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.

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 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, kepu.net.cn ~]

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. 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 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. 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. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

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 china.org ]

Qiang population in China: 0.0232 percent of the total population; 309,576 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 306,476 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 198,252 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

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

Qiang History

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.

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, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Qiang are said to have descended from the so-called people of the clouds. In the 6th century B.C. as the Zhou and Chinese became increasingly involved in intensive agriculture the Qiang began migrating towards their present homeland. 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.

"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 china.org |]

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 Qing moved into Sichuan Province and settled in the Maowen, Songfan, Wenchuan, Liaxian and other places on the upper reaches of Minjiang River.

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. 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. Horses and medicinal herbs were greatly valued by the Han Chinese.

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 -]

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. 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 ). -

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. -

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 tenent 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 and the 2008 Earthquake

In imperial China, the Qiang existed under the tusi system. In the 18th system the tusi were ousted in an attempt by the Chinese to bring the Qiang under their direct control. By the end of the 19th century most Qiang areas had been brought under Chinese control.

The Qiang area was the hardest hit area by the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. Nearly 60 percent of the resident’s of earthquake-devastated Beichuan’s were members of the Qiang ethnic minority. The quake leveling 80 percent of the town’s buildings and killing an estimated two-thirds of its 22,000 inhabitants. See 2008 Earthquake, Nature

Earthquake-devastated Beichuan’s is being turned into an Qiang ethnic minority tourist park with Jina — the site of the mass remarriage ceremony — 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.

20080305-qiang in sichuan u wash.jpg

Later Qiang History According to the Communists

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 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 Religion and Festivals

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.

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.

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 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. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

The "Qian Nian Festival" is held by the Qiang shamans on the 1st day of the 10th lunar month. 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. \=/

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 histheir ancestor. A shaman presents him with an amulet. The Qiang people have many forms of funerals, including cremation, interment, sky burial, and cliff burial. \=/

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, kepu.net.cn ~]

White stone symbolizes the 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.

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.

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: 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 people for all their gods (except the God of Fire who never is represented with a white stone). 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. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

“The most important of them is the God of Heaven, who can protect the people and their animals. This god usually 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. And in some places are also worshiped in these homely shrines: the Gods of the Domestic animals, of Richness and Fortune, the God of the Barns, Gods of the Gates..., and the gods that correspond with the activities of the family. Below this sacred shrine, usually there is a fire, with a tripod over it. One of the feet of the tripod has a small circle that represents the God of Fire.”

Qiang Shaman

The main religious specialists of the Qiang are shaman-like figures known as "shibi". 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 ethnic-china.com *]

“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 Society

The Qiang have strict rules separating males and females. There are specific seating orders, rituals and even sleeping arrangements for men and women. Men are responsible for plowing, transport and other heavy work and preside over spiritual duties. Women do most of the field work. Both sexes share in child rearing duties and household chores. There is a tradition of matriarchal customs in Qiang areas, with women handling domestic affairs and men handling foreign affairs.

Villages and clusters of villages tend to be grouped by clan or people that believe they have a common ancestor. Justice is carried out both by headmen and elders, selected on the basis of kin and hereditary class. There is a tradition of blood feuds in Qiang areas.

Qiang customs and language have nearly vanished, victims of modernization and a forced policy of assimilation.

Qiang Marriage and Families

Unions between men and women have traditionally been weak while those between siblings have been strong. Sometimes unions between siblings occurred. Households are often created on a sibling basis rather a husband and wife basis with siblings sharing in the child rearing chores rather than husband and wife. Romantic love has traditionally been valued and people enjoyed a fair amount of sexual freedom. In the old days there was no marriage. Couples either shared a household or they didn’t. Over time a system of bride-service was adopted and rituals to sanctify this arrangement were adopted. Bride-services varied in length.

Marriages are mainly monogamous and have traditionally been arranged by parents. Usually, the wives were several years older than their husbands. It was common for cousins to marry and for bridegrooms to live with their wives' families. It still is not unusual for brides to live in their parents' houses for a year or so after marriage. In Qiang society, younger brothers sometimes married their widowed sister-in-laws and elder brothers married the widows of their younger brothers but customs have been gradually discarded since the Chinese takeover of China in 1949. [Source: China.org china.org ]

There were many old customs related to marriage. "Kids Marriage" which meant that the two children were engaged when still young. Sometimes two babies were engaged when they were still insie their mothers’ wombs. There are some procedures on engagement. After getting marriage and having a baby, there is a celebration.

Sometimes Qiang were betrothed before they were even born and Qiang boys got married between the ages of six and seven. Qiang women have traditionally been much older than their husbands because they usually got married between the ages of 12 and 18. These marriage customs are dying out and many Qiang now don't get married until they are in their twenties.

“Mountain songs” are often sung for courtship purposes. They are often accompanied by circular dances that involved the exchange of songs between males and females. The mouth harp has traditionally been played by women to serenade their lovers. In some places men play a double-reed Qiang flute for the same purpose. Ancient Qiang wedding rituals include dancing to traditional music, planting saplings to symbolize happiness and throwing corn and millet over the crowd for good fortune.

Qiang Wedding

The Qiang wedding is divided into three steps that take place over three days: flowery night (also called "women's flowery night"), formal union and going back to bride's home. The bride's side plays the more important role in the events. Drinking wine at wedding is a custom for many ethnic groups and the Qiangs are no exception. The night before the Qiang wedding, the groom’s and the bride’s sides each host a banquet to entertain respective elders in their clan and suck wine together, which is called "drinking wine in unsealed jar". [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

During the “flowery night", the "red uncle"(matchmaker and master of ceremonies the wedding) makes a speech named "words for meeting the bride" which praises the characters of the two sides and the happiness of the marriage, emphasizing "the farmland and house property should not be taken into account and the marriage is good only if persons are good". The head of the bride's family make a speech with "Answering words", saying " the two families have been relatives since ancient times, and don't mention house and property. What we pay attention to is friendly feeling instead of betrothal gifts, and old relatives and family dependants are more intimate". The bride does obeisance to family gods, members of her own clan and relatives, and gives a basket of shoes, which have been made in recent years, to the master who presents thankfulness on behalf of the girl and distribute shoes to the elders and relatives. They suck wine to their heart's content and do the Shalang dance far into the night. ~

The "Formal Union", also called "Formal Feast", is a big ceremony for the wedding and is the grandest. When the bride's father offers sacrifice to the family gods, the bride begins to cry loudly, expressing her reluctance and regret at leaving her parents and relatives. When the bride is escorted by seven or eight bridesmaids and gets out of the door, relatives and friends sob with flowing tears and express their good wishes at the same time. When the bride reaches the bridegroom's village, the whole village is rejoicing. Several gun salutes are fired and firecrackers are set off fired at the same time. A band plays happy, loud music and villagers shout and jump for joy. In the wedding, the main exhortation of the relatives to the new couple is that "respecting the old and loving the young are your duty. You should be modest and amiable to others and shouldn't dispute with others. Raise your children and keep your house well. Establishing family property relies on diligence". ~

The third day is for "going back to bride's home", which is also called "thanking guests" in some places. It is the day that the bride takes her husband back to her parents' home to express appreciation to relatives and friends of the bride's side. The power of the mother's brother is conspicuous in this event. Under his instructions, village elders tell the newlyweds: "now you are married and things are not the same as when you relied on your parents before. You should not only be diligent and work hard, but also be thrifty when running the home". The guests leave after lunch, and members of the clan and people who helped with preparation of the wedding stay to have dinner, sing and dance happily in the bride's home. ~

Qiang Life

The Qiang are adept at making watchtower-like buildings. Many of their villages are comprised of blocks of stone houses. Some Qiang settlements are built along mountainside with the houses clustered together for defensive purposes. Some are built above cliffs or other natural features that provide defense. Jiarong villages typically contain a fortress with a tower and a Tibetan Buddhist temple.

Millet, highland barley, potatoes, winter wheat and buckwheat make up their main staple foods. The Qiangs drink a great deal of wine and smoke orchid leaves. The Qiang eat a kind of bread called "three blows, three hits." The bread is cooked in an open fire, and after it is taken out of the fire it is covered in ashes. One needs to blow the ashes several times, and then pat it several times, hence the name. Many rely primarily on corn for food. After the harvests, grey buildings look like they have yellow roofs — with the corn drying on the roofs.

The Qiang practice hillside farming and herding. They grow buckwheat, barely, potatoes, beans and, below 2000 meters, corn. The area were they live is mountainous but well-watered and fertile. The fields are sometimes terraced and double teams of cattle are used for plowing. The Qiang used to grow opium as a cash crop but now grow apples, walnuts, pepper and rapeseed for that purpose. Some people earn money by collecting medicinal herbs The best known handicrafts are embroidery. Qiang hunt animals and collect mushrooms and herbs and also herd yaks and horses im mountaintop pastures. They probably come in contact with wild pandas more than any other ethnic group. See Pandas, Animals, Nature

Qiangs dress themselves simply and tastefully and some dress in clothes similar to that of Tibetans. Men and women alike wear gowns made of gunny cloth, cotton and silk with sleeveless sheep's wool jackets. They like to bind their hair and legs. Women's clothing is laced and the collars are decorated with plum-shaped silver ornaments. They wear sharp-pointed and embroidered shoes, embroidered girdles and earrings, neck rings, hairpins and silver badges. Traditionally, Qiang made their own clothes from flax, ox leather, wool, sheepskin or fabric. These days many dress like Chinese. [Source: China.org china.org ]

Qiang Houses

The Qiang have traditionally lived in flat-roofed multi-story houses built of unwrought stones. The bottom floor is for animals, storage and compost. The second floor is for living. A third floor is for storing grain. The area is organized around a hearth, regarded as sacred and associated with strict seating arrangements. The third story contains a large open space used for threshing grain and large meetings. The house has chimneys. Smoke escapes through holes in the roof.

The Qiang live in blockhouses made of piled up stones of different sizes. Unique in style, solid and practical, these houses are two or three stories high. The first floor is for livestock and poultry and farm tools, the second is where people live and sleep, and the third for grain storage. Some of the houses were built hundreds of years ago and they usually have three floors and a plane roof.

A typical Qiang house is square with flat roof, outer walls made of piled up slab stones. Each of the three floors is about three meters high. The first floor is composed of wooden boards or slab stones which stretch out of the wall and become eaves. Bamboo branches are placed on the boards or slab stones, and these are covered by heavily-rammed yellow mud and chicken droppings. The roof is 0.35 meters thick, with troughs for drawing away rain water and snow melt. The roof makes the house warm in winter and cool in summer. The flat roof is a place for threshing, drying grain, making clothes, and old people to rest and children to play. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The most important part of the house is, of course, the floor where the people live. Family life revolves around a fire that is considered sacred. The Qiang do not allow the fire to be extinguished throughout the whole year. Over it is a metal tripod, of sacred meaning for the Qiang. Also on the second are the tablets for the ancestors, to which family members pay respect during special festivities. On the roof of each house there is a small white stone, an important religious symbol of the Qiang. There, at the highest point of the house, it represents to the God of the Heavens. The Qiang people believe that it can protect everything under it. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

Qiang Fragrant "Sucking Wine"

The Qiangs have had a long history for making wine. According to legend, "Yu (the reputed founder of the Xia Dynasty) came from the western Qiangs". The first Qiang ancestor to make wine was Yidi who was Yu's official. Dukang (a person who was famous for making wine in ancient times) was Yu's descendant. Qiang men have a reputation for being heavy drinkers and have great capacity for liquor, but seldom get dead drunk and stir up trouble. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~] The unique Qiang way of drinking is called “sucking wine.” The wine is made of highland barley, barley and corn, and is sealed in jars. When they drink it, they unseal the jar, pour boiled water in it, put bamboo tubes in the jar and suck in turn sharing a single tube or having one tube for each person. One drink’s according to one's capability and desire, with no pressure forcing and making one drink. Pure water is poured in while drinking, until the flavor becomes light. Sucking wine has a low alcohol content. When the Qiang drink, first the oldest person present says some lucky words known as the "words for proposing toast" that is composed of eight sentences with four words in each and are in rhyme. Drinkers have traditionally sucked wine in turn according to age. When persons of the same age suck wine together, each person put one bamboo tube into a jar and they drink together. ~

During the "Double Nine Wine Festival" men drink wine made of steamed by corn or wheat. Children and women often drink sweet wine added with honey. During festivals such as "the Qiang New Year", "the June Festival", "offering sacrifice to the mountain" and "the Fifth of the Lunar May" Qiang get together and sing and dance and drink to express affection. If they dance and sing in an open area, wine jars are put near the site; if they gather in a watchtower, they put wine jars under tables or at the foot of walls. If someone gets tired while dancing and wants to have some wine while taking a break, he or she suck wine from wine jars while chatting and watching the performance. ~

Qiang Culture

The Qiang people have created a unique culture and arts and crafts. The clever and deft Qiang women can do embroidery and drawnwork extemporaneously without designs. The Qiangs are good singers and dancers. "Wine song," "plate song," "mountain song" and "leather drum" dances with accompaniment of gongs, tambourines, sonas and bamboo flutes are popular. [Source: China.org china.org ]

Because of the long history and their relative isolation the Qiangs have a very old and characteristic culture and customs. The two earliest forms of literature are old poems and myths. These two forms of literature still have great influence and many outstanding works have been passed on for many generations. Most Qiangs can sing folk songs which are composed of four or seven syllables in each line and are similar to the four-character verse or seven-character verse in Chinese. The Qiang repertoire of songs includes bitter songs, mountain songs, love songs, wine songs, jubilant songs and mourning songs. Among the famous Qiang myths are "the Creation of Heaven and Earth", "the Forming of Valleys and Plains", "Creation of Human Beings", and "Dou'anzhu and Mujiezhu". Their stories about marriage between sister and brother and the shooting down of eight suns are believed to have a very ancient origin. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Qiang Musical Instruments

Qiang musical instruments include: 1) a harmonica made of leather or bamboo is used mainly by young men in their romantic songs contests; 2) the suona, a kind of Chinese traditional trumpet widely utilized in weddings and traditional festivals for the happy sounds it produces; and 3) gongs, cymbals and bells. The Qiang like the sounds of bells. The three kinds of bells more widely used among them are: copper bells, finger bells and shoulder bells. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

Qiang flutes have been famous in China for 2,000 years ago. They were described in historical registers dating back time of the old Qiang (possible ancestors of today Qiang). Now the flutes are mostly made with a special mountain bamboo and consist of two pipes and six holes in each pipe. They are usually played by a single player who needs a long time to master its different sounds. It is played in festive ways, accompanying work songs, love songs and welcome songs. *\

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: Qiang goat skin drums belong “to the long tradition of shamanic drums used by the shamans of north Asia in their shamanic voyages. There are many studies that relate the short cerebral waves induced by the drum to the ability to reach altered states of conscience. The Qiang have a tale about the origin of their drum that does not allow any doubt to the enlightened power of their drums. According to this myth, in remote times a goat ate the books that contained all the knowledge of the Qiang. To recover this knowledge they must beat the goat skin in the drum. *\

The Yao of Fuchuan County have also drums made of wood and goat skin, and a legend to explain the origin of their drums, clearly similar: "King Pan Gu, creator of the universe, went hunting one day and encountered a group of ferocious wild goats. They killed him and hung his body from a catalpa tree. Pan Gu's seven sons looked for him for seven days and seven nights. When they found his body they were so angry that they cut down the tree and pursued the goats until they killed them all. From the tree and the goatskins they made long drums, and used them in a dance to celebrate de avenging of their father's death. Yao villagers still celebrate King Pan Gu every July as their New Year." [Source: China's National Minorities I, Great Wall Books, Beijing,1984. P266]

Qiang Bamboo Flute

The most famous instrument of the Qiangs is the simple Qiang bamboo flute. Xushen wrote in "Explaining Words and Articles" in the Eastern Han: "The Qiang bamboo flute has three holes". Marong wrote in "Long Bamboo Flute": "The recent double bamboo flutes come from the Qiangs". "Mixed Record of Folk Songs by the Music Bureau" records that "Bamboo flute is an instrument of Qiangs". The "Music Book" written by Chenyang in the Song Dynasty says, "The Qiang bamboo has five holes." [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Qiang bamboo flute is associated with "Liangzhou” (a place name) and “ci” (poetry written to certain tunes with strict tonal patterns and rhyme schemes, in fixed numbers of lines and words)". One of the best examples of this style was written by famous poet Wangzhihuan in the Tang Dynasty. "The Yellow River flows long as if it is among the clouds. There is a stretch of lonely city and a mountain with 10 thousand rens (an ancient measure of length that equals to seven or eight chis). The person who is blowing the Qiang bamboo flute shouldn't blame the willow, because the spring wind doesn't blow across the Yumen Pass. (It seems that there is no spring in the north out of the Yumen Pass)". This poem has traditionally been recited by children who just began to learn to read and write in the past.

The modern Qiang flute is made of bamboo or bone. The bamboo is a kind of oil bamboo, which grows at the upper reaches of the Minjiang River and is cut into square pieces. The bone generally comes from the leg bone of a sheep or bird. The tube of present Qiang flute is 17 centimeters long and one centimeter in diameter, and has one reed and two tubes. It has six scales, is played upright and is usually played without accompaniment. The tone quality has been described as “bright and gentle, aggrieved, sweet and agreeable, melodious and expressive.” It is often played by shepherds in mountains. The old Qiang flute was not only an instrument but also part of a whip, so there is a saying — "blowing whip".

Qiang Dances

Dance is very important to the Qiang. Many aspects of their lives and culture are related to some form of dance. There are dances for festivals, harvests, reception of guests, adoration of the gods, funerals. It has been said that, "The dances impregnate each aspect of the life of the Qiang". They are not only vehicles by which they express their feelings but also a means relate and pass on their history and mythology. Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “Dance serves as a means of expression capable of transforming any act into the realm of the sacred, and therefore is extremely significant. Dance preserves the communal memory of sacred procedures blessed by the ancestors. Any dance, among them, has an important ritual component. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

Qiang dances have been divided into four basic types: 1) joy dances are the most numerous, including Salang dance or Yuechipu; 2) religious dances, are carried out primarily by shamans; 3) ceremonial dances, which are numerous and depend on characteristics and purpose of to the ceremony, such rites of passage or receiving guests; 4) meeting dances, which generally have of a martial character. /*/

Among the better known Qiang dances are the "Shalang dance" (a kind of circle dance), "Armor dance", "Leather drum dance", and "Langanshou". The "Armor dance" is a kind of traditional customary sacrifice offering dance, and was often danced at the funerals of famous military officers. Dozens of dancers wearing ox hide armor, leather helmet with pheasant's plumes and wheat shafts, carry bronze bells on their shoulders and hold weapons (mostly long sword). They separate into lines and dance like soldiers in battle. The roar shakes heaven and they are full of power and grandeur, which expresses vividly and incisively the unyielding and unconstrained national characters and reproduces vividly the rough and simple ancient local traits. The Dance of the Armor is intended to represent the departure of soldiers for a battle and their victorious return. It is only carried out during funerals, in order to demonstrate to the bad spirits the protection that the living relatives provide for their dead. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Salang Dance and Qiang Religious Dances

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: Of all the Qiang dances, the most famous is the Salang. According to legend, the Salang was inspired by shamans in the past. Nowadays, sometimes only women dance the Salang, perhaps a reminder of the times in which shamans were exclusively women. Although the Salang is considered a dance to enjoy during meetings and festivals, its important ritual components are still evident. Sometimes we see the dancers distributed in a semicircle around the fire, dressed in red skirts. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

Salang is performed at the at most important Qiang celebrations: major festivals, marriages, and harvest celebrations. Sometimes the dancing goes on all night. Salang is believed to be among the oldest Qiang dances because it has developed into so many forms, including numerous variations carrying different meanings related to love, marriage, the harvest, and working in the field. The dance is similar to dances of the Naxi, the Mosuo and other ethnic groups in Yunnan and Sichuan. The type of Salang performed at funerals is slow and has specific movements meant to express respect for the dead. *\

Qiang shamans are expected to be present at religious dances whenever they are carried out. These dances include a great variety of forms depending on the function to which they are assigned. Jiang Yaxiong mentions the following as the most important: 1) The Dance of the Skin Drum is generally performed to cure a sick person or during a funeral. During this dance a shaman displays different relationships with the drum, which relate to communicating with the gods. 2) The Dance of the Cat has traditionally been performed during the time of the harvest. Shamans adopt the posture of cats (a sacred animal for the Qiang), whose movements are thought to expel possible calamities. 3) Dance of the Dragon of Rope in a kind of dance-fight between a shaman and a wooden-headed dragon with a rope as the body. [Source: (2) Jiang Yaxiong, Qiang Dances, “In Flying Dragon and Dancing Phoenix.” New World, Beijing *]

Qiang Buildings, Roads and Bridges

The Qiang built watchtowers, stone-piled house, chain bridges, plank roadway (built along perpendicular rock-faces by means of wooden brackets fixed into the cliff) and irrigation works. In their towns and villages are passing-street buildings (riding buildings) “constructed among some buildings for the convenience of contacting.” Many Qiangs traditionally were farmers who worked as stonemasons during the slack seasons. The world famous Dujiangyan Project in Guan County, Sichuan which is still functioning and benefitting the public 1,800 years after it was built. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Qiangs are skilled in opening up roads on rocky cliffs and erecting bamboo bridges over swift rivers. The bamboo chain bridges they have built and laid with boards, stretch up to 100 meters with no nails and piers being used. Some of the Qiangs are excellent masons and are good at digging wells. During slack farming seasons they go to neighboring places to do chiseling and digging. Their skills are highly acclaimed.

The mountains are high and the rivers are perilous where many of the Qiang live. Over 1400 years ago they created chain bridges from bamboo, wood and stone. Arched gates made of piled stones were erected at the two sides of a river. Stone bases or big wood posts were set up inside the gates and bamboo rope as thick as human's arm were tied on the base or post. These were sometimes composed of tens of ropes. People walked o wooden boards that were placed on the bamboo chains. Handrails over one meter above the surface of the bridge were fixed on the sides of the boards. ~

There are two kinds of Qiang roadways: wooden and stone. Wooden roadways are built in dense forest and are paved with wood mixed with mud and rocks. Stone roadways are built at the overhanging cliff by chiseling holes in the cliff and plugging in wooden boards into the holes. Dujiangyan Irrigation System (60 kilometers northwest Chengdu) was built between A.D. 251 and 306 and contains several dams, canals and water diversion schemes that turned this part of Sichuan into the "land of abundance." Dujiangyan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “Qiang villages were designed in such a way that, by closing the narrow alleys that exist between the houses, the stone houses became a true defensive wall. Near the villages, there are usually some tall towers of imposing aspect, sometimes located on a small promontory, or at the junction of two rivers. These towers should not be mistaken with the stone houses of several floors where the people live. Sometimes there is a single tower, other times there are several towers grouped together. They usually are between 30 and 60 meters high. Inside they have floors built with wood, and an inner stairway that allow access to the higher floors. Although the stone walls are well conserved, the inner woods are already rotten in most cases. It is not known with certainty the time of their construction but their quality is very good. In fact, they have resisted several major earthquakes. Although their function is not known, some experts suppose that they had a defensive function. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

See Houses

Qiang Stone Towers

Stone towers are called "Qionglong" in Qiang language. As early as 2000 years ago, they were recorded in "The Later Han Book on The Commentary of the Southwestern Yi" that "the Ran Man people lived at the foot of hills and they made house by piling stones some of which were over ten Zhangs (a unit of length, 1zhang=3.33meters)". [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Qiang stone towers are built near villages. Standing between 10 and 30 meters tall, they are used for resisting enemies and storing grain and firewood and have four, six or eight corners. Some are 13 to14 stories high and made from thin slab stones and yellow mud. The foundation of the wall is 1.35 meters high and constructed of piled slab stones. The inner side of the wall is vertical to the ground, and the outer side inclines from the lower part up. The Qiang built these towers without the equivalent of blueprints, hang lines or support, frames. Instead they relied on their excellent skills and experience as stone masons. Solid and firm, they have been able to stand wear and tear and the test of time. "Yongping Fort" in Yong'an village of the Qiang Township in Beichuan County, Sichuan withstood several hundred of years of wind, rain and earthquakes and is still well preserved. ~

An article written by Du Lin and Li Binlin in the Sichuan Daily on July 12, 2001, reported: “In extant old Qiang villages, the Taoping Qiang village in Li County is the most typical one. History records show that it was founded 111B.C., which has had more than 2000 years of history. The Taoping village has eight entrances, which make a layout of the Eight Trigrams. There are 31 passages, which extend in all directions and connect every family. There are secret holes everywhere for shooting, which were prepared for resisting enemies in the past. Only two stone watchtowers are kept in the village both of which have 9 storeys and are over 30 meters high. Because they were praised by officials from the UNESCO, the preparing work for declaring world heritage has started.”

Professor Sun Hongkai, regarded as an expert on the region where the Qiang live, says that 2000-year-old documents from the Han dynasty (2,000 years ago) describes Qiang-style towers built in that region by the ancestors of the Qiang. In the Tang dynasty, travelers that visited the area also described these towers, called "Qionglong" at that time. Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “Professor Sun has concluded that all the peoples that speak languages of the Qiangic branch, such as the Jiarong, Pumi, Muya, Ergong, Guiqiong, Namuyi, Shixing, Ersu and Zhaba (unfortunately not recognized until now as differentiated ethnic entities), built such towers, while other peoples that, though living in the same region, do not speak a language of the Qiangic branch, do not build them. Their linguistic relationship, their common architecture, and their cult to the white stone...have preserved a unique culture over centuries. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com *]

Image Sources: Mostlly Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html

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 July 2015

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