(Guizhou and Sichuan Provinces)

left The Bouyei are one of China’s larger minorities in southwest China. They are also known as Buyi, Puyi, Bouyei, Pouyei, Buyayi, Buzhong, Burao and Buman. They call themselves Bouyei, Buyi or Buyue (more or less different spellings of the same word). Some branches call themselves Bunong and Bumin. In the old days they were called the 'Zhong Family', 'Yi Ethnic Minority, ' 'Bu man' and 'Bu Nong'. Bu means ethnic minority. The Bouyei are related to the Thais, Dais, Dong and Zhuang and are heavily intermarried with Han Chinese .

The Bouyei live mainly in the semi-tropical highland plains in central and southwestern Guizhou province and to a lesser extent in the Wenshan area and Ningan area of Sichuan Province. A few of them live scattered in Yunnan and Guanxi. About 80 percent of Bouyei live in Guizhou province. They mainly live together with Miao in the two Bouyei and Miao autonomous counties in the south and southwest of Guizhou province, and also in other 10 counties in Guizhou like Duyun, Dushan, Pingtang and Zhenning. [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, ~]

The language and culture the Bouyei is closely related with Zhuang language and culture. Some scholars consider that the separation of the Bouyei and the Zhuang is more political than linguistic or cultural. People with a variety of dialects and other linguistic and cultural differences have been grouped to together under the "Buyi" name, with the Chinese government deciding who would be included and who wouldn’t. Many Bouyei live among Han Chinese and Miao, with the Bouyei and Han usually living in the lowlands and Miao in the mountains. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

The Bouyei have managed to largely preserve their culture. But despite this they are one of China’s they are one of China’s lesser known minorities and have escaped the notice of anthropologists and travelers. Their villages are among the most interesting that can be seen in China. The Bouyei splendid artisans and skilled stone masons. Their houses are made of finely cut stone and organized into harmonic, picturesque group. Their stonework has certain religious elements linked with their old belief system. \*\

Bouyei speak a Sino-Tibetan language and had no written language until the Communist government helped them write their language using Chinese characters after 1949. The majority are animists. Some are Christians. Some are Taoists. Many Bouei are very poor and their clothes are often tattered and dirty and many children show signs of malnutrition. Their biggest celebration is the Festival of the Third Day of the Third Lunar Month. They have their own version if a tea ceremony. The “cleaning of the stockage” is an important ritual. Men don grass capes and hold fearsome weapons to drive away demons and evil spirits.

Bouyei Area

The Bouyei homeland is famous for its rugged mountains, wild rivers, fertile soil, mild climate, black glutinous rice and giant salamanders. The Bouyei raise wet and dry rice, wheat, maize, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, potatoes and beans and raise cotton, hemp, cocoa, tea, tobacco, sugar cane, tung trees, coffee, bananas, silk and ramie as cash crops. They produce batik, embroidery, sleeping mats and bamboo hats for sale and harvest local pine and fir trees for lumber. They are known as peddlers and middlemen between Han Chinese and minority peoples.

The Bouyei region is on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, which slopes from an altitude of 1,000 meters in the north to 400 meters in the south. The Miaoling Mountains stretch across the plateau, forming part of its striking landscape. This region abounds in green hills, clean rivers, waterfalls and places or scenic beauty. Tourist destinations in the area include Huang Guoshu Waterfall, the Flower Stream in Guiyang, the "Dragon Palace" stalactite caves in Anshun, and the iron chain bridge in Pan River. The region around te Hong Shui River is one of the most important forest areas in China. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

The Bouyeis are blessed with fertile land and a mild climate. The average annual temperature is 16 degrees Centigrade, and an essentially tropical environment, receiving between 100 and 140 centimeters of rain a year, is ideal for farming. Local crops include paddy rice, wheat, maize, dry rice, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, potatoes and beans. Farmers also grow cotton, ramie, tobacco, sugar cane, tung oil, tea and oil-tea camellia as profitable cash crops. [Source: *|*]

As the Red River valley is low-lying and tropical, paddy rice yields two harvests annually. Silk, hemp, bamboo shoots and bananas complement the local economy, and coffee and cocoa have also been planted there recently. The valley is also rich in trees, yielding a variety of timber, which is good for construction, such as pines and China firs. The remote, heavily-forested mountain and river areas provide a habitat for tigers, leopards, bears, musk deer, foxes, golden pheasants and others. Medicinal herbs are abundant in the woods, and the area is also rich in mineral resources, such as coal, iron, zinc, antimony, copper, petroleum, asbestos and mercury. *|*

Origin and Early History of the Bouyei

The ancient history of the Bouyei not completely understood. Some scholars think they are the descendants of the ancient Liao people. Others think they descended from the Baiyue peoples of South China. They have been related also to the Baipu (Hundreds Pu) and Yelang Kingdom. All these groups occupied territory where Bouyei live today. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

The Bouyei have a long history blending with local residents and the emigrants from the north. Bouyei descended from the same root — the Luoyue of ancient Baiyue— as Zhuang, Dong and Dai. According to the Chinese government: “The Bouyei people are the native inhabitants in the southeast part of Yungui Tableland. They have been working and living there even since the Paleolithic age. The Bouyei people's origin could be traced to "Liao", "Bai Yue", and "Bai Pu"(which were all old ethnic groups living around this area). “

Studies of the language, names and geographical distribution of the Bouyeis indicate that they have a common ancestry with the Zhuangs. The ancient Yue people, who were widely distributed, were composed of such ethnic groups as the Xiou and Louyue in Guangdong and Guizhou provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The similarity between the modern Zhuang and Bouyei languages and the ancient Louyue tongue is a strong indication of the origin of the Bouyeis. In addition, many habits and customs of the Yues still prevail among the Bouyeis. [Source: *|*]

For several centuries before the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), both the Zhuang and Bouyei peoples were referred to as "the alien barbarians," but long separation eventually led to development of different cultures and lifestyles. After A.D. 900, they became recognized as separate minority groups.From Wei and Jin Dynasty to Tang Dynasty, Bouyei was called as Manliao, Liliao, Bafan.

Later History of the Bouyei

During the Yuan, Ming and Qing Chin dynasty, the Bouyei were Zhongjia, Qingzhong, and Zhongfan. From the Tang Dynasty to the Song and Yuan Dynasty, their name changed from "Barbarians in the Southwest" to "Fan" and "The Barbarians of the Zhong Family". In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, they were simply named "the Zhong Barbarians". After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, they are all called "the Buyi people". [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, ~]

According to the Chinese government: “By the Tang Dynasty, the central imperial court had established in the Bouyei region an administrative system, under which local feudal lords were appointed prefectural governors, and land became their hereditary property. The system lasted for more than 1,000 years, until the Qing court forced minority officials to surrender their powers. Under the rule of minority headmen, the Bouyei society had retained its feudal lord presence until 1911. Feudal lords and local officials owned all the land, but not literally the peasants or serfs within their territories. Lords still subjected peasants to cruel exploitation, but were no longer allowed to kill them at will. Each peasant household was given a piece of land to support itself, but was forbidden to purchase it. Peasants and serfs were thus bound to the land and made to work for the feudal lords for generations. [Source: *|*]

“During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the imperial court abolished the rule of minority headmen, and appointed officials with limited tenures. As a result, the feudal lord economy collapsed and a landlord economy took its place. As most land was owned by the rich few and exploitation of the peasants by landlords became even crueler, class conflicts intensified and led to many peasant uprisings, the biggest of which was the Nanlong Uprising in 1797.” *|*

Bouyei Population and Language

Bouyei population in China: 0.2153 percent of the total population; 2,870,034 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 2,973,217 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 2,545,059 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census; and 2,120,469 in 1982 according to 1982 census. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Bouyei autonomous administrative entities: 1) Qiannan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous prefecture: south Guizhou, covering 26,000 square kilometers, with a population in 1990 of 2,950,000 inhabitants (including 909,000 Bouyei and 330,000 Miao). 2) Qianxinan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous prefecture: southwest Guizhou, covering 16,000 square kilometers, with a population in 1990 of 2,166,000 inhabitants (including 638,000 Bouyei and 105,000 Miao). 3) Zhenning Bouyei and Miao Autonomous County: south of Anshun in Guizhou , covering 1718 square kilometers, with a population in 1990 of 268,000 inhabitants (including 110,000 Bouyei and 26,000 Miao. 4) Guanling Bouyei and Miao Autonomous County: Southwest of Anshun, covering 1473 square kilometers, with a population in 1990 of 243,000 inhabitants (including 52,000 Bouyei and 22,000 Miao). [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

The Bouyei language belongs to Zhuang-Dai language subgroup of the Zhuang-Dong language branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family of languages. It traditionally has not had a written form. A Bouyei written language was created in the 1950s but was never widely used. Nowadays, most people use Chinese characters.

Their Bouyei language has so many similarities with the Zhuang language that some linguists affirm that they are the same ethnic entity, called Bouyei in Guizhou and Zhuang in Guangxi. There are three Bouyei dialects: 1) South Guizhou or Qiannam dialect; 2) Central Guizhou or Qianzhong dialect; and 3) Western Guizhou or Qianxi dialect. ~

Bouyei Religion

20080305-Buyiu -barrel-tower Buyi beifan.jpg
Bouyei barrel tower
The Bouyeis have traditionally believed in spirits and worshipped ancestors. After missionary outposts were set up in their area some converted to Catholicism. In their animist world, strange stones, big trees, mountaisn, rivers, wells, mountain caves and the copper drums had special spiritual significance. Divinations were done with chickens, eggs, couch grass and copper. Male shaman were called 'old Mo', while female ones were called 'Mila'. Especially after outbreaks of disease, natural disasters or bad omens, they called on to exorcize and sweep the village clean of demons and bring good fortune. blessing. Their totems included dragon, eagle and tigers. [Source: \=/]

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China:“The Bouyei believe that all that exists in nature has a soul: the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, the lands, and the forests. They pay special spiritual consideration to the fish and the dragon, as they believe that their ancestors had a consanguine relationship with them. They also revere the ancestor of each of their clans. Their sacred writings are the "Mojing". This book is a collection of songs that should be sung during each of the religious ceremonies of the Buyi. The longest are the songs sung after the death of a person. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

“The Bouyei have a type of priest or shaman who carries out these religious ceremonies, known as "Bumo". These Bumo have usually not abandoned their basic economic activities. When they don't have to carry out religious activities, they are busy with their own work. One of the most important religious ceremonies is "to bring the souls of the dead out of purgatory". This ceremony is of such magnitude that sometimes more than 10,000 people gather for it. It lasts for seven days and seven nights. Simpler ceremonies are carried out in honor of several deities, such as the God of Water, the God of Fire, and the God of the Village. All the males of the village must gather for these ceremonies. Besides these Bumo that direct the most important religious ceremonies, there is another kind of religious specialist, known as yaya, or women shamans. They carry out ceremonies of divination, as well as the expulsion of spirits. Usually these yaya only discover their powers after suffering a serious illness, after which they are able to distinguish the presence of the demons around themselves and others. \*\

“The many different activities of Bouyei life, such as love and matrimonial relationships, medicine, or the legal system, are all imbued with a deep religious character. Their songs, dances, art and literature, all should be understood as a manifestation of their religious beliefs. The arrival of Chinese culture during the 16th and 17th centuries, bringing with it the new traditions of Buddhism and Daoism, did not intrude very deeply into traditional Bouyei religion, although in some villages there are temples in honor of Guanyin, and some people use Daoist methods of divination.” \*\

Buyi Gods and Totems

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “As an agricultural people, the Bouyei worship the Land. Outside every village there is usually a Temple of the Land, inside which there are usually two stones that represent the Father Land and the Mother Land. They sacrifice a chicken or a hog on December 8th of the lunar calendar. The God of the Mountain is also very important. They think he can send pests or animal spirits to spoil their crops, so they usually worship in his birthday, in some places on the third day of lunar March, in others places on the sixth day of lunar June. They also believe in a God of the Water, who is worshipped to avoid flooding and have favorable rains. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

“The God of the Insects (Pests) is also very important, usually worshipped on the sixth day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar; the ceremony is presided by a Bumo, who read the scriptures of the God of the Pests. In every village there is a big tree that is considered sacred, as they think that the tree can protect the people and his crops, in every festival a small ceremony is performed to honor the village tree. Among the many feminine deities in the Bouyei pantheon, some of the most interesting are the twelve Mother Goddesses. They play a role similar to that of guardian angels in the Catholic tradition. They are in charge of protecting children until they reach the age of twelve.\*\

“The dragon is the most important totem of the Buyi. According to their legends they were originated from the mating of a man with a Dragon woman. They think there are dragons everywhere, in valleys and mountains, and the people must be careful to do not disturb dragons. Before they raise a new home, they ask the dragon to leave. When it is finished they invite him to come again. To have a boy is called to have a dragon; so many women have dragons embroidered in their clothes. Fish is their second totem, because there is also a legend that tracks the origin of some Bouyei to the mating of an ancestor with a fish. During many centuries the Bouyei did not eat fish because a legend tells of a time when a mother asked her son not to catch or eat fish. He broke the taboo and many disasters happened. \*\

“They have also many ways to worship their ancestors, including the tablet of the ancestors that they keep as the most sacred and respected place in every house and the offerings of food and wine that they perform in every festival and important family ceremony, as weddings or funerals. They worship Baoertou as the ancestor who give the Bouyei people their sacred scriptures. The twelve books where is condensed all the knowledge of the human beings. All the chants read by their bumo priests are supposed to be created by him. His 12 books of scriptures later were divided between the 12 branches of their descendants. \*\

“Baogendi is a deity who protects Bouyei villages. He is related with the big tree that protects every village. In former times, every village erected near the big tree, a stone house for Baogendi, with an image of him inside. Performing all the important ceremonies, as weddings or funerals, Bouyei people must show up before the shrine of Baogendi. It was thought that in the New Year he can bring to the people the horses, cows, pigs and sheep they need, and some figurines of these animals were carved and placed in his shrine. The Bouyei have also some ceremonies to their mother ancestor called Yawang that according to their legends was a leader in the matriarchal times. It was the goddess worship of the former Buyi. Her cult was associated to the cult of the river god. \*\

Bouyei Funerals and Religious Ceremonies

Bouyei funerals have three main ceremonies: 1) Riding the dragon: The bumo calls the dragon for the dead to ride on, enlisting the dragon’s help during the soul journey to the underworld. 2) Killing the buffalo: the meat is shared by everybody except the family of the deceased. This is done to ensure the buffalo helps the dead to farm in the underworld. And 3) Open the road: the bumo priest works out a route for the dead soul to follow to reach the lands of their ancestors. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

After somebody dies, relatives wash the body, comb his hair, shave him and dress him again. The corpse is placed on a bed, where the friends and relatives pay their respects. After that the corpse is placed in a coffin and people say a final farewell by beating a bronze drum. Afterwards the drum is beaten three times every day, in the morning, noon and night to call the spirits to carry the deceased soul to paradise. The belief that the sound of bronze drums helps people of the world communicate with the dead, ancestors and the underworld is widely embraced throughout China and Asia. In south and southwest China the bronze drum are regarded as sacred. Bronze drums are the treasure of every village; their sound is used in their most important ceremonies. In China, the Bouyei, Zhuang, Yao and Yi are among those that use bronze drums in important ceremonies, \*\

One ritual that reflects the religious life of the Bouyei is the "Ceremony of Requesting Descendant"—a series of ceremonies that worship 36 different deities, and lasts for seven days and seven nights. The ritual begins with the worship the Mother Goddess who has the power to regulate births. The Goddess of the Forest of Flowers is next as the Bouyei believe that children are like flowers and this goddess in charge of distributing offspring to humans. A small pig is sacrificed to each one of the 36 goddesses. The offerings that go to the different deities diminish according to their importance. Some of them will receive a hen, others a chicken, others maybe an egg or a piece of meat. \*\

Funeral taboos: 1) The body of a dead unmarried lady is forbidden to be carried out from the front gate. 2) The corpse of the one who dies outside is not allowed to be moved into house. [Source: \=/]

Bouyei Festivals

There are many Bouyei festivals. In general, they observe the same festivals as the Hans but they also have their own festivals. Most of these festivals feature holding feasts on a hillside, getting together with friends and relatives, playing games, singing songs and courting. The main festivals of the Bouyei people are: 1) The Great Year festival; 2) The Third day of the Third Month festival; 3) The Festival of the King of the Oxen; 4) The Festival of the Songs of Chalang and Baimei. Fang ji or to Visit Several Houses; 5) The Sixth of the Sixth festival; and 6) The Demons' Festival. 7) Flower Jumping Meeting is held from January 1st to the 21st. It is a time when young people, sometimes over thousand of them, engage by blowing wood leaves, and antiphonal singing and other courting activities. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

The Festival of the King of the Oxen takes place on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month. Also known as the Festival of Beginning to Sow, it is celebrated by every family offering glutinous rice to the King of the Oxen. Oxen are bathed and allowed to rest the whole day and are feed on baba (a kind of rive cake for cattle) mixed with sugar or salt in gratitude for all the work the oxen do plowing the earth. The Festival of the Songs of Chalang and Baimei. takes place on the 21st day of the sixth lunar month. According to Bouyei legends, once there were two young people, named Chalang and Baime, that loved each other dearly. A local landowner, who wanted to marry the girl, killed the boy. When the wedding between the landowner and the girl was about to be celebrated, the girl burned down the landowner's house and threw herself into the flames. This festival is carried out every year in remembrance of the love of Chalang and Baimei. Family eats sticky rice and cattle king cake. In Some places, young people cook chickens by river, catch fingerling, sing and enjoy'Ganbiao'( a special dating party). \*\

Fang ji, or to Visit Several Houses, takes place every year on the first day of the sixth lunar month. Each family contributes some money to buy food, wine, pig, and chickens necessary for this ceremony. A bumo (shaman) usually presides over the proceedings which are primarily a request to the gods protection for the village and its people. The bumo goes to every house in the village, asking aloud: "Does the demon leave or not?" Another priest answers him: "He leaves". A talisman is placed on each gate of the village so that evil remains outside. In the evening, everyone meets in the temple of the God of the Village for a great banquet with drinking, singing and dancing until late in the night. The Demons' Festival is celebrated in the seventh lunar month, from the 12th to the 16th. During this time a bumo blesses some paper that people hang on their doors to drive demons away. \*\

The Sixth Day of the Sixth Month Festival is held on the sixth day of the sixth lunar month. In some places this is called "the small year" festival. In other places it is called the “Festival for the God of Field, Mountain and Land” or 'Offering Sacrifice to Pangu.” Bouyei people celebrate this festival with activities such asL 1) making paper figures and horses in a field and consuming wine, meat and zhongzi (rice dumpling); 2) blessing plow, rakes and other farm implements in a shrine; 3) dressing in fine clothes, singing duets and dancing. ; and 4) making sticky rice cakes, butchering pigs, cattle and chicken ancestry and reciting down village rules. The festival is widely seen as a good time for youths to enjoy themselves when there isn’t much farm work to do. According to one folk legend, sixth day of the sixth lunar month is the day when the ancestor of the Bouyei people-Pan Gu King died. It is said that he and his songs improved rice agriculture and ensured better lives of ordinary people. In addition to offering a sacrifice people eat Zongzi (bamboo-leaf wrapped sticky rice) and pray to Pan Gu for good weather and a full harvest. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, more entertaining activities were added such as singing and dancing around a fire and giving and drink to cattle. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

Middle of the Seventh Lunar Festival is a time when Bouyei offer sacrifices the souls of ancestors and deceased loved ones. Some Bouyei villages offer sacrifice to the God of Mountain for three days. In some places, people offer ancestors butchered chickens, pigs and cattle as well as various fresh fruits. On the fourteenth, ancestors are consecrated by making 'Dalianba' (a kind of cake made of rice). On the night of 15th, dark boats are set adrift in the river. On the fifth and sixth, young people get together under the big banyan tree and enjoy swinging, playing peg-top and swimming. In Some places, people concentrate ancient bridge fortresses, sing in an antiphonal way, do babang and timbal dance , and carry on the suona competitions. [Source: \=/]

Bouyei Spring Festival

The Great Year festival is celebrated at the same time as the Chinese Spring Festival. Days before the beginning of the festival, a pig is sacrificed and the meat smoked, glutinous rice is prepared, and new clothes are woven and knitted. On the 30th day of the last lunar month, families gather for a "dinner of unity". On the night of the first day of the year, people light colored lamps. The festival lasts ten days, during which time youths of both sexes meet to sing and mingle. In the streets, bronze drums and other musical instruments are played and people dance traditional dances. In some places, the New Year is ushered in with children going to a spring or river and fetching “Wisdom Water.” [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

At the end of the old year, families are is busy making wine, sticky rice cake sand blood tufu, preserving hams and making new cloths. The New Year's Eve is ushered in with feasting, drinking and setting off firecrackers. At dawn on New Year’s day, girls strive to the first to carry 'clever water' back home and boys try to be the first one to the side of ground temple to put the small stone into the livestock circle by a rope, which means domestic animals will be thriving. [Source: \=/]

During Chinese New Year, male and female youths invite each other and go out for 'Lang Shao' ( a special dating party) to exchange New Year's good wish and drink together and celebrate. Villagers don't do farm word until the 15th day of the first moon (the Latten's Festival). During this celebration, there many entertainment activities, such as games, playing timbale and suona, singing and dancing, kicking the chicken-feather shuttlecock, beating the peg-top and tossing rocks. Sometimes thousands of people are involved in these games. And in some places, other activities include lighted dragon dance, lion dance, ground drama and decorated lantern singing. \=/

The Bouyei is Zhenning celebrate the Dragon Festival (from the 3rd day to the 12th of the first lunar month) with singing, dancing, horse racing, and other festive activities. The dragon dance is one the highlight of the celebration. In other areas Bouyei carry out the ceremony of "inviting the dragon" in offerings of food and wine are left for the dragon and a Bumo priest recite "inviting the dragon" prayers. When he finishes a local chief buries two eggs at the foot of two posts. The eggs symbolize wealth, because their yolks are associated with gold and the white with silver. While these eggs are buried, the chief sings: "hold the gold and the silver that we bury, and don't let anybody take it." If, during the year, some dog or cat digs in that area, it is killed, and the house of its owner is exorcized. \*\

Bouyei Third Day of the Third Month Festival

The Third Day of the Third Month Festival is dedicated to worshipping the mountains and, as its name indicates, is celebrated on the third day of the third lunar month. Celebrated throughout the south of China, this festival is particularly important to the Bouyei. People generally gather to sing and to dance and pay homage to the gods of the village and the mountains. In some places people in the village gather and an elder reads aloud the rules of the village and people pray at the local ancestral temple. No strangers are allowed into the village and some Bouyei make sticky rice with three colors. In the western Bouyei region, people to sweep and clean tombs.

In Luodian, people offer sacrifice to the spirit of community either on the third day or the 13th. In Ziyun, people offer sacrifices to their ancestors on the third, and have a party for the spirit of community on the 15th of the 7th lunar month. In Jiulong of Huishui, Bouyei youth get together for entertainment activities, such as singing and wrestling match. For the young men and women in Pan county, the third day of the third lunar month is a time in which everybody in the village take a good rest, sometimes lasting for three days. In the south of Cehen County, this festival marks the beginning of the busy season for farm work. In Wangmo, Cehen County, people entertain guests with pork and other meats. [Source: \=/]

In Anlong County, the Maoshanshu Festival, named for the place where it is said that two legendary lovers are buried, is celebrated at the same time as the Third Day of the Third Month Festival. The festival lasts for three days. People sing and dance near the lovers’ tomb. Bouyei in Anshun area regard the third day of the third lunar month as the birthday of the God King of Heavens. Everybody goes to the mountain to worship him. Around Guiyang a song contest is held. It is said that the winner has golden throat given by the gods to keep pests and birds from harming crops. \*\

Zha Bai Song Festival

The Zha Bai Song Festival is a traditional festival celebrated the Bouyei people in the Xingyi area, Guizhou province. Lasting from the 21st to 23rd day of the sixth lunar month, it is a big event with tens of thousands of people from various ethnic groups participating in it. According to legend the festival was founded by a couple that lived a long, long time ago. The man was named Zha; the woman was named Bai. They liked each other for some time. One day, when Bai was collecting firewood on the hill a tiger attacked her. Fortunately, Mr. Zha killed the tiger and saved Miss Bai and their love was sealed. Later an was captivated by Bai's beauty and wanted her for himself. After his advanced were rejected he killed Zha and abducted Bai. Bai responded by setting fire to the house of this official and threw herself into the fire. In memory of the couple, the name of their village was changed into Zha Bai and the day Bai died for love was made into a festival and the place where Zha killed the tiger became the field for singing songs.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

Before the festival, every household washes their bedcovers and curtains, and hang them around the village, symbolizing white clouds and a clean and clear sky and atmosphere. During the festival, streams of people gather at Zha Bai village and young people dress in their finest clothes and carry small articles with them to search for lovers. Their hope is kind a love as true as that of Zha and Bai. The highlight of the festival is the singing competitions. During the day, the competitions are in the singing fields; in the evening, they sing “in the yard or within the door.”

At evening singing parties hosts provide "colorful rice" (sticky rice dyed with five colors) and "tea" (actually rice wine). Guests, relatives and friends enjoy special soups. It is said that the soup originated from eating the stewed tiger killed by Zha. At one time the soup was made by stewing beef with tiger bone. Nowadays, most soups are made with stewed pork and dog meat with cooked in spring water.

Bouyei Marriage and Wedding Customs

Bouyei couples marry at a young age, usually around 16 and sometimes as young as 12. Young males and femsale are permitted to enjoy a "golden period of life" in which premarital sex is allowed and even encouraged. Traditionally, young women signaled their interest in a young man by tossing him a silk ball. If he was interested they dated and later became engaged to marry.

The Bouyei are monogamous, but young people of opposite sexes mix freely before marriage. When they go to fairs or other festivities, unmarried young men and women get together to sing songs. If a woman is attracted to a man, she will throw him a ball made of silk strips which she has embroidered herself. If the man is agreeable, they then make a date at which they will sing love songs to each other. After several dates, they may announce their engagement. In the old days—and to some degree today— most marriages were arranged by parents. [Source: *|*]

A lot of single young men and ladies express their love by blowing the wood leaf or singing songs. When young man wants to get engaged his family asks a matchmaker to go to the lady's house to propose. Once they get engaged, the lady's family hosts an engagement dinner with relatives and friends. Two or three days ahead of the wedding, half a pork, a rooster and duck and a pot of water are sent from the bridegroom's to the bride's house. The bride's family also hosts a banquet at the time of the wedding. In the past, bride didn't move to her husband’s home until after one or two years' living in her mother's home. [Source: \=/]

The Bouyei have strict penalties for adultery. Traditionally, if a woman and a man had sexual relationships outside of their marriage and a child is born, that child was killed. The Bouyei believe that, after her death, the mother becomes a type of ghost known as Duyang. This ghost can cause great nuisance to people, including illness. To expel her, complicated ceremonies are performed. The Bouyei have some sexuality cults usually set up for women to get pregnant or to give birth to boys. Some times the female sex is symbolized by stone pools that never get dry, and the male sex by some stone pillars, on which a red cloth is hung as a symbol of fertility. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

Bouyei Customs

If a boy becomes sick, or suffers some small misfortune, it is thought that it is because he has not worshipped important Bouyei mother goddesses correctly. His parents call a yaya (female shaman) to carry out the necessary appeasement ceremonies. The mother goddesses are associated with different places and things. There is a Mother Goddess of the Bed, the Mother Goddess of the Fields, the Mother Goddess of the Hills, the Mother Goddess of the Rivers—which each offering protection for children in the territory that they govern. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

The Bouyei have traditionally been kind and welcoming to travelers and foreigners, offering food and drink to any person that arrives to their homes. The staple food of the Bouyei is rice. They are fond of dog meat. Bamboo is associated with strong generative power. Some times barren woman put a stick of bamboo in the head of their bed. Orphans usually are protected by a bamboo stick before their house. This cult maybe is related to a legend that explains how one of the Bouyei former kings avoided many difficulties hiding himself inside a bamboo. \*\

Bouyei taboos: 1) During the baptism for the village, strangers are prohibited entering. 2) On 'the Wu day', 'Jiazi day', laboring and going out must be avoided. 3) You can't break earth from January 1 to 3, 4) You can't work and use reamer on the January 15. 5) On April eight can't let cattle plow fields. 6) No farm work can be for several days after the first time thunder of the year; 7) No one is allowed to touch and cut for the tree of the God of mountain, a big arhat tree in the village. 8) Visitors are forbidden from touching shrines. 9) Spiders beside the fire pit should not be killed. 10) Women mustn't return to their mother's home to have a baby. 11) Pregnant women are prohibited from walking through the main room of a house and are not allowed to go out for one month after giving birth to a baby. [Source: \=/]

Bouyei Houses

The Bouyei have traditionally lived on the sides of hills and along rivers in plains or river valleys in villages composed of families from several different clans, in two-storied houses, bungalows or a combination of the two. A village is made up of several dozen, or even several hundred, families. The main housing types pile dwellings, bungalows, are Diaojiaolou (the building with the hung wood feet) and wood and stone structure and stone slab buildings that are unique to Bouyei.

The houses of common people are mostly houses with pavilions or half storied building—with a front side like a storied building and a back like a bungalow) made of flagstones. The Bouyei areas of Zhenning and Anshun in Guizhou province abound good quality building stones— a kind of shale layers of even thickness. The walls of the Bouyei flagstone houses are made by laying stone sheets and stone blocks on top of one another, sometimes to a height reaching as high as 5 or 6 meters. The roof is constructed by placing stone sheets together to form diamond or scale-like shapes according to the shape and quality of the stone. The houses made of stone not only resist heavy wind and rain, they are attractive and elegant in their simplicity. Except for the rafters, which are made from sandal wood, all the rest is made of stone. Even the furniture and daily necessities— such as tables, stools, the hearth, bowls, pestles, grinds, cisterns, jars and basins—are all chiseled out of stone. All are simple but heavy. The Bouyei stone house is warm in winter and cool in summer, and can resist fire and moisture. Its main weakness is that it gets relatively little daylight and is dark inside.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

There are dozens of three or four storied stone buildings Chengguan Town in Zhenning Bouyei and Miao autonomous county. The color of the stone material is light gray, which makes the houses appear brilliant during the day and silvery under the moonlight. This is why the town has been known as "silver Zhenning" since old times. Some of the old weathered stone buildings are said to be more than 600 years old. ~

The process of building houses is quite meticulous and . First, a professional designer-feng shui selects a place using "fengshui". The ideal place should be beside a mountain and a river. The back of the house should be oriented towards green mountains and face towards verdure hills. The mountains at the back ideally should be shaped like "lying lions guarding around", "dragons surrounding in defensive formation" or "a noble man riding on horse back", while the mountains at the front should be shaped like "two dragons fighting for jewelry", "double dragons playing with a pearl", "thousands of horses returning to stables" or "the god of longevity rising up". Fortunately, the area where the Bouyei people live abounds with karst hills and limestone rock formations so it is not difficult to find such kind of place. ~

A fortuneteller, shaman or feng shui master is consulted to determine an auspicious day for starting the construction. One month before this day, a carpenter is invited to prepare the frame of the house made with completely new materials. When the structure is erected on the auspicious day, Master Lu Ban (father of the carpenter) is honored by a sacrifice. The beam is delivered from the father of the wife and it is decorated with big flowers made by red silk. The deliverance is accompanied by an orchestra and a team of acrobatic performers. When the beam is fixed, a singing and dancing ceremony and the feast is held. Finally, the memorial tablet of ancestors and the god of cookery is positioned honorably in new house. ~

Bouyei Food and Drink

Glutinous rice is the staple food. Bouyei like to eat steamed rice cooked with a special 'zengzi' cooker. Cold dishes, lichen frozen meat, and peas mixed with rice noodle are favorite dishes. Sour dishes and sour soup are served at almost every meal, and are especially popular with women. The Bouyei also eat blood tofu, sausage, dishes made with bamboo shoot and various insects. Among the many traditional snacks are pastries, cakes and sweets made with rice powder, pea powder, honey and sugar. [Source: \=/]

Wine is important role in daily lives of Bouyei people. After the autumn harvest, families make plenty of rice wine and store enough to last the year. Bouyei people like to entertain guests with the wine and guests are expected to drink a lot. When guests arrive, wine named as 'wine for welcoming guests' is served. Drinking is done with bowls rather than cup or glasses, often accompanied by finger-guessing drinking games and singing. \=/

Bouyei Clothes and Wax-Dying

The Bouyei are famous for their blue homespun cloth, batik (wax-dyed cloth), and unusual houses (stone or wooden structures with railings, stone slated roofs and stone blocks fastened with no motor or plaster). Some houses are bungalows. Some are two-story dwellings with animals living on the bottom floor. Men and women wear a long sarongs or skirts. Women dress in dark clothes with a colorful trim and wear special headgear if they are married.

Bouyei dress is varied and influenced by many factors: 1) The four main regional dressing patterns correspond with the regions where their four main dialects are spoken; 2) Religious beliefs and totems are reflected with water designs and images of mountains, fish and dragons embroidered in their clothes. Mountains and other nature powers are usually present in their clothes. 3) The clothes worn by women especially are often related with their age and marital status, with different steps in the life of a woman—particularly marriage—clearly depicted in their dresses. 4) Dress is often related to local customs and the occasion, with one set of clothes for everyday wear and one set for festivals and celebrations. At big festivals or wedding parties, the women like to wear their best clothes, that among other things show off their embroidering skills. [Source: Ethnic China \*\]

The wax-dyeing craft of the Bouyei has been famous for a long time. Song dynasty records indicate that wax-dyeing cloth was produced in Huishui, Guizhou province—a Bouyei region. A historical book in the Qing dynasty describes the "cyanine glower cloth", another term for wax-dyed cloth. Beginning around the ages of 12 or 13 years old, Bouyei girls learn the wax-dyeing craft from their mothers. First, wax is heated into liquid. Then bronze triangle-shaped wax knives are dipped into the liquid wax and used to carefully paint all kinds of beautiful and vivid pictures on white self-made cloth. After that the cloth is immersed in at vat of blue dye. Finally, the dyed cloth is thrown in cauldron of boiling water and the wax is boiled off and the cloth is washed several times in a river and finished when it dries. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

Finished wax-dyed cloth has rich and simple patterns, often featuring patterns of veins (also called little waves) that can not be produced by machines and have ties to the ancient Bouyei water cult. The style of wax-dyeing and the images produced vary from place to place: some places favor bold designs and vivid images and patterns of flowers, birds, insects and fishes; some feature carefully thought-out structure and fine details; others get inspiration from dragon-claw flowers with bold and bright colors. In recent decades, several dyeing factories have been established with specialized art designers creating and drafting new pictures. Various kinds of people and animal images have appeared and colors are used in a more diversified manner.

The wax-dyed cloth is mostly used for making women's shawl, gowns, aprons and bed covers and curtains. Some with high artistic features and intricate patterns are used as art hangings. Some Bouyei women knit embroidery on the wax-dyed gowns. In addition to wax-dying, the Bouyei people are also skilled at tie-dyeing, brocade, embroidery, woodcarving, sculpture and bamboo-weaving e.

Bouyei Culture

The Bouyei possess a rich folk literature, which includes fairy tales, fables, folk songs, proverbs and poems. During weddings, scores of young men and women are invited to join in antiphonal singing of a rich ethnic quality. In the Biandan Mountain area of Zhenning County, old women are invited to sing songs of blessing by firesides. They can sing day and night for up to a week without repeating the words of their ballads. Popular musical instruments of the Bouyeis include the suona horn, yueqin, suona, lute, bamboo flageolet, wood leaf, vertical bamboo flutes such as the dongxiao, short xiao and sister xiao and copper drums.[Source: *|*]

The Bouyeis are skilled in arts and crafts. Their colorful and beautifully-patterned batik dates far back to ancient times. In 1953, a batik factory was built in the city of Anshun with the help of the local authorities, and traditional technology was improved. Now, batik has become one of their best-selling handicrafts, popular both on domestic and foreign markets. In addition, their colorful embroidery, exquisite summer sleeping mats and bamboo hats are not only durable and attractive, but also highly artistic. *|*

Traditional dances include Tymbal Dance, Weaving Dance, Lion Dance and Candy Bag Dance. The traditional musical instruments contain. Di drama, flower lamp drama are the favorite dramas of Bouyei people. In recent years, specialized business enterprises for producing the Bouyei baldachin, dyed cloth with wax and national craft clothing have been set up and products are sold as far to many foreign places, such as Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe and America. [Source: \=/]

Bouyei Literature and Love Songs

The Bouyei have traditionally had no written language. Their literature—myths, legends, songs and folktales, and their sacred Mojing scriptures—has been orally transmitted:. Among their myths, "Twelve suns", "Brother and sister create the human beings" perhaps are the best known. There are many Bouyei songs that depict their customs, such as "Legends of March Third", "The Origin of Build Houses", "Killing Tigers and Shooting Eagles", "Fight with the Rhinoceros for the Pearl", and "Legends of Huangguoshu Waterfalls." "Ali" and "Asan Digs for Sow" are two Bouyei poems that describe their their fights against oppression. Their batik textiles are very famous in China, are also appreciated internationally [Source: Ethnic China \*\].

The Bouyei have a rich repertory of songs that are usually sung at ceremonies and festivals. In some places professional singers are hired to entertain at their weddings. Some of their songs are called “mountain songs.” Their “big songs” are sung at wedding and funerals. Their small songs are usually sung at festivals and love encounters. It is said that the Bouyei can spend six or seven days singing without repeating any song. Drums are their main musical instrument. The Bouyei regard their oldest drums as sacred. Usually there are a lot of drawings in the drum outer side. Among their dances the most famous are: Dance of Embroidery, Lion Dance and Dance of Husking Rice. \*\

While young men and women are playing games and courting during their free time, they usually pick a piece of smooth leaf, and place it half rolling between their lips. With the rolled leaf in their mouth they sing harmonious and pleasant melodies to express their feelings. Some youths also use the "unrefined telephone" when singing love songs. A male and a female each hold section of bamboo connected by a string. One end of the bamboo is covered with a piece of sounding membrane (made of snake skin or thick paper). The two sections are connected by a string, which can be as long as a hundred meters. When one person sings into the bamboo piece, the other can hear clearly at the other end and others cannot hear it. In this way, couples that are courting can communicate and talk privately without the embarrassment of staring each other face to face. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

The love songs are usually plain and simple. If the singer does not have true feelings, he or she cannot perform well even with strenuous preparation. One song recorded in the General Records of Chinese Culture goes:

Male: Missing my girl too much to sleep,
River formed by tears of the weep,
Hands dragged by ghosts when doing chores,
Feet pulled by spirits when walking asides.

Female: Missing my lover and becoming impatient,
Tears dropping while grinding the wheat,
Mother asking why I am sobbing,
Saying that chaff into the eyes flying.

Bouyei Opera with Nuo Drama

Operas performed by the Bouyei include Bouyei Opera, Ground Opera and Stool Opera. With a history of more than 200 years, Bouyei Opera is the generic term for Bouyei native opera and Bouyei opera-style singing. It originated from eight-tone sitting singing (also called Stool Opera) and took its shape in the reign of Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795) during the Qing Dynasty. Today, the Bouyei Opera and the Ground Opera are often performed in vacant areas and on hillsides. around are crowded with audience, which fully demonstrates their popularity. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

The Bouyei Opera is performed by amateur folk craftsmen who divide themselves into groups. Each group has about 30 people, and the actors are divided into main actors, main actresses, minor roles, kings and warriors and so on. The accompanying instruments include the pans, drums, the urheen, the yu-kin (a stringed instrument), bamboo flute and wooden fish. Bouyei language is used in the songs, monologue, dialogue and satire, but the Chinese language is used in the prologue, final poem and self-introductions. The plays can be classified into traditional stories, legends and Han Chinese stories. These plays are usually staged during the Spring Festivals or times when there is little agricultural work to do. Before the opera, there is a “Jumping as Promoting” ceremony to honor the God of Opera, and after that sweeping the stage is necessary. These are all set rules such as "Civil officials swing the fan while warriors carry sword".

The Ground Opera gets its name for the fact that it is performed on the ground and there is no stage and backdrop. Tradition has it that the Ground Opera was learned from other nearby ethnic groups. The performing groups are all composed of amateur farmers who usually belong to the same village. They organize in groups and perform in villages one after another during the slack agricultural season. When performing, the actors dress in costumes, wear masks on their foreheads and black gauze over their faces. The warriors wear chicken feathers on the heads and small flags on the backs. The masks are carved out of aspen wood. Various kinds of people's face are painted on the masks. Some have beards and are extremely vivid. The plays are accompanied by orchestral music and percussions, and the stories are mainly adapted from historical fictions such as “Talking about the Tang Dynasty,” “Biography of Yue Fei,” and “Warriors in the Yang Family.” The Opera is sung in the Bouyei language. Some experts believe that Ground Opera originated from Nuo in old times and it is the "living fossil" of opera art.

Bouyei Agriculture

The Bouyei people are mostly engaged in agriculture. They have a long history of growing rice and are blessed with fertile land and a mild climate. The average annual temperature is 16 degrees Centigrade, and an essentially tropical environment, receiving between 100 and 140 centimeters of rain a year, is ideal for farming. Local crops include paddy rice, wheat, maize, dry rice, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, potatoes and beans. Farmers also grow cotton, ramie, tobacco, sugar cane, tung oil, tea and oil-tea camellia as profitable cash crops. [Source: *|*]

As the Red River valley is low-lying and tropical, paddy rice yields two harvests annually. Silk, hemp, bamboo shoots and bananas complement the local economy, and coffee and cocoa have also been planted there recently. The valley is also rich in trees, yielding a variety of timber, which is good for construction, such as pines and China firs. The remote, heavily-forested mountain and river areas provide a habitat for tigers, leopards, bears, musk deer, foxes, golden pheasants and others. Medicinal herbs are abundant in the woods, and the area is also rich in mineral resources, such as coal, iron, zinc, antimony, copper, petroleum, asbestos and mercury. *|*

Bouyei Development Under the Communists

According to the Chinese government: In the early years of the People's Republic, few Bouyeis took part in management. By 1981, however, there were 8,220 Bouyei administrators, accounting for 65 per cent of the total minority managerial staff in the area. Before 1949, Bouyei agriculture was backward, especially in remote mountain areas, where slash-and-burn farming methods still dominated. Since liberation, tremendous changes have taken place. By 1982, grain output totaled 720,000 tons, nearly twice as much as the 1949 figure, and 12,880 water conservancy projects had been built. These stored 200 million cubic meters of water, and brought 6,600 hectares of land under irrigation -- a six-fold increase over the 1949 area. Before 1949, there was virtually no industry in the Bouyei region. Since then, however, many industries have been developed, including iron and steel, coal, machine building, chemicals, electronic products, building materials and plastics. [Source: *|*]

“In 1949, the total length of roads came to only 296 kilometers in what is now Qiannan Prefecture. By 1981, 6,100 kilometers of new roads had been built. And three main railway lines (Guizhou-Guangxi, Yunnan-Guizhou and Hunan-Guizhou) run through Bouyei areas in Qiannan, Anshun and Guiyang. In addition, air services now link Guiyang with Beijing, Shanghai and other big Chinese cities. *|*

“Education and medical care have also improved greatly since 1949. By 1981, the numbers of secondary and primary schools had already risen to 150 and 3,789 respectively, compared with hardly any in 1949. Teacher training schools and colleges teaching modern farming methods have also been established. *|*

“In the past, medical facilities in the area were very poor. Epidemic diseases, such as smallpox, cholera and dysentery were rampant, with malaria alone affecting 58 per cent of the local population. After 1949, the government supplied financial aid, equipment and large numbers of medical workers to help the Bouyeis improve health care. Now, besides major hospitals at prefectural level, every county has its own hospital, epidemic prevention station and maternal health center, and every district has a clinic.” *|*

Image Sources: Nolls China website except Dong architecture ( and Hakka houses (University of Washington)

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, ~; 3) Ethnic China \*\; 4) \=/; 5), the Chinese government news site *|* 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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