The rain bridges have stone arches and are covered with tile roofs. They have to logs piled on one another in such as way that act like a spring to absorb the shock of people and animals walking across them.

Covered bridges are known as “flower bridges” and “wind-rain bridges.” They have benches running along both sides and characteristics that make them distinctive from one another and include features covered in the bridge’s name. The bridges are made of stone, tile and wood and serve as places to escape the rain, socialize, play and do chores when the weather is bad.

The covered bridges are often used to connect parts of a villages occupied by different clans and often look improbably decorative for the simple villages they are found in. Describing one in Dimen, Amy Tan wrote in National Geographic, “The bridge was as formidable as a dragon, with a scaley roof for its body and cupolas for its head and spine.”

Dong Drum Towers

A drum-tower is a unique building style of the Dong, widespread in southern Dong areas of Guizhou and Guangxi Provinces. A Dong village or a large family have traditionally joined together to build a one drum-tower as a symbol and gathering place for the village or family. An old Dong folk song goes: "Before the stockade, build Sa Altar and drum-tower first." Whenever a Dong group built a new village, they would build a grand drum-tower first, and then Diaojiaolou Wooden Houses (pile dwellings) around it. In traditional Dong areas there is a grand and eye-catching drum-tower standing in the centre of each Dong village. Large or rich villages may even build four to five drum-towers. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

A typical Dong Drum-tower is a wooden structure with multiple eaves and four, six, eight or more pillars. To make one is complex: Four huge and solid old fir logs are the main supporters up to the very top. Around them are four to twelve secondary pillars, varying from several meters to dozens of meters high. The number of eaves layers varies from five, seven, nine, to eleven, thirteen or fifteen—all odd numbers. The tower is composed of three parts. The ground part, middle part and upper part. The ground part is mostly square although sometimes hexagonal. Around this area are fences, railings, benches and fire pools— the practically used part of the tower. The middle part consists of cascading roofs, growing wider and wider from top down. There are wing like angles on every floor, unique and exquisite, like white cranes spreading wings ready to fly. The upper part is an umbrella-like garret of three types: tetragonal, with eight pillars to the ground; hexagonal, twelve; octagonal, sixteen. ~

The heads of the pillars are engraved and painted with auspicious dragons and colorful phoenixes; on the outer side of the wall are painted pictures of folk stories; on the eaves angles are painted dragons, phoenixes and other birds flying;. The end of the rafters are embedded with small mirrors. An erect mast points up to the sky. There are no floors inside the drum-tower. It is hollow from the ground to the very top. A huge bull-skin drum, three to four meters long, hangs at a high place in the tower. It is a used for sending a signals to the village and gives the tower its name. The main pillars and secondary pillars and crossbeams are all firmly and closely connected with each other by treenails, mortises, instead of iron nails. ~

Meaning of Dong Drum Towers

The Drum-tower is a symbol of a Dong village and its culture and serves as the center of the village’s public activities and social functions. Traditionally, important activities have been held at the drum-tower, such as general councils, setting village rules, settling disputes and lawsuits. When there is an important issue, the drum is beaten to gather the villagers. When there is fire, thieves or bandits, it is also beaten to call for help. Often one village strikes their drum, the others respond. From village to village the drumming spreads, with villagers rushing to the source of drumming to see what’s up. At festivals, groups of singers, performers and Lusheng (a flute-like instrument) players gather in the square around the drum-tower, to welcome and see off the guests, and stage performances of dancing, antiphonal singing, Lusheng playing and Dong Opera. Drum-tower plays a very important role in the social life of the Dong people and a place to disseminate information. In the summer young men and girls court each other around the drum tower and Dong of all ages sit around the fire pool, telling stories and singing ancient songs. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The term Drum Tower is Chinese in origin. In ancient times each Chinese city had a tower with a drum that marked time and announced the opening and closing times of city gate, or to summon the population. When Chinese saw the Dong towers they thought the towers served the same purpose as Chinese towers. In fact, most of the Drum Towers of the Dong no longer have drums. The towers of the Dong play a very important religious and social role in the life of their villages. These towers are the material representations of the spirit of the community, their most important meeting place, and the single most important cultural element in Dong culture. Some authors refer to Dong culture as the "Culture of the Towers of the Drum". Dong villages are typically named after their drum towers. When a village suffers a disaster such as a fire, the first building to be reconstructed is the Drum Tower. As drum towers have largely disappeared from northern Dong area, it is said their Dong culture has also been lost. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]

Drum towers play a very important symbolic role in the life of the Dong. They are associated with prosperity but also are considered the dwelling place of deity that can bring good things but also harm people. The Drum Towers represent the soul of the community of the village. Their power, the Dong believe, is greater than that of the people. For that reason, nobody wants to live too close to a tower. Decisions made by assemblies that meet at the tower are regarded as the irrevocable voice of the community. The shape of a tower can be seen as a reflection of the spirit of the community. In a village north of Guangxi, oen story goes, had a majestic tower of nine floors toped by the shape of a pair of bull's horn. The young men of this village used to fight with the young men of nearby villages. It was thought that the drum tower was at least partly responsible for this. To put an end to the fighting, the elders of the village decided to shorten the Tower of the Drum, from nine to five floors and get rid of the horns. The change brought peace to the region. \*\

20080305-Dong wheels dong beifan.jpg
Dong wheels

Dong Wind-and-Rain Bridges

The Dong people usually build their villages around rivers and bridges of various kinds serves to link a village together. There are slate bridges, stone arch bridges, bamboo bridges and , wind-and-rain bridges. Among these bridges the wind-and-rain bridge are the most characteristic of the Dong people. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

A wind-and-rain bridge is a wooden covered corridor bridge, with pavilions and benches. People can rest in the bridge, sitting or even lying on the benches. Since the bridge shields people from wind, rain and sunshine, it is called the wind-and-rain Bridge. Sometimes they are called “flower bridges". For large-sized wind-and-rain bridges, the piers are made of big bluestone, upon which, big logs are spliced together by tenons in the shape an upside down pyramid, serving as the girder of the bridge. Upon these logs is the covering of the girder. On the piers are pavilions, to add to the beauty of the bridge and to equalize the weight on both ends of the beams to increase the stability of the bridge body. Pavilions mostly have five layers of eaves, with a quadrangular or hexagonal roof, with a spire or a long ridge.

In southern Dong areas there are many of wind-and-rain bridges: over 50 in Liping County alone, and more in the Sanjiang area in Guangxi Province. The most representative one is Chengyang Bridge, in Sanjiang. Built in 1916, it is 76 meters long, 10.6 meters high and 3.4 meters wide—with five piers and four openings—and stands like a huge dragon across the Chengyang River. It is regarded as one of the four most famous bridges in China, and an important national cultural relic. Eight fir logs are laid closely on the piers in two layers, above which are five pavilions with different styles of roofs, built together to form the covered corridor bridge floor. The three pavilions in the middle are in a four-layer pagoda style, while the other two are in a five-layer long-ridge style. The five pavilions stand in a row, in a magnificent manner. Carved and painted on the eaves of the corridor and the pavilions are lively and colorful images of mountains, rivers, lakes, flowers, birds, beasts and fish. The beams stick out a considerable distance and the eaves curl upwards like white crane spreading their wings to maintain the balance and leverage of the pavilion eaves.

Image Sources: Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html, Dong architecture (Beifan.com http://www.beifan.com/) and Wiki Commons

Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|*; 6) Amy Tan, National Geographic, May 2008 New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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