We continue our series on China’s 55 ethnic minority groups. This month features the Mulam, Naxi, Nu, and Oroqen ethnic minorities.
We continue our series on China’s 55 ethnic minority groups. This month features the Mulam, Naxi, Nu, and Oroqen ethnic minorities.
The Mulam ethnic minority
Major area of distribution: Guangxi
Religion: Taoism and Buddhism
The Mulam ethnic minority has a population of 160,600, of which the majority live in Luocheng County in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Others are scattered in neighboring counties.
The Mulam language is a member of the Zhuang-Dong language group of the Chinese-Tibetan language family, but because of extensive contacts with the majority Han and local Zhuangs many Mulams speak one or both of these languages in addition to their own.
Their homeland is one of rolling hills interspersed with lush green valleys. The Wuyang and Longjiang rivers cross their territory, which has an ideal climate for growing paddy rice, maize, beans, potatoes, melons and cotton. The area is famous for its tea and medicinal herbs, as well as mineral resources such as coal, iron and sulfur.
Historical records trace the Mulam ethnic group back to the period of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when their society seems to have been entering the feudal stage. The Mulam villages paid tribute in grain to the imperial court twice a year.
In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the Mulam areas were divided into "Li," under which were "Dongs" -- units of ten households.
The Dong chief was responsible for collecting taxes and law and order. The Dongs were mostly inhabited by families sharing the same surname. Later, when they increased in size, the Dongs were divided into "Fangs."
Even prior to 1949, the farming economy of the Mulams was comparatively advanced. Farming techniques, crop varieties and tools were basically the same as those of their Han and Zhuang neighbors. Oxen and water buffaloes were the main draught animals, although horses were sometimes used also. Some 60 percent of arable land was taken up by paddy fields, and the Mulams had long known the use of manure fertilizer.
The Mulams' well-developed irrigation system, unfortunately, was under the control of the rich landlords, who channeled most of the water off for themselves. The encroachment of insects and wild animals was a serious problem for the Mulam farmers.
In the past, each household was a basic production unit. The division of labor between men and women was not strict, but plowing, carrying manure and threshing were usually men's jobs, while women did the rice transplanting, sowing and housework.
Also well developed were sideline products, which included collecting medicinal herbs, raising livestock, blacksmithing, making pottery and weaving cloth.
Prior to the founding of the People’s Republic of China, land in the Mulam areas was heavily concentrated in the hands of the rich landlords, especially the most fertile parts. The landlords demanded that their tenants pay rent in kind and provide unpaid labor service. They also exploited the poorer peasants by means of usury.
Customs and Culture
Mulam houses consist of three rooms, usually one-storied, with mud walls and tile roofs. Inside, on the left of the door, the ground is dug away to form a cooking pit. The livestock are kept away from the living quarters.
Rice, maize and potatoes are the staple diet of the Mulams, who also enjoy eating hot peppers and glutinous rice. It is taboo to eat cats or snakes. Mulams who bear the surnames Luo and Wu are forbidden to eat dog meat or the internal organs of animals.
The Mulams used to be famous for their spinning, weaving and dyeing, and their favorite color is deep blue. Traditionally, men wore jackets with large buttons down the front, long, baggy trousers and straw sandals. Young girls wear their hair in braids, which is coiled up onto their heads after marriage. Women's jewelry includes silver earrings, bracelets and finger rings.
Early marriage arranged by the parents was common before 1949. Brides did not live with their husbands until the first child was born. Intermarriage with the Hans and Zhuangs was permissible, but weddings were costly affairs which drained the wealth of a family.
The Mulams used to be animists, and celebrated a festival every month, the most important of which was the Yifan Festival. At this celebration, pigs and sheep were slaughtered, dramas and lion and dragon dances were performed, and the shamans chanted incantations. The lunar New Year's Day was the Mulam's New Year, and the eighth day of the fourth lunar month was "Ox Birthday," when the oxen were given a rest and fed glutinous rice, and wine and meat were offered to the Ox God. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month the Dragon Boat Festival was celebrated. Unlike the Han and Zhuang Dragon Boat festivals, the Mulams used to carry a paper boat into the fields and a shaman would chant spells to drive away insects and ensure a good harvest. The 15th day of the eighth lunar month was Youth Festival, when young people gathered to sing folk songs and make lovers' trysts.
Folk songs and "Caidiao" (a form of local drama) are very popular among the people. The songs are antiphonal and sung in the Han language.
The Naxi ethnic minority
Major area of distribution: Yunnan and Sichuan
Religion: Dongba and Lamaism
The Naxi ethnic minority has a population of 277,800, most of whom live in concentrated communities in the Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County in Yunnan Province, the rest being scattered in Weixi, Zhongdian, Ninglang, Deqin, Yongsheng, Heqing, Jianchuan and Lanping counties in Yunnan Province, as well as Yanyuan, Yanbian and Muli counties in Sichuan Province. A small number live in Mangkang County of Tibet Autonomous Region.
The Naxi areas, traversed by the Jinsha, Lancang and Yalong rivers, and the Yunling, Xueshan and Yulong mountain ranges, have a complicated terrain. There are cold mountainous areas, uplands, basins, rivers and valleys, averaging [8,910 feet] above sea level. The climate varies from cold and temperate to subtropical. Rainfall is plentiful.
Agriculture is the main occupation of the Naxi people. The chief crops are rice, maize, wheat, potatoes, beans, hemp and cotton. The bend of the Jinsha River is heavily forested, and Yulong Mountain is known at home and abroad as a "flora storehouse." The extensive dense forests contain Chinese fir, Korean pine, Yunnan pine and other valuable trees, as well as many varieties of herbs including fritillary bulbs, Chinese caterpillar fungus and musk.
There are rich reserves of such non-ferrous metals as gold, silver, copper, aluminum and manganese. Water resources are abundant.
The Naxi language belongs to the Chinese-Tibetan language family. More than 1,000 years ago, the Naxi people had already created pictographic characters called the "Dongba" script and a syllabic writing known as the "Geba" script. With these scripts they recorded a lot of beautiful folklore, legends, poems and religious classics. However, they were difficult to master, and in 1957 the government helped the Naxi design an alphabetic script. Over the past few hundred years, as the Naxi people have come into closer contact with the people in other parts of China politically, economically and culturally, the oral and written Chinese has become an important means of communication in Naxi society.
According to historical documents, the forefathers of the Naxi people were closely related to a tribe called "Maoniu Yi" in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), "Mosha Yi" in the Jin Dynasty (265-420) and "Moxie Yi" in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Between the early 10th century and the middle of the 13th century, production in the Lijiang area underwent marked changes, as agriculture replaced livestock breeding as the main occupation of the people. Scores of agricultural, handicraft, mineral and livestock products were turned out, and the county presented a picture of prosperity. During that period, a number of slave-owning groups in Ninglang, Lijiang and Weixi counties gradually grew into a feudal manorial lord caste.
In 1278 the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) established Lijiang Prefecture representing the imperial court in Yunnan Province. This resulted in closer links between the Lijiang area and the center of the empire.
In the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the leader of the Naxi people, named Mude, was made the hereditary chieftain of Lijiang Prefecture, exercising control over the Naxi people and other ethnic groups in the vicinity. Throughout the Ming Dynasty, the hereditary chieftains from the Mu family kept taxes and tribute flowing to the Ming court in the form of silver and grain. The Ming, in turn, relied on the Mu family as the mainstay for the control of the people of various ethnic groups in northwestern Yunnan Province.
Later, with the development of the productive forces, buying, selling and renting of land began to take place in the Naxi areas, marking the beginning of a landlord economy.
From 1723, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), hereditary local chieftains in the Lijiang area began to be replaced by court officials and the hereditary chieftain surnamed Mu thus became the local administrator.
Art and Literature
Naxi literature is rich in form and content. Besides works by Naxi scholars and writers, there is a repository of oral folk literature. "Genesis," "The Rich Steal Oxen," "Revenge" and "Song of Elopement" are characterized by simple and fresh expressions, and distinctive national flavor. The "Dongba Scripture," a religious work, dates back to the Tang Dynasty. Written in the pictographic script, it describes the various aspects of life of the Naxi people during their long transition from slavery to feudalism. It is extremely important for the study of Naxi literature, history and religion.
The Naxis are fond of singing and dancing, especially at weddings and funerals. The most popular songs are descriptive and short. They are sung at very high pitch and with strong rhythms, to the accompaniment of simple dances. The most common musical instruments are flutes, reed pipes and wind-string instruments. The ancient musical piece, "Baishaxiyue," which dates back to the Yuan Dynasty, was rediscovered and preserved after the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Naxi architecture, sculpture and painting have reached fairly high standards. Moreover, they are mixed with the traditional styles of the Hans and Tibetans. Some famous buildings preserved in Lijiang, such as the "Dabao Palace," "Glazed Hall," "Dading Pavilion" and "Five-Phoenix Chamber," were all built during the Ming Dynasty. All the murals in these buildings have the concise and harmonious strokes of Tibetan painting, and the style of Taoist and Buddhist paintings of the Tang Dynasty. Modern Naxi painting has made fresh progress since 1949
Before 1949, most Naxi people were followers of the "Dongba" religion, which was a form of Shamanism. Sorcerers, called "Dongba," were invited to chant scriptures at weddings, funerals, the New Year Day and other festivals. Some of the Naxis were followers of Lamaism. Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity only had limited access to the Lijiang area.
Customs and Habits
Naxi women wear wide-sleeved loose gowns, with jackets and long trousers, tied with richly decorated belts at the waist. They often wear sheepskin slung over the shoulder, on which are seven stars exquisitely embroidered, with sun and moon symbols, one on each side. This reflects the Naxis' admiration for diligence -- "people start working early in the morning and do not stop until late in the evening." Women in Ninglang County wear short jackets and long skirts reaching the ground, with many folds. They wrap large black cotton turbans around their heads and wear big silver earrings. Men's garments are similar to those of the Han people.
The traditional festivals include the "Farm-Tool Fair" in January, "God of the Rain Festival" in March, and "Mule and Horse Fair" in July. There are also the Lunar New Year, the Pure Brightness Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Torch Festival -- all being the same as those of the Hans.
Cremation has been a tradition since ancient times, but in some of the Naxi areas the custom of burying the dead was adopted in the late Qing Dynasty. It was common in the past to chant scriptures at the funeral ceremony to expiate the sins of the dead.
The monogamous family under the feudal landlord economy was the main type of Naxi family in Lijiang, Weixi and Yongsheng counties before liberation. However, the man enjoyed a predominant status in the family while the woman had little say and was denied the right to inherit property. Young people's marriages were all arranged by their parents.
Among some of the Naxi people in Yongning County in Yunnan Province and Yanyuan County in Sichuan Province, there still existed remnants of a matriarchal family structure until the eve of the democratic reform after liberation. The pedigree of the family was traced back through the maternal line, and children lived with the mother. The woman was the head of the family, and the property was passed to the children through the mother, or to the nephews through the mother's brothers. Women comprised the main labor force, respected at home and in outside society.
The Naxi communities had reached the stage of feudal society long before the nationwide liberation in 1949, though the stages of development were not the same. In Lijiang, southern Weixi and Yongsheng counties where a feudal landlord economy was prevalent, certain factors of capitalism began to take shape. In Jinjiang and Sanba in Zhongdian County the remnants of manorial economy could still be found. In northern Weixi and part of Ninglang counties in Yunnan Province and Yanyuan County in Sichuan Province, the main form of economy was manorial.
The level of agricultural production was higher in the landlord economy areas. The landlords and rich peasants, who accounted for 10 per cent of the population, owned 60 to 70 percent of the land. They exploited the peasants through land rent, usury and hiring them as farmhands. The rates of the rent ranged from 50 to 80 percent of the crops harvested and the annual interest rates of the usury reached as much as 300 percent. They also exploited the peasants through their privileges, with the backing of reactionary political rulers. They forced the peasants to work for them without pay, to present them with gifts, and to render various kinds of corvee labor.
In the manorial economy areas, the manorial lords owned almost all the land, water resources, grasslands and forests. In some places, each peasant had to do as many as 150 days of unpaid labor a year. The manorial lords in the Yongning area invented 35 pretexts to exploit the peasants. They included the so-called fish tax, water tax, firewood tax, death tax, and passer-by tax.
Under the manorial lord, the commoners were second-class citizens. Generally, the commoners did not own any land, and only after they had accepted merciless exploitation, such as heavy taxes and corvees, were they given a small piece of land. In this way they actually became serfs tied to the land of the lords. If they failed to pay their debts or committed crimes, they could be reduced to the status of household slaves. Completely under their masters' disposal, they could be sold, bought, exchanged or given as presents.
During the War of Resistance Against Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, foreign trade in China's southeastern coastal area came to a standstill and transport between China and Myanmur was blockaded by Japan. This resulted in an unprecedented boosting of Sino-Indian trade, and Lijiang became a trading center for India, Tibet and China's interior. Millionaire businessmen (some being Naxis) began to appear.
Lijiang County had a more developed handicraft industry than the other Naxi areas where landlord economy predominated. It covered iron, copper, carpentry, tanning, textiles, papermaking, tailoring, construction and sculpture. Copper articles and leather products were particularly famous.
The Nu ethnic minority
Major area of distribution: Yunnan
The Nu ethnic minority, numbering some 27,200, live mainly in Yunnan Province's Bijiang, Fugong, Gongshan and Lanping counties, which comprise the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture. Others are found in Weixi County in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
The Nu people speak a language belonging to the Tibetan-Myanmese group of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. It has no written form, and, like many of their ethnic minority neighbors, the Nus used to keep records by carving notches on sticks; educated Nus nowadays use the Han language (Chinese) for administrative purposes.
The Nu homeland is a country of high mountains and deep ravines crossed by the Lancang, Dulong and Nujiang rivers. The famous Grand Nujiang Canyon is surrounded by mountains, which reach 3,000 meters above sea level. Dense virgin forests of pines and firs cover the mountain slopes and are the habitat of tigers, leopards, bears, deer, giant hawks and pheasants.
The area is rich in mineral deposits and valuable medicinal herbs. In addition, with a warm climate and plentiful rain, it promises great hydroelectric potential.
Origins and History
In the eighth century, the area inhabited by the Nus came under the jurisdiction of the Nanzhao and Dali principalities, which were tributary to the Tang (618-907) court. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties it came under the rule of a Naxi headman in Lijiang. From the 17th century, rulers comprised various Tibetan and Bai headmen and Tibetan lamaseries. These rulers usurped the Nus' land and carried many of them off as slaves.
From the mid-1850s, the British colonialists who had conquered Myanmur pushed up the Nujiang River valley. They were followed by American, French and German adventurers. This caused friction with the Nu and other minority peoples in the area, such as the Lisu, Tibetan and Drung ethnic minorities. In 1907, these peoples banded together to stage a mass uprising against the encroachments of French missionaries.
Culture and Customs
Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, social development was uneven among the various Nu communities. The Nu people in Lanping and Weixi counties had long entered the feudal stage, and their methods of production and standard of living were similar to those of the Hans, Bais and Naxis. There were vestiges of primitive communalism in the Nu communities in Bijiang, Fugong and Gongshan, where private ownership and class polarization had only just begun.
Bamboo and wooden farm tools were the main implements of production, and major crops were maize, buckwheat, barley, Tibetan barley, potatoes, yams and beans. Output was low, as fertilizer was not used and crop techniques were primitive. The annual grain harvest was some [220 pounds] short of the per capita need and the diet was supplemented by hunting and fishing using bows and poisoned arrows.
Industry was represented by handicraft products made on a cottage-industry basis -- linen, bamboo and wooden articles, iron tools, and liquor. Surplus handicrafts were bartered for necessities in the small markets.
Before China’s national liberation in 1949, land ownership took three forms: primitive communal type, private and group-ownership. The older Nu villages in Bijiang and Fugong retained vestiges of the ancient patriarchal clan system; there were ten clan communes located in ten separate villages, which each had communal land. According to a 1953 survey, a landlord economy had emerged in Bijiang County, with an increasing number of land sales, mortgages and leases. In some places, rich peasants exploited their poorer neighbors by a system called "washua," under which peasants labored in semi-serf conditions. Slavery was practiced in a fraudulent form of son adoption.
Monogamy was the general practice, although a few wealthy landlords and commune headmen sometimes had more than one wife. After marriage, men would move out of the family dwelling and set up a new household with some of the family property. The new family, however, still retained a cooperative relationship with the parental family and the whole clan. The youngest son lived with his parents and inherited their property. Women had low social status, doing the household chores and working in the fields but having no economic rights at all.
The traditional burial forms dictated that males be buried face upward with straight limbs, while females lay sideways with bent limbs. In the case of a dead couple, the female was made to lie on her side facing the man and with bent limbs -- symbolizing the submission of the female to the male. When an adult died, all the members of the clan or village commune observed three days of mourning.
The Nus live in wooden or bamboo houses, each usually consisting of two rooms. The outer one is for guests and also serves as the kitchen. In the middle is the fireplace, with an iron or stone tripod for hanging cooking pots from. The inner room is used as a bedroom and grain storage, and is off-limits to outsiders. The houses are built by the common efforts of all the villagers and are usually erected in one day.
Until the mid-20th century, both men and women wore linen clothes. Girls after puberty wore long skirts and jackets with buttons on the right side. Nu women in Gongshan wrapped themselves in two pieces of linen cloth and stuck elaborately-worked bamboo tubes through their pierced ears. Married women in Bijiang and Fugong wore coral, agate, shell and silver coin ornaments in their hair and on their chests. For earrings they used shoulder-length copper rings. Besides, all Nu women like to adorn themselves with thin rattan bracelets, belts and anklets. Nu men wear linen gowns and shorts, and carry axes and bows and arrows.
The staple food of the Nus is maize and buckwheat. They rarely grow vegetables. In the past, just before the summer harvest they had to gather wild plants to keep alive. Both men and women drink large quantities of strong liquor.
The Nus were animists, and objects of worship included the sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, trees and rocks. The shamans were often clan or commune chiefs and practiced divination to ensure good harvests. Apart from that, their duties also included primitive medicine and the handing down of the tribe's folklore. Any small mishap was the occasion for holding an elaborate appeasement rite, involving huge waste and hardship to the Nu people. In addition, Lamaism and Christianity had made some headway among the Nus before liberation.
The Nus practice an extempore type of singing accompanied on the lute, flute, mouth organ or reed pipe. Their dances are bold and energetic -- mainly imitations of animal movements.
China’s national liberation came to the Nu areas in 1950. Local governments gave out free food grains, seeds, farm implements and articles of daily use to the Nu people to help them tide over their difficulties and boost production. In 1954 the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture was established, which had under its jurisdiction the counties of Bijiang, Fugong, Gongshan, Lushui and Lanping (this last incorporated in 1957). On October 1, 1956 the Gongshan Drung and Nu Autonomous County was set up.
The pace of social reform varied in the different Nu areas. For instance, in the more-developed Lanping County, where feudalism had gained a strong hold, land reform was carried out, followed by the establishment of cooperatives in 1956. In Bijiang, Fugong and Gongshan counties, where vestiges of primitive communalism still survived, the government adopted a policy of first developing production and then gradually eliminating exploitation and primitive practices.
People from outside were sent in to promote advanced production techniques, and start up educational and public health projects. Special funds were earmarked for irrigation projects, land reclamation, paddy-field development and sideline production.
Light industries and mining, too, have gained a foothold among the Nus, and grain production has increased several times owing to the transformation of poor land into paddy fields. The formerly isolated Nu communities are now linked to each other by a network of highways, and some 20 chain bridges now span the Nujiang, Lancang and Dulong rivers.
At the time of the mid-20th century, only about 20 people of Nu origin had received primary education. Now there are primary schools in all townships and most villages, and a middle school in every county. The majority of Nu children are in school.
Four hospitals and a network of clinics and community healthcare centers have done much to control dysentery, typhoid, cholera and other epidemics.
The Oroqen ethnic minority
Major areas of Distribution: Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang
Language: Oroqen and Han
People of the Oroqen ethnic minority group dwell in the forests of the Greater and Lesser Hinggan Mountains in Northeast China which abound in deer and other wild beasts the Oroqens hunt with shot-guns and dogs. The Oroqens, who lived in a primitive communal society four and a half decades ago, have leap-frogged several historical stages to a socialist society in the years following the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
With no written script of their own, the Oroqens have a spoken language belonging to the Tungus branch of the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic language family. Most of them have learned to read and write the language of the Hans, the biggest ethnic group in China.
The Oroqen population, which stood at 4,000 in 1917, dropped to 3,700 in 1943. A census taken in 1953 showed that their number had plummeted to 2,250. The population has started to grow slowly but steadily since, and the census in 1982 showed that their number has reached 4,100. The 1990 national census showed 7,000.
Most of the Oroqens live in the [22,000 square-mile] Oroqen Autonomous Banner in the Greater Hinggan Mountains. Others have their home in several localities in Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang Province. Situated in Inner Mongolia's Hulunbuir League, the Oroqen Autonomous Banner is 97 percent forested land. The seat of the autonomous government is Alihe, a rising town with highways, railways, cinemas, hotels, department stores, restaurants, electric lighting and other modern amenities.
For generations the Oroqens had lived a life of hunting and fishing in the forests. They went on hunting expeditions in groups, and the game bagged was distributed equally not only to those taking part in the hunt, but also to the aged and infirm. The heads, entrails and bones of the animals killed were not distributed but were cooked and eaten by all. Later, deer antlers, which fetched a good price, were not distributed but went to the hunters who killed the animals.
On the eve of the founding of the PRC in 1949, polarization was quite marked in some localities where horses, on which Oroqens rode on hunting trips, belonged to individuals. The rich owned a large number of horses and the poor owned a few. Horses were hired out to those hunters who needed them, and payment took the form of game sent to horse owners. Such a practice gradually developed into rent and exploitation of man by man.
The Oroqens are an honest and friendly people who always treat their guests well. People who lodge in an Oroqen home would often hear the housewife say to the husband early in the morning: "I'm going to hunt some breakfast for our guests and you go to fetch water." When the guests have washed, the woman with gun slung over her shoulders would return with a roe back. The Oroqens are expert hunters. Both the males and females are sharp shooters on horseback. Boys usually start to go out on hunting trips with their parents or brothers at the age of seven or eight. And they would be stalking wild beasts in the deep forest all on their own at 17. A good hunter is respected by all and young maidens like to marry him.
Horses are indispensable to the Oroqens on their hunting expeditions. Hunters ride on horses, which also carry their family belongings and provisions as well as the game they killed over mountains and across marshes and rivers. The Oroqen horse is a very sturdy breed with extra-large hooves that prevent the animal from sinking into marshland.
Oroqen women, who also hunt, show marvelous skill in embroidering patterns of deer, bears and horses on pelts and cloth that go into the making of head gears, gloves, boots and garments. Oroqen women also make basins, bowls, boxes and other objects from birch barks. Engraved with various designs and dyed in color, these objects are artistic works that convey the idea of simplicity and beauty. Taught by their mothers while still very young to rub fur, dry meat and gather fruit in the forest, Oroqen girls start to do household work at 13 or 14. Pelts prepared by Oroqen women are soft, fluffy and light, and they are used in making garments, hats, gloves, socks and blankets as well as tents.
The Oroqens, who led a primitive life, used to have many taboos. One prohibited a woman from giving birth in the home. She had to do that in a little hut built outside the house in which she would be confined for a month before she could return home with her newborn.
The Oroqens are a race of dancers and singers. Men, women and children often gather to sing and dance when the hunters return with their game or at festival times.
With a rich and varied repertory of folk songs, the Oroqens sing praises of nature and love, hunting and struggles in life in a lively rhythm. Among the most popular Oroqen dances are the "Black Bears Fight" and "Wood Cock Dance," at which the dancers execute movements like those of animals and birds. Also popular is a ritual in which members of a clan gather to perform dances depicting events in clan history.
"Pengnuhua" (a kind of harmonica) and "Wentuwen" (hand drum) are among the traditional instruments used. Played by Oroqen musicians, these instruments produce tunes that sound like the twittering of birds or the braying of deer. These instruments are sometimes used to lure wild beasts to within shooting range.
The Oroqens have many tales, fables, legends, proverbs and riddles that have been handed down from generation to generation.
Being Shamanists or animists, the Oroqens worship nature and their ancestors, and believe in the omnipresence of spirits. Their objects of worship are carefully kept in birch-bark boxes hung high on trees behind their tents.
The Oroqens have a long list of don'ts. For instance, they never call the tiger by its actual name but just "long tail," and the bear "granddad." Bears killed are generally honored with a series of ceremonies; their bones are wrapped in straw placed high on trees and offerings are made for the souls of dead bears. Oroqens do not work out their hunting plans in advance, because they believe that the shoulder blades of wild beasts have the power to see through a plan when one is made.
Wind burials are practiced by the Oroqens. When a person dies his corpse is put into a hollowed-out tree trunk and placed with head pointing south on two-meter high supports in the forest. Sometimes the horse of the deceased is killed to accompany the departing soul to netherworld. Only the bodies of young people who die of contagious diseases are cremated.
Monogamy is practiced by the Oroqens who are only permitted to marry with people outside their own clans. Proposals for marriage as a rule are made by go-betweens, sent to girls' families by boys' families.
The Oroqens originally peopled the region north of the Heilong River and south of the Outer Hinggan Mountains. But aggression and pillaging conducted by Tsarist Russia after the mid-17th century forced the Oroqens to migrate to the Greater and Lesser Hinggan Mountains. There were then seven tribes living in a clan commune society. Each clan commune called "Wulileng" consisted of five to a dozen families descended from a male ancestor. The commune head was elected. In the commune, which was then the basic economic unit of the Oroqens, all production tools were communally owned. The commune members hunted together, and the game bagged was equally distributed to all families.
The introduction of iron articles and guns and the use of horses during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) raised the productive forces of the Oroqens to a higher level. This gave rise to bartering on a bigger scale and the emergence of private ownership. That brought about profound social, economic changes. Individual families quit the clan commune and became basic economic units. The clan commune had disintegrated, though members of the same clan did live or hunt together in the same area. Organized under the Qing Dynasty's "eight banner system," the Oroqens were compelled to enlist in the armed forces and send fur to the Qing court as tributes. Most soldiers sent to fight in Xinjiang, Yunnan, Taiwan and other places lost their lives.
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 came the rule of warlords who effected some changes in the administrative setup of the "eight banner system." Oroqen youths were dragged into "forest guerrilla units," and Oroqen hunters were forced to settle down to farm. Most of them later fled back to hunt in the forests. A few whom the warlords had made officers became landlords who hired Oroqen, Han, Manchu and Daur laborers to open up large tracts of land for crops.
The Japanese troops, who occupied northeast China in 1931, pulled down the cottages and smashed the farm implements of the remaining Oroqen farmers and drove them into the forests again. Oroqen youths were press-ganged into "forest detachments" officered by Japanese. The Japanese occupationists introduced opium smoking to ruin the health of the Oroqen people, some of whom were used in bacteria experiments. All this, coupled with incidence of epidemic diseases, had so decimated the Oroqen population that only some 1,000 of them remained at the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945.
Over a long period of time, the Oroqens had fought alongside other ethnic groups in China against Tsarist Russian and Japanese aggression to safeguard national unity.
New Life After the Founding of PRC
The Oroqen ethnic group was saved from extinction and a new life began to dawn for this ethnic minority in the years following the conclusion of the Anti-Japanese War in 1945. Shot-guns, cartridges and supplies of food-grain, clothes, cooking oil and salt were sent to the Oroqens by the government in the early days after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. People sent by the government helped them to raise production as well as to set up local government.
Following the inception of the Oroqen Autonomous Banner on October 1, 1951, several autonomous townships were set up in places where the Oroqens live in compact communities. By 1981, government allocation for construction in these places had already amounted to 46 million yuan. Working at leading bodies at various levels are Oroqen functionaries.
While helping the Oroqens to promote hunting, the government made efforts to help them switch over to a diversified economy and to lead a settled life.
The building of permanent housing for the Oroqens got started in 1952 with government allocations. A dozen villages were built in the Heihe Area for 300 families that used to lead a wandering life in 51 widely-scattered localities. Another three villages were built for 150 families in 1958.
Taught by Han and Daur farmers, the Oroqens began to grow crops in 1956. And by 1975, the people in the autonomous banner became self-supporting in food-grain for the first time in Oroqen history.
With no industry whatsoever in the past, the autonomous banner has now established 37 factories and workshops turning out farm machinery, electric appliances, flour, powdered milk, furniture, leather, fur and candies. The banner also has built schools, department stores, hospitals, banks and cinemas.
All school-age children are enrolled in primary and middle schools. Every year a number of youngsters enter institutions of higher learning. The Oroqen people also have their own song and dance troupes, film projection teams, broadcast stations and clubs.
Diseases took a heavy toll in the old days and 80 percent of the women suffered from gynecological troubles due to the lack of doctors and medicine and ignorance. They have been put under control with the help of mobile medical teams sent by the government, the launching of disease-prevention campaigns and the popularization of the knowledge of hygiene. As a result the Oroqen population increased to 4,100 in 1982.