ETHNONYMS: Bendiren, Jin, Ling, Mulao, Mulaozu
Most Mulam call themselves "Ling" and a smaller group call themselves "Jin" or "Bendiren" (locals). Ninety percent of the 159,328 Mulam (1990 census) live in the Luocheng Mulao Autonomous County, organized in 1984, in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The remainder are in neighboring counties. Their language belongs to the Dong-Shui Branch of the Zhuang-Dong languages of the Sino-Tibetan Family, and is very close to both Dong and Maonan. Most Mulam are bilingual in the local Chinese dialect, and Chinese is the language of literacy.
Mulam villages are located in the valleys and lower hills. The one-storied mud-walled houses usually consist of a central room with a fire pit, and a sleeping room to each side. Livestock are kept in separate shelters. Villages are usually single-surname and households recognize common ancestry. Agriculture, the main occupation, uses the same plow technology as the neighboring Han and Zhuang. Glutinous rice is a main staple crop, together with maize, wheat, and potatoes. Peanuts, cotton, melons, and a variety of vegetables are also grown. Draft animals include oxen, water buffalo, and sometimes horses. Plowing, transport of manure fertilizer, and threshing are men's work, but women participate in all other aspects of the agricultural cycle as well as being responsible for weaving and household chores. Mulam artisan specialties include blacksmithing and pottery production. Many Mulam are also part-time peddlers. Before 1949, most land was concentrated in the hands of landlords. Tenants paid rent in kind and labor service for tillage rights.
Engagements were family-arranged in childhood, usually with the girl being four or five years older than the boy. There was a preference for marriage to mother's brother's daughter. Engagement and marriage were marked by bride-wealth payments. Marriage ceremonies were held when the girl reached puberty. She remained with her natal family until her first child was born. Till then she was free to join the young men and women who came together for responsive singing, flirtations, and courtships at festival times. Divorce and remarriage were permitted, with little restriction. The two-generation household is the most common unit of residence. Households are under the control of the father, and divide when the sons marry, with only the youngest son remaining with the parents. Daughters could not inherit property, and if there were no sons the property went to a nephew or lineage cousin's son.
Descent is patrilineal. The localized patrilineage was of key importance in controlling the sale of land and playing a role in arrangement of marriages and divorce. Ceremonies to commemorate ancestors and invoke their aid (Yifan) were held once every three or five years. They included feasting, drinking, dancing, and singing (particularly by the younger participants) and were attended by both sexes. The lineage head was responsible for overseeing the ceremonies at the ancestral hall, accounting for income from lineage landholdings, keeping a genealogy book, settling internal disputes, and enforcing lineage rules of behavior. The state now regulates marriage and divorce and is responsible for enforcing public order. State penetration goes back to at least the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) when Mulam villages were required to pay grain tribute to the imperial court. During the Qing (1644-1911) the state grouped households into units of ten, with a chief responsible for taxes and public order. Since 1949, collectives, Communist party organizations, and the more recent township organization represent and enforce state policies.
Religious beliefs are rooted in an older animism, merged with and overshadowed since the Sung dynasty by Buddhism, Daoism, and ancestral worship and commemoration. There is continuing belief in the presence of a soul force (yin ) in a variety of natural phenomena as well as within persons, coexisting with additions from the Chinese pantheon. Indigenous priests (mubao ) study specialized texts during apprenticeship under established practitioners and are ceremonially ordained at the end of their training. Female shaman/diviners (baya ) receive their authority through spirit possession. The community is also served by a variety of Daoist priests and other ritual experts from nearby Han settlements. In addition to household altars for the ancestors, hearth god, and earth god, there are many small temples for "outside gods" of Chinese origin. Gods, spirits, ancestors, and ghosts are all thought to be actively concerned with human affairs, and their propitiation or consultation is necessary to assure well-being and prosperity and to deal with illness and other calamities. The spread of education and modern medical care in recent decades has led to some decline in religious activity.
Fan Yumei, et al., eds. (1987). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu fengqinglu (Customs of China's national minorities). Chengdu: Sichuan Nationalities Press.
Ma Yin, ed. (1989). Chinas Minority Nationalities, 388-391. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
Qin Guangguang, ed. (1988). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu zongjiao gailan (An outline of the religions of China's national minorities). Beijing: Central Minorities Institute.