A minority in danger of losing touch with its own culture

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 July, 2010, 12:00am

With a population of more than 16 million, the Zhuang people make up China's largest ethnic minority group, with the Manchu second, with 10 million.

But with a long history of interaction with the Han Chinese that dates back to the Qin dynasty (221-206BC) and without thorny issues such as religious oppression that face other ethnic groups in China, the Zhuang have assimilated with the Han so fast and so peacefully that for some of them the only thing that indicates their ethnic identity is their residence permit.

Most of the Zhuang live in Guangxi, though others are scattered around in Guangdong, Yunnan , Guizhou and Hunan .

Known for their passion for singing, the Zhuang created a legendary figure, Liu Sanjie, who sang her way to true love. The Zhuang have also created their own language, which is divided into two dialects, and characters. But their have been concerns about the preservation of their culture.

Professor Li Fuqiang, a specialist in Zhuang culture from Guangxi Minzu University, said many young Zhuang people had lost an appreciation of their culture after going to mainstream schools.

'This started to happen in their parents' generation, and now it's getting worse. Many young people just don't know a single word of their own language,' Li said.

'The Zhuang have assimilated into the Han group to a degree that is much higher than those of other ethnic groups.

'This is partly because they started interacting with the Han people centuries before other ethnic groups did.'

While they share the same lifestyles with the Han Chinese now, being ethnically Zhuang still allows them to enjoy preferential policies such as having more than one child and a higher chance of enrolling in universities.