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The Nu ethnic minority (2)

(People's Daily)

09:39, August 11, 2011

Culture and Customs

Before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, social development was uneven among the various Nu communities. The Nu people in Lanping and Weixi counties had long entered the feudal stage, and their methods of production and standard of living were similar to those of the Hans, Bais and Naxis. There were vestiges of primitive communalism in the Nu communities in Bijiang, Fugong and Gongshan, where private ownership and class polarization had only just begun.

Bamboo and wooden farm tools were the main implements of production, and major crops were maize, buckwheat, barley, Tibetan barley, potatoes, yams and beans. Output was low, as fertilizer was not used and crop techniques were primitive. The annual grain harvest was some 100 kg short of the per capita need and the diet was supplemented by hunting and fishing using bows and poisoned arrows.

Industry was represented by handicraft products made on a cottage-industry basis -- linen, bamboo and wooden articles, iron tools, and liquor. Surplus handicrafts were bartered for necessities in the small markets.

Before China's national liberation in 1949, land ownership took three forms: primitive communal type, private and group-ownership. The older Nu villages in Bijiang and Fugong retained vestiges of the ancient patriarchal clan system; there were ten clan communes located in ten separate villages, which each had communal land. According to a 1953 survey, a landlord economy had emerged in Bijiang County, with an increasing number of land sales, mortgages and leases. In some places, rich peasants exploited their poorer neighbors by a system called "washua," under which peasants labored in semi-serf conditions. Slavery was practiced in a fraudulent form of son adoption.

Monogamy was the general practice, although a few wealthy landlords and commune headmen sometimes had more than one wife. After marriage, men would move out of the family dwelling and set up a new household with some of the family property. The new family, however, still retained a cooperative relationship with the parental family and the whole clan. The youngest son lived with his parents and inherited their property. Women had low social status, doing the household chores and working in the fields but having no economic rights at all.

The traditional burial forms dictated that males be buried face upward with straight limbs, while females lay sideways with bent limbs. In the case of a dead couple, the female was made to lie on her side facing the man and with bent limbs -- symbolizing the submission of the female to the male. When an adult died, all the members of the clan or village commune observed three days of mourning.

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