Introduction / History
Around 600,000 Nong Zhuang people live in southeastern Yunnan Province, primarily in the counties of Guangnan, Yanshan, Wenshan, Maguan, Malipo, and Xichou, as well as a smaller population in the Vietnamese provinces of Lao Cai and Ha Giang.
Most members of this ethnic group continue to speak a unique Central Taic language, though some young people who group up in or near cities only speak Chinese. Many Nong Zhuang people also have a functional ability in standard Mandarin or the local dialect of Chinese, though older people and those who have not left the villages often have more limited Chinese comprehension and some Nong are completely monolingual.
The Nong Zhuang, who call themselves Pu Nong or Pu Day ("Pu" meaning "people" or "tribe"), are known to surrounding ethnic groups as "Nongzu" or "Longzu" (侬族) and were classified into the official Zhuang nationality in 1958.
What are Their Lives Like?
There are several different costumes among the Nong Zhuang, according to region, and there are multiple dialects of the Nong Zhuang language. Though all Nong Zhuang can communicate with each other using their language, comprehension can be difficult when speakers have not been exposed to each others’ dialects.
Though the Nong Zhuang have a long history of contact with the Han Chinese, they maintain their own distinctive culture. Their religion is Animistic and also incorporates ancestor worship. Objects of worship include sacred trees, water buffalo, etc. Animal sacrifices and other offerings and ceremonies are conducted through a male shaman in order to try to bring prosperity and ward off evil spirits. Female mediums channel spirits during trances to tell fortunes and give advice. Cultural art forms include intricate brocade embroidery, long epic songs and large, raised wooden houses, completely assembled without nails.
The Nong Zhuang have been sedentary rice-paddy farmers for millennia. Their villages are usually located in river valleys along water sources. In addition to agriculture, the Nong Zhuang work in government, local commerce and as wage laborers. Relative to other rural ethnic minorities in China, their economic status is average, as is their educational levels. Almost all Nong Zhuang children now attend some elementary school and the majority now attend school through at least ninth grade, as first through ninth grades are now free of study fees or book fees for students in the Nong area. A minority of Nong Zhuang children continue through high school and a smaller percentage attend university or technical college.
What are Their Beliefs?
Though an W. C. Dodd recognized the need of the Nong Zhuang for a concentrated effort back in 1910, throughout the twentieth century, according to Chinese government historical records, there was never an Christian effort focused on this ethnic group. The vast majority of Nong Zhuang people have never heard a clear presentation of the Good News in a language they understand adequately, and most have never had any exposure whatsoever.
1. Registered with ISO 639-3 under the code [zhn], known to Chinese linguists as "Yan-Guang Southern Zhuang."
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