Qiang people

Qiang people
Alternative names:
Ch'iang, Chiang-Min, Erma
Total population
Regions with significant populations
China, Sichuan: 200,000



Ruism, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, Islam


The Qiang people (Chinese: 羌族; Mandarin Pinyin: qiāng zú; Jyutping: goeng1 zuk6) are an ethnic group of China. They form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China, with a population of approximately 200,000, living mainly in northwestern part of Sichuan province.

Qiang people


Recent history

At present, the Qiang have a self-identity, referring to themselves as Qiang zu (羌族) and erma or rma (尔玛). There are about 200,000 Qiang people today in western Sichuan, predominantly in the five counties of Maoxian, Wenchuan, Lixian, Beichuan and Heishui, of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. On 12 May 2008, the Qiang people were heavily affected by the major Sichuan earthquake, whose epicenter was in Wenchuan County. [1]

The Qiang today are mountain dwellers. A fortress village, zhai , composed of 30 to 100 households, in general, is the basic social unit beyond the household. An average of two to five fortress villages in a small valley along a mountain stream, known in local Chinese as gou , make up a village cluster (cun ). The inhabitants of fortress village or village cluster have close contact in social life. In these small valleys, people cultivate narrow fluvial plains along creeks or mountain terraces, hunt animals or collect mushrooms and herbs (for food or medicine) in the neighboring woods, and herd yaks and horses on the mountain-top pastures. In the past, warfare between villages was common.

From the linguistic point of view, all modern Qiang people speak one of the two Qiang languages, which are members of the Qiangic sub-family of Tibeto-Burman. However, dialects are so different that communication between different Qiang groups is often in Han Chinese. Lacking a script of their own, the Qiangs also use Chinese characters.


The oftentimes matrilineal Qiang society is primarily monogamous, although polyandry and cross-cousin marriages are accepted. Since most women are older than their husbands and lead agricultural activities, they act as the head of the family as well as the society.[citation needed]

Romantic love is considered important, and sexual freedom is prevalent. The Qiang find marriages important.[citation needed] In the past, marriages were organized by the parents, with approval from the person who's to get married. It still is not unusual for brides to live in their parents' homes for a year or so after the marriage. In the past, children are usually separated from their parents after marriage, except for the first son and his family. However, such habits have been gradually discarded with the coming of the Chinese Civil War.

The Qiang also have a rigid taboo system in their birth and death. Prior to the birth of a baby, a pregnant woman is not allowed to go near the riverside or well, be at a wedding ceremony, or stand in the watchtower.

Upon delivery, a Duangong shaman is invited to help the delivery procedure, and strangers are not allowed to wail or enter the house. This is prevented by hanging up a flail on the gate for a week upon the birth of a boy, and a bamboo basket upon the birth of a girl.

After she has delivered her child, a woman is not allowed into the kitchen for one month thereafter. It would be considered a sinful action against the kitchen and family gods. A woman is also not allowed to leave her home or to meet any strangers for the first forty days after delivery. It is believed that danger of evil spirits (or infectious diseases) coming into the house would harm the mother. An initiation ceremony of cattle sacrifice would be conducted on the home altar, where the baby would be given a name.

Stillborn or premature babies are not considered human beings by the Qiang. Instead, it is considered as a demon which caused a woman to become pregnant in order to cause problems for the family. They are buried unceremoniously.

Culture and lifestyle

Owing to its ethnic diversity, Qiang culture has influenced and been influenced by other cultures. Generally, those who live nearer to the Tibetans are influenced by the Tibetan culture, while the majority are more influenced by the Han Chinese, which has close links with its ethnic history.

Both the menfolk and womenfolk wear gowns made of gunny cloth, cotton and silk with sleeveless wool jackets. Following age-old traditions, their hair and legs are bound. The womenfolk wear laced clothing with decorated collars, consisting of plum-shaped silver ornaments. Sharp-pointed and embroidered shoes, embroidered girdles and earrings, neck rings, hairpins and silver badges are also popular.

Millet, highland barley, potatoes, winter wheat and buckwheat serve as the staple food of the Qiang. Consumption of wine and smoking of orchid leaves are also popular among the Qiangs.

The Qiangs live in granite stone houses generally consisting of two to three stories. The first floor is meant for keeping livestock and poultry, while the second floor is meant for the living quarters, and the third floor for grain storage. If the third floor does not exist, the grains will be kept on the first or second floor instead.

Skilled in construction of roads and bamboo bridges, the Qiangs can build them on the rockiest cliffs and swiftest rivers. Using only wooden boards and piers, these bridges can stretch up to 100 meters. Others who are excellent masons are good at digging wells. Especially during poor farming seasons, they will visit neighboring places to do chiseling and digging.

Embroidery and drawn work are done extemporaneously without any designs. Traditional songs related to topics such as wine and the mountains are accompanied by dances and the music of traditional instruments such as leather drums.


The majority of the Qiang adhere to a polytheist religion, known as Ruism, a religion that involves belief in the White Stones that were worshiped as representing the sun god, who will bring good luck to their daily aspects of life. Others, who live near the Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism. Small minorities of Muslims and Taoists exist as well.[citation needed]

The Qiang worship five major gods, twelve lesser gods, some tree gods, and numerous stones were also worshiped as representatives of gods. A special god is also worshiped in every village and locality, who are mentioned by name in the sacred chants of the Qiang priests. Mubyasei, also known Abba Chi and as the god of heaven, is also considered as the supreme god. This term is also used to refer to a male ancestor god, Abba Sei. In certain places, Shan Wang, the mountain god, is considered to represent the supreme god. The Qiang people have also adopted many practices of the Taoists as well.

For some Qiangs, most White Stones were placed on the corners of their roofs or towers, as a good luck symbol for the sun. A square stone pagoda, which is located on the edge of many Qiang villages and on the top of a nearby hill as well. The pagoda is usually over two meters high and its uppermost part is inlaid with a circle of small white stones. A larger white stone is also placed at the pinnacle as well.

A small pagoda is also sometimes built on the roof of a house, with a pottery jar that contained five varieties of grain is placed within the pagoda. On top of the pagoda, a white stone is placed together with ox and sheep horns. By tradition, the door of a Qiang house is supposed to face south and the pagoda is built on the northern end of the roof in line with the door. Every morning, the Qiang family will burn incense sticks or cedar twigs in the pagoda and kowtow to it, praying for the protection of the family by the god of the white stone.

However, with modernization, worship of the White Stones is not nearly as common as it used to be. There are several legends that explain the origin of this stone worship.

Legend of the White Stones

At the legendary time when the Qiang people moved into Sichuan from the Tibetan Plateau, they placed white stones on every hilltop and crossroads, for they did not want to forget the route leading back to their original homeland. These piles of white stones also acts as a token of their affection for their homeland and the people they left behind at the same time.

Upon arriving at the territory of the local Geji people, the Qiang fought a losing battle. Jirpol, witnessing the condition that they were in, instructed the Qiang to find a strong white stone and attach it to rattan sticks and fight with this weapon, tying some sheep wool to the neck of the stick as well. Victory was on their side, and the Qiangs began to look upon the white stones as gods to be worshipped.

surname of Qiang people

  • Yao, Yo, Cho (姚) : Yao Chang of Later Qin
  • Gong (功)
  • Jin, Kam, Gum, Kum, Kim (金)
  • Ju Luo, Gu Ra (俱罗)
  • Ju, Ku, Gu, Goo (俱)
  • Qiang, Chang, Kang (羌)

See also


  • 3. Yap, Joseph P. Chapter 9 "War With Qiang" 62 BCE - in Wars With The Xiongnu, A Translation From Zizhi tongjian. AuthorHouse (2009) ISBN 978-1-4490-0604-4

External links

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