|This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2008)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Sichuan, China: 200,000|
|Ruism, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism|
The Qiang people (Chinese: 羌族; Mandarin Pinyin: qiāng zú; Jyutping: goeng1 zuk6) are an ethnic group of China. They form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China, with a population of approximately 200,000 in 1990. They live mainly in mountainous region in the northwestern part of Sichuan province on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau.
Qiang people were mentioned in ancient Chinese texts as well as inscriptions on the oracle bones of 3,000 years ago. However the ancient Qiang people referred to in these ancient texts were a broad group of people and the ancestors of the modern Tibeto-Burman speakers, they are therefore not the equivalent of the modern Qiang people who are a small branch of the ancient Qiangs. Many of the people formerly designated as Qiangs were gradually removed from this category in Chinese texts as they become sinicized or reclassified, and by the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) periods, the term Qiang denoted only the non-Han people living in the upper Min River Valley and Beichuan area, the area now occupied by the modern Qiangs.
The territory of the Qiangs lies between the land of the Han Chinese and the Tibetans, and the Qiangs would fall under the domination of either the Han Chinese or the Tibetans. There were also fightings between different Qiang villages, and the Qiang people constructed watchtowers and houses with thick stone walls and small windows and doors due to the constant threat of attack. Each village may have one or more stone towers in the past, and the Qiang stone watchtowers remains a distinctive feature of some Qiang villages.
The modern Qiangs refer to themselves as /ʐme/ (rma, 尔玛 erma in Chinese, or RRmea in Qiang orthography), or a dialect variant of the word. However, they did not define themselves as the Qiang people (羌族, Qiang zu) until the twentieth century as Qiang is a Han Chinese classification. Many however have sought to gain Qiang status due to government policy of prohibition of discrimination as well as economic subsidies for minority nationalities which has made minority status an attractive option since 1949. The number of Qiangs has therefore increased due to the reclassification of people, and there are about 200,000 Qiang people today in Sichuan, predominantly in the Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, in the counties of Maoxian, Wenchuan, Lixian, Beichuan, Heishui, and Songpan.
Modern Qiang people speak one of the Qiang languages which are members of the Qiangic sub-family of Tibeto-Burman. However, Qiang dialects are so different that communication between different Qiang groups is often in Han Chinese. The education system largely uses Chinese as a medium of instruction for the Qiang people, and as a result of the universal access to schooling and TV in Chinese, very few Qiang people cannot speak Chinese, but there are many Qiangs who cannot speak the Qiang language.
Until recently, the Qiang lacked a script of their own, and the Qiangs carved marks on wood to remember events or communicate. In the late 1980s a writing system was developed for the Qiang language based on the Qugu (曲谷) variety of a Northern dialect using the Roman alphabet. The introduction has not been successful due to the complexities of the Qiang sound system and the concomitant difficulty of its writing system, as well as the diversity of the Qiang dialects and the lack of reading material. The Qiangs also use Chinese characters.
The often matrilineal Qiang society is primarily monogamous, although polyandry and cross-cousin marriages are accepted. Since most women are older than their husbands and lead agricultural activities, they act as the head of the family as well as the society.
Romantic love is considered important, and sexual freedom is prevalent. The Qiang find marriage important. In the past, marriages were arranged by an individual's parents, with approval from the individual. It is still not unusual for the bride to live in her parents' home for a year or so after her marriage. In the past, children were usually separated from their parents after marriage, except for the first son and his family. However, such customs have been gradually discarded since the Chinese Civil War.
The Qiang also have strict customs regarding birth and death. Prior to the birth of a baby the pregnant woman is not allowed to go near the riverside or a well, attend a wedding ceremony, or stand in the watchtower.
Upon delivery a Duangong shaman is invited to help the delivery procedure and strangers are not allowed to wail or enter the house afterwards. This is ensured by hanging a flail on the house gate for a week upon the birth of a boy and a bamboo basket upon the birth of a girl.
After she has given birth, the woman is not allowed into the kitchen for one month thereafter. It would be considered a sinful action against the kitchen and family gods. Neither is she allowed to leave her home, unless it is burning down, or meet any strangers for the first forty days after delivery. It is believed that there is a real danger of evil spirits (or infectious diseases) coming into the house, which could harm the mother. A ceremony of initiation into the family is conducted for the baby, when a cow is sacrificed on the home altar and the baby receives its name.
Stillborn or premature babies are not considered human beings by the Qiang. Instead, the stillborn is considered to be a demon, which caused the woman to become pregnant in order to cause problems for the family. They are buried unceremoniously.
Culture and lifestyle
The Qiang today are mountain dwellers. A fortress village, zhai 寨, composed of 30 to 100 households, in general, is the basic social unit beyond the household. An average of two to five fortress villages in a small valley along a mountain stream, known in local Chinese as gou 溝, make up a village cluster (cun 村). The inhabitants of fortress village or village cluster have close contact in social life. In these small valleys, people cultivate narrow fluvial plains along creeks or mountain terraces, hunt animals or collect mushrooms and herbs (for food or medicine) in the neighboring woods, and herd yaks and horses on the mountain-top pastures.
Owing to its ethnic diversity, Qiang culture has influenced and been influenced by other cultures. Generally, those who live nearer to the Tibetans are influenced by the Tibetan culture, while the majority are more influenced by the Han Chinese, which has close links with its ethnic history.
Both the menfolk and womenfolk wear gowns made of gunny cloth, cotton and silk with sleeveless wool jackets. Following age-old traditions, their hair and legs are bound. The womenfolk wear laced clothing with decorated collars, consisting of plum-shaped silver ornaments. Sharp-pointed and embroidered shoes, embroidered girdles and earrings, neck rings, hairpins and silver badges are also popular.
The Qiangs live in granite stone houses generally consisting of two to three stories. The first floor is meant for keeping livestock and poultry, while the second floor is meant for the living quarters, and the third floor for grain storage. If the third floor does not exist, the grains will be kept on the first or second floor instead.
Skilled in construction of roads and bamboo bridges, the Qiangs can build them on the rockiest cliffs and swiftest rivers. Using only wooden boards and piers, these bridges can stretch up to 100 meters. Others who are excellent masons are good at digging wells. Especially during poor farming seasons, they will visit neighboring places to do chiseling and digging.
Embroidery and drawn work are done extemporaneously without any designs. Traditional songs related to topics such as wine and the mountains are accompanied by dances and the music of traditional instruments such as leather drums.
The majority of the Qiang adhere to a polytheist religion, known as Ruism, a religion that involves belief in the White Stones that were worshiped as representing the sun god, who will bring good luck to their daily aspects of life. Others, who live near the Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism. Small minorities of Muslims and Taoists exist as well.
The Qiang worship five major gods, twelve lesser gods, some tree gods, and numerous stones were also worshiped as representatives of gods. A special god is also worshiped in every village and locality, who are mentioned by name in the sacred chants of the Qiang priests. Mubyasei, also known Abba Chi and as the god of heaven, is also considered as the supreme god. This term is also used to refer to a male ancestor god, Abba Sei. In certain places, Shan Wang, the mountain god, is considered to represent the supreme god. The Qiang people have also adopted many practices of the Taoists as well.
For some Qiangs, most White Stones were placed on the corners of their roofs or towers, as a good luck symbol for the sun. A square stone pagoda, which is located on the edge of many Qiang villages and on the top of a nearby hill as well. The pagoda is usually over two meters high and its uppermost part is inlaid with a circle of small white stones. A larger white stone is also placed at the pinnacle as well.
A small pagoda is also sometimes built on the roof of a house, with a pottery jar that contained five varieties of grain is placed within the pagoda. On top of the pagoda, a white stone is placed together with ox and sheep horns. By tradition, the door of a Qiang house is supposed to face south and the pagoda is built on the northern end of the roof in line with the door. Every morning, the Qiang family will burn incense sticks or cedar twigs in the pagoda and kowtow to it, praying for the protection of the family by the god of the white stone.
However, with modernization, worship of the White Stones is not nearly as common as it used to be. There are several legends that explain the origin of this stone worship.
Legend of the White Stones
At the legendary time when the Qiang people moved into Sichuan from the Tibetan Plateau, they placed white stones on every hilltop and crossroads, for they did not want to forget the route leading back to their original homeland. These piles of white stones also acts as a token of their affection for their homeland and the people they left behind at the same time.
Upon arriving at the territory of the local Geji people, the Qiang fought a losing battle. Jirpol, witnessing the condition that they were in, instructed the Qiang to find a strong white stone and attach it to rattan sticks and fight with this weapon, tying some sheep wool to the neck of the stick as well. Victory was on their side, and the Qiangs began to look upon the white stones as gods to be worshipped.
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- Randy J. LaPolla, Chenglong Huan (2003). A Grammar of Qiang: With annotated texts and glossary. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 1. ISBN 978-3110178296.
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- Randy J. LaPolla, Chenglong Huan (2003). A Grammar of Qiang: With annotated texts and glossary. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 6. ISBN 978-3110178296.
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- Cimulin Qiang ethnic profile by Asia Harvest - a Christian missionary endeavour