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The Manchu ethnic minority (2)

(People's Daily)

09:57, August 11, 2011

The traditional costumes of male Manchus are a narrow-cuffed short jacket over a long gown with a belt at the waist to facilitate horse-riding and hunting. They let the back part of their hair grow long and wore it in a plait or queue. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the queue became the standard fashion throughout China, eventually becoming a political symbol of the dynasty. Women coiled their hair on top of their heads and wore earrings, long gowns and embroidered shoes. Linen was a favorite fabric for the rich; deerskin was popular with the common folk. Silks and satins for noble and the rich and cotton cloth for the ordinary people became standard for Manchurians after a period of life away from the mountains and forests. Following the Manchus' southward migration, the common people came to wear the same kind of dress as their Han counterparts, while the Manchu gown was adopted by Han women generally.

In places around Aihui County, Heilongjiang Province, however, Manchu people lived by their old traditions and customs and used their own ancient language until 1949, when the People's Republic of China was founded.

Houses of the Manchus were built in three divisions, with the middle used as a kitchen and the two wings each serving as bedroom and living room. By tradition, the bedroom had three "kang" (brick beds which could be heated in winter), which were laid against the west, north and south walls. Guests and friends were habitually given the west "kang", elders the north, and the younger generation the south. With windows generally open to the south and west, the houses stayed warm in winter and cool in summer.

A favorite traditional Manchu meal consisted of steamed millet or cakes of glutinous millet. Festivals were traditionally celebrated with dumplings, and the New Year's Eve with a treat of stewed meat. Boiled and roast pork and Manchu-style cookies were table delicacies.

Monogamy has always been practiced by the Manchus, with young people engaged at the age of 16 or 17 by parental will.

On the wedding day, the bride had to sit the whole day on the south "kang", an act inaugurating "future happiness." When night fell, a low table with two wine pots and cups would be set. The bride and bridegroom would, hand in hand, walk around the table three times and sit down to drink under the light of a candle burning through the night on the south "kang". They were congratulated amid songs by one or several guests in the outer room. Sometimes the ceremony was marked with well-wishers casting black peas into the bridal chamber before they left the new couple. On the fourth day, the newlyweds would pay a visit to the bride's home.

A variety of manners were observed by the Manchus. Children were required to pay formal respects to their elders regularly, once every three to five days. In greeting their superiors, men were required to extend their left hand to the knee and idle the right hand while scraping a bow, and women would squat with both hands on the knees. Between friends and relatives, warm embraces were the commonest form of greeting for all men and women.

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