rightThe Qiang are an ethnic group that lives in the forests and rugged mountains that rise up to the Tibetan plateau in western Sichuan. They are closely related to Tibetans and other Tibetan-related groups like the Naxi and Pumi. They are best known in the West for occupying the same region as giant pandas. They are possibly the indigenous people of China. [Source: Gerald A. Huntley, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

The “Qiang” refers themselves the Rma. "Qiang" has traditionally be a derogatory Chinese term used by the Han Chinese to describe outsiders. The Qiang are also known as the Di, Manzi, Rong, Rma, Ch'iang. and “Stone Tower” culture. They call themselves "Ri Ma", "Ri Biao", "Ru Ma", and "Er Ma. Qiang in Chinese means shepherds. Historically they were shepherds and the Sacred Sheep was prayed to as a god. The term Qiang is also used is also used to refer to a number of groups (including Tibetans) that inhabit China's western frontier and have matrilineal and matriarchal traditions. Qiang subgroups include the Baima, Ersu. Jiarong, Muya, Muyami, Namuyi, Heisuhui Qiang and Boluozo. After the Qiang themselves, the second largest group is the Jiarong, with a population of around 180,000.

The Qiangs are mainly farmers and animal herders. The area where they live is hilly and mountainous and crisscrossed by rivers and streams. They land is fertile, the climate is mild and there is adequate rain but is prone to earthquakes as the massive quake in 2008 showed. The mountain slopes have natural pastures for grazing animals. The area abounds in precious Chinese caterpillar fungus and fritillary bulbs and has traditionally been a place where antlers, musk and bear's gallbladders, used in Chinese medicine, were collected. Deep in the forests are such rare animals as giant pandas and golden monkeys. The region is also rich in iron, coal, crystal, mica and plaster stone deposits. [Source: China.org]

Websites and Sources: New Year video YouTube ; Book Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ; Chinese Government Law on Minorities china.org.cn ; Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Ethnic China ethnic-china.com ;Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; People’s Daily (government source) peopledaily.com.cn ; Paul Noll site: paulnoll.com ; Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China Books: Ethnic Groups in China, Du Roufu and Vincent F. Yip, Science Press, Beijing, 1993; An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China, Olson, James, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1998; “China's Minority Nationalities,” Great Wall Books, Beijing, 1984; “From Guardians of National Heritage to Entrepreneurs of the Ethnic Imagination and the Construction of Contemporary Qiang Identity” by Yanshuo Zhang

Qiang Language Speakers Verus the Qiang

Qiang can refer to: 1) the distinctive culture shared by speakers of languages belonging to the Qiang Language Branch (QLB) of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family or 2) the Qiang one of China's officially recognized minority nationalities or minzu. QLB speakers includes but is not limited to, the Qiang officially recognized by China. The two main QLB-speaking groups are Qiang and their Jiarong neighbors. [Source: Gerald A. Huntley, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Gerald A. Huntley wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Historically, the term "Qiang" has been used to refer to a number of groups (including Tibetans), usually characterized as acephalous, warlike, and matrilineal and/or matriarchal, who inhabited extensive areas on China's western frontier. Today's Qiang were given that name (they call themselves the "Rma") because of supposed cultural affinities and historical ties with the historical group. Self-identity, in the sense of being a minzu, is foreign to most of these peoples, an exception being the Qiang themselves.

Most QLB speakers of the Qiang Language Branch (QLB) of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family, including Jiarong, are officially classified as Tibetan, an artifact of the "United Front" period following Liberation (1949), when the new government was anxious to enlist the support of the Tibetanized ruling class. Today, the idea of being a minzu is taking hold. In 1960 the Pumi were recognized as a separate minzu, and now other groups are asking for similar recognition. |~|

“Speakers of QLB languages are found in the mountain corridor separating the Tibetan highlands from the Chinese lowlands to the east. They are distributed in an arc stretching from Nanping in northwestern Sichuan Province (34° N and 105° E) to Lijiang in northern Yunnan Province (27° N and 101° E). The Qiang are situated on the eastern edge of the corridor, while the Jiarong are located to their west, both groups being distributed between 30° and 32.5° N. The distribution of QLB speakers was probably continuous in the past, although groups are now frequently separated by intrusions of Han Chinese, Yi, and Tibetans. The region is deeply dissected by river valleys, high mountains and rough terrain which has traditionally divided groups of people and allowed distinct cultures, languages and dialects to develop.

Today, there are maybe around 700,000 speakers of QLB languages, compared to 550,000 in the 1990s, the largest group being the Qiang themselves, with an estimated population of 310,000. In Maowen Xian, where the Qiang comprise over 78 percent of the population, their average density was about 23 square kilometers (effective concentrations being much higher) in the 1990s. The Jiarong, who comprise the second largest group with a population of maybe 230,000, compared to 180,000 in the 1990s, have a much lower population density (about 4 square kilometers).

Qiang Population and Regions

The Qiang are spread across five counties in Sichuan, including Beichuan Qiang Country, the only ethnic Qiang county in China, a status it achieved in 2003. They mainly live in Sichuan Province in Aba Prefecture in Maoxian, Lixian, Wenxian counties. They are concentrated in the Mao county in the Aba Zang and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan, others are scattered over Wenchuan, Li, Heishui, Songpan counties in Aba, Danba county in Ganzi Zang Autonomous Prefecture, Beichuan county in Mianyang city and Shiqian, Jiangkou counties in Guizhou Province. In Wenchuan, Dali, Heishui and Songpan, they live among Tibetans, Han Chinese and Hui ethnic groups. [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 Qiang are the 28th largest ethnic group out of 56 in China and the 27th largest minority. They numbered 309,576 and made up 0.02 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census. Qiang population in China in the past: 306,476 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 198,252 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 35,660 were counted in 1953; 49,105 were counted in 1964; and 109,760 were, in 1982. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Qiang region

Population growth has been high among the Qiang in recent decades — 4.2 percent per year for the Qiang, compared with 2.1 percent for China as a whole in the 1990s. At the time ethnic minorities were not restricted by the one Child Policy and were families were allowed to have two children. Many were willing and able to pay the fines imposed for additional children and had more children. In the past, the area suffered from endemic population decline; the population of some areas fell well over 50 percent in the 200 years prior to Communist Chinese takeover in 1949 apparently a result of high levels of internal warfare. Slave raids in the lowlands and migrations may have been necessary to maintain steady population levels. Even today individual mobility is high, especially among males. [Source: Gerald A. Huntley, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

Much of the area occupied by the Qiang and Qiang-language speakers is characterized by deep river valleys, high mountains and rough terrain The rivers tend to cut deeper as they approach the lowlands and consequently valley walls tend to be steeper and the relative height of mountains greater in areas adjacent to the lowlands. Higher areas to the west have more gentle slopes. In most areas, the mountain tops tend to be relatively level. Rainfall is plentiful at higher elevations, whereas lower slopes are semiarid. Fields below 1,500 meters often require irrigation. Middle elevations (above 2,500 meters) are forested, and wet meadows cover slopes above treeline. Forests and high pasture cover about 90 percent of the area. At lower elevations the climate is mild, double cropping being possible below about 2,000 meters. |~|

Origin of the Qiang

The Qiang are a very old nationality. They were one of the first ethnic groups to be chronicled to in the Chinese historical record. Possibly the indigenous people of China, they were referred to in the 12th century B.C. by the Zhou, who originated from the western plains near the mountains in Gansu where the Qiang lived. The Zhou identified the Qiang as allies and the two groups were very similar and may have exchanged women. During this period, there seems to have little been differentiation between between lowlanders and mountain people. It was not until the sixth century B.C.,, with the spread of intensive agriculture in the east, that the two cultures began to become more distinct. [Source: Gerald A. Huntley, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

As early as three thousand years ago, the Qiangs were recorded in inscriptions on oracle bones or tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty. The Qiang are particularly associated with the Gansu corridor, an area that embraces the region where present-day Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai Provinces all come together, eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. They were ethnically known as Tanguts, relatives to the Tibetans. Yandi Shen Nong (a legendary ruler), regarded as the founding ancestor of agriculture in China, had surname Jiang and was regarded as a Qiang. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]

The Qiang are said to have descended from the so-called people of the clouds. "Qiang" was a name given by ancient Hans to the nomadic people in west China. The Qiangs were not a single distinctive ethnic group then. According to historical records, a clan group made their homes in what is today's Sichuan Province. The Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) court in the 2nd century had set up an administrative prefecture for the area. During A.D. 600 to 900 when the Tibetan kingdom gradually expanded its rule over the region, some Qiangs were assimilated by the Tibetans and others by the Hans, leaving a small number unassimilated. These developed into the distinctive ethnic group of today. [Source: China.org ]

Early Qiang History

During the Shang period (17th-11th century B.C.) the Qiang delivered tributes to the Chinese royal court and are mentioned in the oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang. According to the Classic Shangshu "Book of Documents" the Qiang supported King Wu of Zhou in the conquest of the Shang empire (17th-11th century B.C.). Zhou period sources say that the Qiang were part of the western Rong. During the reign of King Xuan (r. 827-782 B.C.) the Qiang defeated the Chinese royal army several times. The Rong of Shen and the Rong of Jiang (i.e. Qiang) united with the "Dog" Rong Quanrong , defeated King You (r. 781-771) and devastated the royal Chinese capital in Zongzhou (near modern Xi'an , Shaanxi). The Zhou court was forced to flee to the east, where the Eastern Zhou period (770-221 B.C.) was initiated. During the Spring and Autumn period (770-5th century B.C.) the Qiang entered Chinese territory several times. They were also used by the dukes of Jin as mercenaries against their enemies. During the Warring States period (5th century-221 B.C.) the region of modern Gansu was inhabited by the Rong of Yiqu, a people that cremated their dead. It can be assumed that they were Qiang, too. They were described in Chinese historical records as a warlike people and often attacked villages of the state of Qin. King Zhaoxiang of Qin (r. 307-251) finally forced the Qiang into submission and founded the commanderies (jun) of Longxi and Beidi. [Source: chinaknowledge.de -]

possible Qiang ancestor migration routes based on DNA markers

According to Chinese sources the ancient Qiang never had a uniting ruler but consisted of many tribes that lived as pastoral nomads, with some engaged in agricultural activities. In the late Warring States period the most important chieftain Yuanjian founded a dynasty. During the rule of his descendant Ren, the Chinese Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) expanded China to the west. Ren's uncle Ang moved his people farther to the southwest. These groups were known as the Qiang of Maoniu , Baima and Canlang during the Han period (206 B.C.-220 CE). Ren's descendants continued living in the Hehuang area, the upper course of the Yellow River.

In 61 B.C. Qiang tribes rebelled against Chinese rule and a particularly ruthless and cruel commandant. Emperor Xuan (r. 74-49 B.C.) sent out general Zhao Chongguo to the west. He was able to pacify the Qiang with a minimal amount of bloodshed. He founded military agro-colonies (tuntians ) in which the Qiang were settled and founded towns, built streets and irrigation canals. These efforts were supported by the immigration of many Chinese settlers whose presence brought development to Qiang areas but also helped establish supply lines that helped the Han conquer the Western Territories. At the beginning of the Later Han period more and more Qiang people migrated to the west, and were sometimes even invited to settle down in China proper. These groups of Qiang were called Eastern Qiang. Many became slaves of large landowners. In the meantime the Western Qiang were still having a rough time under the Commandant protector and they frequently rose up in rebellion against Han Chinese rule. There were large-scale rebellions in A.D. 106, 136 and 159, the last of which took ten years to put down. The military activities of the rebellious Qiang had political and military ramifications that affected a large area outside the Qiang regions that led to a decline of central Chinese control of local administration. -

Qiang Migrations

In the 6th century B.C. as the Zhou and Chinese became increasingly involved in intensive agriculture the Qiang began migrating from northern China through the Gansu corridor towards their present homeland in Yunnan and Sichuan. There were reports of Qiang states in the A.D. 4th and 5th centuries. After that they were absorbed into Tibetan empires and then China after the Mongol armies passed through the area. From the 4th to 7th centuries the Qiang undertook several large-scale migrations, in the process giving birth to other ethic groups. The descendants of today’s Qiang moved into Sichuan Province and settled in the Maowen, Songfan, Wenchuan, Liaxian and other places on the upper reaches of Minjiang River.

At the beginning of the Han period the northern steppe federation of the Xiongnu soundly defeated the Qiang and the Qing asked the Chinese Han court to be allowed to migrate more eastwards. Emperor Jing (r. 157-141 B.C.) allowed the Qiang to settle down in Didao , Angu , Lintao , Didao and Qiangdao (all in the modern province of Gansu). Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 B.C.) finally decided to engage the challenge by the Xiongnu militarily. He sent an army to the west, set up fortified garrisons and regular districts (xian ) there and brought various Qiang tribes under the Chinese control under the leadership of the Commandant protector of the Qiang (hu Qiang xiaowei ). [Source: chinaknowledge.de -]

During the Three Kingdoms period (A.D. 220-280) some Qiang fought for the Wei empire (220-265), while others were used as mercenaries by the empire of Shu (221-263). Many Qiang migrated to present-day Shaanxi and Sichuan, where they remained and settled among the Chinese population, with many serving as tenant farmers and serfs to local landlords. In 296 the Malan Qiang of Fengyu and Beidi joined Xiongnu and Di tribes, a large-scale and successful rebellion against the Jin dynasty (265-420) and the Chinese landlords. The Di chieftain Qi Wannian defeated the Jin army at Liubai (modern Qianxian , Shaanxi) and was proclaimed emperor. The Qiang courtier Jiang Tong offered tribute to Qi Wannian and suggested moving all Qiang people back to the upper course of the Yellow River, in order to avoid further problems with the Chinese local administration, but his suggestion was not considered very practical. -

During the reign of Emperor Huai (r. 306-312) the chieftain of the Shaodang Qiang of Nan'an , Yao Yizhong , moved to the metropolitan region of Fufeng with tens of thousands of Qiang. His son Yao Chang usurped the throne of the Former Qin empire (A.D. 351-394), founded by the Di chieftain Fu Jian, and proclaimed the Later Qin empire (384-417). In the century that followed the Qiang merged with the surrounding population, be it Chinese or non-Chinese. Around 600 they were indistinguishable from Chinese. During the Tang period (618-907) the Qiang of Dangxiang moved to the region of Xiazhou , where they eventually founded the Western Xia empire (1038-1227). They are known as the Tanguts proper and are called Dangxiang in Chinese. Another people of the Qiang, living in the upper course of River Min in modern Qinghai, was known as Ran or Mang during the Han period. It is believed that these people were the ancestors of the modern Qiang. In the Yuan Dynasty, many outstanding generals were Qiangs.-

Later Qiang History

Qiang tributary

The Qiang and Han peoples have traditionally had close political, economic and cultural ties. Administratively, Han courts from the Qin, Han, Sui and Tang dynasties down to the Ming Dynasty all had political units in the Qiang-occupied areas. During much of the imperial Chinese era, the Qiang existed under the tusi system. Under this system, local sovereigns (called "tusi" in Chinese) were given fiefs in return for nominal recognition of imperial authority. Over time, the system spread through most of Qiang areas. In some cases,headmen from other minority areas, were given fiefs to rule over. [Source: Gerald A. Huntley, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

In the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the system of appointing local hereditary headmen by the central authority to rule over the Qiangs gave way to officials dispatched from the court. In the 18th system the tusi were ousted in an attempt by the Chinese to bring the Qiang under their direct control. Horses and medicinal herbs from Qiang areas and neighboring Tibet were greatly valued by the Han Chinese. By the end of the 19th century most Qiang areas had been brought under Chinese control. However, most states in the Jiarong area as well as areas inhabited by Jiarong and Qiang under Jiarong headmen, managed to retain varying degrees of autonomy until the 1950s. |~|

According to Chinese government: There were Qiang soldiers stationed in Guangdong and Zhejiang that fought against the invaders in the Opium Wars. The Revolution of 1919 and the Long March of the Red Army were vigorously supported by the Qiangs. For a long period before China’s national liberation in 1949, the Qiangs lived in primitive conditions marked by slash and burn farming. A feudal landlord economy dominated production. Landlords and rich peasants, who accounted for only 8 percent of the population, were in possession of 43 percent of the cultivated land. Poor peasants and hired farm hands, accounting for 43 percent of the population, had only 16 percent of the land. Many poor peasants lost their land due to heavy rent coupled with usury. They became hired laborers, wandering from place to place to make a living. [Source: China.org |]

“The Qiang area was liberated in January 1950. In July, 1958 the Maowen Qiang Autonomous County was established. By relying on collective efforts, they carried out large-scale capital construction projects in their rocky region, where productivity used to be low because of backward local conditions and the shortage of men. Among the projects were tractor stations, reservoirs, hydroelectric stations and pumping and drainage facilities. Now more farm machinery is used and scientific farming methods have been introduced. Grain output increases every year. |

In the Qiang area, which had no industry and highways before, enterprises have sprung up and two concrete and 28 steel-chain bridges have been built over the Minjiang River. The area's total highway mileage has reached 260 kilometers. A postal route network covers every corner of the area. The over 20 primary and nine middle schools that have been built in post-1949 years enroll over more than 80 percent of school-age children. Thanks to the efforts of medical workers, mass screening and treatment has brought black fever and hook worm, two major epidemic diseases, under control. New delivery methods have greatly raised the infant survival rate and the Qiang population has risen markedly. The Qiang area is dotted with small hydroelectric power stations. Electricity reaches almost all households and is used in processing farm and sideline produce and in mining and industry. People's life has been enriched by village film projection teams and a broadcasting network.

Qiang, Pandas, National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Wolong Nature Reserve (120 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, two hour by bus from Chengdu) is the panda reserve most visited by Western scientists and tourists. Set up in 1963, Wolong Reserve covers 500,000 acres (800 square miles) and is home to about 150 pandas as well 20 kinds of reptile, 280 species of bird and 4,000 species of plant . Among the 96 mammal species are endangered golden monkeys, which travel in groups up to 300 animals; takin, a strange looking animal related to the musk ox; and tufted deer, which have odd-looking, protruding canine teeth. Around 3,000 people, most of then members of the Tibetan-like Qiang minority, farm some of the slopes in the reserve.

Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve (2½ hours by bus from Songpan and 13 hours from Chengdu in northern Sichuan) is one of the world's most stunning and beautiful places. Situated in remote and largely uninhabited area of China, it was described by Edward Hoagland in National Geographic as a “chain of flower-colored, ribbony lakes and fingery waterfalls, underneath escarpments chevroned with maple, spruce, or bamboo forests cut by the talus of old landslides." The predominate ethnic group here is also the Qiang,

Dujiangyan Irrigation System (60 kilometers northwest Chengdu) is an ancient project that contains several dams, canals and water diversion schemes that turned this part of Sichuan into the "land of abundance." Situated on the Min River and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dujiangyan was launched by Governor Li Bing of the Qin State in 256 B.C., during China's Warring States Period (476-221 B.C.). Dujiangyan is the oldest and the only preserved dam-free water diversion irrigation infrastructure in the world. Many people that live around the irrigation system are Qiang.

Qiang and the Devastating 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

2008 Sichuan Earthquake
The Qiang area was the hardest hit area by the devastating earthquake in Sichuan which occurred at 2:28 pm on May 12, 2008 and measured 7.9 or 8 on the Richter scale. It struck in Sichuan Province, just north of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Dujiangyan, and killed around 87,000 people (with 69,000 accounted for and another 18,000 unaccounted for) and injuried more than 374,000. The quake destroyed or damaged more than 15 million homes, left 5 million to 10 million homeless. displaced 1.5 million and caused more than $20 billion in damage.

Approximately 10 percent of the total population of Qiang in 1998 — about about 306,000 people — died in the earthquake. Nearly 60 percent of the resident’s of earthquake-devastated Beichuan, the closest town to the epicenter, were Qiang. The quake leveled much of the town and killed about a third of its population. Situated in a narrow valley along a river bend, between towering Sichuan mountains, Beichuan was about 100 kilometers north of the quake’s epicenter and was severely shaken by the quake and buried by landslides. The quake leveling 80 percent of the buildings in the old town and 60 percent of the buildings in the new town. Around 8,600 of the of the towns s 22,000 inhabitants, many of them Qiang, More than 1,000 were killed in Beichuan Middle School alone.

Thousands were killed in the large towns Mianyang, Mian zhu and Denyang. Many of the residents there were Qiang and Tibetans. Tangjiashan, a village of 4,000, was destroyed by a landslide. Hanwang was another devastated town. Lin Yang wrote in Time, “Unclaimed bodies lay under bloody sheets. A six-meter-tall statue of a rider on horseback has been decapitated by the violent shaking. The hands of a clock in a tower in the town square were struck as 2:28pm.”

Assimilation and Exploitation of the Qiang

Qiang customs and language have nearly vanished, victims of modernization and a forced policy of assimilation. Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “Over the centuries, ethnic Chinese, or Han Chinese, had already pushed minority groups into the mountains, giving them the generic name of “Qiang.” The word itself is Chinese and originated as a name for a deer-like animal — a common case of the Chinese language using derogatory terms for other peoples. Today, the term “Qiang” refers to a people who call themselves the Rma.

“Today’s state — as, in centuries past, dominated by ethnic Chinese — offered a modern version of historic patterns of displacement. First, Qiang cultural practices were recorded and turned into ethnographic objects as “intangible cultural heritage.” This was then packaged as a tourist destination for Chengdu’s inhabitants. Slogans were tossed about, such as turning the stretch from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou scenic area into a “Tibetan-Qiang cultural corridor.” [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books, May 9, 2018]

Earthquake-devastated Beichuan’s is being turned into an Qiang ethnic minority tourist park with Jina — the site of amass remarriage ceremony after the earthquake — as its showpiece. Leveled by the earthquake, the stone village was entirely rebuilt in just seven months. The 69 families who live there wear festive Qiang costumes, dance to Qiang music and decorate every house with traditional emblems: corncobs, peppers, sheep skulls . . . and Chinese flags.

Qiang Language

The languages spoken by the Qiang and their affiliated groups belongs to the Qiang language branch of the Tibetan-Burmese group in the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. The Qiang language has two main dialects: the southern dialect and the northern dialect. The southern dialect is widely spoken in some areas of Maoxian and Wenchuan counties, whereas the northern dialect is more widely spoken in Shaba, Chibusu, Songpan County, Heishui County and Beichuan County. There are many variations of the two prevalent dialect. Many Qiang speak, read and write Chinese. The Qiang people who live near roads or areas of near Han and Tibet are more likely to speak Chinese. Many Qiang speak Chinese at home. [Source: Chinatravel.com; [Source: Gerald A. Huntley, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Qiang Language Branch (QLB) languages were once considered archaic dialects of Tibetan; today there is an emerging consensus that they should be considered a separate branch of the Tibeto-Burmese Family. There is some dispute as to which languages should be included in this group; this is to be expected, given the complex history of the area and degree of linguistic diversity. QLB languages are basically monosyllabic, although complex words may be built through affixation. Tones exist, but are often not phonemic. QLB languages are more complex than Tibetan languages; some Qiang dialects have 42 or more simple consonants (occurring in clusters of 2 and 3) and 30 simple vowels. Affixation is used with verbs to express person, number, and tense, and pronouns may display case. QLB languages make liberal use of directional prefixes, each utterance tending to fix the position of the speaker with regard to his or her audience.

None of these language have a written form other than some simple pictograms used by shaman. The languages are written in both Chinese and Tibetan. The Qiang traditionally have used Chinese characters for the Qiang language. Ancestors of the Qiangs—the Dangxiang Qiangs—created and used the ancient Western Xia written language. In 1989, the Chinese government promoted the creation of Qiang characters. There is now an effort to use these characters in Qiang inhabited areas.

Qiang Religion

The Qiang practice shamanism, animism, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism and the local “White Stone Religion.” Most Qiangs were believers of animism, except for those who live near Tibetan communities. They are followers of Tibetan Buddhism. The Qiangs have traditionally worshipped white stones placed on roofs and altars as the "Heavenly God." In spite of being widespread the meaning of this white stone remains unknown. This religion incorporates animism and shamanism with the worship of a pantheon of gods. There are a number of myths about the creation of mankind through the union of a daughter of a heaven god and earthly monkey. The Heavenly God is the most important deity. It protects people and their animals and is venerated in shrines inside every house. In these shrines are also revered the gods of the family: the ancestors' god, the goddess of the women, the gods of the men. [Source: Ethnic China; Gerald A. Huntley, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Shaman do healing, preside over ceremonies and recite texts while beating on a goatskin drum. Festivals and ceremonies often involve the invocation of spirits through the burning of juniper branches. These are performed while sitting around a campfire outdoors. After death, bodies are kept around the house for a few days and mourned and then cremated. Children or people who died away from their homes were not mourned. Their bodies were thrown in a river. Under Chinese influence, burial has become more common.

Not very many Qiang became Christans, perhaps because of their isolation or maybe because of their independence. Mountain people still diplay great respect for spirits, in many cases burning juniper branches on rooftop altars everyday. Religion has experienced a revival in recent years Li Xian, a Buddhist cult started by Qiang has gained adherents among the Han Chinese.

Qiang White Stone Religion

The Qiang have traditionally believed that white stone and fir trees are symbols of all gods. The white stone is a kind of white quartz. The early morning of the 3rd day of the first lunar month, during the white stone festival, Qiang families take time to worship white stone. Offerings like wine and steamed bun are presented before the spirit tablet of the white stone on the roof of the family's house, and cypress boughs are set on fire to worship gods. As the morning darkness disappears, fragrant smoke from the offerings hang over the village. [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]

In Qiang lands white stones are find everywhere: In the peaks of the mountains, in the middle of the forest, on the roof of the buildings or in the inners rooms of a house. They are a symbol of the respect of the Qiang towards their gods and represent mountain god, sheep god, stone god, ox god and other gods for things that are valuable to the Qiangs. White stone statues are objects of offerings. An old Qiang adage goes: "White stones are put on the path and black stones are put near the path", which illustrates that they divide black and white clearly and white stone has high opposition in their mind. White stands for justice and being reasonable and black stands for evil and poor-discipline. The purpose of setting up white stone spiritual tablet on roof is to fight evil with correct behavior and protect family members.

On the roof of every Qiang tower usually there are five white stones. They symbolize the God of Heaven, God of Earth, God of the Mountains, God of the Trees and Goddess of the Mountains According to legend origin of worshipping white stones dates back the grand migration of the ancient Qiangs, who traveled to the upper reaches of the Minjiang River where they live now, and were invaded by "Gejis". Inspired by gods, the leader of the Qiangs used white stones and hard sticks as weapons and defeated the enemies. The Qiangs felt thankful to gods, but they didn't know what the gods looked like, so they used white stones as substitutes and have worshipped and offered sacrifice to them ever since. Some anthropologists believed to be the worship of the white stones is form of ancestor worship because the ancestors created stone artifacts and primitive farming tools and weapons were composed of stone. Stone has traditionally been deeply respected by ancient human beings because of its solidness and firmness. Nuwa (a goddess in legend) patched the holes in the sky with colorful stones, Jingwei (name of a mythical bird in legend) tried to fill up the sea with pebbles, there is legend about the stone in Mount Tai which can resist evil, and there is Giant Stone Worship in many places in the south, all of which are evidence. The Qiangs build house with stone, build weir with stone and they are famous for the stonemasons who make a living with their consummate skills. So it is not surprising that they respect and worship white stone.

Qiang Shaman

In the old days, shamans in Qiang areas were in charge of religious events and temples. These shaman had regular day jobs in the Qiang society. Only men could preside over important religious affairs. The shamans had the authority to marry as well. Qiang scriptures and teaching were recited aloud because they lacked a system of writing. This shaman had to memorize texts and scriptures that were passed on to them orally. Before grand ceremonies, shamans couldn't eat Chinese onions and garlic for 49 days. In order to show their respect to the deities, they cleaned themselves thoroughly before the ceremony. Shamans were also involved in holding sacrificial rites to the Holy Mountain, curing diseases, repairing houses, presiding over wedding ceremonies and naming babies. Shamans had very high positions in Qiang areas. They are not only served as mediums between humans and gods, but also acted as spreaders of their own culture. See More on Shaman Below. [Source: Chinatravel.com ]

Qiang shaman-like figures are called "shibi". The main religious specialists among the Qiang, they know the history and laws of the community and are believed to have the power to communicate with the spirits. They preside over the cult to the mountains, heal sickness, expel devils and bad spirits, take preventive measures to avoid disasters, call souls of the dead, practice divination, and preside also over the building or repairing of a house, weddings, and choosing name ceremonies for the new born. Shibi must preside also funeral ceremonies for the dead and are thought to have the ability to foretell and step in a pot or in the blade of a plough. Most shibi are ordinary farmers or have some regular job but enjoy the respect of the rest of the community. As the Qiang have no written language they are the keepers of their sacred traditions, transmitted through them, from one generation to the next. [Source: Ethnic China *]

“The primary tools of the shibi are a goat-skin drum, monkey head cap, magic stick and gongs. Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “All these characteristics point to the classical shaman works and tools. The drum of goat's skin is very important in their sacred ceremonies; it is possible that, as happens with Siberian shamans, it helps them to reach a shamanic state of conscience. They think that the sacred knowledge can be acquired through the drum. One of their myths tells that a hungry goat ate the sacred books the gods give them, and the only way of recover the lost knowledge is beating a drum of goat's skin. They know an impressive corpus of sacred scriptures that can be divided in three levels. The scriptures of the superior temple are these related to the ceremonies of the gods. Of the middle temple, are those related with weddings and funerals, the human world; of the inferior temple, are related with the devils' world. In Maoxian County and other places the shamans have illustrated books, without words. *\

Qiang Festivals and Ceremonies

Major ceremonies have traditionally been held three times a year, in sacred groves or pastures located above the villages. These usually involved in the burning of juniper branches, the invocation of spirits, and sometimes included blood sacrifice. These ceremonies often end in camp-fire outings, which allowed young people to pusue their romantic interests. In some areas a springtime agricultural festival was attended only by women.[Source: Gerald A. Huntley, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

There is a coming of age ceremony when a boy becomes 15 years old. People sit around a fire and the boy, wearing new clothes, kowtow to the picture of his ancestor. A shaman presents him with an amulet. The Qiang people have many forms of funerals, including cremation, interment, sky burial, and cliff burial. After death, the body is kept in the house for several days of mourning, after which it is removed, sometimes through a hole in the wall opposite the door. Those that cremated the dead, buried their ashes in communal plots or placed them in caves. Bodies of children or people who die away from home are not mourned, but thrown into rivers. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

The "Qiang Nian Festival" and the sacrificial rite to the Holy Mountain are the important folk festivals in the Qiang area. Holy Mountains rites are held in spring and fall respectively. Qiang pray to have good weather in spring and thank god for the harvest in fall. In different regions, the sacrificial rite to the Holy Mountain are held at different times: Some in January, some in April and some in May. Some of them hold it once, some twice, while some three times in one year. The procedures of the rite are very complicated. Different areas have different totems, and there are three major forms in the rite: the Sacred Sheep, the Sacred Ox, and the Sacred Dog. The ceremony is held in a sacred area in the forest. \=/

Qiang New Year

The main "Qian Nian Festival" is presided over by the Qiang shamans on the 1st day of the 10th lunar month (usually in December). It usually lasts 3 to 5 days; however, some villages spend 10 days. According to Qiang custom, people offer a sacrifice to the Sky Divinity, the Mountain Divinity, and the Village Divinity. At that time, people in the village will get together to for a feast and drink and dance. The festival is presided over by the shamans. [Source: Chinatravel.com]

According to UNESCO: The solemn ritual sacrifice of a goat to the mountain is performed by villagers clad in their finest ceremonial dress, under the careful direction of a shibi (priest). This is followed by the communal sheepskin-drum and salang dances, led by the shibi. The ensuing festivities combine merrymaking with the chanting of traditional Qiang epics by the shibi, singing and the drinking of wine. At the end of the day the heads of families preside over family worship during which sacrifices and offerings are made. Through the festival, Qiang traditions distilling history and cultural information are renewed and diffused, and social behaviours are reinforced, the community expressing respect and worship towards all creatures, the motherland and their ancestors. [Source: UNESCO]

The Qiang New Year Festival was inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2009. UNESCO said: The Qiang New Year Festivalis an occasion for the Qiang people of China’s Sichuan Province to offer thanks and worship to heaven for prosperity, reaffirm their harmonious and respectful relationship with nature, and promote social and family harmony. Participation in the festival has declined in recent years due to migration, declining interest in Qiang heritage among the young and the impact of outside cultures, but the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that destroyed many of the Qiang villages and devastated the region put the New Year festival at grave risk.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China website,

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 \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Wikipedia, BBC and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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