views updated May 21 2018


ETHNONYMS: Tujia (Mandarin Chinese), Bizika (Tujia)


Identification and Location. Tujia means "local families" in Mandarin. Before the 1950s tu (local, native, bumpkin) and related terms referred to people whose ancestors had immigrated before the speaker's ancestors had. "Outsiders" referred to later arrivals. In the early twentieth century locals were considered Han, in contrast to the Miao, who also live in the area in large numbers. However, outsiders and Han historical documents also derogatorily referred to locals as "barbarians" or "trash." In 1957, in China's national ethnic identification project, Tujia became an officially recognized minority category. An unrelated group was labeled Tu.

Most Tujia live in central China in the Wuling mountainous region at an elevation of 1,640 to 6,500 feet (500 to 2,000 meters). This area divides the Sichuan basin from the plains of the middle Yangtze River. Many Han and Miao and some Dong also live there.

Demography. In the national census of July 1990, there were 1,771,004 Tujia in Hubei Province; 1,794,855 in Hunan Province; 1,076,529 in Sichuan Province; 1,045 in Guizhou Province; and 37,026 in other areas, for a national total of 5,725,049. In that year the Tujia were the eighth largest ethnic group in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Linguistic Affiliation. Throughout the twentieth century most Tujia spoke Southwest Mandarin. There is a Tujia spoken languagewith northern and southern dialects but no writing systemthat is classified as being on the Tibetan side of Sino-Tibetan. In 1986 linguists estimated that 170,000 people spoke the northern dialect and 3,000 to 4,000 spoke the southern dialect. The northern dialect zone includes the Qing River in Hubei, the Youshui River in northwestern Hunan, eastern Sichuan, and southeastern Guizhou. The southern dialect zone, with a quarter of the northern zone's population, includes the Wu River in Hunan.

History and Cultural Relations

Tujia are descendants of soldiers, farmers, laborers, and exiled convicts who were forced to migrate to this region over two millennia. The earliest known immigrants came in the first millennium b.c.e. from Chu, Qin, and Han, states whose peoples are considered ancestral to modern Han people. The earliest immigrants also included Ba peoples (a multiethnic confederation) who are not considered ancestral to Han. Many forced migrations occurred during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), both before and after Tujia areas were brought under direct imperial administration in the eighteenth century. Large-scale Han immigration also occurred in the 1930s during the Sino-Japanese war. Repeatedly, descendants of the earlier arrivals found themselves with local status compared to later immigrants. Much intermarriage occurred.

Officially, the Ba are Tujia ancestors, based on historical, archaeological, and linguistic research. Evidence of tiger worship especially suggests continuities between the Ba, two branches of the later Man, and the more recent Tu. Although most scholars view the Ba as the primary ancestors of the Tujia, they continue to debate other ancestors. Two millennia of multiethnic interaction make specifying origins difficult.

Tujia have long had a reputation for being clannish, violent, and prone to feuds and rebellion (see, for example, Tujia author Congwen Shen's writings). Some forced migrations of Han represented attempts to bring in a population that could be ruled more easily. Since 1950 Tujia have fit easily within the largely Han-run governmental system.


Larger settlements cluster around rivers and in basins, but many settlements are in rugged terrain. Although the people living there were poor in 1996, the numerous elaborate sarcophagi and mausoleums showed that once it had been wealthy. Historically, the poorest settlements consisted of wooden and/or mud-built extensions to small caves or a series of houses within vast caves. The PRC government has periodically moved people from caves to houses, but some poor families prefer caves because they are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Before 1949 many Tujia lived in tile-roofed wooden houses with a central room surrounded by a kitchen and secondary rooms. Some houses were raised, providing space for pigs, cattle, and latrines underneath. Tujia architecture was well known for a special form of wooden house, which is shared with several other southern minorities, that projects over the ground or water on several logs. Later, wood became scarce. By the 1990s, most homes were poured concrete structures.


Subsistence. Before the eighteenth century Tujia utilized a mixed subsistence pattern of shifting slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting, fishing, and gathering. Tujia areas became integrated into the larger regional commercial economy after coming under direct imperial administration. Tujia increased the scale of rice farming and largely replaced hunting and fishing with animal husbandry. The eighteenth-century introduction of New World crops (maize, potatoes, and sweet potatoes) supported a population boom. Modern farming technology arrived in the 1970s. Hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides increased crop yields by pushing out many "unwanted" animals and plants from the agroecosystem. In the 1990s modern technology was used alongside older practices such as the use of night soil.

Commercial Activities. The oldest known item of trade was salt. An ancient stone road winds north through the Wuling Mountains to salt-producing centers near the Yangtze Gorges. Under imperial administration commercial activities increased dramatically. By the early twentieth century, and probably well before that time, the Tujia economy was entirely commercial. Farm families consumed some of what they produced, but most arable land was used for cash crops. Cloth, household goods, and many food items were largely bought in markets.

Industrial Arts. Since the eighteenth century, Tujia areas have exported mountain products, especially tung oil, timber and charcoal, tea, lacquer, mushrooms, and medicinal herbs. Opium farming was a big business in the 1920s and 1930s, as was tobacco farming after 1949. In the 1990s police were concerned about illegal drug production there.

Trade. Historically, the major trade routes were rivers. The Yangtze, one of China's most important rivers, flows through the northern Tujia area. Several rivers and their tributaries connect Tujia areas throughout the Wuling Mountains to each other, to Han areas, and eventually to the Yangtze River. These rivers were still used for transportation in the 1990s, though rail and truck transport became more important after the 1960s. China's Three Gorges Dam project will affect these river systems. Air transport came in the 1990s, but most people could not afford it.

Division of Labor. Although women had extremely low status in the early twentieth century, most people experienced relatively little division of labor on gender lines. Women, like men, did heavy agricultural labor. Consequently, before its demise in the mid-twentieth century, foot binding was done later, less compactly, and less permanently for most women than it was for elite women. In the 1990s near urban areas, women and elderly men generally farmed and young men usually performed wage labor or ran small business ventures. Most domestic labor was women's work. In urban families both men and women generally earned wages.

Land Tenure. Before direct imperial administration, few sedentary landlords existed. Afterward, intensive sedentary farming supported a large landlord class. Tujia were both peasants and landlords. Since 1949 the PRC government has changed the farmland policy three times. In the early 1950s lands formerly owned by landlords were allocated to farmers. In the late 1950s all farmland became collectively held by communes. By doing agricultural work and other kinds of labor, families earned points that determined the distribution of food and other goods for consumption. In the early 1980s farmland was reallocated to individual households. National policy gave managerial authority to households, but ownership remained with the state.


Kin Groups and Descent. Clans have long been important among the Tujia. Most Tujia men know their genealogical history and the clans they were related to patrilaterally. Before 1949 clans might worship ancestors together or provide schools for junior males. After 1980 Tujia often used kinship networks to accomplish social, economic, and political goals. However, clans do not appear to have had the strong corporate character found among lineages in southeastern China.

Kinship Terminology. Following Han custom, most men born before the Cultural Revolution (1967-1976) had a generational name shared by all the men in a generation. Individual Tujia men meeting for the first time could use it to locate their relative positions within the branches of a clan. In the 1990s some families began to use generational names again.

In the Tujia language kinship terminology may be of the Eskimo type. Nuclear family terms are distinguished from those for other relatives: The same terms are used for the father's father and the mother's father, and patrilateral and matrilateral cousins are referred to by the same term. However, no definitive classification has been published.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Reportedly, before the eighteenth century, Tujia selected their spouses freely and courting involved singing and dancing. Only the approval of a wizard (wushi) was necessary for a match. Han influence, however, led to arranged marriages controlled by parents, often for financial gain. Bride-price was frequently greater than dowry.

Like Han, most Tujia marry, and did so at least throughout the twentieth century. Before the practice was outlawed in 1950, child betrothals were common. Many women had their feet bound as girls after their future mothers-in-law sent the binding cloth as a gift. Girls usually were raised in their natal families and transferred to the husband's family after puberty. Some very poor families practiced a form of tongyangxi marriage, sending a daughter to be "adopted" by her future husband's family a few years before the wedding. In the 1990s many young adults consented to arranged marital introductions.

Immediate postmarital residence was primarily virilocal throughout the twentieth century. However, many couples reported setting up a neolocal residence later, depending on finances and the mother-in-law-daughter-in-law relationship. A few men who reported arranging their own marriages set up independent residences.

Divorce was reportedly rare throughout the twentieth century except immediately after China's 1950 Marriage Law, which allowed for the easy dissolution of earlier arranged marriages. Remarriage after such divorces and after the death of a spouse was common.

Domestic Unit. The elite in the early twentieth century reportedly preferred married sons to live with their parents until after the birth of their first child; the family form thus cycled between nuclear, stem, and occasionally joint families. Among the poor, domestic needs for labor and the cost of setting up an independent residence could lead to a complex household structure. Many people who set up nuclear residences moved to urban areas, where they could more easily support themselves. In the 1990s people with sufficient means lived in nuclear households.

Inheritance. Although Tujia were culturally influenced by Han, their inheritance system was significantly different. Han sons usually inherited equally or had preference given to the oldest son. Among Tujia the youngest son often inherited most or all of the property. Older sons received an inheritance share when they left the family home after marriage, but parents kept enough property to support themselves and their younger children. Younger sons who remained in the family home to care for elderly parents and ancestral tablets inherited what their parents had kept. Among poor people, what youngest sons received amounted to most or all of the originally held property. By extension, the youngest branch of a clan generally held its ancestral tablets. In the 1990s people still expected youngest sons to care for their parents, though it was not clear whether those sons could still expect to inherit most of the property.

Socialization. Women were and are primarily responsible for child care. Like Han, Tujia strongly prefer sons, something that can be seen in educational patterns. Even in the 1990s, not all families could afford to educate their sons. Nevertheless, most students were boys. This male bias is much more visible in rural areas and at higher educational levels.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. For Tujiaas for many Hanpatrilineal clan ties, landlord-tenant relations, and gender were probably the most important factors organizing social stratification before 1949, though Tujia had comparatively weak parental authority. In the early 1950s the PRC government classified people according to their former economic status: for example, as rich, middle, or poor peasant. These rankings determined social stratification until after the Cultural Revolution. In Tujia areas the government classified individuals by ethnic group in the early 1980s, but from that time through the 1990s ethnicity had little effect on most people.

Political Organization. The Yuan dynasty (1206-1368) brought Tujia under imperial rule. Indigenous or local rulers (tusi) had absolute authority over their Tujia subjects but were required to pay tribute to the emperor. Imperial officials arbitrated conflicts that often arose between local rulers over control of land and peasants. The imperial court used armies led by these rulers to suppress rebellions by Miao and Yao minorities.

In the early eighteenth century Tujia areas came under direct administration by the Qing bureaucracy. Officials who were trained in the Han Confucian system and had no local family ties were appointed for a specified term and were accountable to their bureaucratic superiors.

Although the first Tujia-Miao autonomous prefecture was established in Hunan in 1957, nationwide political upheavals put ethnic autonomous administration on hold. The early 1980s saw the establishment of one more Tujia-Miao autonomous prefecture (in Hubei) and nine autonomous counties. In accordance with PRC law, the majority of officials in these autonomous areas are Tujia or Miao.

Social Control. Before the eighteenth century, known social control lay in the hands of indigenous rulers. Enticements to bring new lands under cultivation included exemptions from tribute. However, the penalties for lawbreaking could be severe, including castration. Under imperial administration, primary social control apparently shifted to clan leaders. Rules made in the clan hall applied to all clan members. After 1949, clan halls were abolished and the new socialist government took over social control.

Conflict. Ethnic conflicts are historically unknown among Tujia, probably because they were distinguished as an ethnic minority only in the 1950s. Local conflicts took the form of clan feuds, household or territorial conflicts, and fighting with bandits. Clan feuds reportedly were a problem as recently as the Cultural Revolution.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. According to historical documents written by Han, ancestors of the Tujia worshiped mountains, stones, trees, and especially white tigers. A legend from a northern Tujia dialect zone told of an ancestor's soul becoming a white tiger and needing sacrifices of human blood to protect his descendants.

In the early twentieth century religious practices fit largely within the Han folk religion, especially in northern Tujia dialect areas. Local variants included the Wu magical tradition and the worship of a trio of deities whose surnames (Peng, Tian, and Xiang) derive from historical indigenous rulers. Worship of white tigers (one benevolent and one malicious) persisted in southern Tujia dialect areas through 1949. Folk healers (tulaoshi) specialized in warding off calamities by the malicious spirit. In the early twentieth century Western Catholic and Protestant missionaries made some converts.

All religious belief was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution. People did not begin to publicly conduct religious practices again until after 1980.

Religious Practitioners.

In the early twentieth century two types of religious practitioners were particularly important: wizards (wushi or duangong in Mandarin,

tima Tujia) and Daoist priests. Wizards primarily treated the living, providing supernatural and sometimes herbal remedies for illnesses and other troubles. They also conducted expensive multiday rituals honoring ancestors. At the New Year some wizards traveled house to house to extort money by threatening to leave harmful charms. Daoist priests primarily conducted funerary rituals to send spirits of the dead to the afterworld. Although banned in the 1950s, many wizards and Daoist priests continued practicing until the Cultural Revolution. In the 1990s people again hired elderly wizards trained before 1949, though usually not Daoist priests.

Ceremonies. Perhaps the only ceremonies practiced by all Tujia were bridal lamentssongs sung before marriage by groups of young womenbut these ceremonies were shared with local Han. In some areas young men also gathered formally to sing before a wedding. Ceremonies mentioned as distinctively Tujia include celebrating the lunar new year earlier than the Han, ancestral ceremonies including a special handwaving dance, an annual grave-lighting ceremony, and some death rituals. In the 1990s the state encouraged the celebration of some festivals, but no single festival was celebrated by all Tujia.

Arts. Lauded Tujia arts include architecture, music, and weaving. Folk songs follow locally variable formulas, including impromptu exchanges and even tricks. Woven craft goods include cloth as well as bamboo and rattan baskets.

Medicine. Before 1949 and since 1980 some religious practitioners have served as healers. Herbalists, following Han traditional medicine, have provided treatments for centuries. Scientific medicine arrived in urban areas in the twentieth century and has slowly expanded into rural areas.

Death and Afterlife. Like Han, Tujia made ancestral tablets before the Cultural Revolution. However, not every person had a tablet, and there was no belief that an ancestor without a tablet would have to beg in the afterworld. Tablets were not believed to house a spirit. They could be written without religious ceremony by any literate person and were handled without ritual precautions. Through the 1990s spirits were not thought to remain at graves or to be potentially dangerous to the living, so graves were commonly placed within villages and adjacent to houses.

The famous Tujia "dancing funeral" was limited to a small region and dancing only occurred for an elderly person with surviving children. Women and sons of the deceased never danced. Elsewhere, people hired professional musicians to play and sing. In some areas, descendants visited the grave annually for three years, bringing special paper banners that provided a place for souls to hide from the arrows shot at them by ghosts.

For the original article on Tujia,

see Volume 6, Russia and Eurasia/China.


Brown, Melissa J. (2001). "Ethnic Classification and Culture: The Case of the Tujia in Hubei, China," Asian Ethnicity 2(1): 55-72.

2002. "Local Government Agency: Manipulating Tujia Identity," Modem China.

Ch'en, Jerome (1992). The Highlanders of Central China: A History 1895-1937. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

Dong Luo (1999). Ba feng Tu yun Tujia wenhua yuanliu jiexi (Ba Manners, Tu Charm An Analysis of the Origins of Tujia Culture). Wuhan: Wuhan Daxue Chubanshe.

Huang Baiquan (1999). "Tujiazu Zuyuan Yanjiu Zonglun" ("A Review of Research on Tujia Ancestral Origins"). In Tujia zu lizhi wenhua lunji (A Colloquium on Tujia History and Culture), edited by Huang Baiquan and Tian Wanzheng. 25-42. Enshi, Hubei: Hubei Minzu Xueyuan.

Li Shaoming (1993). Chuandong Youshui Tujia (Tujia of the Youshui River in East Sichuan). Chengdu: Chengdu Chubanshe.

Shih Chih-yu (2001). "Ethnicity as Policy Expedience: Clan Confucianism in Ethnic Tujia-Miao Yongshun," Asian Ethnicity 2(1): 73-88.

Sutton, Donald (2000). "Myth Making on an Ethnic Frontier: The Cult of the Heavenly Kings of West Hunan, 1715-1996," Modern China 26(4): 448-500.

Tian Desheng, He Tianzhen, Chen Kang, Li Jingzhong, Xie Zhimin, and Peng Xiumo (1986). Tujiayu Jianzhi (A Brief Chronicle of the Tujia Language). Beijing: Minzu Chuban she.

Ye Deshu (1995). Tujiayu yanjiu (Studies of the Tujia Language). Jishou, Hunan: Hunan Chu Wenhua Zhongxin, Jishou Daxue.



views updated Jun 27 2018


ALTERNATE NAMES: Bizika, Turan, and Tuming
POPULATION: 8 million
LANGUAGE: Tujia; Chinese
RELIGION: Polytheism and ancestor worship
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: China and Her National Minorities


The ancestors of the Tujia were descendants of a tribe called Linjun. Early in the Qin Dynasty (221–206 bc), the Linjun migrated from Sichuan and Hubei to the western part of Hunan. The name Tujia reflects the assimilation of many cultural traits of the local aboriginals by the Linjun. From time immemorial, the Tujia lived by hunting, fishing, and slash-and-burn cultivation. Under the leadership of headsmen, they submitted cloth as tribute and tax to the government of successive Chinese dynasties. Uprisings, however, happened frequently. In the 8th century, the Tujia in Xizhou district resisted the rule of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) and set up an independent regime by force of arms. Later on, a Tujia clan called Peng became strong enough to unify the Wushi district in western Hunan and to rule over it for some 800 years. In the 17th century they pledged allegiance to the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Tujia headmen were appointed as local officials. Their self-given name was Bizika, which means "native." The historical records from the Song dynasty (960–1276) to the Qing Dynasty called them Turan (natives), Tuming (native people), and Tujia (native household), which expressed the same meaning as their self-given name. The name Tujia is now prevalent.


The Tujia population amounted to over 8 million in 2000. They dwell mainly in a vast area at the juncture of Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, and Guizhou provinces. It is a hilly country with mild climate and abundant rainfall, traversed by the Wuling Mountains and criss-crossed by three rivers. The famous Zhangjiajie primeval forest is located in this area.


The Tujia language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family, Tibeto-Burman group; it is as yet unclear whether they form a distinct branch. There are two dialects, one in the north and one in the south, spoken by some 200,000 Tujia. The Tujia have no written language. However, most of the Tujia also speak Chinese and use Chinese characters.


Among the ancient songs one finds legends about the origin of human beings, which the Tujia share with other national minorities living in southwest China. In brief, human beings were all drowned in a catastrophic flood, except for a brother and sister. They married and gave birth to a fleshy lump, which was divided into pieces and thrown in all directions. Every piece of the fleshy lump became the ancestor of a particular nationality. Another legend narrates the story of a girl (Shexiangxiang) and an eagle. Since the eagle had saved her life, Shexiangxiang was very grateful. She cultivated the land arduously. Without the help of the eagle, her life would have been even harsher. One night, she dreamed of two small eagles landing in her arms and she became pregnant. She bore a son and a daughter. Years later, Shexiangxiang fell ill and died. Her last words were: "The eagle is your savior, so, never kill the eagle." In fact, the eagle died shortly after her and was buried beside her grave. Time passed swiftly and the children grew up. Unfortunately, there was no one else with whom to marry. According to Heaven's will, they got married. Later, eight sons were born and were given Tan as their surname. They are the ancestors of Tan, an important clan of the Tujia, living in a mountainous area of west Jiangxi Province. Tradition has it that they have never killed an eagle.

A story about creation states that the Heavenly King ordered two gods, Zhang and Li, to produce a sky and an earth respectively. Zhang produced a sky that was orderly, bright, neat, and smooth. Careless in handling things, Li made an earth full of bumps and hollows, mountains and caverns, meandering brooks and zigzagging rivers, an environment that corresponds closely to the geographical features of the land of the Tujia.


The Tujia believe in many gods and worship their ancestors. Their reverence to the white tiger can be traced back thousands of years and is actually related to the name of their ancestor Linjun (meaning "tiger" in ancient times). At ordinary times, they enshrine and worship the White Tiger God and other gods at home. On the first of November (lunar calendar; Western calendar, between November 24 and December 22), they offer sacrifice and pray for the prosperity of their family.

The Tujia narrate a legend about a brave female hunter called Meishan. She was killed in a fight with a group of wild hogs and was transformed into a goddess who protected the hunters. Shortly after the Spring Festival, the Tujia used to organize a hunt in the forest. Before starting off, they always offered sacrifices to the Hunter Goddess Meishan.

An important belief among the Tujia is that the Heavenly King will, in the final instance, settle lawsuits, reversing unjust verdicts and eliminating calamities. Whenever the Tujia fall seriously ill, they pray and make a vow to the Heavenly King in the temple. As soon as they recover from the illness, they offer sacrifices and redeem their vow. When they suffer an injustice, they also go to the King, drink a mixture of cat blood and wine, and ask that the lawsuit be settled by the god. In order to prepare for the celebration of the July Seventh Festival (lunar calendar; Western calendar, between August 1 and 29), butchery, hunting, fishing, music playing, and wearing red are prohibited for a period of two days. Those who violate the ban will be punished by the Heavenly King and will suffer a misfortune.


The Spring Festival (lunar calendar; Western calendar, between January 21 and February 20) is the most important of the numerous holidays of the Tujia. It is celebrated one day earlier than the true date. In the 17th century, Tujia soldiers were sent to the frontline to fight against the Japanese invaders. One day, they learned from reliable sources that the invaders planned a sneak attack on the lunar New Year. The Tujia organized their own surprise attack one day before the Spring Festival, which ended in a great victory. Thereafter, the Tujia followed their heroes in celebrating the New Year one day ahead of time. The New Year meal is a casserole of pork, vegetables, carrots, bean starch noodles, deep-fried bean curd, and rice. Early in the morning people scramble to light up firecrackers to "welcome the New Year."


As soon as a baby is born, the father announces the good news to his mother-in-law. Before setting off, he should catch a chicken and bring it there as a gift. Depending on whether the baby is a boy or a girl, he catches a cock or a hen. In the western part of Jiangxi Province, if a girl is born, the father will grow peony in the courtyard. Each year he sells the peony roots and deposits the money in view of the girl's wedding. During the confinement following childbirth, the new mother eats a large number of eggs. A pile of eggshells thus retained will be dumped on the crossroad near the house. It announces to the villagers that the baby is a month old now and that mother and child are all safe and sound. A tile-like embroidered hat is woven for the baby. It means the baby will be rich and will live in a tile-roofed house in the future.

In a family, if a woman does not get pregnant for a long time after the wedding, the couple will go to the temple to pray and make a vow. If a baby (especially a son) is born, they will bring sacrificial offerings to redeem their vow.

The Tujia practiced cremation in the past, but nowadays they bury their dead in the ground. A shaman will be invited to recite the scriptures, while the funeral procession is led by a Taoist priest. The clansmen sing a mournful song while dancing.


The Tujia usually receive guests with a gruel of sweetened fried flour. According to custom, they break at least three eggs and drop them, one by one, into the boiling gruel (numbers three and four are regarded as lucky; numbers one, two, five and more are regarded as unlucky). The host will propose three toasts right after the guests' arrival and also before their departure. If a guest does not drink, he should dip his middle finger into the wine three times, each time taking it out and snapping the wine off; this means the guest drank his fill and thanks the host for his kindness. If guests are kept for dinner, the main dish is a bowl of seasoned pork or chops covered by a big piece of fat meat.

On festivals, the host will bake glutinous rice cakes in the firepool for the guests. If a guest takes a cake covered with ash, the host will hasten to help him to pat the ash off the cake; if the guest pats it himself, it might be deemed that he thinks the house is unclean. During the meal, the guest may lay his chop-sticks in the form of a cross, indicating he is full.

Singing in antiphonal style is the usual beginning of dating. On a selected day of June, July, or August (lunar calendar; Western calendar, between June 26 and October 21), a "Girls' Meeting" will be held. Singing while dancing, all women of the village participate in the great occasion, wearing their traditional costumes. Dating and lovers' rendezvous are part of this social ritual.


The Tujia usually dwell at the foot or on the slope of a hill or beside a stream. Their houses are shaped like a "sitting tiger." This is probably related to their worship of the white tiger. Whenever they build a house on the slope, they build a platform first. The back side of the platform lies directly on the slope, while the front side is supported by wooden stilts. The living standards of the Tujia, both in urban and rural areas, correspond by and large to those of the Chinese. Only in remote mountainous areas in Hunan do they still live in poverty. Bicycles and tractors provide their main means of transport. Trains and cars are the next. Fully equipped hospitals have been established in counties and townships. There are medical clinics in large villages.


Tujia families are patrilineal, usually small in size, except when two or three generations live under the same roof. Women's position in the family is lower than men's. Monogamy is the rule. Marriages may be arranged by the parents or entered into freely by the couple. Remnants of old customs, such as cousin marriage and levirate (a widow has to marry her husband's brother and the latter also has the duty to marry her) still survive today. "Free marriage" starts with antiphonal singing and dating. If they feel mutual love for each other, boys and girls exchange gifts to symbolize their affection. The girl may give the boy a piece of brocade, and the young man may give her a piece of fur. One week before her wedding, the girl begins her tearful singing. The words in her songs express her grateful feelings to her parents, her unwillingness to leave her family, her trust that her brothers and sister(s)-in-law will take good care of her parents, and her curse for the woman matchmaker, if any. Her parents, relatives, friends, and especially the girls of the same village participate in the tearful chorus. Their feelings are genuine and heartfelt.

On the day of the wedding, a team from the young man's house comes to the bride's house; the bride's family and friends have already placed a table obstructing the entrance. Antiphonal singing or talking begins. If the bridegroom's side wins (which is usually the case), they are welcome and the table will be removed; if they lose, they are allowed to creep beneath the table to enter the house. They then accompany the girl to her fiancé's house. The ritual is lively and humorous.


Tujia daily dress has come to resemble that of the Chinese. Traditionally, however, women wear a short top with loose sleeves and buttons down the left. Two or three layers of lace are edged to the garment. The skirt is made of eight pieces of cloth or silk. These are still used on festivals, as well as silver earrings and bracelets and gold rings. Silver-made small bells, plates, chains, toothpicks, and earpicks are pinned on the front of their upper garment. Tujia women comb their hair into a bun. Men wear short tops with buttons down the front. Both sexes wrap their heads with a blue kerchief.


Rice and corn are the staple foods of the Tujia, with urban Tujia eating more rice and rural Tujia eating more corn. Rice is mixed with maize flour and steamed, giving a dry, colored cooked rice, which is taken with vegetable soup. Chicken, duck, goose, and pork, added in varying proportions to the rice-corn vegetable soup, are the principal sources of protein. The Tujia take three meals a day. During the Spring Festival, wild game is added to the regular dishes.


The Tujia's cultural and educational level is higher than the average among the national minorities of China. However, education in mountainous areas is still unsatisfactory, illiteracy being widespread. Although 95% of the school-age children do enroll in primary schools, the majority drop out. There is, nonetheless, some progress in the numbers of Tujia students who go through primary and secondary education and continue to college and university. This is possibly due to the fact that the Tujia speak Chinese and write Chinese characters.


Folk songs are so popular among the Tujia that almost everybody can compose a song and sing it by him- or herself. The traditional "Swing Arm Dance" is also very prevalent. The dance is led by someone who knows well the sequence of the movements. People follow him or her in a circle and continue to move around. The dance movement is mainly the movements of arms, mimicking those of hunting, cultivation, fighting, etc. More than 70 dance movements are performed successively and each movement will be replaced by another during a new circular procession. "Maogusi" is a traditional Tujia drama, usually performed in lunar January (Western calendar, between January 21 and March 18). A lot of straw is bound to the actor's body, indicating the hairy body of the ancestors. It is a play in five acts showing slash-and-burn cultivation, hunting and fishing, spinning and weaving, as well as the marriage ritual.


The Tujia have a mixed economy, based mainly on agriculture and supplemented by hunting, fishing, handicrafts, and trade. Women share fully in the traditional farming chores with men. Since the Chinese revolution, many new industries have been set up in Tujia territory, with the Tujia participating in a kind of "industrial revolution." These industries include metallurgy, machinery, coal, electric power, textiles, paper mills, wine-making, chemical engineering, architectural engineering, and shipbuilding.


"Hit the flying stick" is the traditional sport of the Tujia. Usually, it is a game between two individuals, but it may also be played by two opposite teams. Each player holds a bat and uses it to hit a stick thrown from the opposite side. The stick hit back should be caught. The structure of the game somewhat reminds one of baseball. Missing or dropping the stick either by the catcher or by another player is recorded.


Movies and television have grown very popular as new forms of entertainment. However, group music with gongs and drums, especially during the off-season of agricultural work, are still prevalent among the peasants. The "Swing Arm Dance" is even more widespread. Sometimes, tens of thousands of people join in group dancing, making it by far the most important recreational activity of the Tujia.


The most famous handicraft of the Tujia is a kind of cloth brocade called "Xilankapu." Most girls learn to stitch on cloth some one hundred figures and designs. Girls often stitch it on a blanket and or on a piece of cloth, which they offer as a gift to their boyfriend, to show their superb skill. They usually weave several pieces then sew them together. All the figures and designs of the pieces match each other in a very artistic way.


With education and industrialization, a growing number of young people, mainly in the rural areas, have migrated to the new and developing cities in their autonomous prefectures. This kind of social mobility, which tends to increase with the years, has had a destabilizing effect on the small rural villages, which depend on the younger generation to ensure their future—both economic and cultural.


The Chinese constitution states that women have equal rights with men in all areas of life, and most legislation is gender neutral. The gap in educational level between women and men is narrowing with women making up 47.1% of college students in 2005, but only 32.6% of doctoral students. In rural areas, the number of Tujia participating in formal education is small. Most school-age children drop out of school after just a few years.

China has strict family planning laws. It is illegal for women to marry before 20 years of age (22 for men), and it is illegal for single women to give birth. The Family Planning Bureau can require women to take periodic pregnancy tests and enforce laws that often leave women with no real options other than abortion or sterilization. Though minority populations were previously exempt from family planning regulations, policy has changed in recent years to limit minority population growth. Today, urban minority couples may have two children while rural couples may have three or four.


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—by C. Le Blanc


views updated May 17 2018


ETHNONYMS: Bizika, Bizka, Tuding, Tujen, Tumin


Identification. The Tujia are one of largest minority groups in south-central China. They are an agricultural people who have lived in long association with Han and Miao but who have retained distinctive cultural traits. Their name suggests that they are the indigenous people of the areas they currently inhabit.

Location. The Tujia live in the Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture of western Hunan and in parts of southwestern Hubei and eastern Sichuan provinces. Most of the population are in the Wuling Mountain range, south of the Yangtze, at elevations of 400 to 1,500 meters. The climate is mild, averaging 16° C, with lows of 4° C in January and highs of 28° C in July. The area is well forested, and the You, Feng, and Qing rivers intersect there. Annual rainfall varies from 120 to 140 centimeters, falling mainly between May and October.

Demography. According to the 1982 census, the total population was 2.83 million. Of that number, close to 950,000 lived in the Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture, with another 1.5 million in Hubei and 595,000 in Sichuan. The population figure reported in the 1990 census was 5,704,223, reflecting both high birth rates and recognition of additional communities and individuals as Tujia. At least 12 percent of the Tujia are urban residents. Population density in Tujia areas ranges from 130 to 150 persons per square kilometer.

Linguistic Affiliation. Many Tujia speak only local dialects of Han Chinese and some are Miao-language speakers. The original Tujia language is still spoken in some areas, particularly Longshan County in the Xiangsi Autonomous Prefecture. It is related to Yi (Loloish) and belongs to the Tibeto-Burman Branch of Sino-Tibetan. Written Chinese is in common use. No written script for Tujia has been found.

History and Cultural Relations

There are conflicting versions of the origin of the Tujia. Some sources trace their descent to the ancient Ba people of northeast Sichuan, while others identify them as the "Wu Man" (black barbarians) who moved from Guizhou Province. Another interpretation is that they originated in Jiangxi Province and moved westward at the end of the Tang dynasty. Our view is that the ancestors of the Tujia were native to the area, and were joined by conquerors and immigrants from different places over a long period of time. They were regarded as a distinct ethnic group in western Hunan and Hubei by the early Five Dynasties period (c. 910 AD). From the twelfth century, through frequent contact with Han settlers, they adopted metallurgical and agricultural techniques and became involved in commercial production and local marketing systems. Tujia continue to interact frequently with neighboring Han and Miao communities. They exchange local products, celebrate some of the same festivals, and at present their children share the same schools at all levels.


Tujia villages may contain anywhere from 100 to upwards of 1,500 people, residing in 20 to 300 households. These are usually located at the foot of a mountain or on the lower slopes, and near a water source. Houses are of wood or a combination of wood, stone, and brick, with a tiled roof following Chinese style. The typical wooden house is two storied. The ground floor serves as the center of daily life. The central room where ancestors are enshrined and worshiped and family ceremonial activities are conducted serves also for entertaining guests. Additional rooms, built to each side of the central room, are subdivided into a kitchen and bedroom area. Seniors dwell in the room to the left, juniors in the room to the right. The second floor provides storage space and bedrooms for the children. The stables, pigsty, chicken coops, and toilet are placed as side structures to the main house. Originally, villages were founded by kin of the same patrilineage, but people from other places were gradually incorporated, so that by now every village is multilineal.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tujia are both valley and mountain-terrace farmers. Wet rice is an important staple, along with wheat, maize, and sweet potatoes. They grow a variety of additional food crops, including potatoes, greens, eggplants, peppers, turnips, sesame and sunflowers (for the seeds), and oranges. Cash crops include beets, cotton, ramie, tea, and tung trees. Tung oil, wine, and tea were traditional Tujia commodities. Pigs and chickens are raised for market and also provide the main source of protein. Some hunting, trapping, and fishing continue. Some farmers have draft animals.

Industrial Arts. Full-time specialists and workers in new industries are more likely to be found in the towns and cities. Tujia are now involved in coal mining and light industry. Most villages include people who are skilled weavers and embroiderers, tailors, cabinet makers, house carpenters, and masons. Weaving and embroidery are of high quality, and the patterned quilts and bags are especially beautiful. Tujia gunny cloth is sought after for its durability.

Trade. Tujia have always participated actively in the local marketing system, which has revived since 1979. Towns and cities have daily markets, and in the rural areas markets are held once every three, five, or ten days at the township government centers, attracting thousands or even tens of thousands of people from the area and farther afield. Frequency of the market depends on population density. Everything from grain and vegetables to livestock, herbal medicines, forest products, commercial items, cloth, items for daily use, and handicrafts appears in the market.

Division of Labor. There is a gender division of labor, with weaving, embroidery, and certain handicrafts being the responsibility of women. But Tujia men share in household chores, and women work together with men in agricultural tasks. In the towns, Tujia women are freer to pursue professional work than women of the other ethnic groups in the area. People who are literate, or recognized as skilled herbalists or shamans, or able to perform and improvise songs enjoy considerable prestige.

Land Tenure. At present, state ownership of lands and forest resources is a widely accepted practice. However, since the breakup of the collectives in the early 1980s, the village communities hold the right to allot land among residents who are registered as farmers or potential farmers. Prior to 1949, tenancy was widespread, as a result of large landholdings by both officials and merchants and local Tujia landlords.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. Beyond the household the significant kin group is the patrilineage, which is now weak in its functions but continues to have generational depth. It appears that in the past many immigrants adopted the surnames of the larger lineages, especially Peng, Tian, and Xiang. Even so, marriage between people of the same surname is disapproved.

Marriage. Marriages are monogamous. Patrilocal residence is the ideal, but neolocal residence is acceptable. In the past, cross-cousin marriage was preferred, and the maternal uncle could claim or renounce his right to have his sister's daughter as daughter-in-law. Today, the maternal uncle's blessing to a marriage of a niece is still considered important. Even so, past and present, young Tujia could court and choose their own spouses, although such marriages once required the approval of the shaman. Under Chinese influence, dowry, bride-price, and arranged marriages became more frequent. It is not clear when the custom arose of ku jia (a gathering of the girl and her friends on the wedding eve to sing traditional and improvised songs lamenting the upcoming marriage). Divorce is rare and considered improper.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the most frequent form, though more complex households are not unknown.

Inheritance. An eldest son inherited his father's property but was expected to share it with his brothers. If a man had no son, his younger brother's son became his heir.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The patrilineage or lineage branch was led by someone of the senior generation who conducted ceremonies for the ancestors, mediated disputes, and was responsible for the behavior of the members. Lineage branches met at ancestral halls, sometimes drawing members from several villages. The village itself was also a community in which people helped each other in daily life, house building, opening of waste land, and defense. Wrongdoers would be ostracized by neighbors, in addition to suffering penalties from their descent group.

Political Organization. Though mentioned over centuries as a distinct ethnic group, the Tujia did not receive official government recognition until 1956. The following year, the Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture was established in western Hunan. In 1980, the counties of Hefeng and Laifeng in Hubei were declared Tujia autonomous counties, and following the 1982 census the Exi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Hubei and several additional autonomous counties in Sichuan were established.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Tujia religious beliefs and practices incorporate borrowings from the Han (Daoism, ancestral worship) with earlier beliefs involving ghosts and evil spirits and various gods. There are Daoist temples in the Tujia areas, with Daoist priests and nuns attached to them, and also part-time shamans (the term used translates as "native teacher") who can chant the mythic history of the people. A small number of families became Catholic in the years before Liberation.

Arts. Besides embroidery and brocades, handicrafts include elaborate jewelry worn by women. There is a rich repertoire of dance, songs, and longer song-cycles and stories, all of which are passed on orally. The "Hand Dance," with its seventy ritual gestures to indicate war, hunting, farming, and other aspects of life, is popular at the New Year's Festival.

Medicine. Herbal medicine and exorcisms are both used to deal with disease, but Tujia also turn now to modern medicine as it becomes more available in their areas. In the Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture, the number of medical workers in Chinese and Western medicine rose from some 500 in 1949 to close to 6,000 in 1982.

Death and Afterlife. In the past, cremation was a common practice, but it was replaced by burials during the Qing period. Daoist priests were invited to perform the rituals leading the soul of the dead to the other world, and the shaman performed the Tujia chants and rituals to pacify the dead and protect the living from ghosts and evil spirits.


Ma Yin, ed. (1989). Chinas Minority Nationalities, 401-404. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

Peng Bo, Peng Xiu-mo, et al. (1981). Jishou University Journal, Humanities Edition #2: Special Issue on Tujia Ethnography [in Chinese]. Jishou: Jishou University.

Zeng Xianghu, chief ed. (1985). Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Zizhizhou gaikuang (General survey of the Xiangxi Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture). Changsha: Hunan Peoples Press.