DONG ETHNIC GROUP
The Dong are related to Thais and Lao and live primarily in the hills along the border of Hunan,Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. They have their own language, Kam, a Sino-Tibetan tongue, and had no written language until the Communist government gave them one after 1949. The Dong grow rice, wheat, maize and sweet potatoes for consumption and cultivate cotton, tobacco, soybeans and rapeseed as cash crops. They also sell timber and other forest products. Most Dong live among the green, rain-soaked mountains of Guizhou. One Dong saying goes: Not three feet of flat land, not three days without ran, not a family without three silver coins.” [Source: Amy Tan, National Geographic, May 2008]
The Dong (pronounced dAWNg) are one of the larger ethnic minorities in China. They are also known as the Liao, Geling and Gaem. They refer to themselves as "Kam." Dong are mainly farmers. They are good at growing rice, raising fish in their rice fields. The area they live in is subtropical and relatively good for agriculture. The Dong generally live near the rivers in valleys or in low hills. They are not regarded as a mountain people. For domestic animals they raise mainly hens and pigs. They live in one of the eight huge forest regions in China. The forests have special spiritual importance for the Dong but also provides with a source of income. The Dong are famous for forest tea-oil and tung oil. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994; C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]
The Dong are divided are into two main groups: the Dong of the North and the Dong of the South. In general those of the north have been influenced more by Han Chinese culture, while those of the south have done a better job keeping alive Dong traditions. Drum Towers, Bridges of Rain and Wind, and the Temples of the Goddess Mother Sama, are all characteristic of the Dong of the South.
Websites and Sources: Book Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ; Chinese Government Law on Minorities china.org.cn ; Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Ethnic China ethnic-china.com ;Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China Books: Ethnic Groups in China, Du Roufu and Vincent F. Yip, Science Press, Beijing, 1993; An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China, Olson, James, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1998; “China's Minority Nationalities,” Great Wall Books, Beijing, 1984
Dong Population and Places Where They Live
The homeland of the Dong is a 1336-meter mountain that defines the boundary between of Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi called "Three-Province Slope". The Dong people have lived here generation after generation. Otherwise the Dong are found mainly in: 1) Yuping and Tongren Counties, Southeast Qian (short for Guizhou) Autonomous Prefecture of Miao and Dong Ethnic Minority Groups in Guizhou Province; 2) Xinshuang, Tongdao, and Zhijiang in Hunan Province; and 3) Sanjiang and Longsheng in Guangxi Province. They live together with some other ethnic groups such as Han, Miao, Zhuang, Yao, Shui, Bouyei and Tujia. [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 Dong live in numerous villages in the hills along the borders of Hunan, Guizhou, and Guangxi provinces. About 55 percent of them live in Guizhou Province. About 30 percent of all Dong live in the southern part of Hunan Province. About eight percent make their home in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. A few thousand can be found in Hubei Province. Those that live in Guizhou Province reside mainly along a fringe of flat lands that cross the province from north to south. [Source: Ethnic China]
Numerous Dong villages are situated among the tree-clad hills of the extensive stretch of territory on the Hunan-Guizhou-Guangxi borders. Situated about 300 kilometers north of the Tropic of Cancer, this area has a mild climate and an annual rainfall of 120 centimeters. The area is criss-crossed by rivers flowing in all directions. Many of the the villages are located at the foot of hills and bordered by streams, are adorned by drum-towers, often with an ancient banyan trees nearby, and crossed by exquisite bridges.
The Dong are the 12th largest ethnic group out of 56 in China and the 11th largest minority there. They numbered 3,495,993 in 2020 and made up 0.25 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census. Dong population in China in the past: in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 0.2161 percent of the total population; 2,879,974 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 2,962,911 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 2,514,014 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 712,802 were counted in 1953; 836,123 werecounted in 1964; and 1,446,190 (0.14 percent of China’s population) were, in 1982. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]
Dong Origins and the Yue People
According to legend ancestors of the Dong traveled upstream on the Xun River ( a short section of the main branch of the Pearl River system) and the Duliu River (one of the great rivers in Guizhou, and also part of the Pearl River system) to arrive at the place they they live today. Dong elders say the Dong began as a people who wore no clothes, who were driven to where they live now by invaders.The Gaomiao site occupied by the Dong at Qianyangg on the middle of the Yiuanjiang River was the home of a paddy rice culture that flourished 7,000 years ago. Pottery pieces found here contain images of suns, birds, flowers and trees.
The ancestors of Dong were the Luoyue branch of the Baiyue (Yue, a group of people in south China in ancient times) during the Qin (221–206 B.C.) and Han (206 B.C.– A.D. 220) dynasties.They were called the "Liao" by Han people during the Wei, Jin, South and North Dynasties; "Geling" or "Ling" in the Song Dynasty; and after that "Dongman", "Dongmiao", "Dongren", "Dongjia" or were grouped together with other ethnic groups and called "Miao". Since the founding of the PRC, the group was more rigorously defined and the name was fixed as "Dong".
The term "Yue" has historically been used in a broad and general way by the ancient Chinese to refer to a number of ethnic groups that were otherwise difficult to categorize. Similarly, the ancient Greeks used the term "Keltai" (source of the term "Celt") to refer to various peoples and tribes that lived in a wide area of present-day Europe, stretching from France through Germany to the British Isles. Some scholars believe that the original Yue people who branched out along a northerly route that would lead them into present-day China are in fact forebears to the Han Chinese. The Cantonese language is also called the Yue language. A similar group, forebears of the present-day Tai (alternatively "Thai") folk of Thailand, branched southward. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]
Modern-day Dong people are considered a sub-group among the Yue people, who, it is believed, were the original ancestors of the Han Chinese people, though there are competing theories regarding the origin of the Han Chinese. David of Chinatravel.com wrote: “Scholars believe that early man's migration out of Africa, part of which migration pushed eastward beyond the Indian subcontinent, saw a trail of migrants who expanded northward into China (another trail of migrants had, possibly earlier, expanded southward), the Yue folk. A subgroup of the northward-expanding Yue group, the Dong-yi ("Eastern" yi, "Yi" being a variant of "Yue"), entered into present-day China either via Yunnan or Sichuan Province, eventually settling in the present-day Sichuan-Gansu-Shaanxi-Shanxi area and becoming the forebears of the Han Chinese. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]
“The group of Yue folk who had headed southward into Southeast Asia, forebears of the Dai (alternatively, Tai) folk who in turn are the ancestors of the the present-day Tai people of Thailand, eventually reached the bottom of the Southeast Asian cul-de-sac, as it were, and ended up heading north again along the coast, eventually reaching present-day China, where they settled in the Guizhou-Hunan-Guangxi area of China, thus becoming the forebears of the present-day Dong people of China (there are also large numbers of Dong people in present-day Vietnam). \=/
The Dong have lived for a long time in highland areas surrounded by the Miao, Zhuang, and Yao, with Chinese living in the valleys. The Dong had their own social and administrative organization and were were benignly ruled by the central government of successive Chinese dynasties. Families of a given Dong village all bore the same surname. Public order was maintained by customary laws and oversight by village leaders. Adult male villagers had the right to participate in the main village organization and take part in meetings to discuss issues of concern. Such organizations have been weakened since the since the Communist takeover in 1949. Some customary laws are still effective on some matters.
During the Qin Dynasty ( B.C. 221-207) and the Dynasty Han ( B.C. 206 – A.D. 220) Dynasties, the forebears of the Dong people lived in the Lingnan area and were known as the "Bai Yue" ("Hundred Yue") folk, a branch of the Luo Yue folk. A branch of the Bai Yue folk emerged during the Southern and Northern ( 420-588) Dynasties period calling itself the "Liao" folk. The Liao subdivided further during the Tang (618-907) and Song ( 960-1279) Dynasties, and thus the small, present-day Chinese ethnic minority officially referred to as the Dong people (present-day members of this ethnic group usually call themselves "Kam" (pronounced slightly like "Gam") is believed to stem from Liao ancestors, and – going even farther back – from the Yue folk who are believed to be the earliest ancestors of the Han Chinese.” \=/
According to the Chinese government: “At the time of the Qin and Han dynasties (221 B.C.-A.D. 220) there lived many tribes in what is present-day Guangdong and Guangxi. The Dong people, descendants of one of these tribes, lived in a slave society at that time. Slavery gradually gave way to a feudal society in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Agriculture developed rapidly during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in the Dong areas in southeast Guizhou and southwest Hunan provinces. Rice production went up with improved irrigation facilities. And self-employed artisans made their appearance in Dong towns. Markets came into existence in some bigger towns or county seats, and many big feudal landowners also began to do business. After the Opium War of 1840-42, the Dong people were further impoverished due to exploitation by imperialists, Qing officials, landlords and usurers. [Source: China.org|]
“The Dongs, who had all along fought against their oppressors, started to struggle more actively for their own emancipation after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. They served as guides and supplied grain to the Chinese Red Army when it marched through the area during its Long March in the mid-1930s. In 1949, guerilla units organized by the Dong, Miao, Han, Zhuang and Yao nationalities fought shoulder to shoulder with regular People's Liberation Army forces to liberate the county seat of Longsheng.” |
Dong Development Under the Communists
The Communist Revolution has led to the introduction of factories to produce farm implements, cement, paper, and other goods and the establishment of autonomous counties for the Dong. According to the Chinese government: “A momentous event in Dong history took place on August 19, 1951 when the Longsheng Autonomous County of the Dong, Zhuang, Miao and Yao peoples was founded. This was followed by the setting up of the Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County in Guangxi, the Tongdao Dong Autonomous County in Hunan, the Miao-Dong Autonomous Prefecture in southeastern Guizhou, and the Xinhuang Dong Autonomous County in Hunan. [Source: China.org |]
The establishment of autonomous counties enhanced relations between various ethnic groups and eliminated misunderstanding, mistrust and discord sowed by the ruling class between the Dongs and other ethnic minorities. In Congjiang County, Guizhou, the Dongs n one village once warred against the Miaos in another for the possession of a brook. The people of the two villages remained hostile to each other for over a century until the dispute was resolved through negotiations after the setting up of the Miao-Dong Autonomous Prefecture. They have been living in harmony since. |
“Another eventful change in Dong life is the carrying out of the agrarian reform, which put an end to feudal oppression under which members of this ethnic group had been groaning for centuries. The Dongs who were ruled and never ruled have their own people holding posts in the governments of the autonomous counties. Dong cadres in Guangxi number 2,950, and those in Hunan 3,040. Many Dong women, who had no political status formerly, now hold responsible government posts at the county or prefectural levels. |
“Achievements have also been made in many other fields in the post-1949 period. With the opening of schools, all children between 7 and 10 in Longping village, for example, are attending classes. Malaria and other diseases, which used to take a heavy toll of lives, have by and large been eliminated, thanks to improved health care and the disappearance of witch doctors. There was no industry in the Dong areas formerly. Today, small factories are turning out farm implements, chemical fertilizer, cement, paper and other products. Electricity generated by small power installations drives irrigation pumps and light homes in many Dong villages.” |
The Dong language belongs to Dong and Shui subgroup of the Zhuang and Dong branch of the Sino-Tibetan family of language. There are south and north Dong dialects, each having three branches. Speakers of the northern and southern dialects have difficulty understanding each other The Dong traditionally had no written language. Not only are the primary dialects mutually incomprehensible, so are many of the local dialects within each of these two primary dialects. [Source: Ethnic China *\; Chinatravel.com\=/]
The spoken language of the Dong is in the same phonetic family as that of the Tai/ Dai language (as is Cantonese, according to the experts). The Dong have not traditionally had a written language, which probably explains how Dong dialects can diverge so significantly from locality to locality. A new script for the Dong Language was one was created in Pinyin (the system for transcribing Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet) in 1958 but it was never been widely used. Before 1958, the Dong used Chinese characters adapted to their own language. Now Many Dong can read and speak Chinese. *\ \=/
Dong Religion and Funerals
The Dongs believe in and spirits, ghosts and supernatural being such as the “ganjin”, a gremlin-like creature that has backward feet and lives in the mountains and is blamed for causing illnesses and trouble. When a child gets sick offerings of rice, chicken eggs, wine and “anyu” fish paste are made to ganjin to leave the sick child’s body.
The Dong are polytheistic, participated in ancestor worship and worship Sama (Sasui), “saint mother" and the highest of all gods, whom they honor with altars and temples and regard as their protector. Each village has a temple in which there is a round altar made of stone, 1.2 meters (four feet) in height, more than three meters (10 feet) in diameter, surrounded by bushes and banana. On the 7th or 8the of the second lunar month (between February 28 and March 27 on the Western calendar) the Dong offer a chicken, duck, fish, and a gruel of sweetened fried flour to the goddess. The Dong also revere large trees, huge stones, wells, and bridges. Divination is done with chickens, grass, eggs, snails and rice. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994; C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]
The Dong have traditionally buried the dead underground after shaving the hair and washing the body. It is taboo to let any copper or iron touch the body. Dong funeral rituals are similar to those of the Hans, but in Congjiang the deceased is put in a coffin which is put outdoors unburied. According to the Chinese government Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, funeral ceremonies were very elaborate and wasteful. They have been much simplified since 1949. Coffins are carved from trees selected for their future owners when they are born and cut down and carved when they reach old age. Amy Tan wrote that the coffins look like decorative cabinets resting on their sides. [Source: China.org ]
Sama—the Dong Goddess Mother
The main deities of the Dong is Sama (Sasui, Shasui), whose name could be translated as the "great mother" or the "great ancestress." There several theories that attempt to explain her origin. Some authors think she is a relic from a time when Dong society was matriarchal and point to the high place women given female legendary figures such as Xingni, a heroine of the 10th century who led the Dong in fights against their enemies. According to these legends, she jumped from a cliff and disappeared to avoid being captures. Others consider the goddess Sama to be only heroine's deification. Using Xingni again, they argue that because her legends are filled with historical details such as the name of her parents and the village where she lived, and the fact nothing was written about her before the 10th century she had to have once been a real person. [Source: Ethnic China *]
Sama is arguably the most important deity for the Dong. In each village there is a temple honoring her, which strangers are not allowed to enter. Sama is worshipped twice a month, on the first and fifteen day. During the year there are three occasions when special ceremonies honoring her are carried out, the seventh or third day of the first lunar month, the seventh day of the second lunar month and the seventh day of the eighth lunar month. On those days an elder in a community pays homage to the goddess in her temple. Sometimes a woman is in charge of the ceremony, at other times a man (sometimes disguised as a woman) is. Villagers, in a festive atmosphere, meet at the drum tower or at the gate of the temple. They recite poems about the creation and sing songs related to the goddess. In some areas the young men leave the village and return, reenacting how the goddess led the ancient Dong into battle. In some areas, only women are allowed to participate in this festival; men are forbidden from join in.
In summer time, when the agricultural activity is less intense, the biggest festival dedicated to Sama takes place. Many pigs, chickens and ducks are sacrificed in her honor; offering of incense and tea are presented to her. Often an old person is dressed up to represents Sama. All the inhabitants of the village and the neighboring villages join the festival. They drink the tea of Sama and place bundles of flowers in their hair. Villagers sing and dance in honor of Sama. Often bull fighting or cock fighting competitions are held and winners are received by the old person that represents Sama. At the end Dong villagers enjoy a great banquet on a long table, sometimes with several thousand people can sitting down and husbands and daughters serving married women. At night there is a great party. Young people sing and dance until dawn and look for a boyfriend or girlfriend, if they don’t already have one.
In the old days, but no so much today, the festival had a large martial component. Young men, portraying members of Xingni’s army, armed themselves with muskets, bows, arrows, swords and lances. At the sound of a gunshot, they rushed towards the altar of Sama. Each young man offered a cup of tea to the goddess, sang her a song. At the sound of another shot the “soldiers” rushed out the village. When they arrived as some far away place, they staged a mock battle, shooting muskets and arrows. This went on for some time. Before they returned to their village, each soldier used his sword, knife or musket bayonet to cut some blades of rice grass, representing the heads their enemy. Intoxicated with victory the soldiers return to their village. When they return to the village, representing the battle was over and peace time had arrived, they sang and danced around the drum tower in the center of the village.
Dong shamans, or wu, use several kinds of musical instruments while performing their religious ceremonies. Among them, the most important are maybe the drums. Shaman drums come on a variety of sizes and decoration, all them are made of wood with a ox skin as cover. Usually they can be beaten only on one side, with that side usually ranging from 20 to 25 centimeters in width. The ox skin is kept fit by iron rings on its outer edge. These drums are beaten by the wu shamans at the nuo ceremonies. Those with flowery decorations in their surface are known as flowery lateral drum. [Source: Ethnic China]
Song shaman also use cymbals, chimes, bells and horns. There are two kind of cymbals: one is called a "flat cymbal" and the other "bronze cymbal", though both are made of bronze and not all that different. The bronze chimes of the Dong shaman usually are built with a Buddhist-style alms bowl made of bronze and a hammer made of iron. During the rituals the hammer is beaten on the inner side of the bowl, creating its characteristic sound. A bronze bell is also ritually used by Dong shaman. Images of Dong shaman depict them holding a small bell, a knife and a cow horn to expel the evil spirits while singing and dancing. Horn are used to exorcize evil spirits. Usually made with a single horn of a water buffalo, with some decorations in the mouth. they are blown by the shaman to expel the evil spirits.
Dong Feng Shi MastersCeremonies and healing rites are often conducted by village feng shui masters, who have learned their trade from a senior family members and serve as herbalists and village doctors. Feng shui masters often receive patients in their kitchen may see a half dozen to a dozen people an hour.
Describing a feng shui master at work in the village of Dimen, Amy Tan wrote in National Geographic, “One woman reported that her grandson had developed sudden pains in the head and stomach. The herbalist burned paper and floated ash in water with rice grains. He said an incantation counted on his fingers the names of gods who might have answers — God of Kitchen, God of Bridges, God of Injury, The diagnosis came back, The boy had seen the ghost of his great-grandmother. As a remedy the woman should make the great-grandmother a feast of rice wine and anyu, then invite her to eat week before the journey to the world of Yin, the underworld.” “Another patient woke up with a stabbing pain in her throat,” Tan wrote. “The herbalist told her she was inhabited by the ghost of a man who had been hanged. A woman whose body hurt all over was inhabited but an ancestor who was unhappy that he never had a tombstone these past 200 years.”Prepare the anyu and bow. I’ll come tonight, and the ghost will be gone.” For a baby with diarrhea caused by drinking unboiled water he headed to a hillock, where he picked various leaves and long grasses to make a potion.
” He charged nothing for his healing services. But his grateful patients gave small gifts, an egg, some rice. He argued with one woman, who tried to give him two kwai, about 2 cents, for a rice fortune that would tell her future.” Most of the feng master’s patients are old people. A singing teacher in her 20s told Tan, “It’s superstition. It’s just old people who believe in ghosts.”Patients that go to clinics are inevitably given IV drips for whatever is wrong, whether it be a hacking cough, a stomach ache. If that doesn’t worker they visit the feng shui master.
Dong Fire Ritual
A divination ritual called Guo In—“Pass into the World Yin” — that was held in 1979 was conducted again to restore harmony after the fire. Describing it Tan wrote in National Geographic, “In the dim light of an assembly hall, 11 blindfolded men sat on black benches. The Chief Feng Shu Master called out incantations from the Book of Shadows. As fragrant rattan burned under the benches, an assistant gave the men a rope of twisted straw to hold. More incantations were murmured, two bells rang, bowls of wine were stirred, and the 11 men slapped their bouncing knees, as if goading a horse to move forward.”
”Soon they were galloping in a frenzy, and the oldest of them, a 73-year-old man, whining like a spooked horse, shot up , and leaped backward onto the bench,” Tan wrote. “He had mounted a ghost horse and was racing toward the World of Yin. Assistants kept the frenzied rider from falling. Soon more riders mounted their ghost horses. The Chief Feng Shui Master sprayed water from his mouth to light the way. With more incantations he ghost-horse riders could go to deeper levels. At each level they could see more.”
”In 1979 the riders had gone to the 19th level, where they saw their dead mother and fathers. Stay with us, their parents urged. If the Feng Shui Master provided the wrong incantation, the riders would not return. This time, the master would take them no further than the 13th level. It was still possible for them to find the illegal burials. At that level they could also see the backs of maidens, the Seven Sisters, as beautiful fairies. Chase them, the Chief Feng Shui Master said, to urge them to go farther into the underworld.”
The riders discovered where the illegal burial that was located. It lie in a wall at the top of a hill. After the ceremony participants climbed the hill and found a ball, filled with ashes, imbedded in the wall in such a way that ball received good feng shui but disrupted the feng shui of other graves in the area. Feng shui masters surmised the ball had place there by people from another village. They broke it open, removing the ashes and mixing them with rice wine, human and pig feces and tung oil and threw the mixture down a public latrine.
There are many Dong festivals. Among those shared with the Han Chinese are: Spring Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and Tomb-Sweeping Day. Among those unique to the Dong are Dong New Year, the New Rice Festival, the Forest King Festival, the March 3rd Singing Festival, Bullfight Festival. and the Fair-Going Festival. Dong festivals are known for their "Duoye" (congregation singing and dancing) and colorful traditional entertainments such as grabbing fireworks and husband carrying. Manyue is an old celebration for a one- month-year-old babies.
Major feasts and festivals are held on holidays and to commemorate births, weddings and funerals and the raising of the central beam in new houses. They usually feature slaughtered pigs and ceremonies with anyu fish paste. New-Harvest Eating Festival takes place after the harvest in the autumn after the grain has been reaped, husked, and polished. It is cooked up and served up with delicious dishes such as fish, chicken, and duck, all as sacrifices to the spirit gods. After the sacrificial ceremony, the villagers eat the same dishes in a big feast with songs, opera performances, and bullfighting.
The Festival of the Birth of the Buffalo God is held on the 8th day of the fourth lunar month (between May 1 and May 30 on the Western calendar). Families clean their buffalo pen, feed the buffalo black glutinous rice, give the animal a day off, and kill a chicken or duck as a sacrificial offering. The festival honors a heroine who bravely delivered a meal of black glutinous rice to her brother, who was imprisoned for having led an insurrection in Liuzhou City, and rescued him. On this day married women sing and dance and take homemade black glutinous rice cakes to their parents' homes and relatives. Also called Sisters' Festival, in many places married women make a ritual return to the homes of their mothers and there make black glutinous rice cake with their sisters and sisters-in-law. When the married women return to their own homes, they bring the black glutinous rice cake which they give to their spouses as gifts. This is a symbolic compensation on the part of the woman for having left her husband to fend for himself for the day. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]
Dong Bullfighting Festival is held on Hai day of the Chinese lunar calendar (in late August or early September of the Western calendar) Before the bullfights (water buffalo fights) starts all of the participating teams get together to inspect the bulls and to arrange the schedule of fights. The best contests are held at the end. Bullfighting is a component to many other Dong festivals, including Han Chinese ones. Dong people enjoy bullfighting a lot and raising and training of water buffaloes for bullfighting is an important aspect of Dong village life.
Dong New Year
The Spring Festival is the most important holiday of the year. It is held at the same time as Chinese New Year (between January 21 and February 20 on the Western calendar) in some places. In other places it is held on the 10th or 11th lunar month (between October 24 and January 18 on the Western calendar) as the Dong's New Year. On the first of January right after the first rooster call, girls rush to draw water from the well. It is considered good luck to draw a bucket of water with white bubbles. Festival activities include buffalo fighting, climbing, and bronze drum banging. Before the feast, every family member takes a bowl of rice gruel symbolizing a watery field to be ploughed in the future.
In many places Dong New Year falls during 1st to the 11th day of the eleventh lunar month after the harvest, usually in late November of December. The Dong Year is as important to the Dong as the Spring Festival is to the Han Chinese. In the days leading up to the new year, the Dong people make new clothes, clean their houses, make glutinous rice cakes, and slaughter pigs and cattle. On the eve of the New Year, the Dong usually prepare "cold dish" with bean curd and homemade vinegar. It gets its name from the fact it is put outside the winter air to freeze or at least get very cold. It is given as an offering to one's ancestors.
Dong Year is celebrated in 72 Dong villages in the area in and around the city of Rongjiang in Guizhou Province. The exact date varies but falls during the period late October to early November. Public celebrations include a the Lusheng Festival and water buffalo fighting.
San Yue San and the Dong Rocket Festival
San Yue San is three day festival celebrated on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month (usually late March, Early April) by the Li, Zhuang, Dong, Miao, Yao, She, Mulao and Geleo minorities in China's southern and central provinces. Sometimes called Venus Day, it is a time when boyfriends and girlfriends are chosen and villages celebrate the occasion with singing, dancing, archery, wrestling, playing on swings, tug of wars, pole climbing and other activities. The Dong and Miao celebrate the first day of the festival by eating and drinking milky white wine. On the second day girls give baskets of shrimp and fish to the boys they fancy. On the third day everyone meets in the town square to participate in "drum treading" and "reed-pipe" dances.
On the night of the third day girls dress up in their most beautiful tribal costumes and go upstairs in their bamboo houses to sing to the boys who are waiting downstairs. Boys then follow the girls to the gate of the bamboo houses and sing their reply. All of the minorities perform the Money Bell and Double Daggers Dance. In this dance one man holds two daggers in his hand. Another man holds a money bell. The man with the daggers tries to stab the man with the money bell, who in turn tries to run away.
The Dong Rocket Festival is celebrated during the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month in late March or early April by the Dong people. The "rocket" is a tea-cup-size iron ring — decorated with colorful silk threads symbolizing happiness — tied to an iron gun that launches the "rocket" into the sky about 30 meters. Members of village teams, with 10 to 20 players, try to snatch the rocket and take it to a rostrum. The teams should have the same number of players. Sometimes two teams compete against one another. Other times three or more teams compete. Pushing , grabbing, blocking, passing the rocket and interception are all allowed. But hitting, kicking and using weapons is not allowed.
When the rocket is fired in a cloud of choking smoke, the players dash to where they think it might fall. All hell breaks loose. Eventually somebody emerges with the rocket and runs over to the rostrum. The winners of the two out of three series are awarded red stained eggs and glutinous rice cakes. Other activities at this event include Dong operas, bird competitions, shooting games and antiphonal singing.
Nobel-Prize-Winning Economist Visits a Dong Village
On a visit by 2001 Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz to Dimen, a 500-household Dong village 400 kilometers away from Guiyang, Reuters reported: “Keen on the Chinese economy, the former World Bank chief economist scrutinized the Chinese government's 11th five-year plan which described rural development at length and could hardly wait to find out what's going on in China's countryside. Wooden houses, pyramid-like drum towers and sweet polyphonic songs, all these exotic things apparently refreshed the incumbent Columbia University professor and his wife Anya Schiffrin. "It's very peaceful and quiet," said Mrs. Stiglitz, professor and co-director of Columbia University's International Media and Communications program. [Source: Reuters, March 21, 2007]
"The improvement of rural infrastructure is impressive," said Stiglitz, "the road, cell phone towers ... there is very good cell phone signal in the rural area. Even in a very small village, there is Internet." he said with a smile. "The Chinese government's policy of building new socialism countryside is contributing to the improvement of living standard in rural areas," he added. But the increasing gap between rich and poor could trigger more social and economic problems, said the professor who won the prize for his "analyses of markets with asymmetric information".
The photographic enthusiast shot almost everything on his way — the newly-built toilets, farmers, kids, their food and furniture. Boosting the agricultural productivity, creating job opportunities and promoting infrastructure development are important to improve the living standard in rural areas, said Stiglitz. For example, the peasants cannot sell their products to the market without road, and infrastructure development, such as house and road construction can help to create job opportunities, he said, chawing the vegetable grown in the rare cultivable soil of Guizhou. Several years ago, many poor households in the province even had not enough food and clothes for every family member. The local government has therefore promoted emerging industries to help people get rid of poverty. Tourism has been one of those highlighted industries.
Dimen serves as a good example. It has special historical and cultural attractions, such as the Dimen Dong minority village and the Longli ancient town. More attractive are the Big Songs of the Dong minority, a sophisticated polyphonic singing style, as well as the ancient paper-making skill and traditional rituals. People are trying to shake off poverty without undermining these precious heritages, said a local official.
Image Sources: Nolls China website, Dong architecture (Beifan.com) and Wiki Commons
Text Sources: 1) “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org |; Amy Tan, National Geographic, May 2008; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Smithsonian magazine, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated October 2022