Fortress Village - The Ethnic Minorities of Southwest China  
The Zhuang People in Historical Documentation and the History of the Zhuang People

The Zhuang People in Historical Documentation
During the 1950s and 1960s, both Fei Xiao-Tong and Rui Yi-Fu combed through historical documents trying to find the origin of the Zhuang people. Through studying historical documents, Fei Xiao-Tong reached the conclusion that the people in Guangxi who call themselves “Buyue Yi” (布越伊) had been living there for a very long time, and were a local indigenous ethnic group.34
Fei Xiao-Tong, 1988, “Guanyu guangxi zhuangzu lishi de chubu tuikao,” Fei Xiao-Tong ed., Fei Xiao-Tong minzu yanjiu wenji, p. 78 (Beijing: Minzu Chubanshe).
He also inferred from the “Xushi jiuge” (敘史酒歌) collected from agricultural villages in the 1950s that “Buye Yi” (布葉依), a name that Zhuang people use to call themselves, meant “people who plant crops with rakes” because the Longsheng Zhuang people call a rake “yeyi.”35
Ibid, p. 80.
Rui Yi-Fu believed that the origin of the Zhuang people should be found north of Guangxi, and he speculated that “to find the origin of the Zhuang people one must look into the panhu zhong (盤瓠種) or wuxi man (五溪蠻).”36
Same as Footnote 15, p. 485.
He concluded that these two historically non-Han ethnic groups were the predecessors of the Zhuang people by studying their traditional practices and customs—such as gexu (歌墟), throwing a ball made of strips of silk to choose a husband (拋繡球), delayed-domicile marriage (不落夫家), and not serving and eating fish at a funeral—which were documented in historical texts. Rui Yi-Fu’s conclusion is that today’s “Southern Zhuang” (南僮) are the descendants of some Tang and Song-Dynasty jimi county magistrates and officials, while the “Northern Zhuang” (北僮) are those who immigrated from the borders of Hunan, Hubei, and Guizhou Provinces. Furthermore, these jimi county magistrates and officials from the Tang and Song Dynasties were the descendants of the so-called “Xi”(谿) or “Xiren” (溪人).37
Ibid, p. 491.

In short, both Fei Xiao-Tong and Rui Yi-Fu used large amounts of historic data, along with some field investigation results, to discuss the Zhuang people in a historical context.

History of the Zhuang People
The Zhuang people do not have a tradition of documenting their own history, because writing is not their main means of passing down culture. Consequently, the Zhuang history that is currently available is mostly the work of non-Zhuang writers, particularly those employed by the Chinese empire. The tusi system is a means with which the Chinese empire ruled or suppressed Zhuang people, and therefore it reflects the interaction between the Chinese government and the Zhuang. Although the Zhuang people do not have a well-developed writing system, the members of its earlier ruling class had been learning Chinese characters and recording the history of their own families in Chinese. These family genealogical records offer us a glimpse at how Zhuang aristocrats traced their ancestral origins.

Over the dynasties, the Chinese government documented the tusi system as well as its subjects, including the rebel Nong Zhi-Gao and heroine Madame Wa. From these records we can understand China’s attitude toward the Zhuang aristocrats. After the nationality identification, ethnic Zhuang elites read the Chinese documents on their own ethnic group and started to voice opinions different from what was written by the Chinese government about “southern barbarians,” such as the rebellion of Nong Zhi-Gao, for instance.

In this section I shall discuss the tusi system, tusi lineage records, and ethnic Zhuang heroes. In addition to introducing what the tusi system, tusi genealogical records, and ethnic Zhuang heroes are, I will also refer to related studies, which include: Jeffery Barlow’s research on the problems that the tusi system was faced with in Zhuang societies during the Ming Dynasty, and Taniguchi Fusao’s and Bai Yao-Tian’s inspection of the authenticity of tusi genealogical records through historical material. I will also talk about the historical comments made about ethnic Zhuang figures by different narrators from different time periods.

The Tusi System
The tusi system was implemented by the Chinese monarchies to control the areas that were out of their reach. Under this system, local leaders were given titles such as “xuanwei si” and “xuanfu si,” and referred to in general as tusi. They acted as a medium between local tribes and the Chinese empire. The monarchy could not directly rule the indigenous peoples, but it could control their ruling class, the tusi. Therefore, the official histories of the Ming and Qing Dynasties both include chapters specifically dedicated to documenting the interaction between China and its tusi in various localities, such as Mingshi tusi zhuan and Qingshi tusi zhuan. Some local gazettes also contain records of lineage lines and achievements of tusi.

This system was initiated in the Yuan Dynasty; during the Ming Dynasty the government tried to weaken the power of the tusi by strictly controlling the inheritance of tusi positions, and in the Qing Dynasty, tusi officials were gradually replaced by officials appointed by the central government, although in some areas this process was not complete until the Republican Era. During the Tang and Song Dynasties, the term tusi was the official title for temporary officials dispatched from the central government, but in the Yuan Dynasty it was used to refer to administrative establishments and official titles among the provinces and prefectures, and the head of each si were dispatched officials or local officials. In addition, zhang guan si were set up in ethnic minority regions, and were headed by tribal chiefs. By the Ming Dynasty, xuanwei si, xuanfu si, anfu si, and zhao tao si were taken from the officials that were sent from the government and joined with the zhangguan si to become the ruling institution in the ethnic minority regions. Therefore, tusi can refer to both an official title and an institution.38
Gong Yin, 1985, Ming qing yunnan tusi tongzuan (Kunming: Yunnan Minzu Chubanshe), pp. 7-9.

The tusi and the Chinese imperial court were linked together by a number of rights and obligations. While the tusi had the right to directly govern their subjects, they were obligated to deliver tribute or levy taxes for the Chinese government, be enlisted to go to war and defend China’s borders, and regularly pay tribute. In name, China held the loyal services of its surrounding nations and the local tusi chieftains were in turn rewarded by the Chinese imperial court. The tusi were classified into military and civilian officials of different ranks, but most held military power. They usually got promoted by winning battles and demoted if they broke the rules set by the imperial court.

Because the ethnic Zhuang tusi were often honored based on their military achievements, their troops became very well-known. Zhuang warriors were called tubing (local soldiers) or langbing (soldiers of the lang people). Tubing were indigenous subjects who worked as farmers and performed military service under the tusi. The majority of these soldiers were lang people (a sub-group of the Zhuang ethnic group), hence the name langbing. The rise and fall of the tubing were closely linked to the tusi system. After China began replacing its tusi officials with Chinese officials, the tubing system was also replaced by conscription. The tubing obeyed the local officials, and the Chinese imperial court did not have the power to directly manipulate them. They fought for the local officials that they belonged to, and in turn the officials employed soldiers at mountain passes to collect fees from passing merchants and travelers, and used the money to feed their troops. After Nong Zhi-Gao was defeated, the Song imperial court established a “zhai” (fortress) military institution in western Guangxi, but local tubing soldiers gradually replaced all of the zhai soldiers who were dispatched here from other provinces. Sometimes the tubing were also assigned to suppress military uprisings led by members of their own ethnic group or other ethnic groups, thus playing a very important role in China’s border defense. The Ming government’s battle against the wokou (Japanese pirates) was partly aided by the tubing army of Madame Wa from Tianzhou.39
Gu You-Shi, 1984, “Shilun zhuangzu tubing de xingzhi, zuoyong ji qi shehui yingxiang,” Guangxi minzu xueyuan xuebao (zhexue shehui kexue ban), Vol. 2, pp. 78-85.

The tusi policy was implemented in not only the Zhuang regions, but many other peripheral areas of China as well. Naturally, when this Chinese bureaucratic policy was brought to the various ethnic minority regions, social and cultural differences caused many problems to arise. While researching Zhuang history from the Ming Dynasty, Jeffery Barlow discovered that there were constant battles between the tusi officials at the time. He believes that the frequent and violent fights between the tusi were caused by differences between the social organization of the Zhuang people and that of the Han people who created this system. The Zhuang people’s social organization is called dong (峒) and is controlled by clans (氏族). It is an organization that is both political and economical, and is different from the Han people’s concept of lineage (世系). For example, the Zhuang people have bilateral kinship groups and practice endogamy. The women have a certain degree of power, and even after they marry they are free to maintain social and sexual relations with the opposite sex until they give birth to a child, who will grow up close to both his or her father’s and mother’s clans. The Zhuang people treat the children of every wife equally. These distinctions are what caused the Zhuang people’s clan system to clash with the Ming Empire’s tusi system.40
Barlow, Jeffery 1989. “The Zhuang Minority in the Ming Era.” Ming Studies 28:20-24.

Genealogical Records of the Tusi
The genealogical records of tusi families are crucial to understanding the history of tusi families. Taniguchi Fusao and Bai Yao-Tian collected many tusi genealogical records, compared them to official historic documents, and discovered that many genealogical records falsely documented the origins of the clan’s ancestors. Although the data in these clan records are incorrect, they authentically reflect how the creators of the records consciously faked their ancestral origins to consolidate their legitimacy as members of the ruling class.

Zhuang genealogical records first appeared during the Ming Dynasty as a result of the empire’s tightened grip on local tusi chieftains. To prevent tusi positions from being inherited by imposters, the Ming court ordered every tusi official to submit an illustrated copy of his family tree (宗支圖本) as proof of the successor’s parents’ names, whether or not he was born of the first wife, and his relationship with the tusi official preceding him. This began the trend of tusi officials altering their family records. Taniguchi and Bai think that the earliest of the tusi genealogical records that have been discovered are “Zhi siming fu huanggong shendao bei” (知思明府黃公神道碑), “Encheng zhou zhaoshi guanpu” (恩城州趙氏官譜) and Censhi puxi (Genealogy of the Cen Family) from Sicheng prefecture, because none of these family genealogical records contains fictional information.41
Same as Footnote 31, pp. 19-20.
The penetration and spread of Han culture in the Zhuang regions, Imperial China’s discrimination against the ethnic minorities within its boundaries, and the twisted mentalities of Zhuang aristocrats all caused tusi officials to resort to pretending that their ancestors had been members of large and powerful clans in the Central Plain of China.

Genealogical records have been found on tombstones, cliff carvings and paper, and in formats such as the ones listed below:

Format Examples Sample Images
A horizontal table in which clan members are documented by generation. The Cen clan of Sichen prefecture  
Organized by surname; first describes the origin of the surname and the glorious achievements of the primary ancestor bearing this surname, and then the official titles of members of the succeeding generations. The Huang clan of Siming prefecture  
With this format the writer first records the clan’s origin, history of migration, family tree (including all the generations and divisions), and finally lists honors and achievements. The Cen clan of Tianzhou  
Maintains the original format of the family records submitted to the Imperial Court. The Nong clan of Guangnan  

Nong Zhi-Gao
Residents of the town of Ande carry a portrait of Nong Zhi-Gao into the venue for an event to commemorate him.
Nong Zhi-Gao was born during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 A.D.) in a tribe located on the border of China and Vietnam. According to Chinese history, he was a rebel against the Song Dynasty, and in the Qing Dynasty novel Wuhu pingnan yanyi (A Story of Five Tiger Generals’ Southern Campaign), he was also portrayed as an antagonistic character. However, the play “Nong Zhi-Gao” created by the Longlin Zhuang Theater Troupe during the Xianfeng period (1850–1861) of the Qing Dynasty showed the Zhuang people’s appreciation for Nong Zhi-Gao. The Zhuang Theater Troupe of Funing also staged shows titled “Nong Zhi-Gao” and “Queen Ya” (婭王), but was banned from performing by Funing tusi official Shen Yu-Dong during the Jiaqing period (1795-1820 A.D.) for promoting tales about Nong Zhi-Gao.42
Nong Xian-Sheng, 2000, Nong Zhi-Gao tianzi (Hong Kong: Tianma Tushu Gongsi), p. 97.

Due to the rise of ethnic awareness in China, currently the Zhuang people, especially those who are surnamed Nong (農) or Nong (儂), are calling attention to their belief that Nong Zhi-Gao was the hero of the Zhuang people and to their public commemoration of him. An example would be the people of Ande, Jingxi County, Guangxi Province, making March 10, 2005 a holiday to honor their national hero Nong Zhi-Gao.

Researchers on contemporary China have studied Nong Zhi-Gao from several points of view. Some debated Nong’s nationality and some have been interested in finding out the context of Nong’s rebellion.43
Huang Xian-Fan, 1989, “Nong Zhi-Gao qibing fan song shi zhengyi de zhanzheng,” Xie Qi-Huang, Guo Zai-Zhong, Mo Jun-Qing, and Lu Hong-Mei ed., Lingwai zhuangzu huikao, pp. 434-446 (Nanning: Guangxi Minzu Chubanshe). Originally published in the Guangxi Daily (Guangxi ribao), April 2, 1962.
In recent years, researchers have started to collect and record the legends and rituals from the Zhuang regions that are related to Nong Zhi-Gao, and some Zhuang people have begun to recognize Nong as a hero.

The debate on Nong Zhi-Gao’s nationality is centered on the question of whether Nong was Chinese or Vietnamese, and therefore the key is how the national boundary between China and Vietnam was drawn. The Chinese claim that Nong Zhi-Gao was Chinese; there are many local legends that involve Nong Zhi-Gao, and there is a temple dedicated to Nong in Guangnan, Yunnan Province. However, the Vietnamese believe that Nong Zhi-Gao was Vietnamese, and there are temples dedicated to Nong in Vietnam as well.

In terms of the discussion on Nong Zhi-Gao’s rebellion, the focal point is on Nong’s motive for rising against the Song Dynasty. Those who admire Nong believe that he did so because the Song emperor was incompetent and useless, and strongly credit him for battling Jiaozhi (Cochin) and defending Chinese territory.

Many local legends and rituals are about the escape of Nong Zhi-Gao, his mother, and members of his tribe. In his study on two worshipping ceremonies held in the sixth and seventh month of each year in Fajie Village, Maguan County, Yunnan Province, Wang Ming-Fu discovered that the subject of the villagers’ worshipping was Nong Zhi-Gao.44
Wang Min-Fu, 2003, “Maguanxian fajiecun jisi nong Zhi-Gao de huodong diaocha,” Department of United Front, CCP Committee of Wensan zhou, Office of Archive, Committee of Affair of Nationality Religion of Wensan zhou, and Developmental Society of Zhuang Studies of Wensan zhou eds., Nong Zhi-Gao wenti lunwen ziliao ji, pp. 287-297. (Internal reference)
Ande Town of Jingxi County, Guangxi, was where Nong Zhi-Gao once established Nantian Kingdom, and legend has it that when Nong Zhi-Gao was on the run, he hid his mother (some say wife) in a stone cave nearby. She later died in the cave, and because she was a good singer when she was alive, she became a Song Goddess, and on the first day of the second month each year villagers would invite her to come sing with them.

Madame Wa
Unlike Nong Zhi-Gao, who rebelled against the Song Dynasty, Madame Wa was a woman who made many notable contributions to the Chinese empire. She was the daughter of Cen Zhang, a tusi official in Guishun Tuzhou during the Ming Dynasty, and was married to Cen Meng, the tusi official of Tianzhou. Cen Meng was very ambitious and possessed the most military power in western Guangxi at the time. He schemed to take down the nearby tusi officials but was killed by Ming soldiers. After his death, his widow Madame Wa took the matters of Tuzhou into her own hands. When China’s southeastern shores fell under attack by wokou (倭寇), the Ming government recruited Madame Wa and her Lang troops to go fight the wokou in Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Due to her unique strategy and military techniques, she won several battles and was rewarded with the title of erpin furen (Madame of the Second Rank). Her grave is located in today’s Tianzhou Town, Tianyang County, Guangxi Province.
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