Ling Canal

Zhuang people

The Zhuang (in the Zhuang language: Bouчcueŋь/Bouxcuengh; ) are an ethnic group of people who mostly live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China. They form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. Their population, estimated at 18 million people, puts them second only to the Han Chinese and makes the Zhuang the largest minority in China.

The Zhuang live mostly in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China. Some also live in the Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou and Hunan provinces.

Etymological note

The name of the Zhuang minority used to be written 獞. However, the character also refers to a variety of wild dogs, so it was considered an ethnic slur. In 1949, the "animal" radical was replaced by the "human" radical, and the character became 僮. Eventually, the character was replaced with 壮, a character already in existence meaning "sturdy" or "strong".



The Zhuang are of Tai origin, a people who migrated south from central China roughly 5,000 years ago. The Zhuang settled in what is now Guangxi while other Tai peoples moved to Yunnan. It is suggested the Tai peoples migrated for food purposes, as the culture developed a unique irrigation system which was useful for growing rice. As the soil was unsuitable for this purpose in Central China, the Tai sought out more fertile plains. However, it is highly probable that struggles with emerging Chinese states that rapidly gained power with Mesolithic (Bronze Age) weapons had something to do with this. Long struggles with China to avoid destruction (as they were "barbarians") led Tais around 1100 AD to migrate south from Southern China to create the Lao, Thai and Shan peoples of Indochina, and even as far away as Assam, India.

The dynasties

The Zhuang did not record their history until the Eastern Zhou dynasty (475-221 BC) of China. The Chinese referred to the area as Bai-Yue 百越/百粵 (the Hundred Yue - referring to the aborigines of southern China). Eastern Guangxi was conquered by the Han people under the Qin Dynasty in 214 BC. The Hans, to bring the area firmly in their control, built the Ling Canal to link the Xiang and Lijiang rivers and form a North-South waterway.

An independent state known as Nan Yue (Southern Yue, or Vietnam) around Canton was created by General Zhao Tuo when the Qin Dynasty collapsed. This Kingdom was supported by the Zhuang until its collapse in 111 BC. The Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) thought the Zhuang culture unproductive, so they reduced local authority and consolidated their authority with Military posts at Guilin, Wuzhou, and Yulin.

In 42 AD, the Trung Sisters uprising was quelled by an army under General Ma Yuan, who sought not only victory on the battlefield but felt true concern for the Zhuang people. He reorganized the Zhuang Local Authority, improved public works, dug canals and reclaimed land to increase production. His work brought the Zhuang into a more modern condition, and temples in his honor can still be seen to this day.

An influx of immigrant Yao people from Hunan after the collapse of the Han Dynasty caused the region to become unstable as the Yao showed hostility to assimilation. The Guiping area of Guangxi, where the Yao settled, would become a hotbed of revolution against Han rule, causing the Zhuang people to suffer terribly, despite their passive stance on assimilation.

Under the Tang Dynasty Guangxi became part of Ling-nan Tao (large province) with present day Hainan and Guangdong. The noted scholar Liu Zongyuan was prefectural administrator at Liuzhou. Irked by Chinese expansion, however, the Zhuang moved to support the Tai kingdom of Nanchao in Yunnan. Guangxi was then divided into an area of Zhuang ascendancy west of Nanning and an area of Han ascendancy east of Nanning.

After the collapse of the Tang a new Chinese kingdom known as Nan Han (Southern Han), based in Guangdong, gained minimal control over the Zhuang, but the Nan Han Kingdom was plagued by instability and it was annexed by the Song Dynasty of China in 971. The Nan Han rule of the Zhuang was marked by minimal interference in Zhuang affairs by the Chinese rulers.

The Song developed a new way of dealing with the Zhuang that was a combination of force and appeasement, a policy that neither satisfied the aspirations of the Zhuang nor ended the savage warfare brought to the region by the Yao against the Chinese. In 1052 a Zhuang leader, Nong Zhigao, led a revolt and set up an independent kingdom in the Southwest. The revolt was crushed, and the Song rule became more brutal, causing the region to spasm in revolt against the Chinese.

After the Yuan Dynasty liquidated the Song, they spent several years deciding what to do with the Zhuang. Weary of the bad relationship previous Chinese rulers had with the region, they decided to make it a full province of China rather than let it remain an occupied territory. This only caused greater stress as the Zhuang and Yao felt alienated, and hated direct rule from the Chinese government. Further complicating Zhuang aspirations, another aboriginal people, the Miao, left Guizhou and Hunan for the Zhuang lands.

The area continued to be unruly, forcing the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to impose an underhanded way of dealing with it: the Ming would give tribal leaders of the Zhuang an army to attack the Yao. Once the Yao were devastated, the Ming used the armies they had given the Zhuang leaders to kill the Zhuang leaders, and force a leaderless Zhuang society under their heavy handed rule. This resulted in perhaps the bloodiest period of history in a relatively calm region. At the Battle of Rattan Gorge, in 1465, 20,000 deaths were reported. The Ming policy failed, but the larger cities in the region did prosper under Ming economic reform.

The Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) let the region remain in chaos until 1726 when they imposed direct rule as the Yuan had. This was also a failed venture as a Yao revolution took place in 1831. Twenty years later, in 1850, the same area witnessed the Taiping Rebellion break out. The execution of a French missionary led to the Second Opium war in 1858. The Franco-Chinese War of 1885 put Vietnam under French supremacy and opened up the area to foreign encroachment. All of this caused a constant economic depression through the nineteenth century.

Modern times

Together with neighboring Guangdong, Guangxi became an area of Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙)'s Nationalist (國民黨) revolution. With the fall of the Qing, the Zhuang sent representatives to the central government to campaign for Guangxi autonomy, but when years of protocol failed, the "Guangxi Clique" turned to open revolt in 1927. Maintaining a defiant self-rule stance for two years, the Zhuang leaders of Li Tsung-jen and Li Chi-shen modernized Guangxi, but Chiang Kai-shek ruthlessly crushed their revolt in 1929. Despite the Clique's failure, Chiang could not put Guangxi under direct provincial rule, and it remained unruly until 1950. The Kuomintang's suppression of Guangxi led to widespread support of Communism.

During World War II Guangxi was a major target of Japanese attacks, as they invaded the coast in 1939. The famous patriotic newspaper National Salvation Daily was printed at Guilin. In 1944, the Japanese launched a major offensive to take the western half of Guangxi, but with relentless Zhuang guerrillas and a Chinese counterattack, the Japanese were routed.



There is an indigenous Zhuang language, which has been written with Zhuang logograms based on Chinese characters for over a thousand years, and now is officially written in Roman letters.


Most Zhuang follow a traditional animist/ancestor-oriented religion, however, there are a number of Buddhists, Daoists, and Christians in Guangxi as well.

Zhuang medicine

Zhuang medicine is a complementary and alternative medicine. Prescriptions about how to detoxificate and how to treat malaria began to appear in medical books of Tang and Song Dynasties (AD 618 - 1279), which was called Lingnan Prescription. The Ming and Qing Dynasties (AD 1368 - 1911) were booming time for Zhuang Medicine. Many Zhuang prescriptions were written down in many books including Bencao Gangmu by Li Shizhen. Accoding to history records, during that time, many Zhuang medical schools were built in Guangxi, which brought many Zhuang doctors.

Zhuang people live in the subtropical regions which is rich in animals and plants. Zhuang medicine tends to take advantage of its resources, so animals are widely used for medicine in Zhuang medicine. There is a believe among Zhuang people: if you want to be cured, flesh and blood are needed. The basis of Zhuang medicine is a very simple truth: if something can cause illness, there must be something corresponding to cure it.


See also

Notes and references

External links

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