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The Hezhe ethnic minority (2)

(People's Daily)

09:19, August 10, 2011

Historical Background

The Hezhes trace their lineage back to the nomadic Nuzhens, a race of Tartar horsemen who ravaged the northern borders of several Chinese dynasties. The Hezhes of different regions call themselves by various names, prominent among which are Nanai, Nabei and Naniao -- all meaning "natives" or "aborigines." They first came under Chinese sway during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when the Heilong Military Region was set up to rule the area. In the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the Hezhes were incorporated into the military "eight banner" system of the Manchu rulers.

The Qing government adopted divide-and-rule tactics by giving titles and administrative power to the local tribal chiefs, who then used their privileges to exploit the poorer Hezhes, thus creating a feudal hierarchy.

But it was when they fell under the rule of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo during Japanese occupation of China¡¯s northeast that the Hezhes reached the depths of misery. A policy of genocide was practiced, under which the Hezhes were herded into concentration camps. Their diet was inadequate, as they could no longer hunt and fish freely, and opium addiction was rife. The death toll under these conditions was high and the Hezhes dwindled rapidly in numbers, reaching the point of extinction as a separate ethnic group just before China¡¯s national liberation in 1949.

Resurgence of the Hezhe people

With the end of the War of Resistance Against Japan in 1945, the Hezhes took an active part in the Chinese People's Liberation Army's mopping-up operations against remnant Kuomintang forces in their area.

They then returned to their old hunting grounds and rebuilt their homes with help from the central government. Loans and relief funds enabled them to resume their traditional way of life. Farming was encouraged and many of the Hezhes went in for it, as others formed production teams to pursue hunting and fishing. With their initiative brought into full play, the Hezhes began to have a thriving economy. Electricity has transformed their once-gloomy dwellings with light, radios, TV sets and other conveniences of modern life. Textiles, leather and rubber have replaced the old animal skins they used to wrap themselves in, and up-to-date educational and medical facilities are available, even for the Hezhes who continue to lead a nomadic life.

The Hezhes run their own affairs in Fuyuan County's Xiabacha Hezhe Autonomous Township, and send deputies to local, provincial and national People's Congresses.

【1】 【2】

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