ETHNONYMS: Shanda, Shanha, Shemin, Yu
Identification. The She are one of China's officially recognized national minorities. Lacking any written language, She traditionally have relied on songs and tales to encode their identity and to preserve their historical experience. Their most important legend, "The Song of Emperor Gao Xin," provides a myth establishing their social origins. In ancient times, a man named Pan Hu acquired the right to marry the third daughter of Emperor Gao Xin for helping the sovereign to defeat a strong enemy. The princess bore three sons and a daughter. The first son, placed on a tray when he was born, was given the surname Pan (tray, plate); the second son, after being put into a basket upon birth, was named Lan (basket); and the third son, because thunder sounded as he was being born, was called Lei (thunder). The daughter took her husband's surname, Zhong. She today maintain that these individuals are their apical ancestors, and the four surnames are in fact the most prevalent ones within She communities. The original meaning of she (and yu ) was "slash-and-burn," so the name perhaps acknowledges an early mode of production. Han Chinese began using the name "She" during the Southern Song dynasty (twelfth century a.d.). Shemin (which uses a different Chinese logograph for she) roughly translates as "hut people," or "shed people," and refers to the She practice of building small houses that abut the sides of steep hills. Historical records indicate that the She were also called "Dongliao" (cave Liao) and "Dongman" (cave barbarians). The She call themselves either "Shanha" or "Shanda," meaning "mountain guests," implying their past inhabitation of lower-lying regions.
Location. The available evidence suggests that the She once lived primarily in Guangdong Province, but starting in the early seventh century a.d. migrated north to the border region separating the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang in southeast China. She settlements lie generally at elevations of 500 to 1,000 meters above sea level and are situated on steep slopes that descend to narrow valleys cut by short, fast rivers. Proximity to the East China Sea produces a warm, humid climate with ample rainfall and frequent fog. Fertile soil and the accommodating weather make the area good for certain types of farming.
Demography. Census figures from 1990 put the She population at roughly 630,400, the great majority of whom live in the two provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian. Smaller communities are also found in Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Anhui.
Linguistic Affiliation. She people speak a language very close to Kejia (or Hakka), an important Sino-Tibetan variety found in various parts of southeast China. Because their communities have long been interspersed with those of the Han Chinese, the She also use Mandarin and local Chinese languages and have developed a local dialect. In addition, they have come to rely upon Chinese script in the absence of an indigenous writing system.
History and Cultural Relations
As mentioned above, the She reportedly began moving in large numbers into the boundary areas between Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangxi provinces during the Sui dynasty (late sixth to early seventh centuries a.d.). One respectable historical account, however, argues that the She and the Yao (another minority people located in pockets throughout southern China) share ancestors who were settled in Hunan Province (around Changsha) as far back as the Eastern Han dynasty (c. second century AD.). A second, equally respectable account treats the She as descendants of the ancient Yue people native to Guangdong and Guangxi. Whatever their true beginnings, She, by the fourteenth century a.d., were already settled in the mountainous zones of eastern Fujian, northeastern Jiangxi, and southern Zhejiang. Over the course of the next few hundred years, the She grew culturally much closer to their Han Chinese neighbors, with linguistic and technological convergences made inevitable by regular economic and political interaction. Ming-dynasty rule (1368-1644) allowed She communities to operate autonomously to a degree, in exchange for their loyalty and tribute. The Qing dynasty (1644-1911), in contrast, brought military occupation and compulsory changes in certain She practices, including dress. In the mid-nineteenth century, missionaries introduced schools, hospitals, and the Christian faith. According to Chinese sources, the She actively resisted Japanese occupation during World War II and aligned themselves with the Communists in their civil war with the Nationalist party. Since 1949, She communities have experienced a great many of the institutional changes occurring throughout China—for example, land redistribution, collectivization, and the post-1979 decollectivization of agriculture—revealing the influence of the state.
The She today live in small, scattered rural villages and hamlets, distributed over five provinces and more than sixty counties. Communities range in size from as many as forty households to as few as three or four. Most settlements lie in river valleys, surrounded and outnumbered by Han Chinese towns and villages. While the She usually reside in ethnically homogeneous communities, some live intermixed with Han Chinese. Their houses, at one time low set and thatched with bamboo, are now giving way to larger, wood-framed structures with walls of rammed earth and roofs of gray tile. Villages are compact and often protected by stockades.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The She were swidden horticulturalists whose slash-and-burn techniques to prolong the fertility of their gardens required that garden locations and settlements be changed every two or three years. It is only in recent decades, with the introduction of other agricultural methods, that the She have taken to fixed production and residential sites. Since cultivable land in mountainous zones is extremely limited, the She, who were forced to supplement their subsistence in the past with foraging, have built irrigated terraces into hillsides to expand their farming productivity. The primary crops include rice, wheat, sweet potatoes, rape, peanuts, and tea. The latter product, known as Huiming tea, and said to benefit one's eyesight and lungs, is sold throughout China and abroad. Peach, pear, and yangtao (carambola) orchards are common, but lumber products provide the most important source of outside income. Hunting continues to be important to She subsistence. During January and February, when farming activities are suspended because of weather conditions, many She communities go hunting in groups. Women, children, and able-bodied elders accompany the adult male hunters, cheering and applauding their efforts; those who kill the prey have rights to the animal's head or legs, while everyone else is entitled to an equal share of the remainder. The She manage several small-scale rice mills and feed-processing plants, and they run tea-processing facilities as well. They also labor in regional mines, helping to extract metals such as coal, iron, gold, and copper. Paved roads and a newly completed rail line now link together most She counties within the mountain zones. These developments should help stimulate the growth of sideline industries as markets become accessible.
Industrial Arts. The She are noted for their bamboo weaving and embroidery. Women trim their clothing with colorful silk and cotton threaded into geometric patterns and plant and animal designs. Cloud and star designs are woven into bamboo hats, which are rimmed with strings of beads.
Division of Labor. The contribution of women to production is considerable. Responsible not only for routine household chores, such as cooking and cleaning, and generally in charge of raising children, women also assist men with the tasks of gathering and gardening, although the bulk of the cultivation work is carried out by the latter. When a woman marries, her dowry ordinarily includes tools and gear she may have to use to support her new household—plow, hoe, water wheel, straw rain cape, and straw hat, among other things—clearly indicating her important role in production. Hunting, however, is exclusively a male preserve.
Land Tenure. In pre-Communist times, She who inhabited remote areas effectively controlled their own settlements, fields, orchards, and the like. They were otherwise subject to the same limits of petty ownership, and the same forms of landlord abuse and excessive taxation, as peasants in other parts of China. After 1949, government-imposed land reform programs allocated or returned property to She families. Traditional clan management of territory was readily supplanted with the creation of collectives in the late 1950s and early 1960s in many She regions.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Kin Groups and Descent. As previously indicated, the She have only four main surnames—Pan, Lan, Lei, and Zhong—marking four major lineage divisions. The average village contains a lineage temple or ancestral hall for every surname found within it. Sometimes several villages with a single surname will share a single temple. Lineages typically are comprised of branches that form when the adult sons of a family split up. The branches themselves will often split over time, and brothers establish branch and subbranch temples accordingly.
She generally observe patrilineal descent rules. Family and lineage heads are male, and heritable property typically transfers from father to son.
Marriage. On the whole, She practice surname exogamy. However, because the respective surnames are sometimes geographically concentrated, marriageable partners who reside close by may at times be hard to locate. In such cases, the She have followed an alternative rule: "incenseburner" exogamy. This permits marriage between persons from different lineage subgroups who worship the same ancestors but distinguish between themselves by their use of different incense burners within the same temple. The practice, nonetheless, remains relatively rare. Interaction and courting between young adults is fairly open and unrestricted; moreover, couples make frequent use of folk songs to express feelings of attraction and affection. Marriage requires the permission of both sets of parents, but they tend to be flexible about mate choices. The She reportedly are casual about extramarital sex, which does not often bring public condemnation when an affair becomes known. While virilocality is the norm for postmarital residence, there is occasional uxorilocality. The husband moves into his wife's village, assumes her surname, and then becomes her family's adopted son.
Domestic Unit. The standard household is nuclear, composed of husband, wife, and unmarried children. There is some variation, of course, and joint families that include grandparents are not uncommon.
Inheritance. The patrilineal bias has been mentioned. It is worth noting, though, that daughters, too, may inherit property from their families in addition to dowry goods. Adopted sons, with their new status, become eligible to inherit from their wives' families.
She communities have long existed within the boundaries and political control of the Chinese nation-state. In pre-Communist times, they were administered by soldiers and officials sent by dynastic rulers. Communist party and state functionaries, whether delegated to She settlements or locally recruited, continue the tradition, performing educational, adjudicative, and enforcement roles. At present, there are nine "autonomous areas" of county level or lower in which She are granted some degree of freedom by authorities to administer their own affairs. She, for example, have been exempted from the strict, government-regulated family-planning programs implemented elsewhere in China. The hand of the state is evident, however, in the Chinese-language schools whose curricula offer, among other things, classes on "national policy." She have a formal, if weak, voice in national and provincial affairs through their invited representation at political consultative congresses, which serve as advisory bodies to the effective governing agencies. The She traditionally relied upon lineage elders for the disposition of local affairs. They not only presided at ritual events, but also served as mediators and judges for intracommunity or intrafamilial disputes. Lineage leaders deferred to customary law in dispensing justice, and disputants were obligated to obey their decisions. Punishments for offenses were comparatively light. In a case of stolen property, for instance, the offender typically had only to return what was taken.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religion. The She believe in ghosts and gods and regularly worship or acknowledge them. Three times a year, in the first, fifth, and seventh lunar months, they pay their respects to their ancestors. Every third year there is also a lineage wide ceremony held in honor of family forebears, officiated at by the reigning head of the lineage. Within the lineage temple at such times hangs a likeness, called the "ancestral picture," of Pan Hu, primal patriarch of the She. With the completion of this ceremony, officials inscribe the names of all lineage males above the age of 15 on a banner of red cloth, which is then hung on a temple wall. She ceremonial activities copy Han Chinese practices in part. Spring, Grave Sweeping, and Mid-Autumn festivals, for example, all Han observances, are also events on the She ritual calendar. Uniquely She occasions include ceremonies held during the third, fourth, and tenth lunar months that honor, respectively, rice, wheat, and a folk hero, King Duo Bei. Besides attaching credence to ancestral spirits and gods, the She also put trust in shamans, part-time specialists with the power to drive away ghosts and cure diseases. The She formerly cremated their deceased, but in recent years have taken to burying them underground.
Arts. She skill in embroidery and bamboo weaving has been noted. Locally, they probably are best known for their singing. Virtually any occasion has its suitable songs—when one is working, relaxing, entertaining a guest, flirting with a lover, participating in a wedding, or attending a funeral. She socialize by means of exchanging songs, particularly during ritual occasions—a good example of which is a wedding. When the groom goes to retrieve his bride from her family residence, he is treated to a banquet. But he first sits down to a bare table, around which are seated relatives and friends of the bride to whom he must sing for his dinner. In response to a song from the groom about wine, the host offers one of his own and then sets drinks upon the table. The ritual continues until the table is filled with foods and dowry items. In general, song topics range widely. Those that recount She history and their migratory past are especially favored. Many songs are handed down through generations, some becoming quite lengthy from verses accrued over the years.
Averill, Stephen C. (1983). "The Shed People and the Opening of the Yangzi Highlands." Modern China 9:84-126.
Lan Zhougen (1984). "The She People of the Green Mountains." China Reconstructs 33(11): 53-56.
Liu Cheng (1984). "The She Nationality." Women of China, December, 35-37.
National Minorities Commission, ed. (1981). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu (China's national minorities). Beijing: Peoples Press.
JORDAN I. POLLACK
she / shē/ • pron. [third person sing.] used to refer to a woman, girl, or female animal previously mentioned or easily identified: my sister told me that she was not happy. ∎ used to refer to a ship, vehicle, country, or other inanimate thing regarded as female: I was aboard the St. Roch shortly before she sailed for the Northwest Passage. ∎ used to refer to a person or animal of unspecified sex: only include your child if you know she won't distract you. ∎ any female person: she who rocks the cradle rules the world. • n. [in sing.] a female; a woman: society would label him a slut if he were a she. ∎ [in comb.] female: a she-bear a she-wolf.