right The Maonan are an ethnic group that lives primarily in a hilly area of Huanjiang and Hechi counties in the northern part Zhuang Autonomous Region in Guangxi and elsewhere in Guangxi and to lesser extent Guizhou Province. They speak a Sino-Tibetan language and live in villages dispersed among those of Yao, Zhuang, Miao and Han. They have intermarried extensively with the Han Chinese and have been highly assimilated into Han Chinese culture. About 80 percent of Maonan have the surname Tan, which is traced back to a common ancestor in Hunan Province. The Maonan have a long association with the Zhuang and Han and many can speak the Han and Zhuanag languages. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

The Maonan are also known as the Anan. Most of them live in the Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County, situated in the northwest of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in Shangnan, Zhongnan and Xianan Townships in an area locally known as the Maonan mountain area. The rest live scattered in Nandan County, Yao Autonomous County of Du'an, Hechi Prefecture and other counties in Guangxi. The county of Huangjiang has the a reputation of being the “hometown of the Maonan people”. Maonans make up 80 percent of people living there. [Source: Ethnic China *]

The Maonan are one of the lesser known minorities of China in part because they live in isolated Guizhou Province and they have been surrounded by Han Chinese for centuries. Their coexistence and intermarriage with the Han and other minorities such as as the Zhuang, Miao and Yao has eliminated many of their differentiating characteristics. *\

The Maonan ethnic group lives close to the eastern part of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, which is covered with green mountains. In the middle part of this area is the Maonan Mountain; to the northeast is the Ninety Thousand Mountains; to the northwest are the Phoenix Mountains; in the southwest is Large Stone Mountain. The Maonan communities are located in sub-tropical areas characterized by a mild climate, abundant rains and beautiful scenery, with stony hills jutting up here and there, among small patches of flatland. There are many small streams which are used to irrigate paddy rice fields. The lifestyle and economic life of he Maonan is similar to that of the Zhuang and Han people living around them. Rice and course grains are their main crops. Drought-resistant crops are grown in the Dashi Mountain area where water is scarce. In addition to paddy rice, agricultural crops include maize, wheat, Chinese sorghum, sweet potatoes, soybean, cotton and tobacco. Special local products include camphor, palm fiber and musk. The area abounds in mineral resources such as iron, manganese, stibium and mercury. The Maonans are experts in raising beef cattle, which are marketed in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

The Maonan are the 35th largest ethnic group and the 34th largest minority out of 55 in China. They numbered 101,192 and made up 0.01 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census and 0.0076 percent of the total population and 0.16 percent of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Maonan population in China in the past: 107,184 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 71,968 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. Their population increased from 38,000 Maonan in 1982 to 72,000 in 1990 to more than 107,000 in 2000 but then dropped in 2010, probably because of absorption and intermarriage of Maonan to Han and other groups. A total of 22,382 were counted in 1964 and 37,450 were counted in 1982. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Maonan History

Maonan autonomous prefectures and counties, the tiny blue area at the bottom

Maonan people call themselves "Anan" which means "those that live here" or “locals”. This suggests that they are the aborigines in the area. They were mentioned in the Tang Dynasty and in Song, Yuan, and Ming records under names such as "Maotan" and "Maonan". According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ The population is highly Sinicized, reflecting early intermarriage between Han settlers and local women. Since the late Ming dynasty, a separate ethnic identity has emerged.

In the 19th century, the Maonan people actively supported and joined the Taiping Revolt against the Qing Dynasty. They organized the "Hui Party" and fought the Qing army and landlords for more than twenty years. In the 20th century the Maonan supported the Red Army and were active in the resistance against Japan and fought against the Kuomintang.

According to the Chinese government: “Long subjected to the oppression of the ruling class, the Maonan areas developed very slowly. At the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Maonans still used wooden hoes and ploughs. Various iron tools were in use by the time of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when land was gradually concentrated and the division of classes became distinct. There began to appear farm laborers who did not own an inch of land, poor peasants who had a small amount of land, self-sufficient middle peasants, and landlords and rich peasants who owned large amounts. The landlords and rich peasants cruelly exploited farm laborers and poor peasants by means of land rent and usury. There were also slave girls either bought by the landlords or forced by unpaid debts to serve landlords all their lives.” [Source:]

Norma Diamond wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ Prior to 1949, landlord holdings were large; more than 50 percent of the households were either farm laborers on managerial estates or tenant farmers. Land reform in 1952 equalized holdings and more recent construction of irrigation systems and a major reservoir has expanded the amount of arable land. Before 1949, Maonan crafts specializations made up half of household income. These included stone carving, wood carving, weaving of bamboo hats and mattresses, and blacksmithing. Beef cattle, sold at interprovincial markets, also provided a large part of income. Presumably, with the development of the free market and economic reforms during the 1980s, these nonagricultural enterprises have revived. [Source: Norma Diamond , “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

Maonan Language and Names

The Maonan language belongs to the Dong-Shui branch of the Zhuang-Dong group of the Sino-Tibetan linguistic family. Most of the Maonan are multilingual or bilingual, speaking the languages of neighboring peoples as well as or with local Chinese dialects. Almost all the Maonans know both the Han and the Zhuang languages because of long contact with those people.*\

The Maonan language traditionally had no written form. Maonan folk songs have been spelled out and recorded with Chinese pronunciations and meanings, which was called "local custom character". Now written Chinese now is commonly used.

As we said before about 80 percent of Maonan have surname Tan. Legend has it that their ancestors earlier lived in Hunan Province, then emigrated to Guangxi and multiplied by marrying the local women who spoke the Maonan tongue. The other 20 percent of Maonan have the surnames Lu, Meng, Wei and Yan, whose ancestral homes are said to have been in Shandong and Fujian provinces. [Source: |]

Maonan Religion

The Maonan have traditionally been Taoists and Buddhists. They worship several gods. In addition, they also hold a lot of superstitious religious activities. When a people dies, they are buried in the earth. Buddhist monks or Taoist priests are invited to chant scriptures at the funeral and join in the funeral procession. The son of dead person "buys water" at a river or in a well to wash the body. Before the burial, chicken blood is sprayed into the grave to bless the spirit of the deceased and protect his or her offspring. See Stone Tombs Under Maonan Culture Below [Source:]

Maonan religion is strongly influenced by the Chinese and the neighboring Zhuang minority. Christianity made some converts before 1949. Ancestors worship is important but it differs from that of the Han Chinese in that a woman’s worships her ancestors at the same alter as her husband’s ancestors. Taoist and Buddhist gods are honored. The biggest local festival, the Fenglong Festival, pays tribute to local gods and ancestors. The Wooden Mask Opera is staged in the fifth lunar month every year during a ceremony for offering sacrifices to the deity Grandpa Sanjie. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

Norma Diamond wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ The various gods of the Daoist/Buddhist pantheon also have a place on the household altar, particularly the Lord of the Three Worlds and his wife, the Divine Mother. Most gods and spirits are seen as protective and benevolent, but a few, like General Meng, cause sickness and must be appeased with generous offerings of meat and wine. At least once, each generation in a family must sponsor a sacrificial ceremony to fulfill its vows to the gods and spirits for their assistance. The most elaborate of these required the sacrifice of thirty-six animals (including an ox and seven pigs) and continued for three days and nights under the direction of a group of Daoist priests and spirit mediums. Sacrifices are now discouraged but they have traditionally been held to mark weddings, funerals and other events. Large ceremonial sacrifices used to be held once a generation to fulfill vows to gods and spirits. Shaman used to be sought out for medical treatment. [Source: Norma Diamond , “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Maonan Festivals

The Maonan celebrate the Han Chinese holidays Chinese New Year's (Spring) Festival, Qingming ( Tomb-Sweeping Day), and Zhongyuan (Hung Ghost) festival similar to those of their Han and Zhuang neighbors with minor modifications. Zhuang Chinese New Year is a big celebration. Fenglong Festival is the the most important indigenous festival. It honors local gods and ancestors. [Source: Norma Diamond , “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

The Fenglong Festival is unique to the Maonans and is celebrated by offering sacrifices to God and their ancestors to pray for a good harvest.
Married daughters and relatives living in other places return to their home villages for the celebration. Friends living elsewhere are also invited to the village celebrations. A special treat is five-colored rice. In the past, there were many taboos, such as suspending productive labor on festivals, which hindered the development of production. After 1949, weddings and funerals were simplified, and some superstitious activities were reformed. [Source: |]

The Fenlong Festival is also known as the Temple Festival. Celebrated in the fifth lunar month after the summer solstice every year, which is in late June or July, the main purpose of the festival is to worship Maonan gods as well as their ancestors. Families get together and make and eat steamed sticky rice with five colors, and steamed pork with rice flour. Some prepare a roasted pig. Maonan people also pick branches from willow trees and put them in the main living room, then they divide the steamed sticky rice into several small groups and pinch them into small balls and stick them to the willow branches to express their wishes for a plentiful harvest. [Source: \=/]

The Maonan celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival in a different way than the Han Chinese. Among most Maonan people, this festival is also called the Medicine Festival. People pick herbs such as moxa leaves, calamus, turmerics, and rattans, then put them together and boil them in hot water, and drink the concoction for good health. Sometimes they also grind the herbs into small pieces and use them to make curative dumplings or cakes. \=/

As the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) nears, every households picks good calamus On the New Year's Eve, they weave one hundred birds with calamus leaves, put fragrant glutinous rice, beans and sesame fillings into the empty stomachs of the birds, and have them steamed or boiled. Next, they fasten the birds onto a long sugarcane with a rope, and hang them in front of an burning incense in the central room. The birds include partridges, pheasants, swallows, cormorant and babblers. On that day, every child is given one "bird" to satisfy his craving for good food; married women who have children are expected to go back to their parents' home for "birds", with the hope that the children will grow lively and lovely. In front of the burning incense's hall, offerings include red rice and fruits. The hope is that the one hundred birds won't eat their crops, and the offering will guarantee good fortune and a good harvest year. On the 15th of the first lunar month, "one hundred birds" are taken down and people eat them. Some scholars say the "flying birds" originated with the bird totem worship of ancient Maonans. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

A lot of Chinese ethnic groups celebrate the Double Ninth Festival as the senior citizens' festival, keeping alive the traditional custom of respecting the elderly. The Maonan ethnic group is no exception, but the prevailing custom is different. For the weak and sick and old people over sixty, Maonan people usually add extra grain for their longevity during the Double Ninth Festival. Children hold a feast at home for their parents. Relatives and friends come for the feast, bringing fine flour and rice, or fresh fruits. "One hundred rice" given by relatives and friends should be stored alone. Later on, the host will mix the “one hundred” rice into the rice of the elderly. If "one hundred rice" is eaten up, the elderly will not be healthy so a good day is determined to hold the ceremony of "adding grain for longevity". ~

Maonan "Flying Birds" and Pumpkin Festivals

Among the numerous customs of the Maonan people, "flying birds" in the middle of the first lunar month is perhaps the most characteristic and interesting one. According to legend an old Master lived in the countryside around Maonan Mountain. He had only one daughter, who was clever, skillful and beautiful. She is good at weaving one hundred birds with the thin bamboo strips and calamus leaves, and thus she is called "the girl of little bird". She and a young man love each other, and plan to get married on the lunar New Year's Day. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

The old Master decides to test the ability of his future son-in-law. On the New Year's Eve, he asks the young man to scatter seeds all over the land on the mountain before it gets dark. Seeds are scattered as instructed but the young man is so worried and anxious he spreads rice intended for food by mistake. The old Master orders him to pick up all the seeds. Seeing his predicament the girl told her fiancé to go back home and the one hundred birds who helped her weave would help her now. The girl blew towards the one hundred birds, and whispered some secret words to her fiancé, The young man took the one hundred birds to the mountain and the birds flew out and quickly brought back all the seeds. The man then cast out the correct grain seeds before it is dark. The old Master was glad to see that, and said: "Let us two, father and daughter, celebrate the New Year and reunion happily, and then I will send my girl to you for the wedding on January 15th. From then we will celebrate the custom of "flying birds" on that day. ~

The Maonan "Pumpkin Festival" is held on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, when the Double Ninth Festival is held. Every household puts newly- harvested big orange pumpkins in different shapes on the floor so as to select one. Young people visit one family after another, to choose the "pumpkin king". In addition to appearance, pumpkins are judged by the number of seeds inside and their outside appearance. When the majority agree on "the pumpkin king", a strong guy splits it with an ax. The owner draws out the pumpkin pulp, and puts the seeds away for the coming year. Then he cuts the melon into slices, and puts it them in a congee pan to be braised and stewed with slow fire until thoroughly cooked. The first bowl is presented before deceased ancestors. Then everybody start to enjoy the meal together. ~

Maonan Marriage, Weddings and Family

Maonan marriage was traditionally arranged during childhood by parents, with the maternal uncle playing the role of matchmaker and performing important functions in the weddings. Marriages have traditionally been monogamous. A younger brother sometimes married his elder brother's widow, but only if both agree. [Source: Ethnic China]

Marriages were traditionally arranged when children for five or six and carried when they were 12 or 13 after gifts were exchanged between the couple’s families. The bride remained with her family until her first child was born. The youngest son stayed with his parents after he was married to take care of them in their old age. Other son left and established their own household. Married-out daughters are expected to spend New Year's Eve, the second day of the New Year and Qingming with their natal families and to bring gifts of meat, wine, and noodles. [Source: Norma Diamond , “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Descent is patrilineal, kinship is recognized within five generations, and marriages are prohibited within this group. Otherwise, people of the same surname may marry. Levirate marriage, in which a man is obliged to marry his brother's widow, was permitted. Sons and daughters shared in division of family property, and both married and unmarried daughters could inherit land. Under new laws, both marriage and inheritance have changed. Traditionally, custom permitted widow remarriage and divorce by mutual consent, which is upheld under current law. |~|

Songs are a fundamental part of the wedding ceremony, and often professional singers are hired. Relatives of the bride sing of their sadness about losing the bride, while the family of the groom sing songs of welcome. A greeting to the gods it is also sung. Before the wedding ceremony the bride visits the groom's house to participate in a series of ceremonies to get rid of demons.*\

In traditional Maonan child marriages, the bride spends the night in the bridegroom's house for one night and then returns to her parents' house, where she resides until she old enough to live married life. During these years she only spends only a few days in her husband's house, mainly to help with agricultural work when such help is needed. Otherwise the bride lives as a normal single girl. It is common for her to be courted by the boys at festivals. Romantic and sexual liaisons take place under the pretext of getting lost with somebody in the forest or a cave. Adultery is punished by making an offering of pardon to the deceived husband. *\

Maonan Houses and Villages

The Maonans with the same surnames and from the same clans usually live together in small villages with only a few households. The biggest village consists of not more than 100 households. Their houses and clothes are basically identical to those of their Han and Zhuang neighbors. Houses have two stories, with mud walls and tile roofs. The second floor is used as living quarters and the ground floor for livestock. [Source:]

Many Maonan living in the of mountains live in railing buildings made of stone. The lower half of the railing in the bottom is a stele. The sidesteps from the yard to the building are made of stone bars. The foundations and gables of the railing building are cut stones. Even the door frame, flat roof, cattle pen, pig fence, desks, stools, jars and water basins are laid and chiseled from stone and sometimes engraved with patterns of birds, flowers, worms and fish. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]

Maonan village in the Guilin area

Maonan Food and Drink

The major staples of the Maonans are rice and maize, and then millet, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. They all enjoy tobacco, alcohol, tea and hot peppers. They pick out big sweet potatoes with no bruises, dry them in the sun and leave them in the open at night to be drenched by dew. Twenty or 30 days later, potatoes are put into cellars or above the cooking stoves. After another 20 days or so, they are steamed and enjoyed as a delicacy. Common dishes include sticky corns and bamboo sprouts mixed with vegetables and seasonings, sweet potatoes, Luoshisuan (made of sour pork, vegetables and snails), sour garlic , duck blood sauce and beancurds. Minglun sliced pig is a well known dish of the Maonan nationality. It is made from local pigs , which are steamed with seasonings. [Source:]

The Maonan like to pickle sour meat, sour snails and sour vegetables. They grow a lot of vegetables, which are available all through the year. These include peas, cabbages, pumpkins, sweet potato leaves, bean pods, banana roots, green vegetables and radishes. Pumpkins are the most commonly eaten vegetable in autumn and winter. They are often sliced into pieces to make porridges as well as steamed alone. Most meat comes from pigs, oxen, chickens and ducks. Some Maonan like to eat the meat of dogs, especially during the Ghost Festival. Most of the Maonan people like their food half cooked. The only meat they like fully-cooked is duck. Thus there is a popular saying among the Maonans: "unripe chickens and ripe ducks". [Source: \=/]

Most adult Maonan men like to drink. It is considered impolite to have guests over and not offer them plenty of wine. Some families make their own wine using grain, sorghums and corns. However, in recent years, its has become more common to buy white spirits sold in the markets. Maonans also like to drink tea and they always drink it in summer to relieve heat. Whenever they walk a long way, the Maonans take with them some balaustines or green peppers to eat and quench their thirst. \=/

During festivals, the Maonan enjoy beef cooked in a hot-pot. To make this they first put a big iron cauldron over the fire pit. People sit around the cauldron, and put the fresh meat and vegetables into the boiling water in the cauldron and dip it in seasonings before eating it. They also drink wine at the same time. This is also a common way to treat guests. \=/

Maonan "One Hundred Flavors with Sour”

Maonan cuisine is known for its "one hundred flavors with sour." The most famous one is the Maonan "three sours", namely "Nanxing", "Wengwei" and "Suofa". "Nanxing" is pickled sour pork or beef, made from meat cut into slices, and mixed thoroughly with fine salt, preserving it for two or three days. It is then steamed and mixed with dry fragrant glutinous rice and pressurized it in a jar. It is edible three months later. When eating, first put "Nanxing" into a bowl, and steam it. The oil and juice in the bowl is absorbed into the rice, making it fragrant and sweet. Pickling "Nanxing" actually is to preserve meat and keep it available at any time. In the past, the amount "Nanxing" a family possessed was a symbol of wealth. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

right To make "Suofa": 1) Boil and dissolve salt with water, filter the salt into a jar after the salt has cooled down. 2) Put Jiaotou ( a kind of allium) dunked with lime water and dried into the jar, add scores of raw soybean, and seal the jar. 3) The Jiaotou and soybeans ferment and to grow sour in the jar. "Wengwei" means “brine jar with a tart flavor.” ~

In a "Wengwei" jar, many melons and vegetables can be pickled, such as green peppers, turnips, fresh kidney beans, cucumber and ginger. When the tart flavor turns light, Jiaotou and soybean may be added; when water disappears add some brine. The fat pork, pig's head meat and pig's tail can also be pickled into the jar. After being pickled, the meat becomes tart, crisp and fragrant, not oily. The meat is called "Nanqing" in Maonan language. The pickled pig's head meat is said to be good feasts to strengthen appetite and to sober up. ~

"Suofa" is a snail soup with a tart flavor. The snail comes from local small mountain streams. First, fry the clean the snail with lard; pour the soup into a jar when it is hot, cooked and fragrant enough. At the same time, put baked fragrant pig bones (big bones of bone marrow) into the jar too. Add some polished glutinous rice and water, and then seal the jar. It is edible three months later. Before eating the snail soup, flavor it with chopped scallions, fragrant-flowered garlic, tomatos, green peppers and salt. The soup goes well with food and rice. In summer, it is consumed to relieve summer heat and cure acute diseases. ~

Maonan Clothes and Stripped Bamboo Caps

The clothes worn by Maonan is quite similar to that of the Zhuang people living nearby. Men like to wear blue or green side opening or front opening shirts. While women like to wear front opening upper outer garments with two embroidered laces, and trousers with embroidered borders. They also like to plait their hair or tie it in a bun. Maonan women like to wear accessories such as bracelets and silver jewelry as well as brightly-colored and decorated Maonan-style bamboo hats, which are sometimes exchanged as love tokens. [Source:]

The Maonan people are known for handicrafts, such as knitting and dying, silverware making, woodcarving, stone carving and bamboo article making. But the most famous one is the making of colored bamboo hats woven with thin bamboo strips. Known as as "Top Stripped Cap", the colored bamboo hat has inner and outer layers, and a diameter of 60 centimeters. Golden bamboo and black bamboo are used as weaving materials. The black bamboo is pitch-dark and glossy, while the gold bamboo is glittering. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities~]

During the autumn, the bamboo is cut off into thin strips that can be as thin as paper. The bamboo strips are soaked for a whole night, then dried for future use. While weaving a cap, the weaver first puts a hat rack before his knee. The diameter of the hat rack is the same size as the bamboo hat. It is shaped like an umbrella and easy to rotate. The weaver arranges the top layer first, and then the inner layer. The top layer usually has 15 thin bamboo strips. The ends of each strip are further divided into 24 thinner bamboo strips. In total, there are 720 divided strips, which are as thin as a human hair. By weaving 60 to 80 horizontal bars alternatively from head to foot, the hat is dense enough to repel water. ~

On arranging the inner layer, the top layer usually has 12 thin bamboo strips. The ends of each strip are divided into 15 fens, with 360 divided strips in total. The weaver adds 60 to 80 horizontal bars alternatively from head to foot. After weaving the two layers, the weaver puts a piece of tissue paper on the inner layer, colored cloth on the paper, and dark blue cloth on the colored cloth. A buckle is placed on the top layer to make the two layers unified. Tightening and sewing the hat brim is done using the thin bamboo strips. Because the top of the top layer is sharp and pointy, goose feathers are attached on the top to make the cap attractive and more durable.

Maonan Culture

Singing is a popular recreational activity of the Maonans. In addition, they also enjoy "Maonan opera," based on folklore and legends and portraying love affairs, anti-feudal struggles, joys and sorrows, partings and reunions, and the lofty ideals of the people. Maonan carving and weaving have unique styles. The former comprises wood and stone varieties, delicate and vivid in imagery. The latter is famous for flowery bamboo hats and bamboo mattresses. [Source:]

Examples of Maonan folk stories include the Legend of Pangu, Legend of Sanjiu, the Story of Taishiliuguan, the Legend of Dingkahua, Peak of Seven Girls and Stone of Mutual Love. Special love songs chanted by young men and women during festivals and courting sessions are each made up of eight sentences, and each sentence includes seven words. These songs are called Bi. Every two sentences there of some songs there is the pronunciation of the words Luohai. These are called Luohai Songs. During wedding ceremonies and other happy festivals, the Maonan sing another kind of celebrating songs, which are called Huan. Each song is composed of eight sentences, with five words in each sentence. There are also narrative songs which are chanted by a single person that tell historical stories and origins of their ancestors. These kind of songs are made up of four sentences, with seven words in every sentence, and several songs are put together as one group, which is called Paijian in the Maonan own language. In addition, there are also traditional Maonan Operas. [Source: \=/]

The Maonan produce beautiful Dingkahua bamboo caps, which are weaved into delicate and exquisite patterns from very thin bamboo splints which are as thin as half the thickness of a match. Wooden masks carved by the Maonan people are very vivid and lifelike. The stone pillars and tables engraved by them are full of dragons, phoenixes, unicorns, cranes, pines and geometrical patterns. In Nanmu Village of Zhongnan area, Huanjiang County, the Maonan people are adept at forging silver wares and producing silver bracelets, necklaces and caps with the images of five young boys. \=/

The artistic skill of the Maonan is displayed best on their stone tombs. On Fengteng Mountain in the Maonan area, there is a famous ancient tomb group with stone poles and pavilions, carved with images, such as warriors weaving scourges, Grandpa Jiang fishing under the willows, a Confucian scholar writing books near the window, the Thunder God and Water Spirits. On the stone posts, twining dragons are carved; and on the plinths, the flowers and animals are decorated. On the top of the tombs there are carved stones of immortals, suns, clouds, and Chinese unicorns, some of which are high four to five meters, big enough for people to live inside. Between the two posts is a huge gravestone, both sides of which are engraved with big, vivid images of phoenixes, thrushes, cranes, bats, swimming fish, spotted deer, celestial peaches, green pines, narcissus, and elephants, to signify luck, longevity, wealth, surplus, high salary and rectitude. Maonan stonecutters have a tradition of working at the carvings with great care. Experienced master workers require the apprentices to dig stone powder every day not to be more than one ox-eye cup. Otherwise the works can not be regarded as handicrafts. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]

Maonan Agriculture and Economics

Maonan have traditionally lived in two-story houses with livestock kept on the bottom. They farmed maize, wheat, sorghum, sweet potatoes soybeans, tobacco and small amounts of paddy rice. Much of their outside income has come from selling beef cattle and trading and selling crafts such as stone carvings, bamboo hats and mattresses. The Maonan are regarded as skilled in making handicrafts from bamboo and woven bamboo. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

The Maonan people are chiefly engaged in agriculture, but also have sidelines which yield more than half their total income, such as weaving bambooware, raising beef cattle, making wooden articles and casting iron. Before liberation, their major farm tools were ox-pulled ploughshares, iron hoes, foot-pedaled ploughs, scrapers and scythes. Backward tools and farming techniques kept the agricultural production at a very low level for a long time. [Source: |]

The land ownership in the Maonan areas was highly concentrated before 1949. In Yuhuan Township, Huanjiang County, the landlords and rich peasants — some 3.8 per cent of the township population — occupied 36.1 per cent of the total arable land; whereas the farm laborers and poor peasants who took up 53.4 per cent of the population only owned 18.7 per cent of the land. Land rent was mostly paid in kind at an exploitative rate. |

Maonan Beef Cattle

The lack of arable land in the Maonan mountainous area limits agricultural development. Maonan people cherish soil like gold, and do their best to cultivate their limited land. Besides intensive cultivation, they make use of green grass all over the mountains to raise cattle. Families raises beef cattle for income. Maonan beef is popular in China, Hong Kong and Macao. Maonan cattle are raised with great care. They are shielded from bright light. In the summer, mosquitoes are shooed off them. In the winter, they are kept warm. Sometimes, salt water is scattered on their grass to increase their appetite. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences ~]

The Maonan use herbal therapeutics to treat sick cattle. Many families have all kind of herbs growing in their yards. Apart from grass, the cattle are fed coarse grains cooked and mixed with water and things such as corn, sorghum, rice beans, sweet potato and pumpkin. To put weight on the cattle eat 60 kilograms of grass a day. At noon and in the evening, 10 kilograms of food grains are fed to the cattle after being swilled with water. In the middle night, half-grown green grass mixed with water is given. To fatten the cattle up before slaughter tender grass is dunked in millet and yellow soybean milk. Forty days after this the meat on the cattle's back is higher than the backbone, and forms a groove, on which a tub can be put with it falling down. Because the cattle are very fat they can not be driven down the winding mountain paths to butchers and thus are slain in the mountains and the meat is carried down. The meat is pink, tender and well-arranged. The fat is not oily and the meat is tasty and refreshing whether it is fried, stewed, boiled or stir fired. ~

The Maonan god "Sanjie Grandpa" is associated with a special method of raising beef cattle. "Sanjie Grandpa", it is said, had a poor childhood, and made a living by herding cattle for others. He was known for controlling cattle by drawing circles on the grass. The cattle ate grass in the circle he drew, allowing him to go and cut firewood. One day when cutting firewood, he came across some spirits who were playing chess. He was greatly attracted to them. The spirits gave him a special peach, and invited him back to the celestial mountain. On the way, "Sanjie Grandpa" saw a mountain spring, and said without hesitance, "This spring can be easily be used to wash cattle belly and rinse chafing dishes." The spirits thought he was still a common guy, and ordered him to go back home. One day in the celestial world is equal to many years in the human world. The cattle circled by him had grown into a big herd. After careful observation, he got to know several kinds of grasses the cattle were fond of. After that developed methods for raising cattle and taught the method to Maonan villagers. ~

Image Sources: Nolls China website

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.

Last updated October 2022

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