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The Zhuang are the largest minority in China with almost 20 million members. Virtually indistinguishable from Han Chinese, they live primarily in western Guangxi Province, where they make up a third of the province’s population, and rule their territory through a system based on village chiefs in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region — their autonomous region covers the entire province of Guangxi. They are closely related culturally and linguistically to the Bouyei, Maonan, and Mulam, who are recognized by the state as separate ethnicities. [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

The term Zhuang (pronounced) zhew-ANG) describes a group of peoples that speak related languages concentrated almost exclusively in western Guangxi and eastern Yunnan, with small patches of communities in eastern Guangxi and western Guangdong. The peoples of western Guangxi and eastern Yunnan used a variety of terms to describe themselves, which corresponded to smaller ethnic groups that the government now declares are part of the greater Zhuang nation.[Source: “Creating the Zhuang” by Katherine Palmer Kaup]

The Zhuang are also known as the Buban, Budai, Budong, Bulong, Buman, Bumin, Buna, Bunong, Bupian, Bushuang, Butu, Buyang, Buyue, Gaolan Nongan, Tulao. Among the terms Zhuang people use to describe themselves are Buzhuang, Butu, Bunong, Buman, Buyue, Buyi, Budai and Buna. The Zhuang call themselves Buzhuang. “Bu" means “man." Over the centuries the Zhuang have been referred to by a variety of Chinese characters that are translated as Zhuang including ones used historical documents written in Chinese after the Song Dynasty. After the Communists came to power in 1949 they were unitarily called Zhuang. In 1965, according to Prime Mister Zhou Enlai's proposal, approved by the State Council, one character for Zhuang was changed into another character for Zhuang and this became the settled name. [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]

Websites and Sources: Book Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ;Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Ethnic China ethnic-china.com ;China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China Books: Zhuang Cultural and Linguistic Heritage,” by Wang Minfu and Eric Johnson, Yunnan Nationalities Publishing House, Kunming, 2008; 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; “Creating the Zhuang” by Katherine Palmer Kaup. “Nymphs of Folk Songs: The Zhuangs” by Liu Zhi is a booklet put out in 1995 by the Yunnan Publicity Centre for Foreign Countries as part of the a “Women’s Culture series, which focuses on different ethnic groups found in Yunnan province. The soft-cover 100-page booklet contains both color photographs and text describing the life and customs of women. The series is published by the Yunnan Publishing House, 100 Shulin Street, Kunming 65001 China, and distributed by the China International Book Trading Corporation, 35 Chegongzhuang Xilu, Beijing 100044 China (P.O. Box 399, Beijing, China).

Zhuang Population and Branches

Zhuang are the second largest ethnic group in China after the Han Chinese. They numbered 19,568,546 in 2020 and made up 1.39 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census. Zhuang population in China in the past: 1.2700 percent of the total population; 16,926,381 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 16,187,163 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 15,489,630 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 6,611,455 (1.13 percent of China’s population) were counted in 1953; 8,386,140 (1.21 percent of China’s population) were counted in 1964; and 13,441,900 (1.32 percent of China’s population) were, in 1982. The fertility rate among Zhuang according to the 2010 census was 1.59 compared to 1.14 for Han China and 1.60 for Tibetans. The reported fertility birth rate in the 1990s was 2.1, in line with China's family-planning policies, which allowed minorities to have two children, not just one according to the One-Child Policy observed by the majority of Chinese. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

According to 1982 figures, 12.3 million Zhuang lived in the Guangxi Autonomous Region. Another 900,000 lived in adjacent areas of Yunnan (mainly in the Wenshan Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture), 333,000 in Guangdong, and a small number in Hunan. At that time at least 10 percent of the Zhuang were urban and population densities outside urban areas ranged from 100 to 161 persons per square kilometer. [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

There are three main Zhuang branches that inhabit Wenshan Prefecture: Nong, Sha and Tu. Most of the Zhuang of Wenshan belong to the Nong branch: about 600,000 people who make up 50 to 60 percent of the total Zhuang population. They call themselves Bu Nong or Bu Xiong, and they can be found in every county of Wenshan. There main sub-branches are: 1) Nong Dau or Dau, in Guangnan County; 2) Nong Yang or Yang in Xichou and Malipo counties; 3) Nong Du or Du in Maguan County; 4) Nong Dai or Dai in Guangnan County; and 5) Nong Chun in Maguan County.

The Sha branch has a population of around 300,000 people. They call themselves different names that have traditionally been a reflection of t the way they dressed: 1) Bu Yai; 2) Bu Ha; and 3) Bu Yue. The third branch, the Tu, has a population of 100,000 people. They call themselves Pu Dai. According to their headdress they are divided in: 1) "Flat Headdress" Bu Dai or Tu; 2) "Piled headdress" Bu Dai or Tu; and 3) "Pointed headdress" Bu Bai or Tu.

Zhuang Regions

The Zhuang are mainly concentrated in 1) Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; 2) Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous State in Yunnan; 3) , Lianshan Zhuang and Yao Autonomous County in Guangdong; and 4) Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous State in Guizhou. Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is nearly the size of New Zealand. The most concentrated Zhuang communities are in Guangxi. The others are scattered over places, where other ethnic groups such as Han, Yao, Miao, Dong, Mulao, Maonan and Shui live. [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Lying in Guangxi's mountainous regions, the Zhuang area is high in the northwest, undulating in the middle and low in the southeast. Limestone is widely distributed in the area. Crisscrossing rivers endow the Zhuang area with plentiful sources of water for irrigation, navigation and hydropower. The central part of Guanxi contains the famous Guilin area Krast formations, a chain of limestone hill eroded into wonderful shapes. Many rocky peaks rise straight up from the ground, and the peaks hide numerous fascinating grottoes and subterranean rivers. A number of grottoes have been found inside those hills. Some of them are large enough to accommodate thousands of people. Guilin, a tourist attraction in Guangxi, is an excellent example of the Karst landscape. As the saying goes: "The landscape at Guilin is the best on earth; and the landscape at Yangshuo is the best in Guilin." Wuming, Jingxi and Lingyun counties are also known for their scenic splendours. The hills are also home to famous “gorge paintings". There are more than 60 gorges stretching over an an area 200 kilometers (125 miles) on length. The largest one is 130 feet high and more than 325 feet long. In all, more than 1,300 images can be seen. The largest drawings exceed three meters (10 feet), while the smallest ones are only 25 centimeters (11 inches). [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009; China.org |]

Northern Zhuang groups and languages

The Zhuang area enjoys a mild climate with an average annual temperature of 20 degrees centigrade, being warm in winter and sweltering in summer in the south. Much of the province where they live is subtropica. Average temperatures reach 24 to 28° C in July and average lows between reach 8 and 12° C in January. During the rainy season, from May to November, annual rainfall averages 150 centimeters. Plants are always green and it seems as if something is blossoming or ripening in all seasons of the year. Abundant rainfall nurtures tropical and subtropical crops such as rice, yam, corn, sugar cane, banana, longan, litchi, pineapple, shaddock and mango. The mountains in southwest and northwest Guangxi abound in Liuzhou fir, silver fir and camphor trees, rare elsewhere. Mineral resources include iron, coal, wolfram, gold, copper, tin, manganese, aluminum, stibium, zinc and petroleum. The area is also rich in tung oil, tea, tea oil, mushroom, Chinese cinnamon, pseudo-ginseng, Chinese gecko (used in traditional Chinese medicine to help regain vitality), fennal and fennal essence. The last four items are the Zhuang area's special products. |

Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture lies in eastern Yunnan Province. It is mainly populated by Zhuang, Miao, Yi and Han ethnic groups. These ethnic groups—including the Zhuang— have well differentiated branches. [Source: Ethnic China *\, Wang Minfu and Eric Johnson, “Zhuang Cultural and Linguistic Heritage,” Yunnan Nationalities Publishing House, Kunming, 2008]

Origin of the Zhuang

The Zhuang evolved from Tai-speaking peoples that lived in southern China for centuries and were described by Chinese historians when the Chinese made their first major push into the region in 211 B.C. The Zhuang descended from clans in present-day Guangxi province after the fall of the Han Dynasty in A.D. 220. Each clan had great political power and many slaves and controlled large areas.

It is believed the Zhuang developed as a branch of the ancient Baiyue people. They are also historically linked with the Xi'ou and Luoyue people of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) and the Warring States (475-221 B.C.) during the Zhou Dynasty (1121-221 B.C.); with the Liao, Li, and Wuhu of the Han (206 BC-AC 220) and Tang dynasties (618-907); and with the Zhuang, Liang, and Tu of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), as recorded in ancient Chinese books. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]

“Zhuang" was one of the names the ancestors of the Zhuang gave themselves. The term was first recorded about 1,000 years ago in the Song Dynasty. Otherwise the Zhuang have a long history and have called themselves by more than a dozen different names over the centuries. People have been living in the area occupied by the Zhuang for some time. Two-thousand-year-old frescoes have been found at more than 50 spots on the precipices hanging over the Zuojiang River running through southwest Guangxi. The best known of them is the Huashan fresco in Ningming County which is over 100 meters long and 40 meters wide, featuring 1,300 figures. Drawn in rugged and vigorous lines, it reflects the life of the Zhuangs' ancestors. See Zhuang Frescos Under Zhuang Culture

It is widely believed that the ancestors of the Zhuang were the Yue, a mysterious people whose character, history and location is still a matter of debate and speculation. One people called Yue appeared in the Chinese chronicles about the Shang Dynasty. The name is used mostly to denominate a kingdom that, established near present-day Hangzhou, played a major role in the middle stages of the Warring States period. After the defeat of Yue Kingdom by the Chu Kingdom in 334 B.C., it is thought the Yue suffered a period of political disintegration and migration that gave birth to Baiyue, or Hundred Yues. The name Baiyue is a generic name for different peoples who inhabited the lowlands of south and southeast China and shared some cultural characteristics. These people were the ancestors of the Zhuang. The Dong Dai and other people are also believed to descendants of the Baiyue or Yue. [Source: Ethnic China *]

Southern Zhuang groups and languages

The people that evolved to become the Zhuang had three important cultural characteristics: 1) they were among the first to grow buckwheat. 2) They are regarded as creators of the magnificent paintings of the Huashan cliffs that stretch for 200 kilometers along a river bank. 3) They have developed and maintained a bronze drum cult, primarily in Guangxi, where many old bronze drums have been discovered and the sounds they produce still have important religious and ritual value. *\

Early History of Guangxi

The Sinicization of the Tai-speaking peoples of the Lingnan (Guangdong and Guangxi) was a long process. Chinese forces first penetrated the area in 211 B.C., sparking local resistance and the creation of the Nan-Yue Kingdom, which expanded its rule to what is now northern Vietnam. After unifying China, the First Emperor of Qin (221-207 B.C.) sent an army half a million strong to Lingnan and conquered the Xi'ou people on the region. He set up three command posts and ordered the local population to dig a canal connecting the Xiangjiang and Lijiang rivers, thus linking the Yangzi River system with the Zhujiang River system. A great number of Chinese moved from the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River to the south to live together with the Xi'ou and the Luoyue. [Sources: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009; Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]]

After the fall of the Qin Dynasty in 207 B.C., Zhao Tuo, an ex-general of Qin, proclaimed himself King of South Yue. A rebellion triggered by this was put down by Emperor Wu of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-.A.D. 7). In 111 B.C., Nan-Yue was integrated into the Han dynasty domain but was far from being under Imperial Chinese rule. After the fall of the Han Dynasty in A.D. 220, large, powerful clans, such as the Lu, Xian and Ning, appeared in present-day Guangxi . Each had large numbers of slaves, extensive property and great political power.

It was not until the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906) that state control over Guanxi was established. The imperial Tang Dynasty appointed local hereditary chieftains as its officials. According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures": Thereafter, the ancestors of the Zhuang, despite sporadic restlessness and rebellions, submitted to the rule of the central government. Military farm colonies opened the way for further Han Chinese settlement. The indigenous Tai peoples either assimilated or were pushed westward or into the uplands, whereas the newcomers settled in the lowlands and interior river valleys.

Nong Zighao (1025–1055), a hero admired by the Zhuang

Zhuang During the Imperial Chinese Era

Beginning in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–907), the Imperial Chinese government appointed local clan chieftains to govern for the Zhuang. There is reference to the crushing of a Zhuang uprising in the Tang dynasty. From then on, the Zhuang submitted to the rule of China's central government and the Zhuang have been assimilated into Han Chinese culture. They adopted many their customs and agricultural methods and were governed under the Chinese tusi system.

The Chinese started to have a regular presence in the former Zhuang territory after the first emperor Qinshihuang built the Linqu Channel to send his army to conquer Guangzhou (Canton). Though this transportation route was interrupted after the fall of the Qin dynasty, later Han Chinese incursions in southern China and northern Vietnam in the times of Han Wudi, started the regular contacts between the ancestors of the Zhuang and the Han Chinese. Zhuang lands were officially governed from Canton, but for centuries Han Chinese control over the area was minimal. Efforts to exert stronger control was fiercely resisted by indigenous peoples of Guangxi. After the fall of the Han dynasty and the division of China into Three Kingdoms, the pressure on the peoples of the far south was increased by the Nanjing-based Wu Kingdom, which felt the need to increase its territorial base. *\

The effective integration of Canton into imperial China during the Tang dynasty put more pressure on the Zhuang as the flow of Han Chinese migrants into southern China picked up. The crushing of a major Zhuang uprising in Guangdong during the Song led to further assimilation or dispersement of the ancestors of the current-day Zhuang. The increased presence of Chinese military in the region in the Song Dynasty dashed hopes of an independent Zhuang state. Zhuang expert Jeffrey Barlow wrote: "for the Zhuang, the Song era (960-1279 A.C.E.) marked a critical transformation. From that point forward they would be recognized as a coherent ethnic group with a distinctive culture and history. But the Song era also marks the last time at which the Zhuang might have remained an independent ethnic group organized under their own leadership."

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ From the incoming Han settlers, the Zhuang adopted new agricultural techniques, where applicable, such as the iron plow, application of manure fertilizer, triple-cropping of rice, and more sophisticated irrigation systems. In the western part of Guangxi, the Zhuang remained in control of much of the area suitable for wet-field rice agriculture, as well as holding sway in the uplands where the introduction of Chinese technology was less feasible. From Tang onward, successive dynasties, landlord officials, and state-appointed local landlords ruled a large part of the Zhuang area, with most of the population reduced to tenancy and owing feudal service. This system continued into the nineteenth century, despite a number of major peasant uprisings. [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Books and Studies: “The Zhuang: A Longitudinal Study of Their History and Their Culture” by Jeffrey Barlow; “Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (Studies in Environment and History)” by Marks, Robert, P.E, and Worster, Donald (Editor), and Crosby, Alfred W (Editor), Cambridge University Press, 2006

For more detailed information about Zhuang history see the article about the Zhuang on Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com

Zhuang mercenaries

Later History of the Zhuang

In the Yuan dynasty the Zhuang began to be governed by the tusi system, where local headmen where appointed to govern in the name of the emperor. This system gave the Zhuang a certain amount of autonomy but also kept them in imperial embrace. During the Ming dynasty, as more Han Chinese moved south, Guangxi experienced several violent Zhuang-led rebellions. Strong military suppression of these rebellions further completed conquest of the Zhuang. [Source: Ethnic China *]

"Early Qing sources guessed that of the total population of Guangxi, "half were Zhuang, 30 percent Yao, and 20 percent Han. Ming sources indicate that 80-90 percent of the population of Guilin prefecture was Yao, and 70-80 percent of Liuzhou too was Yao. By the 1940s, Han Chinese constituted about 60 percent of the population of Guangxi." "In the western half of the province the early Ming administrative system recognized some 49 "ji mi" or "loosely controlled," administrative districts (zhou), which were governed by hereditary tribal chiefs who nominally reported to the nearest Chinese military post and were liable for paying taxes." [Source: “Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (Studies in Environment and History)” by Marks, Robert, P.E, and Worster, Donald (Editor), and Crosby, Alfred W (Editor), Cambridge University Press, 2006]

While Zhuang began assimilating with Han Chinese to some degree at this time they kept their identity alive through their rebellious nature and musical traditions. In the 19th century many Zhuang were swept up in the Taiping Rebellion, which was began in Guangxi province and was strong there. Zhuang played an active role in the Taiping army and its leadership. Suppression of the the rebellion and the defeat of its revolutionary armies caused great hardship to the Zhuang population.

According to the Chinese government: “The Zhuang area lagged behind central China economically. Quite a number of places retained the primitive mode of production, including slash-and-burn cultivation and hunting. The dominant social system was feudal serfdom and people were classified into three strata: hereditary landowners, tenant farmers and house slaves. The system was eliminated during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last feudal monarchy in China. The Zhuangs also made great contributions to the Revolution of 1911, China's first democratic revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Many Zhuangs became key members of the Tong Meng Hui, an organization Dr. Sun formed to advance his revolutionary cause.” [Source: China.org |]

“Inhabiting China's southern frontier areas, the Zhuangs have played an important role in defending the country's territory. In the 1070s, they repulsed the Annamese aggressors; in the middle 16th century, they beat back the invading Japanese pirates. Towards the end of the 19th century, French troops that had occupied south Vietnam pushed northward and invaded China. People of Zhuang and Han nationalities in Guangxi formed the Black Banner Army and trounced the French invaders near Hanoi in 1873. They again routed the French at Hanoi in 1882. When the French invaders made new incursions into China in 1885, the local Zhuang and Han people helped the Chinese army win a crucial victory at Zhennanguan, a pass on the Sino-Vietnamese border. |

Zhuang and Communist China

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The Zhuang actively supported the Communists in their fight against the Kuomintang. In 1927, the predominantly Zhuang area near Pai-se (Bose) was one of the earliest soviets in China. According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ In 1949, the Zhuang of western Guangxi, who regarded themselves as oppressed by former Chinese governments, were warmly receptive to the Liberation army and new government.

After the communist takeover of China in 1949, the Zhuang were given an autonomous region in Guangxi. In 1952, a Zhuang autonomous region was organized in western Guangx.: By 1958, all of Guangxi became a Zhuang autonomous region, shared with the Han and with other ethnicities such as Yao, Miao, Maonan, Dong, Mulam, Jing, and Hui (Chinese Muslims). Soon after, the government organized the Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in southeastern Yunnan and the Lianshan Zhuang-Yao Autonomous County in Guangdong. [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Making Nanning, where the Zhuang were majority, the capital of Guangxi was a disaster for the Zhuang, who after several decades became outnumber by Han Chinese. Today there is not much difference between the Zhuang and the general Han Chinese population. Few Zhuang wear traditional clothes and most Zhuang speak local Chinese dialects rather than the Zhuang language. In 1984, Zhuang together with other minority people accounted for about one-third of the cadres (government employees and officials) in Zhuang areas.

Zhuang Development

According to the Chinese government: “Land reforms began in the Zhuang area immediately after the founding of the People's Republic. Land was confiscated from evil landlords and distributed among the poor peasants. Later producers' cooperatives were formed while the socialist transformation of handicrafts and private industry and commerce was carried out. [Source: China.org |]

“Starting from 1952, the policy of regional ethnic autonomy was implemented in the area. At first, a Zhuang autonomous region was set up in the western part of Guangxi, which was enlarged to cover the whole of Guangxi and renamed the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in 1958. Shortly afterwards, the Wenshan Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture was established in Yunnan Province and the Lianshan Zhuang-Yao Autonomous County in Guangdong Province. According to statistics tabulated in 1984, there were more than 207,208 Zhuang government employees at various levels in Guangxi, making up one-third of the total number in the region. The case in Wenshan Prefecture and Lianshan County was about the same. |

“The Zhuang area is basically agricultural, but before 1949 the local people never had enough to eat despite their hard work and the favorable natural conditions. By 1983, they had raised grain output by 158 per cent thanks to improved field management and the 500,000 water conservancy projects built since liberation. Forestry in the Zhuang area has grown even more rapidly, with timber output 150 times what it was before 1949. The rapid growth of agriculture and forestry has contributed to the development of modern industry, which started from scratch after liberation in 1949. In the early 1980s, Guangxi annually produced 4,400 tractors and 3,600 farm lorries. In transportation, highways now reach every township in the region, railway mileage has almost quadrupled and shipping services have been opened on the main rivers. |

“Education and medical services have also taken on a new look. There were three colleges in Guangxi in the early 1950s but higher education was still beyond the reach of the minority groups because of their lack of elementary and secondary education. Today the autonomous region has over 20 universities and colleges, and the Guangxi Ethnic Institute alone has turned out over dozens of thousands minority graduates, half of whom were Zhuangs. Elementary and middle schools have increased in large numbers so as to enroll all school age children. In the past, the Zhuangs had such a shortage of medical services that for generations they suffered from infectious or contagious diseases like cholera, smallpox, snail fever and malaria. The incidence of malaria, for example, exceeded 90 per cent. Now these diseases have almost been eliminated since hospitals cover all cities, counties and townships, and every village has its clinic.” |

Zhuang Language

left The Zhuang speak a Sino-Tibetan language with eight tones. Related to Thai, Dai and Lao, the Zhuang language belongs to the Zhuang Dai language branch of the Zhuang-Dong (Tai) language group, which includes Bouyei and Dai and is closely related to the standard versions of Thai and Lao spoken in Thailand and Laos. The eight-tone Zhuang system resembles that of the Yue (Cantonese) dialects of the Guangdong-Guangxi area. There are also many loanwords from Chinese. [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Zhuang consists of two closely related “dialects," which are termed “northern" and “southern": the geographical dividing line is the Xiang River in southern Guangxi. Northern Zhuang is more widely used and is the base for the standard Zhuang encouraged by the Chinese government since the 1950s. In the 1990s, About 70 percent of Zhuang can neither read nor speak Mandarin.

The Zhuang have their own written language which first appeared in Song dynasty (A.D. 960-1279) . The old Zhuang written language was based on Chinese characters and was used locally within limited areas mainly to record place names, genealogies, contracts, scriptures, and popular stories and mountain songs. One Zhuang writing system used Chinese characters for their sound value only, or in compound forms that indicated sound and meaning. Sometimes new ideographs were , or created by adding or deleting strokes from standard ones. These were used by shamans, Daoist priests, and merchants, but were not widely known. Information gathered from old Zhuang writings have been invaluable in gathering knowledge of about traditional Zhuang society and culture.

The Zhuangs wrote in the Han script until 1955, when the central government helped them create a writing system based on the Latin alphabet. The Romanized script was introduced in the 1957, and revised in 1982, and has been used in books, magazines and newspapers but is not widely used. Mostly the Zhuang language is written with Chinese characters. Zhuang, Tibetan, Uighur and Mongolian are official minority languages that appear on Chinese banknotes.

Zhuang Religion

Zhuang religion is similar to Han Chinese religion. It incorporates elements of ancestor worship, Buddhism and Taoism. Zhuang ancestor worship differs in that it embraces kings and mythical and historical heroes and heroines. Most homes have altars where names of ancestors are written on strips of red paper. There are a variety of local gods drawn from precontact religion or fused with gods from the Chinese folk tradition. Important gods include the Mountain Spirit, the Dragon King, She Sheb, the village tutelary spirit and Tudigong, who protects the village boundaries from his crossroads temple;. Zhuang honor ancestors during Chinese New Year and the Festival of the Dead in the summer. [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

The Zhuang mostly revere nature, natural spirits and gods and their ancestors. Many Zhuang family homes have shrines for worshipping their ancestors. Since the Tang and Song Dynasties, both Buddhism and Daoism spread in Zhuang areas and many Buddhist and Taoist temples were built. In 1858 Catholicism was introduced to the Zhuang people, and in 1862 Protestantism was introduced, but neither had much success in Zhuang areas, except in some cities. In recent times, Both Catholicism and Protestantism spread again to the Zhuang community.

According to the Chinese government: “The Zhuangs are polytheists, worshipping among other things giant rocks, old trees, high mountains, land, dragons, snakes, birds and ancestors. Taoism has also had a deep influence on the Zhuangs since the Tang Dynasty. In the old days, there were semi-professional Taoist priests in the countryside, and religious rites cost a lot of money. Foreign missionaries came to the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but their influence was limited to cities and towns. [Source: China.org |]

Zhuang offer sacrifices to the Water God, Mountain God, Kitchen God, Sun God, and others to protect their livestock, their crops, and their families.According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” For example, they offer glutinous rice and colored boiled eggs to the Crop God beside the fields prior to sowing grain. The third day of the third lunar month (between March 26 and April 24 on the Western calendar) is regarded as the birthday of Shennong (Divine Farmer), who is said to have invented agriculture; on that occasion, pigs are butchered for sacrificial offerings. The second day of the sixth lunar month ( between June 23 and July 23 on the Western calendar) is the birthday of the great King Muyi, who saved the Zhuang from disasters; not only do they offer a sacrifice every year, but they also hold a grand ceremony in his honor every six years. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]

Female diviners treat sickness and communicate with ancestors while in trances. Male shaman are skilled at reading the Zhuang written language. They maintain the texts with histories, songs and myths; are consulted for advise on various matters; and preside over funerals, local festivals and the sacrifices of chicken, oxen and other animals, a portion of which is given to them as a fee. In some places Taoist priests perform the same duties as shaman and also read fortunes, perform feng shui and exorcise ghosts. Buddhism in the Zhuang areas has been strongly influenced by Daoism and earlier traditional religion. The priests can marry and are semivegetarian. They too cast horoscopes and exorcise ghosts, as well as chanting sutras at important events. |~|

Zhuang Moz Religion

The Zhuang observe “Moz” as their main religious belief. Moz has been greatly influenced by Taoism and to a lesser extent Buddhism. In addition, the Zhuang worship different Gods. There are various kinds and tehy are organized in a hierarchy in a complicated way. Important ones include the God of Nature, God of Society, and the God of Patron. Religious ceremonies vary according to the different functions of different Gods. Buluotuo is believed to be the God who created this world, the ancestor of the Zhuang and the God of Morality. The Buluotuo Epic is the scripture of the Moz religion. Its contents are divided into three parts: 1) mythologies about creation of the world, 2) standards of ethics and morality, and 3) religious life and taboos. Religious concepts such as nature worshipping and ancestor worshipping can seen throughout the epic. Each section of the scripture can be read and understood independently and most parts are about the creation of heaven, earth, animals, human being, plants, and everything in the world. The contents are often sung as ballads and dirges and the Zhuang sing them when they hold worshipping ceremonies. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Shaman are people, the Zhuang believe, who can communicate with ghosts or Gods. They preside over small ceremonies, do not have teachers or students, and do not have their own books or scriptures either. Ladles called ding are used by shamans as musical instruments. Some also shake small bells. They usually do healing activities or visit (or pretend to visit) the world of the dead and ask questions of ghosts on behalf of living people, find the souls of the deceased and send messages to them from their families. Necromancers are regarded as teachers and great masters. They have their own students but no formal organizations. Their main job is help people to dispel ghosts, pray to ghosts, help people choose the best time or place when they want to do something important, and tell fortunes. Their have their own scriptures, which are written using the old Zhuang written language about legends, history, geography and astrology. Shamans and necromancers are a very important to Zhuang culture. Necromancers are often invited to preside over funeral ceremonies, assemblies, disaster-dispelling ceremonies and other big religious ceremonies. \=/

The Moz religion was prohibited and criticized as a form of feudal superstition in the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. Many Buluotuo Epics were burned. Shamans and necromancers were persecuted, with some of them being killed or hounded to death. Since the 1980s, with the implementation of more ethnically- and religiously-freindly policies by the Chinese government, the Moz religion has been revived and developed. However, because of what happened in the 60s and 70s most Zhuang know little about the Moz religion of the Buluotuo epic. \=/

Zhuang Funerals and Burial Customs

The Zhuang believe the dead enter a netherworld where they have influence over the living. Corpses are buried three days after death with some favorite possessions while mournful songs are sung. Those who have died in violent deaths aor accidents are cremated to prevent the release of potential malevolent spirits. Unmarried people who have died are given ‘spirit marriages.” [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

The Zhuang's have traditionally performed unusual death rites. At the funeral the deceased person is buried in a coffin about two feet below ground level. Three or five years later, the coffin is unearthed and opened. Any flesh that is left on the bones is cleaned off. The skeleton is then placed in a sitting up position inside a clay jar and sprinkled with red cinnabar powder. The dead person's name and dates of birth and death are written inside the lid. The sealed jar is then placed in a cave or buried in the clan graveyard. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]

After a Zhuang people die, their bodies are first put in a special hall. They are washed with water that has been boiled with leaves of pomelos, peaches or gingers . When the corpse is put into the coffin, all the families members cry loudly and sing funeral songs at the same time to express their sorrows of losing their loved one. All relatives and friends spill wine and offer sacrifices. Favorite things of the deceased are put around the corpse, bronze coins are placed over the eyes and mouth, sticky rice food or leaves of tea are sometimes also put into the mouth. These actions are a way of ensuring the deceased has enough food and money in the afterlife. In some places people use vermilion to cover the five sense organs of the face. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

The corpse is covered with a piece of white cloth. The family of the deceased person light fireworks and beat drums to express their sorrows. If the deceased person is a woman, her corpse can not be put into the coffin before her family members come to see her for the last time. Sometimes children of the deceased invite two singers, who sing funeral songs all day long. One singer play the role of a nephew, and the other plays the role of the uncle. The two people sing in the form of asking and answering questions. The purpose of doing this is to praise the merits and virtues of the deceased person and educate people to respect seniors and old people. \=/

The Zhuang nationality has the custom of second funeral. Usually three years after the funeral, and first burial, the coffin is opened and the relics and bones of the deceased are collected and put into a pottery urn, which is then placed into a grotto or cave. Then after choosing a proper and lucky place as the cemetery, the deceased buried for a second time. After this is done, the deceased can be worshipped as one of the ancestors of the family. People who die unnaturally are believed to become evil ghosts after death and as a result the corpse must be cremated. For this a necromancer is invited to chant scriptures, and the remains are carried over a fire pit by the necromancer who jumps over the fire pit. Only after this can the soul of the person who died and unnatural death be accepted as having the same status with the souls of other ancestors. \=/

Zhuang Festivals

The Zhuang have dozens of festivals and holidays, with most observed according to the lunar calendar. They honor ancestors during Chinese New Year and the Festival of the Dead in the summer. One of their biggest celebration is Antiphonal Singing Day. Ceremonies honoring ancestors are held at home altars and in ancestral halls. The Chinese Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day), in which ancestral graves are tidied up in the third lunar month, is often combined with an Ox Birthday Festival and ceremonies for the goddess who protects at birth and during infancy. The Festival of Beginning to Sow is an old ritual to request good winds and rains to nourish crops. It is believed to be a holdover from matriarchal times when women directed the crop cycle. [Source: Lin Yueh-Hwa and Norma Diamond, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

While sharing many festivals with the Hans, the Zhuangs have three important festivals of their own: 1) the Devil Festival, 2) the Cattle Soul Festival and 3) the Feasting Festival. The Devil Festival, which falls on the 14th day of on the seventh lunar month (usually in August on the Western calendar), is an important occasion next only to the Spring Festival. On that day, every family would prepare chicken, duck and five-colored glutinous rice to be offered as sacrifices to ancestors and ghosts. The Cattle Soul Festival usually follows the spring ploughing, when every family would carry a basketful of steamed five-colored glutinous rice and a bundle of fresh grass to the cattle pen. After a brief sacrificial rite, they would feed the cattle with the grass and half of the rice. They believe that the cattle have lost their souls because of the whipping during the spring ploughing and that the ritual would call back the lost souls. The Feasting Festival is celebrated only by people who live near the Sino-Vietnamese border. Legend has it that a group of Zhuang soldiers, having repulsed the French invaders in the late 19th century, returned in late January and missed the Spring Festival. To pay tribute to them and celebrate the victory, their neighbors prepared a sumptuous feast for them.[Source: China.org |]

The Festival of the Soul of the Oxen takes place on the 8th day of the fourth lunar month (between May 2 and May 30 on the Western calendar). usually in May or June. This is the birthday of Oxen (Buffalo) God and is time when people wash and brush their water buffalo, clean their pen and give the animals day off and feed them colored sticky rice. According to their legends it is the birthday of the oxen, the day when the King of the Oxen comes down to the earth to protect his subjects, or protectorates, from illness. For the Zhuang the ox is an animal not only indispensable for agriculture, but also one revered as the donor of grains because, according to their legends, the animal came down from the sky to deliver the people the grains that could be cultivated. On the day of the festival, in memory of this gift, oxen are given the day off from working. They eat glutinous rice, and are taken by children to play in the water. When they return home, the proper festival begins. [Source: Ethnic China *]

Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, usually in June or July. Thousands of people gathered on the banks of rivers and lakes for the race. In every boat there are about thirty people, all dressed in the same color: a helmsman, a drummer, a gong beater and fourteen pair of rowers. The morning the rowing competition is the most important part of this festival. 6) The Festival of Moyi Dawang takes place on the second day of the sixth lunar month. It commemorates a local hero who opposed imperial China and rose up to the sky after being killed in battle. During this celebration people visit the Temple of Moyi Dawang, where a pig and a rooster are sacrificed. Their meat is placed on twelve different plates that are distributed equally among the families of the village. *\

Festival of the Fairies takes place on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, usually in September or October. Regarded as the day that the fairies descend to earth to bathe in the river, it is celebrated by Zhuang who go to the river to gather water, because it is said that the water collected on this day is particularly good for making vinegar, dying of clothes and boiling medicines. 8) The Zhongyuan Festival takes place from the 14th to the 16th of the seventh lunar month. It is also called the "Festival of the Souls" because it is said that on this day, the souls of dead relatives return. They are worshipped by the presentation of meat, the burning of incense, as well as by donations of paper money and clothes. *\

Zhuang New Year

1) New Year is the most important festival of the Zhuang year. The celebration is similar to that of the local Chinese, with a some special characteristics such as children playing traditional Zhuang games. In Wenshan County horse races are held between teams from different villages. New Year's Eve is celebrated with a family dinner and firecrackers. Women prepare a special holiday drink by boiling water with brown sugar, bamboo leaves, onions and ginger. Sports and other activities are held in small towns. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 ++]

Zhuang New Year is held at the same time as the Chinese Spring Festival (Chinese New Year, between January 21 and February 20 on the Western calendar). On New Year's Eve the family gathers around the the dinner table and talks and drinks late into the night. On the first day of the New Year, everyone dresses up in their best clothes. Women draw water from the wells or rivers and make the drink described above. In some places sacrifices for ancestors are performed in the morning. In other places children study all day as it is believed to be good day for taking action to realize your academic goals. To bring induce a good harvest and healthylivestock, women place a little fertilizer and seeds in the field and drop some chicken feathers on the village road. In villages, Zhuang offer sacrifices in small Village God temples. Wooden swords and spears are among the items offered to encourage the god to protect the village. ++

Sporting and recreational events include “tossing an embroidered ball" (a kind of ball game for children), Lion Dance, Dragon Dance, and Zhuang dramas. Many of the same festive activities are repeated on the last day of the first lunar month (between February 19 and March 18 on the Western calendar), the “Late New Year." This tradition is based on an event a long time ago in which the Zhuang fought against an invading army on a lunar New Year and continued fighting for the a whole month, finally obtaining victory only the last day of the first lunar month. ++

Third Month Festival

Third Month Festival (San Yue San) takes place on the third day of the third lunar month, usually late March, Early April. Also called the "festival of singing in the fields", it honors Third Sister Liu, who, according to tradition, taught the Zhuang people to sing. This is one of the most interesting festivals on the Zhuang calendar. It is also called "singing in the fields" or the "song outside the caves" (because before, the Zhuang people had their altars in the caves, and only when they were outside they sang). [Source: Ethnic China *]

This festival marks Third Sister Li’s death is said to have originated in the Tang dynasty, when Third Sister Liu is said to have lived. Many ethnic minorities in southern China celebrate similar festivities, so perhaps the origin is even older. During the Third Month Festival the Zhuang people sing for three days and three nights. Sometimes by only two people sing, in improvised dialogues. At other times small groups of young people sing as they climb the mountain. On other occasions hundred or even thousands of people gather together to sing together. While singing, the girls throw silk balls to the boys they like. If the boy picks it up it means he likes her. Sometimes this ritual is performed as a kind of competition, with the person who fails to catch the ball having to sing a song.

The Third Month festival is also called the Song Fairy Festival (Ge Xian Jie). In 1984, the People's Government of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region formally declared it be the regional festival for Zhuang people. The Guanxi capital of Nanning and other places hold magnificent songfests as well as other events such as seizing fireworks, throwing embroidered balls and touching colored eggs. There are also Zhuang operas, colorful dragon dances, poem contests, films, martial arts performance, acrobatic shows and various commercial activities.

San Yue San is celebrated 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. 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.

Zhuang Frog Festival

The Festival of The Mother Frog takes place in the basin of the Hongshui (Red) River. It revolves around complex ceremony in honor of the frog that announces the coming of the rains. It is celebrated from the first day of the lunar year until the end of the first month. The main activities are centered around a frog worshipped as the daughter of the thunder and therefore, the carrier of rains.

Frogs are an important totems to the Zhuang. Frogs were the original totems of the Ou tribe, ancestors of the Zhuang people and the patron gods for Xi'ou people during the Spring and Autumn Period. Even now, some Zhuang people consider the frog to be a god—the "Prince of the Thunder King" dispatched to the world as an angel. Ritual bronze drums with three-dimensional frogs made by ancient Zhuang people can be found in Donglan, Bama, Tian'e and Fengshan. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

One of the main events of the "Ma Guai Festival" is a sacrificing ceremony for frogs. "Ma Guai" is "frog" in a local dialect. Also known as the "Frog Festival", "Frog-Reverence Festival" and "Granny Frog Festival", the "Ma Guai Festival" is held in the first month of the lunar year. In the early morning of the first day in the first month of the lunar year, people go to the fields and look through the grass and turn over up rocks, searching for hibernating frogs. The first person who finds a frog is addressed respectfully as "Ma Guai man"("son-in-law of the goddess") and becomes the headman of the festival. Then people take the frog back to the village and put it in a "precious coffin"(a section of the thick bamboo). They then place the precious coffin in a "flower house"(a colorful litter), which is sent it to "Ma Guai Ting" (a pavilion). From that day until the 25th of that month children, carrying the precious coffin in the flower house, go door to door and sing the ancient Ma Guai song in the daytime. ~

At night, all the villagers gather in the pavilion to keep vigil beside the coffin of Ma Guai. After the 25th of that month, people bury Ma Guai. Before the ceremony, people open last year's Ma Guai coffin to examine the body for omens. If it is black or gray, people regard it as a sign of a bad harvest and hold a ceremony, bowing in salute, hoping that Ma Guai will do them a favor after it goes to heaven. If the body is golden, people think a good harvest is coming and will burst into jubilation, banging on bronze drums and setting off fireworks. After Ma Guai is buried, the Ma Guai man invites senior members of each household to a gathering to celebrate Ma Guai’s accession to heaven. Then villagers hold an all-night party of singing and dancing to celebrate the conclusion of Ma Guai Festival.

Zhuang Phallic Ritual

The Zhuang minority have an interesting phallic ceremony. According to their legends, in the dawn of time, there was no communication between the first men living on one side of the Hongshui River and the first women living on the other side. To help them the god Buluotou unfurled his enormous penis over the river, making a celestial bridge. Thanks to this bridge first men and women crossed the river. They mated making the first families, and humanity was born. [Source: Ethnic China]

When Buluotou become old and the bridge turned soft and flaccid. He removed the bridge, leaving behind two pubic hairs that turned in two ways, masculine and feminine, creating a bridge of men and women, allowing them to keep meeting. Every year, in the days following the New Year Festival, local people gather on the two banks of Hongshui River to celebrate a festival honoring Buluotou's sex organ. They sacrifice an ox and a cow to Buluotou, provided by the people living on each side of the river. Images of Buluotou’s penis are hung everywhere, in form of paper phallus, that the wind can fill up so the the penis looks as it is having an erection.

During the festival, Zhuang people eat and drink and young people sing love songs. The goddess Miliujia is also honored. The Zhuang consider that Buluotou and her worked together to create human beings. In recent decades, the sacrifice of the ox and cow have stopped, but not the festival and the singing.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China website, Zhuang section, Travelpod Shane

Text Sources: 1) “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China “, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 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 | 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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