With a population of more than 10 million, the Manchu ethnic minority group is based primarily in Northeast China. Half of the Manchu population is located within Liaoning Province with the rest divided between Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces.
Over time, the Manchu bloodline has gradually been watered down through intermarriage with the Han ethnic group. From the founding of the Qing Dynasty in 1616 AD, the Manchu people have maintained a strong influence in Northeast China.
Possessing their own language and character-based writing system, the Manchu people were once firm believers in Shamanism. Today, they are primarily proponents of Buddhism. As the Manchus formed closer ties with the rest of China, they gradually began taking on the language and written characters of mainland China. The characters they adopted from Mongolia have fell into disuse, and currently only a small portion of people in Heilongjiang province still use the old characters and speak the language.
Reliving the History of the Manchus
The history of the Manchu ethnic group can be traced back to more than 2,000 years ago. Before the Manchus were considered an ethnic group, they were a part of the Nuzhen tribe. This tribe invaded the central plains a total of two times and created the Jin Dynasty which ruled from 1115 AD to 1234 AD.
The Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) later wrested control away from the Manchus and ruled until the Manchus were able to rise back into power. In 1616, the Manchus unified China under the Qing Dynasty and led China’s last feudal dynasty in history. The Manchurian rulers adopted the cultural norms of the former rulers and gradually were integrated into mainstream Chinese culture.
Living in a Pocket House
Traditional Manchu houses are built in three quarters with the middle house serving as the kitchen. The two wings of the so-called “pocket house” are filled with bedrooms and living room areas.
Within the walls of the pocket house are brick beds that were heated during the cold months of winter called Kangs. Kangs were placed on the west, south and north walls leaving the south east facing doors empty. This focus on directions was apparent in how the rest of the house was laid out. Elderly family members slept in the south Kang and younger relatives slept in the North Kang. On the west side of the house, an alter was traditionally set up for ancestor worship.
Dressing the Part
The national outfit of the Manchu ethnic group is the qipao. This outfit features a round collar and an open front. Large openings on either side of the hem were traditionally decorated with ornaments like buckles and belts.
Women, in particular, would spend time embroidering the robe and ornamenting it. Long robes and baggy sleeves added an air of grace and enhanced their natural slenderness while shoes were high heeled to add to their height.
Men tailored their qipaos to make movements easier when in the field or on horseback. During the Qing Dynasty, this form of dress became popularized across the country and became the national costume.
In daily life, women often wore head gear before they paid social calls. The frames were made of iron wire or bamboo and covered with attractive materials like velvet or satin. Creating a fan shape, the head gear would span about 30 centimeters (12 inches) long and 10 centimeters (4 inches) wide. The “hat” would be decorated with artificial flowers, embroidery and tassels to create a more attractive design.
Customs of the Manchu People
In traditional Manchu society, elders are everything. Ancestors and the elders of the village were accorded a high level of respect, and during festivals the people would have ancestor worship ceremonies.
Bowing and greeting: Men would extend their left hand to the knee while keeling the right hand at their side while they bowed for their elders. Women in the culture curtsey and keep both of their hands on their knees. Among close friends and family, they would generally greet each other with a warm hug or embrace.
Excelling in horsemanship and archery, the Manchus were able to master the forest and mountains around them. The group taught their children how to hunt with wooden bows from a young age. As they reached the teenage years, both girls and boys would be taught to ride horses. One popular diversion was to attempt to jump onto a running horse.
One of the few taboos in Manchu culture involves dogs. Dogs hold a special role in the life of the people so injuring or killing a dog is forbidden. Speaking ill of a dog or chasing it in front of your host comes across as an insult.
Another taboo has to deal with the west. This direction is thought of as superior to the Manchu people so lower members of society cannot sit on the west kang. Young people and commoners were especially bound by this taboo.
Singing at the Banjin Festival
On the 13th day of the tenth month in the Chinese calendar, the Manchu ethnic group celebrates the Banjin Festival. This festival commemorates the day in 1635 when Emperor Huangtaiji announced the name of the Manchu who would replace Nuzhen. The Manchu people feel that this naming day was the birth of the Manchu. During the Banjin Festival, people dress up in traditional costumes and spend the day singing and dancing to celebrate.
I updated this article on February 28, 2014
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