The Tujia are one of the largest ethnic groups in China. They live in Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in western Hunan and parts of southwestern Hubei and eastern Sichuan provinces. Most live in the Wuling Mountain Range south of the Yangtze. They are primarily an agricultural people who have lived in close association with the Han Chinese and Miao but have many unique folk customs such hand dancing which embraces more than 70 different gestures and is performed around New Year’s Day.

The Tujia are also known as Bizika, Bizka, Tuding, Tujen and Tumin. Their original language is only spoken in a few areas. It is a Tibetan-Burman language similar to Yi. Most speak a Chinese dialect. The Tujia had no written language until the Communist government gave them one after 1949. Religious and spiritual beliefs are similar to those of Han Chinese except that shaman have a pronounced roll and the white tiger and the turtle are popular religious totems.

The Tujia inhabit an area that encompasses a vast mountainous region in central China that included parts of Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou and Sichuan Provinces. The Tujia people have nearly a dozen different autonomous administrative units of their own in the four provinces in which they live. The Tujia refer to themselves as the Bizika. They have intermixed with Han and been surrounded by them for many centuries and have largely been assimilated. Their clothing and customs are very much like those of the Hans. Only a small number of Tujia continue to use the Tujia language. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

Many Tujia live in the Wuling Range of western Hunan and Hubei provinces, at elevations from 400 to 1,500 meters in the Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Exi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture and some counties in southeastern Hunan and western Hubei. In these areas, the climate is mild but rainy, and the land is well-forested. The Youshui, Fengshui and Qingjiang rivers intersect there, and on the terraced mountainsides and in the green valleys grow rice, maize, wheat and potatoes. Cash crops include beets, ramie, cotton, tung oil, oil tea and tea, with oil tea and tung oil playing key commercial roles. Timber includes pine, China fir, cypress and the nanmu tree. The area is rich in rare medicinal herbs, minerals, aquatic products and giant salamanders. [Source: People’s Daily]

The Tujia language belongs to the Tibeto-Burmese language family and is closely linked to the Yi language, spoken hundreds of kilometers away. About 20,000-30,000 people living in remote areas such as Longshan and along banks of Youshui River speak Tujia. The large majority of Tujia speak the Han and Miao languages. Old Tujia ways survive only in remote area. [Source: People’s Daily]

Tujia population in China: 0.6268 percent of the total population; 8,353,912 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 8,037,014 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 5,704,223 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census and 2,836,814 according to the 1982 census. Statistically the Tujia population grew very quickly in the 1980s and 90s , due in part to the fact that before 1990, many people felt ashamed to belong to a minority. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia, Ethnic-China]

Autonomous Administration of the Tujia

The Tujia are mainly concentrated in the Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in west Hunan Province, Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Hubei Province's Enshi area, Sichuan Province's Shizhu, Xiushan, Qiuyang, Qianjiang, and Guizhou Province's Yanhe and Yingjiang counties. Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in western Hunan was established in 1957 and has an area of 21,600 square kilometers. Of a total population of 2,710,000 inhabitants in the 1980s, 730,000 were Tujia and 570,000 were Miao. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

In Hubei Province the Tujia are found in the following autonomous administrative units: 1) Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in the southwest of Hubei Province: Established in 1983 with an area of 24,000 square kilometers, it had a population in 1983 of 3,250,000 inhabitants, of which 1,060,000 were Tujia and 170,000 were Miao. 2) Changyang Tujia Autonomous County: Established in 1984 with an area of 3,412 square kilometers, it had a population in 1984 of 399,000 inhabitants, of which 295,000 were Tujia. 3) Wufeng Tujia Autonomous County: Established in 1984 with an area of 2,375 square kilometers, it had a population in the 1980s of 188,000 inhabitants. Of these 118,000 were Tujia.

In Chongqing Municipality (formerly Sichuan Province) Tujia are found in: 1) Xiushan Tujia and Miao Autonomous County: Established in 1983 with an area of 2,462 square kilometers, it had a population of 473,000 inhabitants. Of them 157,000 were Tujia and 59,000 were Miao. 2) Xiyang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County: Established in 1983 with an area of 5,158 square kilometers, it had a population of 610,000 inhabitants. Of these 286,000 were Tujia and 74,000 were Miao. 3) Qianjiang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County: Established in 1984 with an area of 2,460 square kilometers, it had a a population of 384,000 inhabitants. Of them 117,000 were Tujia and 27,000 were Miao. 4) Pengshui Miao and Tujia Autonomous County: Established in 1984 with an area of 3,874 square kilometers, it had a a population of 517,000 inhabitants. Of these 49,000 were Tujia and 159,000 were Miao. 5) Shizhu Tujia Autonomous County: Established in 1984 with an area of 2,887 square kilometers, it had a a population of 417,000 inhabitants. Of them 182,000 were Tujia.

In Guizhou Province: 1) Yinjiang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County: Established in 1987 with an area of 1,969 square kilometers, it had a a population of 334,000 inhabitants. Of them 141,000 were Tujia and 32,000 Miao. 2) Yanhe Tujia Autonomous County. Established in 1987 with an area of 2,476 square kilometers, it had a a population of 434,000 inhabitants. Of them 192,000 were Tujia.

Tujia History


The Tujia were first identified as a distinct group in the 19th century. The facts behind their origin are not clear. Some believe the descended from the ancient Ba people of Sichuan. The Pengtoushan Mountain Culture occupied by the Tujia in Hunan was the home of a paddy rice culture that flourished 9,000 years ago. Pottery pieces found here contain images of suns, moons, and flowers. Other claim they are associated with the Wu Man (“black barbarians”) of Guizhou Province. Other say the migrated from Jiangxi. Yet others say the are from the area where they live now.

There are several conflicting versions of the origin of the Tujias. Some say they are the descendants of the ancient Ba people, a highly cultured people who lived in Sichuan province more than 2,000 years ago. Others claim they come from the Wuman, who moved to western Hunan from Guizhou Province. Some believe the Wuman were also ancestors of the Yi based on linguistic similarities, but as the origin of the Yi themselves is not clear. Yet others claims they came from Jiangxi Province in the east at the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Still other scholars suggest that the Tujia are descendants of the native peoples of Hunan who have been influenced by neighboring peoples. In any case, the Tujias were a distinct ethnic group in western Hunan by the early Five Dynasties period, in the early 10th century. [Source: People’s Daily ~, Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]]

According to the Chinese government: “Han peasants migrated to western Hunan in the early 12th century, bringing with them modern tools and farming expertise. In western Hubei, Tujia feudal lords sold some of their lands to Han peasants and businesspeople, some of whom became landlords. The feudal lords also commanded the economy. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Tujia soldiers, together with Han, Zhuang, Miao, Yao, Mulam and Hui fighters, were sent to the country's coastal provinces to fight against Japanese pirates pillaging the areas.” [Source: China.org china.org |]

Some of the cultural features of the Tujia are similar to those of the ancient Han Chinese.They still worship ancestors and spirits. Every village has a Temple of the Earth King, where they worship their ancestors, whose souls, according to their tradition, do not die with the body. More recent Han Chinese influences have included the presence in every village of a Temple of Culture, in honor of Confucius, and a Temple of the City. Others features are more similar to the Yi, such as the presence of shaman-priests called Timo (the Yi call them Bimo) who serve as intermediaries between the human world and the realm of the gods. *\

Tujia Religion and the White Tiger

Traditional Tujia religious beliefs have included Taoism, ancestor worship and a shamanistic belief in gods, ghosts and demons. Formerly, prayers were said before hunting, and when a person died, Timo (shaman-priests) were invited to expel evil spirits and ghosts from the house. Timo are still called upon to serve as intermediaries between the human world and the realm of the gods. In addition to serving as healers, spiritual guides and fortunetellers, they are the repositories of the legends, history, and ancient rites of the Tujia. They are capable of expelling spirits through exorcism and curing and preside over the Bashou Dance. Tujia people worship the god of the kitchen stove, the god of land, the god of crops, the god of Shi Guan, and Lu Ban. People make a sacrifice of wine and a big rooster to Lu Ban when they build a house.

Tujia people especially revere dead ancestors. On important days, people show big respect to their ancestors; on the first and the fifteenth day of each month, they also show small respect. The food for big respect includes pig heads, rice balls, ciba, chicken, ducks and vegetables. In order to show respect towards their ancestors, some Tujia use chopsticks to put some food in the rice bowl of the deceased and pray in silence a while before eating; this symbolizes the ancestors eat first. The sixth day of the sixth lunar month is the day Tujia people make a sacrifice for the king of Tu. On that day, handwaing halls are setup in each Tujia village where things like pig heads and fruits are offered. Tujia people cook chicken and ducks for the guests on the first day of the tenth lunar month. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

White tiger (Bai Hu) worship is practiced by the Tujia. The white tiger is of great importance to the heart and soul of the Tujia people because they believe they are the descendants of a white tiger. According to legend, Ba Wu Xiang, the ancestor of the Tujia people, was respected as the leader of five different tribes. He was also called Lin Jun. Lin Jun led his people down a river to Yan Yang. They killed the terrible and cruel goddess of the Yan river and settled down. After that Lin Jun was greatly respected by his people. When he died, his soul changed into a white tiger which Tujia people look upon as their protector. A wooden sculpture of a white tiger occupies idol niche of each Tujia house to remove the evil from their house and bless it with happiness and safety. During weddings, the groom covers the big table for the banquet with a tiger blanket in remembrance of the Tujia’s ancestors. \=/

Funeral Dance of the Tujia People

In ancient times, cremation of the dead was a basic custom of the Tujias. During a funeral, a Taoist priest would walk in front of a procession while a Timo chanted scripture. Burial was later adopted following association with the Hans. Funeral dancing is an unusual custom of the Tujia. Men and women, old and young, gather around the coffin and sing, dance and enjoy themselves through the night. They wear colorful clothes as if they were attending a happy celebration. Relatives of the deceased join in when the celebrations reach their peak. Only the men dance at this stage while women watch. Known as sayi'erhe in the local language, funeral dance is practiced in the middle areas of Qingjiang River — the second branch of Yangtze River — in Changyang and Wufeng Tujia Autonomous Counties in Hubei Province. [Source: China.org.cn, May 10, 2006 ==]

The recorded history of the funeral dance can be traced back to Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). Prof. Zhang Zhengming, who is an expert on Chu History at the School of Historical Culture of Central China Normal University (CCNU), said the dance is likely to have originated from a war dance because of some of the movements used. Bai Xiaoping, an expert on the funeral dance, has researched the subject for three years. She kept a close watch on the funerals and selected nine of them to feature in her book on the subject with photos and descriptions. According to Bai, the funeral dance comprises a complex series of movements, songs and music and has unique artistic values. The drummer is also the singer. The songs are about love and all aspects of life. The songs are called wujuzi because they are sung in a five-sentence pattern. They are all happy songs with most being sung by males in high-pitched voices. ==

Bai said the dance reflects Tujia people's philosophy of life and death. They are open-minded, thinking death as natural as the rotation of the four seasons and therefore deserving a happy ending. Bai explains that the regions where the funeral dance remains a tradition are shrinking. In ancient times the custom was prevalent in the Three Gorges areas and the wetland areas of Qingjiang River. Now it's to be found only in the middle reaches of the Qingjiang River. But Bai said she's confident that the tradition can be kept for future generations. The funeral dance is an activity involving many participants and has been handed down through generations. Now many cultural departments have recognized the importance of protecting the funeral dance and the tradition itself. ==

Tujia Festivals and Catching New Year

Among the many Tujia many traditional festivals are "April 8th", "June 6th" and "Tujia New Year". "Tujia New Year" is the grandest one, commonly called "Catching the New Year". Each family butchers a pig, makes mung bean noodles, cooks sticky rice wine, make wine and prepare a Zhu Rou He Cai feast as they for other big days. The second day of the second lunar month is She Day, which is celebrated with a She meal. Tujia people have Zongzi on Dragonboat Day. Nu'er Hui, popular in Shi Hui Yao and Da Shan Ding in En Shi, is a day of courting activities for Tujia youths. It is held on the second day of the seventh lunar month. Youths from different parts of Xuan En, Jian Shi, and He Feng come for the Nu'er Hui. [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, kepu.net.cn ~; Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

"Catching the New Year" is the grandest and most cheerful Tujia celebration. "Catching the New Year" refers to celebrated new year one day before Han Chinese celebrates their New Year. If the Han celebrates the New Year on January 30, the Tujia celebrate their New Year on December 29. If Han nationality celebrates New Year on the 29th, the Tujia do so on the 28th. [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, kepu.net.cn ~]

Stories on the origin of "Catching the New Year" are often related to the history and wars of Tujia. The most widely told is the story of the Tujia people catching the New Year before sending soldiers to fight against the Japanese. It is said that Japanese invaders frequently attacked the southeastern coast of China during the Ming Dynasty, when Emperor Jia Jing was in power. They set fire and killed people. The imperial court ordered and requested soldiers from Hunan and Hubei to drive away the invaders, but they were scheduled to arrive on New Year’s day. The war was in an urgent phase and military orders had to be obeyed. Parents had no alternative but to celebrate New Year ahead of time, so that the children could safely leave the area before fighting began. After that, on, the custom of catching New Year came into being.

There are many variations of the "Catching the New Year" legend. When celebrating New Year, Tujia households have traditionally set up a tent in the central hall with black cloth, symbolizing the barracks of soldiers camped at that time. In the tent is a sacrificial table, on which traditional meals, cured meat and cakes are set up. Pine tree branches and plum blossom are put on the cakes, next to which is a small bamboo basket holding chopsticks. The branches and blossom stand for outskirts, and chopsticks represent arrows, to signify Tujia sons and younger brothers caught the New Year before going on an expedition that year.

Tujia Marriage and Wedding Customs

The Tujia generally had the freedom to chose their partners. In the old day they needed the blessing of shaman. Under Chinese influence, arranged marriages and bride price payments became more common. A traditional wedding is preceded by a gathering in which the friends of the bride sing songs to the bride lamenting the marriage. Married men share in the household chores and women sometimes work.

At one time, young Tujias could select their marriage partners fairly freely, and courting involved a great deal of singing and dancing. Only approval of a Timo was necessary for a match. As Han traditions gained hold, marriage became more a matter of economics. Parents would calculate the value of their children as potential partners, and choice became limited by wealth. Today young men and women have the freedom to seek boyfriends and girlfriends and chose their own marriage partner. They may seek their partner in various kinds of meetings and occasions. During their marriage, the custom of "crying and marrying" is prevailing. The culture and arts of Tujia people are rich. For example, the poems are abundant in content, and various in styles. [Source: People’s Daily]

There are a number of superstitions attached to a Tujia wedding. If you smoke a pipe of the husband's family, you are saying his family will make a fortune. If you take one cup of tea of husband's family, you are saying they will become even wealthier. If you drink a glass of wine of the husband's family, you are saying they will enjoy good wine for generations. In the "crying for the forefather" ritual the right foot steps out of the mother's room and the left foot steps onto the forefather's hall. The bride says “I have to leave both my forefathers and my father; I have to leave my forefathers and my mother.” [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Tujia a marriages are regarded as alliances between about the wife's family and the husband's family. Tujia people are very cautious about the marriage if the bride and the groom have the same surname. If they have the same surname, they may be of the same blood and marriage of the same blood is a big taboo. Even though the marriage between a couple of the same surname is in accordance with Tujia marriage rules, most Tujia people won't accept it. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Tujia Cry and Marry Marriage

"Cry and Marry"—also called "crying for marriage", "crying for marrying the child", "crying before the sedan chair" and so on— is a traditional marriage custom of the Han Chinese, Tujia, Tibetan, Yi, Zhuang and Salar minorities. The crying ceremony of Tujia is regarded as the most grand and typical one. It is not merely an essential etiquette and procedure in a Tujia wedding day but has developed into kind of unique art form of the Tujia.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Tujia "crying and marrying" ceremony usually starts three or seven days ahead of the wedding. Sometimes it is held a half month, a month and even three months ahead of the wedding. In the beginning, the crying is off and on. When relatives, friends and neighbors present gifts to the bride, the bride cries in gratitude. The custom reaches its climax, from the night before the wedding to the next morning before the bride gets in the bridal chair. The crying during this period follows prescribed, traditional etiquette and includes the singing of special songs. The crying and singing content included "crying for parents", "crying for brothers and sisters-in-law", "crying for uncles", "crying for escorting guests", "crying for the matchmaker", "crying when combing hair", "crying for ancestors", "crying when getting on the sedan chair' and so on. Lyrics are either ones that have passed down from one generation after another, or ones created through improvisation by the bride and her "crying" sisters. ~

Ten sisters' accompanying singing is a unique Tujia custom that takes place before the wedding day. The bride's parents will invite nibe unmarried girls in the neighborhood to their home, and they sit with the bride singing songs for the whole night. At one point the girls sit around a table, and the bride cries ten times, which is called a Put. Each time she cries a cook puts a dish on the table. When the bride finishes there are ten dishes at the table and nine unmarried girls take turns crying. After the ninth girl cries, the bride cr iesy ten times, called Collects, and the cook collects the ten dishes. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

The main theme of the “cry and marry” ceremony is for the bride to extend gratitude to her parents for bringing her up with the love and care and to express similar sentiments to her brothers and sisters. Some aspects of this theme is for the bride to show her dissatisfaction with marriage and hatred for the mismatch made by the matchmaker and so on. The “crying for the matchmaker” ritual— also called "cursing the matchmaker"—is one example of this. ~

In addition to the bride, her relatives and friends are expected to join the crying ceremony and they must also be skilled and experienced in this ritual. In the Tujia area at the foot of Buddhist Mountain, when a girl gets married, the hall of the bride's house becomes a singing arena and women relatives come and join the crying ceremony. Everyone in the village — old and young, men and women — cry together with the bride and sing antiphonal songs. ~

In the past Tujia people put great emphasis on "crying and marrying", because of the traditional belief that a family won't make a fortune if the bride doesn't cry at the time of her wedding and the more the bride cries, the wealthier the family will be. People even set the extent of "crying and marrying" as the criteria of a woman's talent, virtue and marriagability. The bride is has also traditionally been praised for her eloquence, her flowery, querulous and stirring words, her hoarse voice and red and swollen eyes. Conversely, if she doesn't cry at the time of marriage, she was traditionally sneered at. Therefore, a lot of Tujia girls have to learn to cry by imitating other brides and participating the crying ceremonies beginning at a very young age, as a kind of training. Before marriage, some families even ask "experts" to teach their daughters the art of crying. ~

Tujia Customs and Taboos

When a guest drops in, the host is expected to be very hospitable. A guest is typically served a bowl of sticky rice rum and a bowl of Tuan San in boiled water first, and then treated to a big feast. When a guest is invited for tea, he is usually offered oil tea, Yinmi, Tangyuan, or a half-cooked egg. Tujia people hold feasts for occasions such as weddings, funerals and the construction of a new house. According to their custom, each table should be served with nine, seven or eleven dishes. A meal with eight dishes is for a beggar and ten in Chinese (shi) is pronounced the same as stone (shi), which has a bad meaning. Tujia in west Hubei must serve the guests 3 or 4 eggs in oil tea as a treat. They think, one egg means to eat bitter, two eggs mean to blame, five eggs mean to destroy five kinds of crops, six eggs mean to pity someone with small positions, and 7, 8 and 9 eggs suggest the unpropitious phrase Qi Si Ba Wang Jiu Mian ( 7 and 8 is to die, and 9 is to be buried). [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

The Tujias have some unusual and distinctive household taboos. Young girls or pregnant women are not permitted to sit on thresholds, while men can not enter a house wearing straw raincoats or carrying hoes or empty buckets. Additionally, people are not allowed to approach the communal fire or say ostensibly unlucky things on auspicious days. Young women are not allowed to sit next to male visitors, although young girls can. At worship ceremonies, cats are kept away as their meowing is considered unlucky. [Source: People’s Daily]

Tujia brides can not sweep the ground at her parents house when she visit them for the first time after marriage because the Tujia think she might sweep away good luck. When the groom has his first meal at the home of his parents-in-law he cannot finish the big bowl of rice served specially to him and he cannot eat the two soybeans (a soybean here stands for a gold bean) put in his cup of wine because it will make them poor. A newlywed couple can not make love when they spend the night at the bride's parent houses. \=/

Tujia Life, Houses and Food

Tujia have traditionally lived in villages of 100 households or more that were placed at the foot of mountains or on lower slopes near a water source. They have typically lived in Chinese-style two-story houses with tiled roofs and a central room where ancestors were worshiped.. Separate buildings are used for storage and keeping animals. The Tujia are both valley and mountain-terrace farmers. Wet rice is the primary staple. Wheat, maize, and additional food crops plus cash crops such as beets, cotton, ramie, tea and tung trees are raised. The Tujia are known as skilled weavers and carpenters They produce batik cloth and elaborately carved beds. They are also employed in mining and light industry.

Tujia have traditionally lived in villages formed around a clan. In the old days, Tujia chiefs and officials had wooden homes with tiled roofs and carved columns, while ordinary people lived in thatched bamboo-woven houses. Today, Tujia live primarily in four kinds of houses: thatched cottage, adobe cottage, wooden wall house and Diao Jiao Lou; some Tujia people also live in stone houses and caves. A typical Tujia house has three parts: the main house, the side house, and the back house. The main house has three rooms; the middle one is the hall which has a Tun Kou in front. The side house is in front of the main house. The house behind the main house is the back house. Rich Tujia families have courtyard dwellings, the front of which is called Men Lou Zi, and the middle of which is the yard. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

The Tujia economy relies mainly on agriculture. The main crops are rice, millet and beans. The staple food are rice and maize. The Tujia sometimes eat wheat, sweet potatoes and yam. Meals tend to be simple. Tujia food has a unique sour and spicy taste. Sticky rice baba is one of most popular Tujai food. Drinking is popular. Tea culture and drinking is very much alive. Iron ware, wood ware and bamboo ware used in Tujia dining and cooking are all very special. \=/

Tujia Clothes

Traditionally-dressed Tujia women wear jackets trimmed with lace and with short, broad sleeves and low-collar blouses with an opening in the right side. The collar is usually embroidered and the cuffs and the place just right at the lower edge of the collar have small embroidered flowers. Tujia women used to wear long skirts with many straight ruffles but later changed to big round trousers with colorful laces at the bottom. Young women sometimes dress in white coats on the inside and black short gowns outside, like a magpie in a style called Ya Que Yi. [Source: China.org china.org |; Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Traditionally-dressed Tujia men wear short jackets with many buttons in front. Some Tujia still wrap their coiled hair in cloth. They use a nearly three meters long green silk handkerchief to wrap their head decorated with silver pieces like combs, Gua Zi Zhen (a silver hairpin), Mo Li Zhen (a silver hairpin), and Ba Jiao Shan. They adorn themselves with necklaces, earrings, bracelets and ankle bracelets. They also like to wear earrings, bracelets made of gold, silver or jade. Few Tujia wear traditional clothes anymore. Only a few women in the high mountainous areas still wear the traditional jackets and turbans made of blue and green silk handkerchiefs. | \=/

Tujia Xilankapu Embroidery

Early in the Qin-Han Period, Tujia ancestors produced exquisite cloth known as "Zong cloth". In “Country History of Huayang,” this kind of cloth was called "thin and blue cloth", "just like the damask silk." In the Tang Dynasty it was called "Xitong cloth". “Light Stories of Small Stream” reported: “The cloth is made from threads of five colors, and looks bright and beautiful. It can be used for quilts, dresses or towels.” After the Song Dynasty, the textile technology of Tujia was developed further. In addition to common nankeen, woven with cotton and silk, the Tujia developed "Xilankapu", a kind of brocade with luxuriant designs and exquisite craftsmenship, which became sought after through China and gain some prestige worldwide. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

On handlooms with a narrow lathe, "Xilankapu" is woven by hand, with blue, black, red, and white threads going up and down (the warp) from silk, cotton, and wool of many kinds of colors going side to side (the weft). The pattern of Xilankapu used depends on the techniques of symbolizing and abstraction: straight-line modeling or symmetrical succession. The 200 or 300 traditional patterns are roughly divided into three categories: 1) the pattern of natural images; 2) geometric patterns; and Chinese characters or other language symbols. Most traditional are taken from the life and environment of Tujia, such as the stripes of tiger, leopard and deer; colorful feathers of golden pheasants; clouds; water waves and arched bridge. Among the most common images are butterflies chasing peony, double phoenixes flying towards the sun, a magpie singing on a plum tree, and a party escorting the bride to the bridegroom's home. In recent years, popular images have included the waving dance, love between mother and son, sisters' dance, pandas, and bright moons.

According to legend, a Tujia girl named Xilan created Xilankapu. Xilan was a clever girl skilled at color knitting. While trying to knit gingko flowers blooming at midnight on brocade, she persisted in observing gingkos at midnight for a very long time. Her jealous sister-in-law complained to Xilan’s father and lied, saying Xilan went out and fornicated with her lover at midnight, which embarrassed and shamed their family. The old man was infuriated and struck his daughter with his walking stick, accidently killing her. Tujia women honor Xilan and her embroidering and knitting skills, with Tujia name "Xilankapu" brocade.

It has traditionally been thought of as indispensable for every Tujian girl to weave Xilankapu. From the age of eleven or twelve, they begin their study. When they grow up, the quantity and quality of Xilankapu they knit has traditionally been an important measure of their character and ability. In the past, Xilankapu was frequently used for quilt covers and dresses. Today, present, it has been widely applied to many things. Apart from being popular with Tujia people, brocade hangings, silk belt, satchel and figured sheets and bought throughout China.

Tujia Culture

Tujia women are regarded as masters of weaving and embroidering. Other traditional Tujia handcrafts include carving, drawing, paper-cutting, and wax printing. Tujia brocade is called Xi Lan Ka Pu and is one of the three most famous in China. Tujia people like singing. They have love songs, crying songs sung at weddings, hand waving songs, labor songs, and Pan songs. Their traditional dances include the hand waving dance, Ba Bao bronze bell dance, and Mao Gu Si in which people dance and sing. Tujia musical instruments are the so-na, mu ye, dong-dong-kui, da-jia-huo. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Tujia Music: "Dong Dongkui" and "Da Liuzi"

The"Dong dongkui" is a single reed and wing-case-form instrument. It is usually 15 centimeter long, with a diameter one to two centimeter or so. It has 3 or 4 holes, with one end cut open and a single-sound hole. This simple instrument produces merry and clear tune, and is greatly enjoyed especially among Tujia women and children. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

According to a Tujian legend that describes the origin of the "Dong dong kui": In the Qin Dynasty, the emperor recruited men to build the Great Wall. The armies caught a Tujia young man called "Dong Dong". After he was taken away, his pregnant wife named Ba Lie was maltreated by her mother-in-law. Lonely and helpless, she went up to a mountain to look to the north, where her husband was caught and taken away, hoping to see him back. While she sat there, she played a bamboo flute she made herself from a small piece of bamboo to express her eagerness of seeing her husband. She played it day after night, waiting and missing her husband, until one day she was found dead on the mountain. Moved by her story, people showed great sympathy to her and began to make flutes like hers, calling Dong Dong back for her. Later on, this kind of bamboo flute was called "Dong dong Gui" (In Chinese, "gui" means "to be back.")

The "Da Liuzi"— also called "Da Jia Huo" and "Da Jia Ye"— is a kind of ancient folk percussion instrument enjoying great popularity in the northwestern part of Hunan Province where many Tujia minority live. This instrument is made up of the Ma gong, Tu gong, big cymbal and second cymbal. It is usually played by an ensemble of three or four people. A five-player Liuzi includes a Suona (a kind of Chinese musical instrument) and combines forms of piping and drumming. When playing a Da Liuzi, the Ma gong takes the lead, embellished by the big and second cymbals, with the Tu gong kicking in when the time comes. The instrument has a repertoire of over 100 different songs. Da Liuzi music is bright and clear in melody, and is changeable in tune. The Da Liuzi is honored as the "symphony of Tujia".

There is great variety of Tujia folk music. Vocal music includes working song, folk song, and supernatural song. Tujia folk songs are usually about love and work, battles and grief. It is said virtually all Tujias can compose and sing songs. Instrumental music includes percussion music and wind music. Various songs about with many subjects are played with the Da Liuzi. There are special songs for marriage, and popular songs performed at various occasions such as the Spring Festival and Waving Festival.

Tujia Dances

The Tujia are known for their dances. In the sacred Mahusi dance, dancers cover themselves with straw to represent the return of their ancestors, the “hairy people.” Sometimes all night dances are performed at funerals. Every three years a large scale hand-waving dance is held. This dance is said to be 3,000 years old and was a prelude to battle. Music for the dances is provided by a variety instruments including small flutes, water-buffalo-horn horns and flutes made from very long thin, pieces of wood.

Traditional dances of the Tujia include the "waving dance", "jumping with drums", "copper bell dance", "horse-vaulting dance", "eight-plait skirt of thin silk dance", and the "beautiful mountain and festive lantern" dance. The Tujias are well-known for the “waving dance”— a hand dance also known as the bashou dance with 72 ritual gestures to indicate war, hunting, farming and feasting. The dance is popular at Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year, when several thousand people participate.

The "Waving dance"—a traditional singing and dancing form—loved by all the Tujia people. "Waving", called "Sheba" in Tujia language, was originally a collective dancing with religious connotations in which men and women sang and danced together so ward off misfortune. It used to be held after dinner from the sixth day of the first lunar month to the 15th day. At that time, people gathered before the "waving hall" and offered sacrifices. Then they beat drums and gongs, and set off fireworks. Every dancer—both men and women—danced in an expanding and shrinking circle, and changed their gestures according to the drum beat, advancing and retreating. The styles and content varied greatly. Every dance changed in style once a week or every two weeks, reflecting different contents such as fighting, hunting, farming and daily life.

In the waving dance, the hands usually move in the same direction as the feet. Two dancers form a pair, kicking and waving rhythmically, advance and retreat lightly, and swinging at the waist. The dance looks strong and vigorous. Although "waving dance" is simple in style, it has beautiful postures, vigorous movements, and creates a cheerful and warm atmosphere. After the founding of Communist China in 1949, the waving dance has been adapted and exploited for propaganda purposes.

The waving dance exemplifies both the character and culture of the ancient Tujia. It has been passed down from parents to their children from generation to generation. Some say it is derived from ancient ways the Tujia worshiped their ancestors. Some of these dances attract up to 10,000 participants who dance under the guidance of a Timo. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

Tujia Cogongrass Goose Drama

Tujia dramas includie "Cogongrass Goose," South drama and Qiu drama. Tujia epics tell of the origins of mankind and of the migrations and aspirations of the Tujias in drama and poetic ways. "Cogongrass Goose" is an original form of Tujia drama created to commemorate the achievements of their ancestors' exploiting the wilderness, fishing and hunting. It is still practiced in Tujia areas such as Yongshun, Longshan, Guzhang in western Hunan Province. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

In "Cogongrass Goose" drama, stories about the ancestors' life and work expressed through dancing and spoken parts. Usually 15 people are needed. The performers wear cone-shaped cogongrass cap, with the head decorated with a grass pigtail, and the whole body wrapped up with the straw, to symbolize the hairy ancient people. The props and sets are very basic. One performer appears and dances, followed by the others. They dance joyfully, shaking their whole body of straws, rocking their grass pigtail at back and forth and singing in a twisted voice. ~

Subjects of the dancing content includes slash-and-burn cultivation, round-up hunting, fishing, welcoming the bride, a teacher teaching, and swinging a torch. Performers speak local, colloquial expression and sing the folk songs, but spoken dialogue is the main focus, with audience answering calls and inserting lines. Performers sing, dance, jump, turn somersaults, make jokes and perform tricks. They also take quick and short steps to advance and retreat, bend their knees and tremble, jump and wave in all directions, shake their heads and shrug. All the performances imitate the ancients' rough but lovely appearance and manners and are intended to be interesting, funny and humorous.

Image Sources:

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 ethnic-china.com *\; 4) 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 June 2015

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.