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The Zhuang: A People of Music

Rachel takes a look at the largest ethnic minority in China, the Zhuang people of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region

11·10·2012

The Zhuang: A People of Music

Rachel takes a look at the largest ethnic minority in China, the Zhuang people of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region

11·10·2012

The Zhuang people are the largest of the 55 ethnic minorities that make up China, with a population of 16, 178, 811 people. Most of these people live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in the south of China on the Vietnamese border. It is thought that they are descendants of the ancient Chinese Yue people. The Zhuang people have their own language that is split into northern and southern dialects and belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. While the language utilizes Chinese characters, in 1955 the Chinese government made an effort to develop a written language based on the Latin alphabet that has since been used to print books, magazines, and other forms of print media. The Zhuang people have no official religion; however, they often practice animism, the belief that every object (living or inanimate) possesses a spirit, and ancestor worship. The Zhuang also have a unique architecture known as the Ganlan style. A Ganlan style house consists of two stories supported by wooden columns, usually built in areas sloping down toward the water. The first story is commonly used to hold livestock or store other belongings. The second floor is meant to house the family.

A Zhuang village on a hillside

A Zhuang village on a hillside

The Zhuang are wildly known for their beautiful brocade which is utilized in their costumes. The women commonly wear a blue and black, collarless jacket, loose pants or skirt, and an apron featuring the Zhuang brocade. The men often wear a black coat that opens in the front and a belt around the waist. Both men and women will adorn themselves with silver accessories on special occasions. The famous Zhuang brocade has many uses, such as quilt covers, tablecloths, waist belts, scarves, and many other things, and is known world-wide for its beauty and durability. The Zhuang also utilize embroidery in making Xiuqiu, small embroidered balls that are meant to symbolize love and happiness. These balls are made from silk embroidered with flowers, plants, or birds and consist of twelve panels to signify the twelve months in a year. Traditionally, a young girl will find the boy she likes at the Singing Festival and throw him a Xiuqiu to let him know how she feels.

A Zhuang woman works on some embroideryThe Zhuang region is often referred to as the “ocean of songs” because its people love to sing. The Singing Festival is one unique Zhuang celebration. On March 3rd of the lunar calendar, people will gather to honor Liu Sanjie, a famous Zhuang folk  singer, who had immense courage to stand up to tyrants of the land. To celebrate, singers will have practiced for months to prepare for singing competitions. In these competitions, participants will sing to each other with the hopes of stumping the other with a lyrical rhyme that cannot be matched. The lyrics of these songs are usually improvised on the spot and are very humorous. Aside from the Singing Festival, Zhuang people will also hold smaller Gexu, or singing competitions, where everyone will don their best costumes and sing folk songs together.

The Zhuang are a people with a great and illustrious heritage. From beautiful embroidery to colorful songs, their customs are unique and should be cherished.

Image courtesy of tangtang on flickr.com