Tujia women

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. 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 are also known as Bizika, Bizka, Tuding, Tujen and Tumin. The Tujia refer to themselves as the Bizika. Tujia is a Mandarin Chinese word. It means "local families" in Mandarin and “tu” can mean “local”, “native” or “bumpkin”. Before the 1950s “tu” and related terms referred to people whose ancestors had immigrated before the speaker's ancestors had. "Outsiders" referred to people who showed up later. In the early 20th century, Han Chinese were considered locals, while the Tujia, and Miao, who also live in the same area ad Tujia in large numbers, were considered outsiders. This contrasts with Han historical documents that derogatorily referred to locals as "barbarians" or "trash." In 1957, as part of China's national ethnic identification project, Tujia were officially recognized as one of China’s minorities. An unrelated group that lives further north was categorized Tu. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

The Tujia 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 ]

Tujia Population

Tujia are the eighth largest ethnic group out of 56 in China and the seventh largest minority. They numbered 9,587,732 in 2020 and made up 0.68 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census. Tujia populations in China in the past: 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 only 284,900 according to the 1982 census. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia, Ethnic-China]

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 and did not identify themselves as such. The small number in 1982 is perhaps also explained by the restricted definition of what constituted a Tujia and the expansion of this definition after 1982. The total fertility rate of the Tujia in the 2010 census was 1.74, compared to 1.14 for Han Chinese and 1.6 for Tibetans.

The national census of 1990, counted 1,771,004 Tujia in Hubei Province; 1,794,855 in Hunan Province; 1,076,529 in Sichuan Province; 1,045 in Guizhou Province; and 37,026 in other areas, for a national total of 5,725,049. That year the Tujia were the eighth largest ethnic group in the People's Republic of China (PRC). Of the 2.83 million Tujia counted in the 1982 census, around 950,000 lived in the Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture, with another 1.5 million in Hubei and 595,000 in Sichuan. The population figure reported in the 1990 census — 5,704,223 — reflected both high birth rates and recognition of additional communities and individuals as Tujia. At that time 12 percent of the Tujia lived and urban resident and population density in Tujia areas ranged from 130 to 150 persons per square kilometer. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Areas Where the Tujia Live

Xiangxi Prefecture in Hunan, where many Tujia live

The Tujia are concentrated in an area of central China but otherwise are scattered here and there. living among other groups such as the Dong and Miao and Han Chinese. 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. Many Tujia live in the Wuling Range of western Hunan and Hubei provinces, at elevations from 500 to 2,000 meters (1,640 to 6,500 feet) in the Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Exi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture and some counties in southeastern Hunan and western Hubei. Many Han and Miao and some Dong also live there.

The main region where the Tujia live divides the Sichuan basin from the plains of the middle Yangtze River. In this area, the climate is mild but rainy, and the land is well-forested. Temperatures average 16° C, with lows of 4° C in January and highs of 28° C in July. The Annual rainfall varies from 120 to 140 centimeters, falling mainly between May and October. The You River (Youshui), Feng River (Fengshui) and Qing River (Qingjiang) 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, [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

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]

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.

Origin of the Tujia

The Tujia were first identified by the Imperial Chinese as a distinct group in the 19th century. The facts behind their origin are not clear. There are several conflicting versions about how they evolved. Some believe they descended from the ancient Ba people of Sichuan, a highly cultured people who lived in Sichuan province more than 2,000 years ago. Others identify them as the "Wu Man" (black barbarians) 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. [Source: People’s Daily, Ethnic China]

The prevailing view is that the ancestors of the Tujia were native to the areas where they are found in the densest concentrations and were joined by conquerors and immigrants from different places over a long period of time. According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “They were regarded as a distinct ethnic group in western Hunan and Hubei by the early Five Dynasties period (c. 910 AD). From the twelfth century, through frequent contact with Han settlers, they adopted metallurgical and agricultural techniques and became involved in commercial production and local marketing systems. Tujia continue to interact frequently with neighboring Han and Miao communities. They exchange local products, celebrate some of the same festivals, and at present their children share the same schools at all levels." [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

According to the Communist 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.” 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." [Source: China.org]

As for DNA evidence, Guang-Lin He et.al wrote: We observed the strong genetic assimilation between Tujia people and central Han Chinese, which suggested massive population movements and genetic admixture under language borrowing. Tujia and central Han Chinese could be modeled as a two-way admixture deriving primary ancestry from a northern ancestral population closely related to the ancient DevilsCave and present-day Tibetans and a southern ancestral population closely related to the present-day Tai-Kadai and Austronesian-speaking groups. The ancestral northern population we suspect to be related to the Neolithic millet farming groups in the Yellow River Basin or central China. We showed that the newly genotyped populations in Hubei Province had a higher proportion of DevilsCave or modern Tungusic/Mongolic-related northern ancestries, while the Hunan populations harbored a higher proportion of Austronesian/Tai-Kadai-related southern ancestries. [Source: “Fine-scale genetic structure of Tujia and central Han Chinese revealing massive genetic admixture under language borrowing” by Guang-Lin He,Ying-Xiang Li,Meng-Ge Wang,Xing Zou,Hui-Yuan Yeh,Xiao-Min Yang,Zheng Wang,Ren-Kuan Tang,Su-Min Zhu,Jian-Xin Guo,Ting Luo,Jing Zhao,Jin Sun,Zi-Yang Xia, Journal of Systematics and Evolution August 5, 2020]

Tujia and the Ba and Bo People

The Ba are recognized at least of one of the Tujia ancestors, based on archaeological, historical, and linguistic evidence. The presence of tiger worship among the Ba and Tujia especially suggests continuities between the Ba, two branches of the later Man, and the more recent Tu of the Hunan region. Although most scholars view the Ba as the primary ancestors of the Tujia, the issue of Tujia ancestry is still debated and it is hard to sort out the truth as two millennia of multiethnic interaction make specifying origins difficult. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

Ba hanging coffin

The historical Bo people and the modern Tujia people trace some of their origins back to the people of Ba. Li Jinhui wrote in China.org: The Bo were an ethnic minority people living astride the borders of modern day Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. There they created a brilliant culture as early as 3,000 years ago. The ancestors of the Bo helped the Western Zhou (c.1100 771 B.C.) to overthrow the ruling Yin at the end of the Shang Dynasty (c.1600 1100 B.C.) . [Source: Li Jinhui, China.org.cn, February 10, 2003]

“The Bo differed from other ethnic groups in their burial customs. Typically hewn from durable hardwood logs, their hanging coffins went unpainted. The most recent hanging coffins were made up to about 400 years ago in the middle and later periods of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), while many of the earliest ones date back 1,000 years to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). To date, the earliest hanging coffin was one found in the Three Gorges area, dating back about 2,500 years to the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC- 476 B.C.) .

“The hanging coffin was the most widespread form of burial in ancient southwest China. However, the practice ended with the mysterious disappearance of the Bo People. Those who came after knew them from the hanging coffins and the paintings they left behind like faint echoes on the cliffs. Their ancient flowering of culture like that of the Maya is no more.

“During the later years of the Ming Dynasty, the imperial army cruelly oppressed the ethnic minority peoples of Sichuan and Yunnan. In particular, the Duzhangman and Bo Peoples fell, victims of massacre. To escape their oppression, the Bo migrated to new locations. They hid their real names and integrated into other ethnic groups. Like their culture they have disappeared but their descendents are still here for they are a part of us.

Hanging Coffins of the Bo People

According to Cui Chen, curator of the Yibin Museum, hanging coffins come in three types. Some are cantilevered out on wooden stakes. Some are placed in caves while others sit on projections in the rock. All the three forms can be found in Gongxian where most of China’s hanging coffins are located. Li Jinhui wrote in China.org: “The coffins are mainly clustered around Matangba and Sumawan where some 100 coffins are hung on the limestone cliffs to both sides of the 5,000-meter-long Bochuangou. Survey reports from the early 1990s show Gongxian County having a total of 280 hanging coffins. However in the past 10 years or so nearly 20 have fallen. The coffins were hung at least 10 meters above the ground with the highest ones reaching 130 meters. [Source: Li Jinhui, China.org.cn, February 10, 2003]

In September 2002, a field team composed mainly of cultural and museum specialists and technicians, went to Matangba. They examined their first coffin hung about 20 meters above ground. Here they found the remains of one of the Bo People who had lived some 400 years ago. The skeleton was that of a tall individual. In the coffin they found sand and silt but no burial articles and Cui says this points to the possibility of theft. The coffin, weighing about 200 kg and measuring some 2.0 meters long and 0.7 meters wide, had been cut from a single log. Both the body and lid of the coffin were studded.

“Members of the field team follow rigorous procedures in the cleaning, measuring, classifying and recording of each coffin. Tung oil is applied liberally to preserve the ancient timber then the remains are gently put back and the coffin is returned to the place it had occupied over all these centuries.

“By the second day, five coffins had been opened. A number of precious cultural relics had come to light. These included two blue and white porcelain bowls, an iron knife notable for its unassuming simplicity, another smaller knife and two iron spear points. The experts have dated them to the Ming Dynasty.

“The old records told of only 29 coffins but this time, 16 additional ones were found. These were the ones most difficult to find being located mainly in caves and concealed behind grass and bushes. While examining the coffins some silk and linen textiles were also found. The only coffin to be found on a rock outcrop was not studded like the others. The cover and body of the coffins were connected with timber fastenings. Cliff paintings were also found. These are of great significance to the study of the lives, work, politics, military affairs and culture of the Bo People.

History of the Tujia

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.

Tujia are believed to be descendants of soldiers, farmers, laborers, and exiled convicts who were forced to migrate to the Tujia region of Hunan over two millennia. The earliest known immigrants came in the first millennium B.C. from Chu, Qin, and Han, states whose peoples are considered the ancestors of modern Han Chinese people. The earliest immigrants also included Ba peoples (a multiethnic confederation) who are not considered ancestral to Han. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

Some say the ancestors of the Tujia were descendants of a tribe called Linjun. During the early Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.), the Linjun migrated from Sichuan and Hubei to the western part of Hunan. Since ancient times, the Tujia have lived by hunting, fishing, and slash-and-burn cultivation. Under the leadership of headsmen, they submitted cloth as tribute and tax to the government of successive Chinese dynasties. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Many forced migrations into what are now the Tujia areas during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), both before and after Tujia areas were brought under direct imperial administration in the eighteenth century. Large-scale Han immigration also occurred in the 1930s during the Sino-Japanese war. Repeatedly, descendants of the earlier arrivals found themselves with local status compared to later immigrants. A great deal of intermarriage occurred. |~|

The Tujia have long had a reputation for being clannish, violent, and prone to feuds and rebellion. Uprisings occurred frequently in Tujia areas. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,”In the 8th century, the Tujia in Xizhou district resisted the rule of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and set up an independent regime by force of arms. Later on, a Tujia clan called Peng became strong enough to unify the Wushi district in western Hunan and to rule over it for some 800 years. In the 17th century they pledged allegiance to the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Tujia headmen were appointed as local officials. *\

Historical records from the Song dynasty (960–1276) to the Qing Dynasty refer to the Tujia as Turan (natives), Tuming (native people), and Tujia (native household). Some forced migrations of Han represented attempts to bring in a population that could be ruled more easily. Since 1950 Tujia have fit benignly within the largely Han-run governmental system. |~| *\

Tujia Language

The Tujia language is a Tibetan-Burman language similar to Yi (Loloish), spoken hundreds of kilometers away. The large majority of Tujia speak the Han and Miao languages. Most speak a Chinese dialect. The Tujia had no written language until the Communist government gave them one after 1949. Most Tujia use Chinese characters. No written script for the original Tujia language has been found.

The original Tujia language is only spoken in a few areas. About 20,000-30,000 people living in remote areas such as Longshan and along banks of Youshui River in the Xiangsi Autonomous Prefecture speak Tujia. Old Tujia ways survive only in remote area. [Source: People’s Daily]

The Tujia language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family, Tibeto-Burman group, It is unclear whether it is a form a distinct branch. There are two dialects, one in the north and one in the south, spoken by some 200,000 Tujia.

For the past century or so most Tujia spoke Southwest Mandarin. In 1986 linguists estimated that 170,000 people spoke the northern dialect and 3,000 to 4,000 spoke the southern dialect. The area where the northern dialect was spoken included the Qing River in Hubei, the Youshui River in northwestern Hunan, eastern Sichuan, and southeastern Guizhou. The southern dialect zone area, with a quarter of the northern zone's population, included the Wu River in Hunan. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Tujia Religion

Possible Tujia script

Traditional Tujia religious beliefs have included Taoism, ancestor worship and a shamanistic belief in gods, ghosts and demons. Tujia religious beliefs and practices borrow from the Han Taoism and ancestor worship) and merge these with earlier beliefs of ghosts and evil spirits and various gods. There are Daoist temples in the Tujia areas, with Daoist priests and nuns. Formerly, prayers were said before hunting, and when a person died,

According to Han Chinese historical documents, the Tujia worshiped mountains, stones, trees, and especially white tigers. By the early 20th century their religious were largely in line Han folk religion traditions, especially among the those in the northern Tujia dialect areas. Local variants included the Wu magical tradition and the worship of three of deities with surnames Peng, Tian, and Xiang derived from historical indigenous rulers. In the early 20th century Catholicism and Protestant missionaries made some inroads into Tujia areas. some converts. All religious beliefs were suppressed during the Cultural Revolution. It was only in the 1980s that people began openly carrying out religious practices. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

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\=/]

Tujia Shaman and Religious Practitioners

Folk healers (tulaoshi), who specialized in warding off malicious spirit, and part-time shamans who can chant the mythic history of the people are still found today .“In the early twentieth century two types of religious practitioners were particularly important: wizards (wushi or duangong in Mandarin, timo in Tujia) and Daoist priests. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

According to the "Encyclopedia of World Cultures": Timo (shaman-priests, wizards) primarily treated the living, providing supernatural and sometimes herbal remedies for illnesses and other troubles. They also conducted expensive multiday rituals honoring ancestors. At the New Year some wizards traveled house to house to extort money by threatening to leave harmful charms. Daoist priests primarily conducted funerary rituals to send spirits of the dead to the afterworld. Although banned in the 1950s, many wizards and Daoist priests continued practicing until the Cultural Revolution. In the 1990s people again hired elderly wizards trained before 1949, though usually not Daoist priests.

Timo were traditionally 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.

White Tiger, Hunter Goddess and Heavenly King

Tujia white tiger on roof eaves

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. A legend from a northern Tujia dialect zone told of an ancestor's soul becoming a white tiger and needing sacrifices of human blood to protect his descendants. Worship of white tigers (one benevolent and one malicious) persisted in southern Tujia dialect areas through 1949.

The Tujia reverence to the white tiger is centuries old and is related to the name of their ancestor Linjun (meaning "tiger" in ancient times). The White Tiger God and other gods are worshiped with shrines at home. On the first of November (lunar calendar; Western calendar, between November 24 and December 22) Tujia offer sacrifice to the White Tiger and pray for the prosperity of their family.

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 Linjun (Lin Jun). Linjun 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 Linjun 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. [Source: Chinatravel.com\=/]

The Tujia also tell a story about a brave female hunter called Meishan. C. Le Blanc wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” She was killed in a fight with a group of wild hogs and was transformed into a goddess who protected the hunters. Shortly after the Spring Festival, the Tujia used to organize a hunt in the forest. Before starting off, they always offered sacrifices to the Hunter Goddess Meishan. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“An important belief among the Tujia is that the Heavenly King will, in the final instance, settle lawsuits, reversing unjust verdicts and eliminating calamities. Whenever the Tujia fall seriously ill, they pray and make a vow to the Heavenly King in the temple. As soon as they recover from the illness, they offer sacrifices and redeem their vow. When they suffer an injustice, they also go to the King, drink a mixture of cat blood and wine, and ask that the lawsuit be settled by the god. In order to prepare for the celebration of the July Seventh Festival (lunar calendar; Western calendar, between August 1 and 29), butchery, hunting, fishing, music playing, and wearing red are prohibited for a period of two days. Those who violate the ban will be punished by the Heavenly King and will suffer a misfortune. *\

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. said 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. ==

In general, these "dancing funerals" were only held in a small region and dancing only occurred for an elderly person with surviving children. Women and sons of the deceased never danced. In many cases, people hired professional musicians to play and sing. In some areas, descendants visited the grave annually for three years, bringing special paper banners that provided a place for souls to hide from the arrows shot at them by ghosts. Like the Han, Tujia used to make ancestral tablets, however, not every person had a tablet, and there was no belief that an ancestor without a tablet would have to beg in the afterworld, a belief common among Han Chinese. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Tujia Festivals and Catching New Year

Among the many Tujia traditional festivals are "April 8th", "June 6th" and "Tujia New Year". Among the celebrations described as distinctively Tujia are ancestral ceremonies accompanied by special handwaving dances, an annual grave-lighting ceremony, and some death rituals. In the 1990s the state encouraged the celebration of some festivals, but no single festival was celebrated by all Tujia. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Zhang Haiyang, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

"Tujia New Year" is the biggest Tujia celebration. Also known as "Catching the New Year". it coincides with Chinese New Year ( Spring Festival , between January 21 and February 20 on the Western calendar). and is generally celebrated one day earlier than the true date. There is a reason for this. In the 17th century, Tujia soldiers were a key component of fight against the Japanese invaders. One day, they learned that Japanese were planning a surprise attack on the lunar New Year. The Tujia organized their own surprise attack one day before the Spring Festival. This ended in a great victory for the Tujia.Afterwards, acknowledged their heroes by celebrating New Year one day ahead. Featured New Year foods include a casserole of pork, vegetables, carrots, bean starch noodles, deep-fried bean curd, and rice. Early in the morning people set off firecrackers to "welcome the New Year." [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

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, ~; Chinatravel.com \=/]

There are many stories on the origin of "Catching the New Year", most of them related to wars. . The most widely told is the story above. 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. One variation of the story goes, the imperial court ordered soldiers from Hunan and Hubei to drive away the invaders who 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.

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.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) Chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Wikipedia, BBCand various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated October 2022

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