The Shui people are an ethnic group living in the Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan areas of southwestern China. They are counted as one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China.


It is believed that the Shui are descended from the Luo-Yue that inhabited the southeast coast of China before the Han dynasty. Their name of Shui, which means "water", was adopted during the Ming dynasty.


The Shui are organized around the family clans. The houses are usually one story, although some of their homes are two storied. In these last, the second floor is used for the living quarters whereas the first floor is used primarily as a stable and food storage.If a woman is widowed, she covers her hair with a fabric of white color for three years. The Shui possess a lunar calendar that is initiated in the ninth lunar month. Their funeral services are elaborate and long ceremonies where animal sacrifices are carried out in honor of the dead.


The Shui are mainly polytheists and they practice ancestor worship as well. In the antiquity was hired to the shamans so that they carried out prayers and sacrifices in the houses of those that were sick or close to the death.


The Shui speak the Sui language of the Tai-Kadai family. Their language has eight tones, fewer than the Dong language which has 13. However, it does have a large number of consonants with forty-two. Some other features of the language includes palatal stops, postvelar stops, prenasalized stops (mb, nd), "preglottalized" stops and nasals (ie. qb, qm). Ethnologue describes native language use by the Shui as "vigorous" and credits them with a "positive language attitude".

A simple system of writing for this language exists although only their shamans know it and is not utilized for everyday use by the Shui. This system is used for geomancy and divination purposes. A few of these 150 or so graphs are drawings, such as of a bird or a fish, and a few are schematic representations of a characteristic quality, for example a snail is represented by a drawing of an inward curving spiral. The majority of these characters are borrowings from Chinese characters and are written backwards, apparently for more magical power. The Shui use written Chinese for their daily activities.


  • Edmondson, Jerold A., and David B. Solnit (eds). 1988. Comparative Kadai: Linguistic Studies Beyond Tai. Dallas, TX: SIL.
  • Edmondson, Jerold A., Esling, John H., Harris, Jimmy G., & Wei, James. 2004. A phonetic study of Sui consonants and tones. Mon-Khmer Studies 34:47-66.
  • Stanford, James N. 2007. Dialect Contact and Identity: A Case Study of Exogamous Sui Clans. Ph.D. Dissertation, Michigan State University.
  • Stanford, James N. 2007. Sui Adjective Reduplication as Poetic Morpho-phonology. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 16(2):87-111.
  • Stanford, James N. 2006. When Your Mother Tongue is Not Your Mother's Tongue: Linguistic Reflexes of Sui Exogamy. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 12.2: Selected Papers from NWAV 34. 217-229.
  • Zhang, Junru. 1980. Shuiyu Jianzhi [A Sketch of the Sui Language]. Beijing: Minzu yinsha chang

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