The Blang are a small ethnic minority that lives primarily in the Blang. Xiding and Bada mountains in Mengahi Country in the Xishuangbanna area of southwestern Yunnan. The Blang, Was and De’ang are regarded as descendants of the ancient Pu (Lolo) people, with the Pu that stayed in the mountains rather moving to the plains forming the nucleus of the people that became the Blang. In the old days many Blang villages were under the control of Dai landlords. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]
The Blang speak a Mon-Khmer language and practice Theravada Buddhism and animism, and have traditionally made sacrifices at set times during the year. They have traditionally lived in villages with a 100 or so households in mountains between 1,500 and 2000 meters; and were governed by clan elders that decided how the land would be divided up. The Blang have no written language. They have traditionally used the script of the Chinese and the Dai. They speak two major dialects.
The Blang practice paddy rice cultivation on terraced fields and have traditionally raised dry land rice, maize, and beans for food and cotton, sugar cane and Pu’er tea for cash crops. They live in two-story bamboo houses with the second story as living quarters and fireplace in the middle of the main room and a bottom floor for keeping animals. These houses are raised in a couple of days because the entire community pitches in to help with the construction.
The Blang in China inhabit the southwest corner of Yunnan Province in Xishuangbanna and Lincang prefectures and the Simao Zone. They are also found in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. There are fairly large numbers of them of Myanmar where they are known as the Paluang. In Yunnan they live mainly in the Menghai and Jinghong counties in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. More specifically they are found in the Mt. Blang, Bada, Xiding, Mengman, and Daluo areas of Menghai County, Xiaomengyang and Damenglong of Jinghong County, and Mengpeng Town and Mango Village in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. They are also scattered Blang communities in the neighboring areas Shuangjiang, Yongde, Yunxian and Gengma counties in the Lincang prefecture as well as the Lancang and Mojiang counties in Simao prefecture, and in Baoshan. [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 Blang people live among and near the Dai ethnic group and have heavily influenced by them and share many things in common with them, including the Theravada Buddhist religion and clothing styles, The Blang inhabit steep mountains with humid forests and eke out a living in border area lands. Their communities are mostly mountainous islands surrounded by flat area dominated by Dai and Han farmers. The area the Blang inhabit is warm and has plentiful rainfall, fertile soil and rich natural resources. The main cash crops are cotton, sugar-cane and the world famous Pu'er tea. In the dense virgin forests grow various valuable trees, and valued medicinal herbs such as pseudoginseng, rauwolfia verticillata (used for lowering high blood pressure) and lemongrass, from which a high-grade fragrance can be extracted. The area abounds in copper, iron, sulfur and rock crystal. [Source: China.org]
Book: “Flowers, Love Songs and Girls; The Bulangs” 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).
Blang Population and Names for Themselves
The Blang are the 37th largest ethnic group and the 36th largest minority out of 55 in China. They numbered 119,639 and made up 0.01 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census. Blang population in China in the past: 91,891 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 82,280 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. There were 58,476 in 1982 and 52,000 in 1978, according to censuses taken those years. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]
The Blang are also widely known as the Bulang and Palaung. The Blang have a lot of names, which they themselves or are called by other ethnic groups. The names they call themselves vary from one area to another. Those living in Xishuangbanna call themselves "Blang;" and those in Simao use "Benzu". In other places they call themselves other names like "Lawa," "Wu," "Wuren," "Aerwa", "Yiwa", "Wa", "Wenggon" and "Awa." in the past, the Han people called them "Puman", "Plang" or "Meng"; the Bai called them "Buen;" the Lahu call them "Kapu;' and the Dai call them "La." Other names for the Blang ethnic group are: "Da", "Mila", "Manl” and "Abe". After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, they were designated as "Blang" minority by the Chinese government.
In China they live in: 1) Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture: Menghai County (Blangshan, Badashan, Xiding, Qitu and Daluo Townships) and Jinghong County; 2) Lingcang Prefecture: Shuangjiang, Yongde, Yunxian, Gengma and Zhengkai Counties; 3) Simao Zone: Langcang, Mojiang and Jingdong Counties. [Source: Ethnic China]
The Blang use different names to refer to themselves in different ways according to the area in which they live: 1) Those living in Xishuangbanna refer to themselves as "Blang." 2) Those living in Zhengkai and Jingdong refer to themselves as "Wu." 3) Those of Langcang and Wendong refer to themselves as "Weng hong" 4) Those of Shuangjiang, Yunxian, and Mojiang refer to themselves as "Awa." 5) Before 1949 the Chinese and other neighboring peoples called them all Puman. *\
Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: The Chinese government considers all the Blang to be one national minority, in accordance with its limited policy in the field of ethnic identification. However, considering the different names for themselves used by the peoples labeled Bulang, the different dialects or languages that they speak, as well as the fact that their cultures have evolved in different ways in the different regions in which they live, it is clear that further independent studies must be carried out in order to clarify the true ethnic identities of the Blang peoples.” *\
The Blang, Dai and several smaller ethnic groups living mainly in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and in the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern Yunnan Province, though smaller pockets of Dai live in and around the Yunnan cities of Xinping and Yuanjiang, as well as in other autonomous counties in Yunnan Province.
Xishuangbanna is a region in southern Yunnan, near Burma and the Golden Triangle opium-growing region, known for its tropical forests, green mountains, and ethnic minorities. About a quarter of the people are Dai, another quarter are Han Chinese and the remainder include members of the Miao, Zhuang, Jino, Blang, Lahu and Wa minorities. Xishuabgbanna means “Twelve Thousand Fields” or “Twelve Principalities.” It was once the center of a kingdom that stretched into Burma, Thailand and Laos. During World War II it was the site of some bombing raids and many of the tribal people fled into Burma, Thailand and Laos. When the Communist took over the region they ended the kingdom, and the king became an academic in Kunming. Large numbers of Han Chinese moved in to the area during the Korean War when the region was used to grow rubber trees for the war effort.
The prefecture of Xishuangbanna is unique in China. For it's semi-tropical climate and abundance of flora and fauna, it enjoys special protection, as demonstrated by the declaration of numerous Nature Reserves and the development of a model of tourism that largely focuses on a respect for nature. Today almost one third of Xishuangbanna is protected forest. [Source: Ethnic China]
See Separate Article XISHUANGBANNA, SOUTHERN YUNNAN, THE MEKONG IN CHINA AND THE DAI AND WA factsanddetails.com
History of the Blang
The Blang are one of the original peoples of southwest Yunnan Province. It is thought that they have lived in the mountainous border area between China and Myanmar for more than 2,000 years. Many scholars believe that the Blang are descendants of the so called Pu (Lolo) peoples who lived in the Xishuangbanna area at least since the Qin Dynasty, about 2,200 years ago. The Wa and the De’ang are also thought to have descended from the Pu people and all three groups are considered to be the aboriginal peoples of southwest Yunnan. During the 8th and 9th centuries the Pu were known as "Puzi" meng. According to chronicles of travelers from those days they were hunter-gatherers.[Source: Ethnic China]
In the beginning of the 14th century, some of the Blang living in Xishuangbanna Prefecture came under the rule of the Dai Tusi (local Dai leader who ruled on behalf of the Chinese emperor). This is how they started being influenced by Dai religion (Theravada Buddhism), cultural and political life—an influence which continues to this day. Blang living in Xishuangbanna Prefecture were influenced the most by the Dai. Those living in Lincang and Simao have maintained the most unique features of traditional Blang culture. *\
During the Ming Dynasty they started neglecting hunting and harvesting and took up farming. Differences between Blang living in one region and those in another increased as some Blang were influenced by the Han culture and others by Dai culture. Literature from those days refers to the Blang as follows: 1) "They are dark-skinned and live on the mountain peaks. Clothing, weddings and funerals are as the Bai Luoluo". 2) "They ride horse without bridle; they walk bare-footed and are good archers". 3) "They live on the mountain peaks where they cultivate the land, burn the mountain and cut the trees. Every field is cultivated for several years." *\
During the Qing dynasty, most of the Blang had already settled in a territory roughly the same as their current location. Though nominally subdued, they stirred up revolts several times against the Tusi and the emperors. The most important uprising was in 1861, when the Blang from Mojiang joined the Hani who were already in rebellion against imperial rule. This uprising lasted for seven or eight years. *\
Before 1949, there were fairly big social differences between different Blang groups. In the regions of Lincang and Simao there was a strong feudal system. They had lost the previous communal ownership of the land (except for the cemeteries), and had devolved into a private property system that handed over vast amounts of land to landowners who rented it out to peasants at exorbitant rates. During the years of the Republic of China, the Bai-Jia system was introduced in this area, in order to better control the minorities living in the mountains. In Xishuangbanna, they lived under a more feudalist system. Under Dai rule, they appointed hereditary chiefs, known as "Ba", who ruled over several small villages and collected taxes for the Tusi. These small villages, which were made up of between 20 to 100 families, had communal property over farmlands, forests and pastures. But even though they all had the right to work the land, nobody had the right to sell any portion of the common property. At the time of the Revolution of 1949 the first steps taken to privatize the land mostly benefitted the newly emerged landowners. *\
Communist communes were introduced in the Blang region in 1958 and cooperatives were established several years later. The communist movement brought dramatic changes to Blang traditional culture and their economic life. The Blang living in Blangshan and other remote areas of Xishuangbanna Prefecture are facing hard times in recent years, due to the removal of some services formerly provided by the government, such as health services, education, and infrastructures, resulting in a lack of opportunities to enjoy the benefits of a market economy. *\
Blang Language and Naming System
Blang language belongs to the Mon-Khmer branch, Bulang or Wa-Deang sub branch of Austronesian family of languages. There are two dialects: the Aerwa (Awa) and Blang. Because most Blang live with Han Chinese, Dai and Wa, they usually also speak one of these three languages. One of their major dialects is spoken in the Xishuangbanna area and another in the Zhenkang County (known as the Wu dialect). The isolation of Blang communities makes mutual linguistic understanding very difficult and complex. Even Blang people living in Bulangshan cannot understand Blang from Batashan (about 30 kilometers away). The Blang language does not have a written form. Many write and speak Chinese. Some know how to write in the Han or Dai language, in which their historical and classical works have been written. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]
The name system of the Blang is peculiar. The Blangs in Xishuangbanna and Lancang have only given names, but no family names. Most of the men's names begin with Yan, and most of the women's names, with Yu. And there is a "Da" or "Ya" before an old man or woman's name respectively. ~
Three days or a month after a child's birth, a naming ceremony is held, in which the child is named by the maternal grandfather or some other old man in the clan. According to the sequence of birth among his brothers, a male child's name is chosen from the list "Di, Zhan, Wang, Bu, Pa, Su, Sao, Hong." Similarly, a female child's name is chosen from the list "Ying, Wang, Ai, Niu, E, O, Au." When a child has its given name, the second syllable of the mother's full name is put after the given one. In this way, the offspring of the Blangs are named after their mothers. In other words, a child's name is: gender marker (yan or yu) +given name (a name from the male name list or the female name list) + the second syllable of the mother's name. This naming practice shows that the Blangs are deeply influenced by the matriarchal system that prevailed in their history. Besides, there is also the practice of naming both after the mother and the father, and the practice of naming only after the father. That can be regarded as a cultural feature of the transition from a matriarchal society to a patriarchal one.
The Blang have traditionally been animists and shamanist, with ancestor worship being a big a part of their way of life. Blangs have traditionally believed that men's lives and well-being are governed by ghosts or gods and all the living things have souls. Many of the Blangs in Xishuangbanna are Theravada Buddhists, in part because of the influence of the Dai ethnic group. For those Blang, their Buddhist temples and social systems are similar to those of the Dais. Monasteries can be found in many Dai villages.
Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: There are major religious differences between the Blang of the Lincang and Simao districts and those of Xishuangbanna Prefecture. The traditional religion of the Blang was polytheism, expressed primarily in the worship of nature and ancestors. In Xishuangbanna they follow Theravada Buddhism. All young people spend some time in the temple, where they learn how to read and write the Dai language. All the festivals, both Buddhist and traditional, are organized by the monks. All villages have their own Buddhist temples, where they carry out both Buddhist and Blang traditional religious ceremonies.” In Menghai, Dai influences are found everywhere. The names of the Blang's deities—Yingba, Payana and Payaying—are similar to those of Dai deities. [Source: Ethnic China
“Those who specialize in religious activities are the Baimo (shamans), the Huotou (religious chiefs) and the Buddhist monks. Nowadays traditional and Buddhist beliefs are intertwined. For instance, before planting seeds they ask a Buddhist monk to tell them on which mountain to plant them. Then, the monk divides three handfuls of rice into three banana skins with the names of three mountains. According to the results determined by these three banana skins, the seed is planted. The monks are present at all important ceremonies of the agricultural cycle. Reading Buddhist scriptures and sacrificing chickens are meant to guarantee a successful harvest. Animal sacrifices appear in all their religious ceremonies. *\
“In the Shuanjiang, Zhengkai, Mojiang, and Jingdong counties, the Blang still strongly maintain their traditional religion. As in the past, the Blang believe that there are many gods that can influence the life of mankind. Therefore, they dedicate different kinds of ceremonies to request protection and to avoid evil. Throughout the year, they hold festivities related to and on behalf of the most important gods. such as: 1) The God of the Ovens; 2) The God of the Earth; 3) The God of the Mountains; 4) The God of Fire; 5) The God of Thunder.” *\
Blang Funerals and Stair Burial
The death of a person is followed by scripture chanting by Buddhist monks or shamans to "dispel the devil," and the funeral is held within three days. Each village generally has a common cemetery divided according to clans or people having the same surnames. The dead are buried in the ground except for those dying a violent death, who are cremated. [Source: China.org]
Every Blang village has a public cemetery called "Shan (hill)." The Blang people regard "Shan" as a place where spirits of the ancestors reside and all those who die a normal death are to be buried there. Although inhumation and cremation are both applied by the Blang people, inhumation is the main form of burial. Coffins are made either of wood or thin Bamboo strips. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]
The ancient tradition of "stair burial" and "piling burial" are still practiced today. In the "stair burial," the dead are buried according to age and generation in different stairs of a stair-like cemetery. In most cases, a cemetery has four steps. The dead of an age over 70 are buried in the highest one, those from 60 to 70 in the second, those from 30 to 40 in the third, those less than 30 in the fourth. The dead must be buried facing upward with the head to the west and the feet to the east. There is no tomb. Due to the narrowness of the graveyard, the old burial place must be reused according to the age of death when everywhere has been occupied. "Piling burials," in which a burial place often is shared by many male or female corpses of an age section, is thus formed. ~
When a Blang living in Xishuangbanna dies, his family informs the headman called a "Zhaoman." "Zhaoman" give notice to all the villagers to show their sympathy. The family members clean the body of the deceased and dress him or her with new clothes. The body stays in the house for one to three days, during which Buddhist monks or shamans chant sutras or recite scriptures to release the soul from purgatory. Then, the dead are put into a coffin. Some tea leaves, bananas, rice and wax chips are put into the hands of the deceased and white string is tied to one of the thumbs. When the coffin is to be carried out, the string is cut, representing the separation of the deceased from his or her family and cutting the soul's way back. The family members hold a memorial ceremony in the graveyard with wax chips, salt, and grain on the following day.
Blang Festivals in Lincang and Simao
The Blang in the south of Yunnan have received cultural influences from the Dai and the Chinese. Those Blang living in the Lincang and Simao regions still retain most of their traditional culture, as their festivals demonstrate. 1) The God of the Stoves Festival is celebrated twice a year. The first is on New Year's Eve, when every family presents offerings of rice, meat and wine from their stoves. Afterwards they pray for a prosperous new year to come. It is celebrated the second time in second or third lunar month. 2) The God of the Mountains Festival is celebrated on the 5th and 6th of the first lunar month according to the lunar calendar. Before it takes place, a large tree from the surroundings of the village is chosen to represent the god. The family follows the priest, who approaches the tree and asks the God of the Mountains for protection while they sacrifice a chicken. With its blood, paper money is pasted onto the tree. [Source: Ethnic China *]
3) The God of the Land Festival is held at the end of the first lunar month. The main feature is a ceremony carried out by each family. Before it begins, a cap on a stake is driven into the ground, signifying that nobody should enter the village since there are celebrations and rituals taking place there. A chicken is slaughtered and its feathers are buried on the left side of the door, while a good harvest is prayed for. 4) The God of the Village Festival takes place in the first and sixth lunar month and lasts for three days. In some villages there is a pole placed in the middle, surrounded by stones, in others villages they put five poles in the centre of the village. This is supposed to be the place where the God of the Village will protect them. During this festival, no activities take place in the village and no outsiders are allowed to enter. The newlyweds, the newcomers or those who have built their house during the last year hand over some candles to the head of the village to be given as presents to the God of the Village. 5) The Dragon Pond Festival is celebrated on the second day of the second lunar month. A Dragon Pond is selected on the outskirts of the village and next to it a large chestnut tree is chosen as the tree of the Dragon God. On the day of this festival, everyone goes to this pond with the village priests to ask the Dragon God for good rains and favorable winds. They walk around the pond three times in homage to the Dragon God. *\
6) The Blang New Year is celebrated in the third lunar month in contrast to the Chinese New Year, which is celebrated in the first lunar month It lasts for three days. People stop work. Pigs and cows are slaughtered. Special food is prepared which is offered to the elderly and the ancestors as well as to the temple. In Mojiang and Shaungjiang it is considered good luck to be the first one to offer water from the mountain springs. 7) The God of Fire Festival is celebrated in the third lunar month. Although fire gives out light, heat and happiness, it can also bring about disaster. That is why each year grass and tree bark is offered up to the God of Fire. *\
8) The Dragon Tree Festival is celebrated in the seventh lunar month in most locations. However, in Mojiang it is celebrated every three years on the horse day of the second lunar month. It is one of their most important festivals. No outsiders are allowed in and no other activities are permitted except those related to the festival. A cow and two white cocks are offered to a chestnut tree that represents the village god from whom they ask protection. For three days after this festival no trees can be cut. 9) The Kula Festival has no fixed date. Kula is the God of Water, with a human head and the body of a snake. It is able to control the rain, storms, and floods. Therefore, it can bring people either good or evil. This festival is celebrated to avoid the harm that the evil can bring. Each family takes some objects of daily use, such as saucepans and parasols, which are thrown into the water for the god. *\
Blang Festivals in Xishuangbanna
Most of the Blang in Xishuangbanna Prefecture are Buddhist. They have been strongly influenced by the Buddhist Dai, but they nevertheless have retain many vestiges of their ancient culture and tradition. They use the Dai calendar and celebrate New Year's Day on the same day as the Dai are have a Water Splashing Festival. But they do not have dragon boat races and they do not splash waters on that day. April 15th is the traditional "Kangshan Festival". During that time young people send presents to their elders, enjoy performances of folk music, singing and dancing and traditional martial arts. The Blang also celebrate a torch festival in which participants light torches in front of their houses and set large fires in their village squares. The festival honors a woman who leaped into a fire rather make love with a king. Before the village torch is lit people gather around it and drink rice wine.[Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]
1) The Shela, Tanshela or Taluoluo Festival is celebrated in the first month of the lunar year. It is held to honor the deceased relatives. Each family collects banana skins, the monks write the relatives' names on it in the Dai language. Meat is offered in four places: on the relatives' graves, at the temple, at the village gate and at the centre of the village.On the second day, gifts are presented at the temple and those who bring them sleep there, as it is believed that, on that night, they might be able to meet their deceased relatives. [Source: Ethnic China]
The Flower Festival is celebrated on the second day of the second lunar month. Village women go up to the mountains to collect flowers with long narrow flags in their hands and use the flowers to erect a Flower Tree at the center of the village. Paper strips and colorful flags are also put onto the same tree. People circle around the tree, dancing to the beat of drums and gongs and other instruments. Puffed rice is thrown at the tree by women while they are dancing as a symbol of village unity and prosperity. Young men and women engage in courting activities. \=/
2) The Gangyong Festivity in honor of the Bamboo Rat is held in first or sixth lunar month, with no fixed date. According to legend, the bamboo rat was the animal that handed over cereal grains to the Blang, and helped them to develop their system of agriculture. That is why every year the rat is venerated on this festival day. The young go up the mountain and catch a bamboo rat. They tie it to a stick and decorate it with flowers. Two men, carrying the stick, go round the village. After prayers the people reach the house of the village headman, cut the head of the bamboo rat off, and deliver it to their chief, who cuts the meat into small portions that are shared among the families of the village, who praise it beside the family god. *\
3) The Water Splashing Festival is famous festival, which clearly reflects the influence of the Dai, is held on the 29th day of the second lunar month. It is a religious holiday in honor of the ancestors and lasts for three days. 4) The Festival of Reading Scriptures is a Buddhist festival is held on the15th of August according to the Dai calendar (fifth lunar month). Starting early in the morning everyone goes to the temple bearing gifts. 5) The Closing of the Door Festival is another traditional Buddhist festival, held on the 15th day of the ninth month of the Dai calendar (sixth Chinese lunar month). On this day the village people lock themselves inside their villages and fields to concentrate on farming activities. 6) The Opening of the Door Festival is held during the ninth lunar month to mark the end of the harvest. The doors are then opened in order for the people to enjoy life. At this time the young start their courtship season. 7) The Cloth Taking Festival is held around the tenth lunar month, on a date fixed by the head of the village and the priest. every family in the village buys a yellow piece of cloth about 4 to 8 meters long and get together at the Zhaoman or headman's house, who escorts them all to the temple. It is a day off work, pigs and cows are slaughtered and all kinds of banquets are prepared. At night the young people sing and dance. *\
Blang Love Customs
Young Blangs have freedom to choose their marriage partners within a framework of parental approval and social convention. Traditionally, they could publicly join in social activities and courting when they reached the age of 14 or 15 after the teeth-dyeing ritual. "Chuan guniang (dating girls)" is a traditional way of courting for the Blangs. In most cases it is held in groups, but sometimes in pairs, too. When the moon rises, boys put on their best clothes and take their Sanxian (a triple-stringed instrument) to the bamboo houses of the girls and sing beautiful songs to win their heart. Girls dress themselves up elaborately, light fire, and open the door to ask the boys in. They show their feelings and express their minds tactfully by serving cigarettes, tea and singing songs. This is a very common way for the communication of their feelings, thoughts and cultivation. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]
Among the Blang of Xishuangbanna, when young people are 15 or 16 years old, they carry out a rite of passage known as Poke. Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “After the young men return home after spending some time in the Buddhist temple, they begin to play musical instruments, especially the sanxiang and the tanqing and to sing songs of love. Together they visit girls of the same age in their houses.Usually a group of girls are embroidering together at dusk, waiting for the boys that will arrive with their music in small groups, generally of three or four, but sometimes even ten. The boys greet the parents of the girls that welcome them. The parents are happy because their daughter has many suitors. The boys sit near the fire to talk with them, singing and playing musical instruments. When it seems that a girl begins to harmonize well with one of the boys, they begin a song dialogue, by means of which they ask different questions that the other will answer. The other boys, seeing that the girl does not pay attention to them, get bored and leave to visit other houses, leaving the couple alone to sing and talk by the fire. [Source: Ethnic China *]
When the love between a couple grows deeper the man proposes to the girl. Flowers often serve as a symbol of serious love in many Blang mountain areas. To express his deep feelings a young man presents a bunch of flowers collected in the mountains to his girlfriend. If the girl is sure of his sincerity, she picks out the most beautiful flower and wear it in her hair to show the are boyfriend and girlfriend. If they decide to marry, the boy sends emissaries to the girl's parents on his behalf, which are rejected several times to demonstrate that their daughter should be well treated. They finally accept him. They begin to spend nights together and, after a period of one year, they should celebrate the wedding. ~
Blang Wedding and Marriage Customs
Traditionally the Blang wedding ceremony was repeated two or three times for a couple. After the engagement, the girl was invited to the young man's family, and a "Shuanxian (thread fastening the couple) ceremony" was held. It is necessary to choose a favorable day, usually in the 4th, 6th or 8th month of the Dai calendar. Before the marriage the bridegroom gives tobacco to the chief of the village and informs him of the impending marriage. The following day a pig is sacrificed to invite everybody in the village. They then invite the chiefs to the house of the parents, and offerings are brought to the Buddhist temple. The girl says goodbye to her previous boyfriends and other friends. [Source: Ethnic China]
After the first wedding the couple departed and each went back to their own home. During the day, the groom worked at his own home but at night, he went to the girl's house and lived with her. This period, named "congqiju (live with the wife)" or "wangmenju", lasted for three years. Three years later, if they still loved each other deeply and had children, a second ceremony was held on an auspicious day. This one was grand and solemn. Both the families of the bride and groom held feasts, to which all the villagers and relatives were invited. The head of the clan and other elders gave their blessings to the couple by fastening them together with a thread. After this ceremony, the bride was regarded as formally married to the groom and she went to live with him. She then formally becomes a member of the man's family. After another three years, if the couple chose to live by themselves, a third ceremony was held. These days, most couples have only one wedding ceremony. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]
The Blangs seek spouses outside their own clans and practice monogamy. With a few exceptions, mainly parental interference, young Blangs are fairly free to choose marriage partners. A divorce can be settled during any phase of this extended matrimonial process. Usually they kill a pig and invite the children of the village, who then walk the streets shouting: "So-and-so has gotten divorced." *\
Blang Teeth Dyeing
Among the Blang of Xishuangbanna, girls dye their teeth with a darkened wood from the time of the Festival of Closing the Doors to the time of the Festival of Opening the Doors. Boys usually have already done the same in the temple. When young people have colored teeth it is understood that they can begin to talk of love. [Source: Ethnic China]
The Teeth Dyeing ceremony indicates that a Blang youth has matured into a grown-up member of society, and can join in various social activities. In the past, when a boy reaches the age of nine, he was sent by his parents to a Buddhist temple to learn religion as a "Panian (small monk)." Five or six years later, he returns to secular life. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]
At the age of around 15, the boys parents prepare a small handbag (called Tongpa), a long sword, and a blanket for him. If they are rich, he might also get a silver or copper box with tobacco, betel nuts, and liquid lime for chewing betel nuts. His clothing changes, too. He cuts his hair and, receives new clothes and white cloth leg-wrappings. When a girl reaches the age of 14 or 15, her father gives her a small bamboo stool, a small bamboo basket, a spinning wheel, and a new dress. He also prepares a piece of pan steel for blackening her teeth. Then, they conduct a ritual to indicate her maturity. The main business in that ritual is blackening the teeth. All the boys and girls around 15 gathered in a bamboo storied-house, where the smoke of the burning branches of a tree name "Kaoagai" is used as a dye. Boys and girls dye each other's teeth black. After that they can attend social activities as adults, and acquire the right to date and get married.
Another way of teeth dyeing is chewing tobacco and betel nut. A little tobacco is wrapped in a betel palm, together with some Saji, radish, betel nuts, red lime, is put into the mouth and chewed and sucked for about 20 minutes. The remains after chewing are bright red. The teeth gradually get black after doing this many days. Betel nuts are regarded by the Blang as cool and can protect one's teeth and improve one's appetite.
Blang Houses, Customs and Taboos
Blangs have traditionally lived in wood-and-brick cottages and two-storied bamboo houses with railing. Some still have thatched roofs. The ground floor of two-storied balustraded bamboo houses is for keeping domestic animals and storing stone mortars used for hulling rice. The upper floor is the living quarters, and in the middle of the main room is a fireplace for cooking, heating and light. [Source: China.org]
When a family builds a house, nearly all the adults in the village offer help, completing the project in two or three days. As is true with the Dai people, a ceremony is held to mark the construction of the new house. The ceremony begins at noon when the sun is at its highest. Fireworks are set off around the house. The first men to get upstairs into the house carry a bull head. They sing songs of blessing; they dance while going up the steps. Girls, dressed in their festival clothes, stand along the stairs holding basins of water and splash water on the men as blessing. Then men with household trunks, women holding bedding and clothes, and girls carrying dishes go into the new house. When everyone is upstairs, things are sorted and put into their proper places. After that, a fire is made and everyone sits down for a feast with singing, drinking and dancing. [Source: Chinatravel.com]
According to Chinatravel.com: 1) It is polite to take off the shoes before entering the house in the Blang villages. It is forbidden to touch the head of Buddha, monks, and the elders. 2) Certain woods are considered to be holy and it is forbidden to cut down any trees and take away any soil or stones from the holy wood. You can not relieve yourself or take a shit their either. 3) Don't go into the host's bedroom unless you are formally invited. And don't put out or walk over the fire pit as it is believed to be unlucky for the house owner. The altar holding offerings to the household god in the main room of the house is considered to be a holy place. Don't touch it.
4) The turbans that the Blang men wear symbolize their dignity and the head is considered sacred. Therefore, don't touch Blang on the head, especially elders. 5) If you go to a Blang wedding, be prepared to participate in the ablution rite, meaning you will be offered water to wash yourself by both the bride and the groom at the gate before you go into the reception. 6) In Blang villages, pregnant women are forbidden from taking part in any religious ceremony or ritual. \=/
Blang Food, Wine and Betel Nut
The Blang mainly eat dry rice, supplemented by corn, buckwheat, soybean, pea, and red millet. Sticky rice is a Blang favorite. Lunch often consists of cold rice that has been braised or steamed. Blang men are said to be especially good at cooking bamboo tube rice. The rice is covered with bamboo pulp and cooked over charcoal. Commonly eaten vegetables include cabbage, greens, melons, beans, radish, eggplant, hot pepper, leeks, tomatos and so on. Have traditionally gone the mountains and forests to collect the edible fungus, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, dasheen, wild potatoes and wild potherbs. Meat includes pork, beef, mutton, chicken, and sometimes animals like sparrows, bamboo mice, snake, deer, fish, shrimp and crab. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]
The Blangs in Xishangbanna cook by steaming, frying, baking, pickling, or pounding. Sample dishes include fried meat, barbecued meat, grilled fish, fried cakes, deep-fried spider. They are fond of sour food and preserve food in salt and pickle bamboo shoots, meat and fish. Some of the Blangs are fond of raw meat too. They eat raw pork, fish and the animal blood. The Blangs in Simao area like porridge very much, making it with chicken, field mice and dog meat. Porridge made with field mice is regarded a rare delicacy, reserved for entertaining honorable guests. \=/
Chewing homemade "sour tea" is also widely favored by the Blangs. They serve it to their guests or give it as a present to people. Drinking home-brewed wine and smoking tobacco are their main pastimes. The Blangs drink tea and wine.
Eating Tea and Chewing Betel Nut
Xishuangbanna is one of the areas that produces famous Puer tea. Areas around Mount Nannuo, Mount Youle, Mount Xiangming and Mount Yiwu are famous for it. Tea is believed to have originated from here and wild tea plants still grow in the rain forests. All the ethnic groups that live in Xishuangbanna, not only drink tea, but also eat it.
Bulang people make tea into a pickled vegetable, which has a unique flavor. To pickle it they: 1) collect the new sprouts and young leaves from the tea plants, spread them out in thin layers and dry them out under the sun; 2) after getting rid of water, the leaves are rub them with hands; 3) then, add some pepper powder, spicy pepper, salt and spicy ingredients are added and the mixture is put into a big bamboo tube; 4) the tea mixture is pressed tightly into the tube and plugged up, After 30 days the tea turns sour; two months later, the pickled tea can be served with dishes or as a dish itself. The flavor of the tea is cold and sweet, and is often served as an appetizer.
It is said pickled tea is high in vitamin C and stores for a long time. Pickled tea is a traditional dish served on the wedding ceremonies and the festival occasions of the Bulang people. According to a Japanese expert in the field of traditional food culture, eating tea is also done some places in Thailand and Japan.
The Blang, especially Blang women, like chewing betel nut and regard teeth dyed black with betel-nut juice as beautiful. First they cut the betelnut fruits into thin slices, mixing them with ash and tobacco threads, pack them with piper betel leaves, and chew and suck on them in their mouth. Sometimes, they cannot find any betel leaves then they use young tree leaves. Users believe betel nut drives away insects and toughens up the stomach.
There is the tradition of smoking among men and women. Men like strong, hot tobaccos, while women smoke mild and soft tobaccos. Today young women refrain from smoking but young men still have the habit. [Sources: China.org, Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]
Blang Clothes and Tattoos
Blang people in different regions wear almost the same style of clothes. They generally wear simple clothes and favor dark color such as black or dark green and blue whether they are men or women. areas. Men wear collarless jackets with buttons down the front, loose black trousers and head wrappings of black or white cloth. Traditionally-dressed Blang men and women wear straight sarongs and black turbans decorated with flowers or silver designs of shells and fish. Blang girls wear simple but bright-colored traditional clothes. Some Blang men still tattoo their limbs and torsos.
Blang women, like Dai women, wear tight collarless jackets and tight striped or black narrow skirts called Tong skirts. They tie their hair into a bun and cover it with layers of cloth and wear tight short black shirts. They also like earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Young women like wearing flowers in the hair and dye their cheeks red. Blang women used to regard teeth dyed black as beautiful.
In the past, many Blang men had tattoos on their arms, legs, chests and bellies. Common tattoo were patterns of wild animals and birds and different shapes. The tattoo ink was usually made with carbon ash and snake bile. Many Blang women have their hair done in a particular way with ornamental articles. A silver hair pin with the pattern of the three-trail snail, known as "gazigazong", is their favorite. Some tie their hair into a bun with layers of white or blue cloth, just like the shape of the three-trail snail. There is popular legend about a snail and the beautiful young lady named Yiying. The snail hair ornament honors this poor lady and is said to bring it wearer good fortune and luck, and happy marriage that will last forever. [Source: Chinatravel.com]
Blang Literature and Myths
The Blang have a rich store of legends, folk tales, stories, poetry, riddles and ballads. transmitted orally from generation to generation. Most of these are about the origin of human beings. Among them, the most famous ones are "Yanbu Lingga", "The Legend of the Birth of Human from Gourd,” and myths about the creation of the world such as "The Myths of God Gumiya" and "The Story of How the Rhinoceros Created the World". The popular story "The Elephant and the Swan" tells how brave the Blangs are, and how they fight against the evils. [Source: Chinatravel.com]
Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: The legend of Gumiya is the most important myth of the Blang. It tells how the world was created and how mankind developed. In addition to the Gumiya myth, there are endless side stories, in which variations or expansions of the myths of creation and the origin of the different things on earth are told. [Source: Ethnic China *]
In "How heaven and earth were created?" we see that in the beginning the world was a "thick and dusty air where clouds extended everywhere". Suddenly a sunray appeared, burning a fire ball, whose sparks broke the dark clouds bringing the light for the first time to the universe. Thousands of years later water extinguished the fire ball creating the earth. In "The gourd that brought the human beings" we see a huge flesh gourd floating in the river, which men and animals growing inside. When all them complete their growing a swan opened a hole in the gourd surface allowing birds, animals and men, to be born. *\
“There are many myths that explain the features of different animals, and the relationship that they have with the Blang people. Take the bamboo rat for example. According to its legend, "The seed of the cereal grains and the bamboo rat", the rat was the animal that supplied seed to the Blang people. This explains why they pay tribute to the rat each year. The tales of Aizhanglai are representative of the popular literature that remains alive today in the villages of Southwest China. In them, Aizhanglai, the cunning and the witty, is a trickster figure who makes fun of the wealthy and the ambitious.” *\
The Blangs are good dancers and singers. At important festivals, they sing and dance to the music of various instruments. On these occasions, martial arts and acrobatics are sometimes also included in the celebrations. Their songs and dances show the strong influence of their Dai neighbors. Elephant-leg drums, cymbals and three-stringed plucked instruments provide musical accompaniment for dancing. People in the Blang Mountain area revel in their energetic "knife dance." Young people like a courting dance called the "circle dance." For the Blangs in the Mujiang area, New Year's Day and weddings are occasions for dancing and singing, often lasting the whole night. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]
From childhood, the Blangs learn to sing various tunes and play all kinds of instrument. Their music styles fall into four types: Shuai, Zai, Suo, and Zhui. 1) Shuai is high-spirited and expressive. 2) Zai is joyous and light-hearted. 3) Suo is a kind of folk music, often accompanied by a small Sanxian (triple-stringed instrument). 4) Zhui is sung by a chorus and is used to sing about myths and Blang heros heroes and their life under the Communist Party. The Zhui type is often played on important occasions. The main singers often improvise the lyrics. ~
Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “The greatest literary mastery of the Blang people is to be found in the realm of romantic songs, as all young people among them strive to be good singers and thereby to obtain a good wife. The whole process of flirting and falling in love is carried out through song, accompanied by the music of the sanxian (a three string instrument that is typical of the region). Besides the sanxian, they also use a drum made from an elephant's foot and cymbals.” [Source: Ethnic China]
The two main forms of dance are festival dances and Buddhism ritual dance. The names of their dance vary from one area to another: it is called "Tiaobai" in Xishuangbanna; "Dage" in Shidain and Zhenkang; "Tiaoge" in Yunxian, Jingdong and Mojiang. The name "Tiaoge" means dancing while singing. Because the Blang men like wushu (martial art), they also integrate dancing, singing, and martial arts into a unique form of art, featured in the "long knife dance," "stick dance," "boxing dance" and others. The Blangs living in Xishuangbanna also have many forms of dance that come from their life and work such as the "elephant foot dance," "clapping dance," "monkey dance," and "tea collecting dance."
The dances of the Blang are for everyone, from children to old people with gray hair. When the flute plays dance music, they start dancing at once. The Circle Dance is the most popular form of dance among the young. The dance is led by a young accomplished male singer and dancer. Following the rhythm of gongs and elephant foot drums, girls and boys form a circle, dancing gracefully while moving in an anticlockwise direction. They move their knees in an undulating manner, and their hands roll around the shoulder. At the same time, a group of boys jump like tigers in the circle. Sometimes they disperse and sing antiphonally with the girls and sometimes re-form a group to perform their tiger-like leaps. The dance repeats itself many times. And great joy can be full expressed in this form of dance.
Young people like a courting dance called the "circle dance." Young women are in the inner side of the circle while young men are at the outer side. Girls dance while moving in a counter-clockwise direction while boys will dance like tigers in the circle. Young men sing love songs to girls they fancy. Blang men like wushu and the martial arts very much. They display their skills and energy in the "knife dance"—dancing while doing wushu with a long sword, single stick or short stick. [Source: Chinatravel.com]
Blang Agriculture and Crafts
The Blang grow sesame, melons, fruits, and potatoes. Important economic crops include tea, cotton, sugar cane, palms and hemp. They are also among the earliest and best growers of the world-famous Pu'er tea. They produce bamboo products, textiles goods and the dyed products.
The Blang people reside in places where bamboo and rattan is plentiful. Bamboo strips and rattans are commonly used to make containers and utensils. Most Blang men are able to make bamboo products by hand, such as bamboo baskets, buckets, dustpans, mats, tables, and workboxes. Most of the products are be used by themselves; some are taken to the market for sale or exchange. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]
Blang women are good at spinning and weaving. Raw materials like cotton, ramee and hemp are used to make textile products like damask and brocade. The Blangs use simple ways of dyeing. Different kinds of plants and flowers are used to make different colors. For example, blue is made from the indigo plant through soaking, pounding and filtering. When dyeing, they put the liquid dye and water into a big pot and boil plain white cotton cloth in it. After repeated infusion, they get colored cloth. \=/
Tao Anli wrote in Sixth Tone: “There are only about 700 Mang people in China, most of whom live in Jinshuihe Township in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Traditionally, the Mang eked out an isolated existence as farmers, lacking access to electricity, clean water, and basic sanitation.” To reach where they live “I set off from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, and finally reached Jinshuihe Township’s Nanke Village — deep in the mountains — on my third day of traveling. Covering an area of 115 square kilometers, Nanke comprises 10 groups of villagers. [Source: Tao Anli, Sixth Tone, August 19, 2017]
“The Mang people once depended on slash-and-burn methods for growing rice and corn, along with hunting, gathering, and fishing as supplementary food sources. This lifestyle led them to migrate periodically from the mountain forests, such as when the soil grew less fertile. To more sedentary ethnic minority groups living nearby — such as the Hani and Dai — they were like ghosts, wandering without a home.
“For a large part of their history, the Mang people’s way of life revolved around subsistence farming. Beyond that, a small portion of their produce was traded at the market in exchange for necessities they couldn’t produce themselves, like salt and clothing. After permanently migrating from the forest, the Mang community split into three village teams — the administrative units governing villages. In 2009, the Mang were classified as part of the Blang ethnic minority, becoming the last minority group within Chinese borders to gain official recognition.
Efforts to Modernize the Mang People
The Chinese government has been helping the Mang through its government’s poverty alleviation efforts since 2008. Tao Anli wrote in Sixth Tone: ““Under the poverty relief efforts, villagers reclaimed part of the Nanke River and leveled a small hill to make room for construction projects. Locals built a small three-story structure to house the village committee, as well as a new marketplace out of colored steel, complete with a tiled rooftop. They also added a new entrance to the village elementary school. When I reached Nanke, the first thing I saw were brick buildings — but I slowly realized as I walked through the village that nestled between those modern structures stood many crumbling shacks made of mud and held up by planks of wood. [Source: Tao Anli, Sixth Tone, August 19, 2017]
“Nearby, on a slope overlooking the Nanke village committee building, lies Mang New Village, less than a 20-minute walk away. Compared to Nanke, the government aid-sponsored two-story buildings erected here looked neater, but behind this cluster of black-tiled, white-walled residences were shacks housing young people who had moved out of their parents’ homes. They were waiting for the next wave of poverty alleviation projects — with no idea when it would arrive.
“In addition to helping build Mang New Village, the relief projects also encouraged the Mang community to plant cash crops, especially sugar cane. With these changes to their livelihood, they began interacting more with the outside world. In the past, their main contact with outsiders came from bartering in the markets, but the arrival of TV, modern health care, pension insurance, schools, and sugar cane crops has since deepened these interactions significantly.
Impact of Modernization on the Mang People
Tao Anli wrote in Sixth Tone: “ Although their quick transition into modern society has improved their living conditions, it has also destroyed their traditional way of life, leading to schisms within the Mang community. When relief measures were first rolled out, many residents were willing to stay in the village and work in agricultural production. In my interviews with these people over several months, many said that they believed they could benefit from the policy, and that as long as they could find suitable cash crops, they would inevitably be lifted out of poverty into riches. However, their location deep within the mountains made it extremely hard to grow sugar cane, while the income gained from the project was only enough to cover basic provisions. [Source: Tao Anli, Sixth Tone, August 19, 2017]
“After experiencing the outside world, some young Mang people began to regard their hometowns as impoverished, stifling, and dirty, so they started migrating to Shanghai, Beijing, the southern city of Guangdong, and other places to find jobs. But their lack of skills forced them to rely on their fellow villagers to introduce them to assembly line jobs for meager remuneration. Unable to adjust to the outside world, some returned to the village, but new generations of young adults still often seek new lives elsewhere.
“One villager whom I’ll call Luo San was born in 1993 and is the third brother of the head of Mang New Village. Luo left in September 2015 for Dongguan, a city in southern China’s Guangdong province, staying with a fellow villager who had found work there. When I visited Mang New Village in February last year, the village head and his mother said that nearby Jinping County had a vacancy at a public institution where the hiring policies favored the Mang people, and they hoped that Luo would test for the position. Despite the low pay, it was a stable job, but Luo turned it down because he didn’t want to return to the village. Since then, he has refused to answer his family’s phone calls.
“The young adults I’ve met who leave their homes in search of jobs all return because of the same issue: identity cards. In China, citizens must be 16 years old before they can apply for their ID cards, the information on which is essential to sign a labor contract, buy a mobile phone, or purchase air and train tickets.
“However, many Mang youngsters leave the village as minors. As it is difficult to obtain an ID card away from their hometown, they return to Yunnan and wait for the three-month process to end. These young people find it tedious to spend that much time at home: Life is dull, and there is no 4G mobile phone signal or internet cafés. They may complain about living elsewhere — saying that Guangdong is hot, that the pay is low, and that people there scam them — but they bolt out of town as soon as they get their ID cards, taking with them a handful of other villagers.
“Most Mang people feel caught between staying in the village and moving to the city. Against this backdrop, it is as difficult for villagers to sustain their traditional way of life as it is to adjust to life outside. Their struggle is the same: a recurring conflict between tradition and modernity. A decade after the poverty relief projects started, modernization remains as alarming and bewildering as it has always been.
Image Sources: Nolls China website, People's Daily, Wikimedia Commons, YouTune
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) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) 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 September 2022