The Qiang people are an ethnic minority group in China with a population of about 326,500. Qiang is actually a Chinese word that translates in English as 'shepherds'. The group has been officially recognized as ethnically distinct by the People's Republic of China.
The language of the Qiang people comes from a dialect of Tibetan. Mandarin Chinese is also a common language used by this people, who reside near Tibet. This makes it easier for the Qiang people to communicate with the people of neighboring areas.
The Qiang people are one of the ethnicities that have the longest history in China. The Qiang received their name from ancient Han people as a reference to their nomadic nature of sheep herding in West China. Historical records show that a clan of Qiang settled in what is known today as Sichuan Province.
During 600 to 900 AD, the Tibetan regime gradually expanded its reign to Qiang territory. Some of the Qiang were assimilated by the Tibetans, and others were assimilated by the Han, leaving just a small number of Qiang left to develop into the distinctive ethnic group that still exists today.
Most of the Qiang people that live in the upper reaches of Minjiang River have kept their primitive customs. Most people live in one-story stone homes. However, there are a few homes that have two or three stories to accommodate larger families.
The Qiang people lead a very self-sufficient lifestyle by making use of the river water and using traditional farming methods. Qiang villages are generally made up of about 30 to 50 families, and most of the villages are situated half-way down the hills or next to river basins.
Most of the clothing that they wear is made of cotton, silk, sheep fur, ox fur, and flax. It is common for both women and men wear gowns and sleeveless wool jackets. The difference between a male and female's clothing is that the women's clothing is decorated with lace and ornaments.
The dresses that the Qiang women wear are simple, yet beautiful. Women prefer to wear pointed shoes that have been embroidered. It is common to see women wearing handmade earrings, necklaces, ornaments, neck rings, and decorative hairpins.
One of the most interesting customs in the Qiang tribe involves a ceremony when a boy becomes 15 years old. The Qiang village sits around a fire while the boy kowtows to a picture of their ancestor. Kowtow is a term that was borrowed from Mandarin Chinese that describes the deep respect for ancestors by kneeling and bowing to touch one's head to the ground. They boy is then presented with an amulet to signify that he is becoming a man.
The Qiang people have many forms of memorials for their deceased. Besides cremation, they have performed sky burials, cliff burials, and regular ground burials. To perform a sky burial, the deceased body must be scalped, cut up, and pounded into several pieces. Once this is completed, the priest lights an incense to release the spirit into the air and the body is left behind to become food for birds of prey.
To this day, the majority of Qiang people still adhere a polytheist religion known as Ruism. This religion involves a strong belief in numerous deities that are connected to nature, totems, and? ancestors. There are twelve lesser gods, five major gods, tree gods, and mountain gods. They even used white stones and worshipped them as representatives of gods. These white stones are placed on the roofs of houses as a good luck symbol for the sun to see.
Many Qiang priests perform sacred chants that praise a god named Mubyasei, who is also known as Abba Chi, or the 'supreme god of heaven'. In other areas, the Qiang people believe that there is a mountain god named Shan Wang that represents the supreme god. Qiang people also worship Abba Sei, who is a male ancestor god of the Qiang people.
The Qiang people are known to be exceptional dancers and singers. They celebrate their customs and religion by holding festivals such as the Sacrificial Rite to the Holy Mountain and the Qiang Nian Festival. During both of these festivals, the Qiang people give offerings and sacrifices to deities of the sky, the mountain, and the village.
The Sacrificial Rite to the Holy Mountain, in late winter or spring, involves praying to the gods for good weather to make their crops grow.
The Qiang Nian Festival, on the first of the tenth month of the Chinese calendar year (late October or November), involves giving thanks to the gods for providing a good harvest.