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The shui ethnic minority

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There are in China 406,902 Shuis, the majority of whom dwell on the upper reaches of the Longjiang and Duliu rivers that meander across plains and rolling land interspersed with vast expanses of forests in southern Guizhou Province. They live in compact communities in the Sandu Shui Autonomous County and in Libo, Dushan and other counties. Some Shuis have their homes in the northwestern part of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The residential areas of the Shui people are located at the south side of the Miaoling Mountains and the upper reaches of the Duliu River and the Longjiang River in the southeast part of the Yun(nan)-Gui(zhou) Plateau, where forests are densely covered, mountains and rivers are like pictures. These areas are suitable for the development of agroforestry. They are the land of fish, rice, flowers and fruit on Guizhou Plateau.

        The Shui people are engaged in farming, mostly planting paddy rice. “Jiuqian Wine” is the traditional good wine of the Shui people.

        The remote ancestor of the Shui people was a branch of the ancient “Baiyue” people, which, with the Zhuang, the Dong, etc., was called by a joint name of “Liao” during the period of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) and the Song Dynasty (960 – 1297). “Fushui Prefecture” was set up in the populated area of the Shui people at the time of the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127). The name of “Shui” was first found in the historical records of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). The names of “Shuijia-Miao” and “Shui-jia” were mostly called in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). The Shui Ethnic Group has been formally named after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

        The Shui language belongs to the Shui language of the Zhuang and Dong language branch of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family. The ancestors of the Shui people created their own written language, called “Shui” scripts. The shape was similar to that of the inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells or to “Jinwen” scripts. However, they had only 400-odd words, mostly used for witchcraft activities. The Shui people have their own calendar, which is basically identical with the traditional Chinese calendar. However, the 8th month in the traditional Chinese lunar calendar is considered as the end of the year in the Shui calendar and the 9th month, the beginning of the year. There are four days for the last of the Twelve Earthly Branches from the end of August to the beginning of October in the traditional Chinese calendar, which are in turn the Spring Festivals for various villages of the Shui people. The Shui people call the Spring Festival “Jieduan” (transliteration from the Shui language), which is celebrated grandly and lively. On the occasion all kinds of recreational activities are carried out, such as drums and gongs beating, Lusheng playing, horse racing, dancing and singing, etc..

        The Shui people continue to keep the strong traditional color in the customs in weddings and funerals. They stress importance of a right and legal marriage. Before getting married, young man and women may make use of the opportunity of singing in antiphonal styles on festivals or when going to village fairs to make friends or have love affairs. Even if they become engaged through their free love, formal weddings must be carried out for their marriage. Otherwise, it will not conform to the etiquette and such a marriage will be discriminated by others. After the young boy and girl fall in love with each other, they should ask somebody to tell their parents of both sides. In case their parents would express agreement with it, the future bridegroom's family may ask the matchmaker to send presents for the engagement. And a lucky day should be fixed to send a group of people to the future bride's home, carrying piglets for “Chixiaojiu” (small-scale dinner party for celebrating their engagement). When the bridegroom's side formally welcomes the bride on the wedding day, they send a group of people to deliver the bride's a big fat pig for “Chidajiu” (grand-scale dinner party for celebrating their marriage). At the dinner party, songs for toasting should be sung. After the hostess sings a song, the guests should drink up a bowlful of wine until the guests should be dead drunk, thus showing the boundless hospitality of the hostess. The families of both sides' should not join the activities of fetching the bride or sending the bride. Except in rare areas that the bride should be carried to the groom's on the back of the bride's brother, in most cases, the bride is dressed in her best, carrying in her hand a red paper umbrella that has been deliberately torn with a crack and walking in front of the queue. The accompany boys and girls and the long queue carrying dowries and trousseaus follow closely after the bride. The bride generally goes out of her parents' home around noon, and gets into the groom's home at six or seven o'clock in the evening. Before the lucky time comes, the bride should not get into the groom's home. Before the bride gets into the bridegroom's home, the bridegroom's families should go out of their doors to avoid meeting the bride. They should not come back until the bride gets into their home. At the night of the newly-married couple the accompany girl should stay up with the bride. The next day after the marriage ceremony, the bride should go back to her parents' home and stay with her parents. At the proper time after the wedding ceremony at the bridegroom's home, the bridegroom may ask the bride come back to the groom's home and begin their new life of husband and wife. Some brides go back to their own parents' homes for “Zuojia” (staying at home) for a period of time up to one or two months for the first time, which is the remaining marriage custom of “Buluofujia” (separation of newly married couples). There is a most taboo that both families are afraid of weather change with thunders on the way of the bride's going to the bridegroom's home, therefore, wedding ceremonies are generally held in autumn or in winter.

        There have been not so great differences between men's clothes of the Shui people and the neighboring Han people since 1940s. However, women's clothes and adornments of the Shui people have still kept their own clear ethnic features. Women's clothes, mostly made with the cotton cloth woven by the Shui women themselves, are semi-long or long upper garments with the buttons on the right or short open-front coats without collars. The long garment is long enough down to the knee, without decorative borders. For the clothes in their festivals best or on their wedding ceremonies, they are entirely different from those worn at the ordinary times. Around the shoulder and the cuff of sleeves of the wedding clothes and at the knee of the trousers, they are trimmed with embroidered laces. There are also colorful patterns on their cover-chiefs. With silver crowns on the head, silver neck-lets around the neck, silver bracelets on the wrists, silver Yaling plastron on the chest, silver earrings on the earlobes, embroidered shoes worn on the feet, the bride is gorgeously dressed, cutting quite a fine figure.

        Besides, the embroidered straps or suspenders by the Shui women are of more artistic quality. For the so-called “belts”, in fact, they are a kind of elegant “screen” in “T” form, the size of the screen should be large enough to wrap up and carrying a baby on the back, with belts on the lateral ends of the upper part. The embroidered patterns on the braces, which use white or color silk threads winding on the white horsetail to embroider various patterns well first, then inlaid them on the cloth of the strap. The strap, beautiful and practical, is a very good present for the daughter's marriage from her mother.

The Shuis boast a treasure house of colorful oral literature and art. Their literature includes poetry, legends, fairy tales and fables. Among the various forms, poetry, which consists of long narrative poems and extemporaneous ballads, are generally considered the most prominent.

Stories and fables in prose style praise the diligence, bravery, wisdom and love of the Shui ethnic group and satirize the stupidity of feudal rulers. With rich content and vivid plots Shui tales are usually highly romantic.

Their songs, which are usually sung without the accompaniment of musical instruments, fall into two categories. The "grand songs" are sung while they work, whereas the "wine songs" are meant for wedding feasts or funerals.

The Shui people are good dancers. "Lusheng Dance" and "Copper Drum Dance" are the most popular dances enjoyed by all on festive occasions. Traditional musical instruments include gongs, drums, lusheng, huqin and suona horns. The Shui people make beautiful handicrafts -- embroideries, batiks, paper cuts and woodcarvings.


The name Hui is an abbreviation for "Huihui," which first appeared in the literature of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It referred to the Huihe people (the Ouigurs) who lived in Anxi in the present-day Xinjiang and its vicinity since the Tang Dynasty (618-907). They were actually forerunners of the present-day Uygurs, who are totally different from today's Huis or Huihuis.

During the early years of the 13th century when Mongolian troops were making their western expeditions, group after group of Islamic-oriented people from Middle Asia, as well as Persians and Arabs, either were forced to move or voluntarily migrated into China. As artisans, tradesmen, scholars, officials and religious leaders, they spread to many parts of the country and settled down mainly to livestock breeding. These people, who were also called Huis or Huihuis because their religious beliefs were identical with people in Anxi, were part of the ancestors to today's Huis.

Earlier, about the middle of the 7th century, Islamic Arabs and Persians came to China to trade and later some became permanent residents of such cities as Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Hangzhou, Yangzhou and Chang'an (today's Xi'an). These people, referred to as "fanke" (guests from outlying regions), built mosques and public cemeteries for themselves. Some married and had children who came to be known as "tusheng fanke," meaning "native-born guests from outlying regions." During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), these people became part of the Huihuis, who were coming in great numbers to China from Middle Asia.

The Huihuis of today are therefore an ethnic group that finds its origins mainly with the above-mentioned two categories, which in the course of development took in people from a number of other ethnic groups including the Hans, Mongolians and Uygurs.

It is generally acknowledged that Huihui culture began mainly during the Yuan Dynasty.

Warfare and farming were the two dominant factors of this period. During their westward invasion, the Mongols turned people from Middle Asia into scouts and sent them eastward on military missions. These civilians-turned-military scouts were expected to settle down at various locations and to breed livestock while maintaining combat readiness. They founded settlements in areas in today's Gansu, Henan, Shandong, Hebei and Yunnan provinces and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. They later were joined by more scouts sent from the west. As time went by they became ordinary farmers and herdsmen. Among the Islamic Middle Asians, there were a number of artisans and tradesmen. The majority of these people settled in cities and along vital communication lines, taking to handicrafts and commerce. Because of these activities a common economic life began to take shape among the Huihuis. Scattered as they were, they stuck together in relative concentration in settlements and around mosques which they built. This has been handed down as a specific feature of the distribution of Hui population in China.

The Huihui scouts and a good number of Huihui aristocrats, officials, scholars and merchants sent eastward by the Mongols were quite active in China. They exercised influence on the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty and its military, political and economic affairs. The involvement of Huihui upper-class elements in the politics of Yuan Dynasty in turn helped to promote the development of Huihuis in many fields.

Generally speaking, the social position of Huihuis during the Yuan Dynasty was higher than that of the Hans. Nevertheless, they were still subjected to the oppression of Yuan rulers. After going through the hardships of their eastward exodus, they continued to be in the hands of various Mongolian officials, functioning either as herdsmen or as government and army artisans. A fraction of them even were allocated to Mongolian aristocrats to serve as house slaves.

Being people who came to China from places where social systems, customs and habits differed from those in the east, the Huihuis began to cultivate their own national consciousness. This was caused also by their relative concentration with mosques as the center of their social activities, by their increasing economic contacts with each other, by their common political fate and their common belief in the Islamic religion.

It was during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that the Huihuis began to emerge as an ethnic group.

Along with the nationwide restoration and development of the social economy in the early Ming Dynasty years, the distribution and economic status of the Huihui population underwent a drastic change. The number of Huihuis in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces increased as more and more Huihuis from other parts of the country submitted themselves to the Ming court and joined their people in farming.

Other factors contributed to their dispersion: industrial and commercial exchanges, assignment of Huihui garrison troops to various areas to open up wasteland and grow food grain, nationwide tours by Huihui officials and scholars, and especially the migration of Huihuis during peasant uprisings. They still managed, however, to maintain their tradition of concentration by setting up their own villages in the countryside or sticking together in suburban areas or along particular streets and lanes in cities. The dislocation of military scouts dating from the Yuan Dynasty had enabled the Huihuis to extricate themselves gradually from military involvement and to settle down to farming, breeding livestock, handicrafts and small-scale trading. Thus they established a new common economic life among themselves, characterized by an agricultural economy.

During the initial stage of their eastward exodus, the Huihuis used the Arab, Persian and Han languages. However, in the course of their long years living with the Hans, and especially due to the increasing number of Hans joining their ranks, they gradually spoke the Han language only, while maintaining certain Arab and Persian phrases. Huihui culture originally had been characterized by influences from the traditional culture of Western Asia and assimilation from the Han culture. However, due to the introduction of the Han language as a common language, the tendency to assimilate the Han culture became more obvious. The Huihuis began to wear clothing like the Hans. Huihui names were still used, but Han names and surnames became accepted and gradually became dominant.

Islamic Religion

The Islamic religion had a deep influence on the life style of the Hui people. For instance, soon after birth, an infant was to be given a Huihui name by an ahung (imam); wedding ceremonies must be witnessed by ahungs; a deceased person must be cleaned with water, wrapped with white cloth and buried coffinless and promptly in the presence of an ahung who serves as the presider. Men were accustomed to wearing white or black brimless hats, specially during religious services, while women were seen with black, white or green scarves on their head -- a habit which also derived from religious practices. The Huis never eat pork nor the blood of any animal or creature that died of itself, and they refuse to take alcohol. These taboos originated in the Koran of the Moslems. The Huis are very particular about sanitation and hygiene. Likewise, before attending religious services, they have to observe either a "minor cleaning," i.e. wash their face, mouth, nose, hands and feet, or a "major cleaning," which requires a thorough bath of the whole body.

Islamism also had great impact on the political and economic systems of Hui society. "Jiaofang" or "religious community," as once practiced among the Huis, was a religious system as well as an economic system. According to the system, a mosque was to be built at each location inhabited by Huis, ranging from a dozen to several hundred households. An imam was to be invited to preside over the religious affairs of the community as well as to take responsibility over all aspects of the livelihood of its members and to collect religious levies and other taxes from them. A mosque functioned not only as a place for religious activities but also as a rendezvous where the public met to discuss matters of common interest. Religious communities, operating quite independently from each other, had thus become the basic social units for the widely dispersed Hui people. Following the development of the Hui's agricultural economy and the increase of religious taxes levied on them, some chief imams began to build up their personal wealth. They used this to invest in land properties and engage in exploitation through land rents. The imams gradually changed themselves into landlords. Working in collaboration with secular landlords, they enjoyed comprehensive power in the religious communities, which they held tightly under their control. They left routine religious affairs of the mosques to low-rank ahungs.

The last stage of the Ming Dynasty and the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) saw the emergence of a new system of religious aristocracy among the Huis in Hezhou (today's Linxia in Gansu Province). It came into existence as a result of intensified land concentration which exceeded the boundaries of one single religious community. This made certain imams rulers of a whole series of religious communities, turning them into Islamic aristocrats. They were deified. Kiosks were erected in their cemeteries for Moslems under their jurisdiction to worship. Their position was seen as hereditary. They enjoyed a series of feudalistic privileges as well as absolute authority over their people. The system had been in existence, however, only in some of the Hui areas in Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai. The Huis in hinterland China had always functioned under the religious community system.

Life in the 20th Century

After 1949, the Chinese government has carried out a policy of regional ethnic autonomy in Hui-populated areas. Because Huis differ from place to place, such self-autonomy has taken on various forms. Along with the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Linxia and Changji Hui Autonomous prefectures in Gansu Province and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region came into existence. Also six Hui autonomous counties were established in Zhangjiachuan of Gansu Province, Menyuan and Hualong of Qinghai Province, Yanqi of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Dachang and Mengcun of Hebei Province. In addition, there are three other autonomous counties jointly set up by Huis with people of other ethnic groups. The right to ethnic equality and autonomy has thus been realized among the Hui people.

Officials from the Hui ethnic minority occupy an appropriate percentage in the organs of autonomy at all levels. Most leading positions in the power organs as well as leading positions in various executive departments and professional bodies are taken up by outstanding Huis. Emphasis has been laid on the training of Hui office executives, professionals and technical personnel who are competent in their work and politically progressive. All Hui officials, executives and professionals are expected to work for the advancement of industry, agriculture, animal husbandry, culture and education in accordance with local conditions. Considerable attention has been paid to the various Hui autonomous areas in terms of investment in capital construction and of manpower, material resources and technology
Huis that live scattered across the country have the similar right to enjoy ethnic equality and to direct their own affairs. Their identity as members of an established ethnic group is respected. The political status of the Hui people has been greatly raised. An appropriate number of representatives have been elected from the Huis to take part in National People's Congresses. People's Congresses held at lower levels also have Hui representation. Hui officials work in government departments at central and local levels.

The majority of Huis believe in Islamism. Their religious freedom, customs and habits are respected and guaranteed. Since 1979, the policies on ethnic minorities and religion have continued in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and elsewhere in the country after disruptions caused by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). By May 1984, 1,400 mosques had been restored in Ningxia. This has made it possible for Moslems throughout the autonomous region to normalize their religious activities. An institute for the study of Islamic scriptures was established in 1982. It takes in students from among the ahungs every year. An Islamism research society also was set up to conduct academic and research activities on Islamism. In recent years, many young Huis have made efforts to learn Islamic classics in Arabic. Patriotic figures from Islamic circles have attended Chinese People's Political Consultative Conferences and People's Congresses at various levels. Many of them have taken up leading positions in government organs.

The social and economic situation among the Hui people has undergone fundamental changes during the last three decades. The Democratic Reform in the early 1950s and the subsequent socialist transformation put an end to the system of class oppression within the ranks of the Huis. This made it possible for them to join hands with the other ethnic groups of China in embarking on the road of socialism.

The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region has established a number of modern industries, covering such fields as coal, power, machinery, metallurgy, chemicals, light industry, petroleum and electronics. Industrial and agricultural production in the region has risen continuously since 1979.

The production and livelihood of the Huis in the countryside have improved continuously. Considerable progress has been made by the Huis in farmland capital construction, construction of water conservancy works and mechanized farming. They also have made efforts to fight drought, waterlogging, soil salinization and erosion and sand encroachment of farmland as well as natural calamities. In Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu Province, irrigated farmland has been increasing year by year as a result of the construction of large-scale key water control projects at Qingtong and Liujia Gorges on the upper reaches of the Yellow River and a series of reservoirs and irrigation canals. Stripe-shaped fields suitable for tractor-ploughing, irrigation and drainage have appeared in quite a few places. The fields will serve as a foundation for the construction of commodity grain production bases.

To improve the situation in the Liupan Mountain area plagued by serious water shortage almost every year, the central government has allocated funds for the construction of pumping projects. These are in Tongxin, Guyuan and Haiyuan and will extract water from the Yellow River and life it step by step onto the age-old dry lands. The projects are expected to solve the problem of drinking water and irrigation water among the broad masses of Hui and Han peoples.

Mechanization of farming has progressed in Hui villages. Farming methods and cultivation techniques, too, have undergone marked improvements.

The Hui people as well as people of other ethnic groups in Ningxia have accumulated rich experience in checking sand erosion by means of afforestation in the course of their protracted struggle against desertization. In 1978, the central government decided to build a large-scale shelter-forest that would run across the length of the autonomous region. The forest belt, when completed, will help control the sand and thus change the climate and other natural conditions of Ningxia. This in turn will speed the modernization of the region's agriculture.

Since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, elementary education has on the whole been made universal among the Huis. In Hui-populated areas, the Hui people have set up their own primary and secondary schools in their communities. Their children are able to attend schools close to their homes. They also have their own professors, engineers, doctors, scientists, writers, artists and specialists. In 1958 the first college was founded in the autonomous region. Today, specialized personnel of Hui and other ethnic groups are being trained at Ningxia University, Ningxia Medical College and Ningxia Institute of Agronomy. Ending 1982, the autonomous region had more than 5,000 schools at various levels with a student population of about 800,000.

Numerous fetters that had been forced upon Hui women over the years have been gradually removed as a result of improved education. Secondary and primary schools for female students have been established in some of the Hui-populated areas. An increasing number of Hui women are attending evening schools and schools arranged during slack winter seasons. Having acquired education at varying degrees, many of them are now skilled workers, and more are officials of various levels, as well as actresses, doctors, teachers and engineers.

Mass literary, artistic and sports activities have been spreading among the Huis, resulting in the emergence of outstanding artists and sportsmen. The skills of veteran Hui artisans in producing such traditional special handicrafts as carved ivory, cloisonne, Suzhou embroidery, carved bricks and carpets have been carried on and developed.

Medical and public health establishments have been widely set up in Hui-populated areas. Hui medical workers have been trained in large numbers. In major cities like Beijing and Tianjin, where the concentration of Huis is relatively larger, special hospitals have been provided for them. Mobile medical teams have been organized in some places to tour the countryside and mountainous areas where the Huis live. Many of the local epidemic diseases either have been put under control or eliminated. This, coupled with the improvement of economic and cultural life among the Huis, has greatly raised the general level of their health.

The Shuishu also keeps a set of calendar, Shui Calendar.
The costume characteristics—Blue and green colors favored
The Shuis usually love to dress in black and blue and the material, namely the famous  “Shuijia Cloth”, is usually homemade and dyed. Men have long collarless gowns, black turbans and white short jacket inside. Their trousers and shoes are also blue. Now men’s costume is as the same as those of the Hans. And women, with their hair in buns, usually wear collarless blue blouses, black trousers and aprons, all of which are embroidered. On festival occasions, they put on a variety of silver earrings, necklaces and bracelets.

The singing and the dancing---The Shui songs and the copper drum dance
The Shui have rich oral ballads, which fall into several categorized, such as ancient ballads, ceremony ballads, wine ballads, funeral ballads, love ballads and marriage ballads. And according to their forms, these ballads come into three categories: double ballads, single ballads and Diu ballads. The lyrics are rhymed and most of them have seven characters in a line with analogy and metaphor. Copper Drum dance, the most famous dance of the Shuis, evolves from ancient sacrificial rice dance and is enjoyed during sacrificial rite, holidays and funerals. The performances are male and the number of performers should be even. During the performance, the drum is placed on the tripod. The performer beat the side of the drum with a wooden drumstick in one hand, and beat the drum with another drumstick in another hand and dance at the same time. The scene looks splendid.

The religion—The ancestor worship and the polytheism
The Shuis worship their ancestors and are believers of polytheism. The civil gods include female ancestor  “Niangniang goddess” and male ancestor  “En’gong”. The main religious ceremonies include Baixia and worship the god of fire. Baixia, worship the god of stone, is held every twelve or six year. The old Shaman who is familiar with the Shui language recite the words and everyone toast for the god and pray for the good weather for crops. The worship of the god of fire is held every year. At first, Xizhai is held. During the period of Xizhai, strangers are not allowed to step into the villages and cannot set fire or light a lamp. After Xizhai, villagers pick a lucky day to sacrifice cattle for the god of fire and the god of the village to pray for peace and happiness. The festival costumes—The Duan Festival and the Mao Festival The Shui have a calendar if their own which takes the ninth lunar month as the beginning of a new year and the eighth month as the end of a year. Their biggest festival is the “Duan Festival” that is celebrated with great pomp after the autumn harvest from the beginning of the 11th lunar month every year. Garbed in their colorful costumes the day before the holiday, the Shuis sacrifice the copper drum and their ancestors. On the holiday, after the reunion feast, they watch horse races and perform Copper Drum dance and Lusheng dance. Mao Festival is during May and June. Young men and women dress up to sing in antiphonal style to find their lovers


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