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The Jing ethnic minority

Population: 18,700

Major area of distribution: Guangxi

Language: Jing

Religion: Buddhism and Taoism

The 18,700 people of this very small ethnic minority live in compact communities primarily in the three islands of Wanwei, Wutou and Shanxin in the Fangcheng Multi-ethnic Autonomous County, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, near the Sino-Vietnamese border. About one quarter of them live among the Han and Zhuang ethnic groups in nearby counties and towns.

The Jings live in a subtropical area with plenty of rainfall and rich mineral resources. The Beibu Gulf to its south is an ideal fishing ground. Of the more than 700 species of fish found there, over 200 are of great economic value and high yields. Pearls, sea horses and sea otters which grow in abundance are prized for their medicinal value. Seawater from the Beibu Gulf is good for salt making. The main crops there are rice, sweet potato, peanut, taro and millet, and sub-tropical fruits like papaya, banana and longan are also plentiful. Mineral deposits include iron, monazite, titanium, magnetite and silica. The large tracts of mangroves growing in marshy land along the coast are a rich source of tannin, an essential raw material for the tanning industry.

The Jing people had their own script which was called Zinan. Created on the basis of the script of the Han people towards the end of the 13th century, it was found in old song books and religious scriptures. Most Jings read and write in the Han script because they have lived with Hans for a long time. They speak the Cantonese dialect.

The ancestors of the Jings emigrated from Viet Nam to China in the early 16th century and first settled on the three uninhabited lands since the neighborhood had been populated by people of Han and Zhuang ethnic group. Shoulder to shoulder with the Hans and Zhuangs there, they developed the border areas together and sealed close relations in their joint endeavors over the centuries.

The Jings, who were all illiterate before 1949, are now going to school, and many young people have moved onto college education. Each village now has a clinic, and paramedics have been assigned to each fishing vessel.

Jing people like antiphonal songs which are melodious and lyrical. Their traditional instruments include the two-stringed fiddle, flute, drum, gong and the single-stringed fiddle, a unique musical instrument of the ethnic group. Folk stories and legends abound. Their favorite dances feature lanterns, fancy colored sticks, embroidery and dragons.

Jing costume is simple and practical. Traditionally, women wear tight-fitting, collarless short blouses buttoned in front plus a diamond-shaped top apron and broad black or brown trousers. When going out, they would put on a light colored gown with narrow sleeves. They also like earrings. Men wear long jackets reaching down to the knees and girdles. Now most people dress themselves like their Han neighbors though a few elderly women retain their tradition and a few young women coil their hair and dye their teeth black.

Many Jings are believers of Buddhism or Taoism, with a few followers of Catholicism. They also celebrate the Lunar New Year--Spring Festival -- and the Pure Brightness Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival like the Hans.

Fish sauce is a favorite condiment the Jing people use in cooking, and a cake prepared with glutinous rice mixed with sesame is a great delicacy for them.

There used to be some taboos, such as stepping over a fishing net placed on the beach, sitting on a new raft before it was launched, and stepping on the stove. But many old habits that hampered the growth of production have died out bit by bit.

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