Other Customs of Zhuang Ethnic Minority

The Zhuang have a rich literary tradition, both written and unwritten. Folk stories often take the form of songs and are passed down orally. They can be myths, legends, historical poems or even simply chants. The Zhuang have a written language known as Sawndip or Old Zhuang Script, which they use to transcribe their literature and other important documents such as contracts. Most of these folk tales are written in verse and some of them are over a thousand years old!

One of these ancient legends has garnered much attention in recent years and is known as “Dahgyax Dahbengz” or “The Orphan Girl and the Rich Girl”. This is essentially an early version of the Cinderella story and has been found in old Zhuang opera scripts. Several written versions of the story date back to the 9th century, although it could be even older! Songs like these are often refined over a period of several years. For example, the “Song to Tell Others”, which is a philosophy on life, originated during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) but its final form wasn’t set until the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Many of these songs have their roots in superstition, such as the “house raising” song which is sang after a new house is built. This song consists of two parts; the first describes the construction of a traditional stilt house; and the second is customarily believed to ward off evil spirits from the new home. Like many ethnic minorities, they are a deeply superstitious people and their customs reflect this. For example, in some Zhuang communities they love to eat dog meat, while in others there is a taboo on eating dog meat because, according to legend, the dog helped mankind in their time of need.

The legend states that long ago there were no grains and the people were forced to eat wild plants. The only grain seeds were in Heaven but it was forbidden to bring them to earth. One day, a trusty dog decided he would go to heaven and procure the seeds for his beloved masters. Back in ancient times, dogs had nine tails so when the dog got to heaven he placed his tails on the ground and many of the seeds stuck in his fur. However, while he was collecting the seeds he was spotted by a guard. Before the dog could get away, the guard managed to chop off eight of his tails. He managed to get back to earth with one of his tails still intact and he gave the seeds to his human masters, allowing them to grow grain. In other versions of the legend, the dog is replaced by an ox and this may explain why some Zhuang communities happily eat dogs.

These superstitions play a focal role in Zhuang funerals, as they believe that the souls of the deceased enter the netherworld but continue to assist the living. Ancestor worship is common and their burial rites are particularly unusual, as the dead are buried twice. The deceased is first wrapped in white cloth and, after three days, they are buried in a coffin along with a few of their favourite things. A Taoist priest or local shaman will preside over the funeral, depending on the family’s beliefs. Families will sometimes even arrange what is known as a “spirit marriage” to appease the souls of those who died unmarried!

After three years, the deceased is disinterred and the bones are cleaned. They are then placed in a pottery urn and sprinkled with a red mineral called cinnabar. The urn is deposited in a cave or grotto until an appropriate burial site has been chosen in the clan cemetery. Once this has been done, the deceased is officially classed as an ancestor and can be worshipped at the ancestral shrine.

However, the Zhuang believe that anyone who died a violent, untimely or accidental death could become an evil spirit if not buried properly. They must be cremated while a local necromancer or Taoist priest chants scripture. The remains are carried over a fire pit, which the necromancer or priest must jump over! It is believed that this process “changes” the ashes from those of an evil spirit into a benevolent ancestor spirit.



The Spirituality of Zhuang Ethnic Minority

The Zhuang ethnic minority have their own indigenous religion known as Moism or Shigongism, which is an animist[1] faith based on their prehistoric beliefs. The polytheistic nature of the religion means they worship many things, from giant rocks and old trees through to dragons and birds, although the main focus is on ancestor worship. And, when it comes to Moism, three is the magic number!

They believe that the universe is tripartite, with all things being composed of three elements; heaven, earth, and water. People are believed to have three souls after they have died; one that goes to Heaven, one that goes to the cemetery, and one that comes back to protect the deceased’s family. A complete family is seen to have three parts: the descendants, the clan graveyard, and the spirits of the ancestors. With all these ancestral spirits flying around, three is never a crowd for the Zhuang!

Furthermore, this means that the souls of the dead can enter the netherworld but can continue to assist the living. The ancestral spirits are believed to protect the family but also have the capacity to punish them, so most Zhuang families will have an ancestral shrine at the centre of their home where they can worship their ancestors as well as other deities.

Buluotuo, the God of Morality, is one of their shared ancestors and is believed to have created the world, as well as being responsible for the establishment of moral order. In the Zhuang language, “bu” is the epithet for honoured elders, “luo” means “to know a lot”, and “tuo” means “to create many things”. He is married to a goddess known as Huapo or the Flower Mother, although some Zhuang communities believe that she is his mother. At least no one thinks she’s both! She was born out of a flower at the beginning of the world and is the Goddess of Reproduction. She is usually depicted guarding a large garden full of golden and silver flowers, with the golden flowers representing boys and the silver ones representing girls.

Upstanding moral villagers will be rewarded with good flowers (i.e. good children), while those who are immoral will receive withered flowers (i.e. bad children). When a baby is born, a plaque in Huapo’s honour and a bunch of wildflowers will be placed near the baby’s bed. If the baby becomes sick, the mother will offer gifts to Huapo and water the wildflowers. The goddess’ birthday takes place on February 29th according to the peasants’ almanac and on this date women will pick flowers and pray to her for conception.

The Zhuang epic Baeu Rodo is a poem about how Buluotuo created the world. It is a staggering 10,000 lines long and over 1,000 years old! Originally it was passed down orally but was transcribed sometime during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The epic is split into four sections, all of which can be read independently. The first is an introduction; the second is about the creation of the world; the third is about the creation of leaders; and the fourth is about the establishment of morals and ethics. The Zhuang people will often sing it at worshipping ceremonies and it is widely regarded as a religious text.

The worship dance to the Rice God

Other deities in the Zhuang canon have been borrowed or adapted from Han Chinese folklore. These include Tudigong, who protects the village boundaries; She Shen, who protects the village itself; the Mountain Spirit, who resides on a sacred mountain that is not to be farmed; the Dragon King, who protects the village during natural disasters; the Land God, who controls drought, flood, pestilence and disease; and a number of other spirits, such as the Kitchen God, the Water God, the Rice God, and the Sun God. In fact, there’s pretty much a god for everything! They sacrifice to these deities on a regular basis as they believe this will protect their livestock, their crops, and their families.

There are two types of religious figure in Moism: female diviners and male shaman or necromancers. The female diviners treat the sick and can communicate with the spirit world when in a trance. They have no teachers or students, nor do they read from any scriptures or religious texts. They are normally asked by families to contact the spirit world and pass on messages to deceased relatives. They also contact spirits or even deities to inquire about the future, particularly with relevance to fortunes and disasters. While they are divining, they will use a special ladle called a “ding” as a musical instrument and may also shake small bells.

The male shaman or necromancers serve at an altar and are able to read and write Sawndip, the Zhuang’s writing system. Thus they are the only members of the community that can read certain texts, which usually relate to mythology, history, geography, and astronomy. They are sometimes called great masters and can take on students. Their primary function is to dispel ghosts, pray to spirits, help people choose an auspicious time or place to do something important, and tell people’s fortunes. They are often employed to perform at funerals, local festivals, and in times of crisis. Sometimes a Taoist priest will take the place of a shaman, although he will chant in Chinese instead of the Zhuang language.

Buddhism in Zhuang communities has been heavily influenced both by Taoism and Moism, so Buddhist priests are allowed to marry and are only semi-vegetarian. Their main function is to write horoscopes, act as geomancers, and exorcise ghosts, although they will also help in times of crisis by chanting sutras[2]. In other words, when it comes to religion the Zhuang have all their bases covered!


[1] Animism: The belief that all non-human entities, including animals, plants, and even inanimate objects, possess a spiritual essence or soul.

[2] Sutra: One of the sermons of the historical Buddha

Zhuang Traditional Dress

Zhuang dress

The Zhuang women have become particularly self-sufficient when it comes to making their own clothes. They grow and harvest cotton, which they then spin into thread and weave into cloth. They dye the cloth using locally sourced plants or vegetables and embroider it with great skill. At this rate, they could practically start their own clothing range!

Since the Zhuang population is so widespread and diverse, their traditional dress varies greatly from region to region but tends to be characterised by the use of muted colours such as black, blue and brown. Throughout Guangxi the men typically wear a collarless jacket that either buttons up the centre or the right side. They wear loose trousers that are sometimes embroidered at the hem and occasionally will don a round cap or formal hat.

The women in northwest Guangxi tend to wear collarless, embroidered jackets that button along the left side with either wide trousers or pleated skirts. Married women will wear embroidered belts or will have a band embroidered around their jacket. In southwest Guangxi the women also wear collarless jackets that button up the left side but prefer to wear black square headbands and loose trousers. Most women will complement their outfits with silver jewellery and some wear a variety of beautiful turbans or headscarves on festival occasions. These vibrant headscarves can be so large that they practically dwarf the wearer and look like colourful fans atop the women’s heads.


Zhuang Festivals

Zhuang New Tear

The Zhuang people celebrate many of the traditional Chinese festivals, such as Spring Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival, but they do have a few of their own! The Singing Festival, the Ox Soul Festival, and the Ghost Festival are considered the most significant, although other smaller festivals, such as the Frog Festival, have their own quaint charm.

The Singing Festival

The Singing Festival, also known as “Sam Nyied Sam” in Zhuang and “San Yue San” in Chinese, takes place on the 3rd day of the 3rd month according to the Chinese lunar calendar and falls sometime during April. Before the festival takes place, offerings will be made to the ancestors and the clan cemetery is cleaned. It is then that the Zhuang youths embark on a 3 day-long trial of almost continuous singing!

Zhuang SanyuejieAs the name suggests, this festival is all about singing and people from nearby villages will gather, sometimes in their thousands, simply to serenade one another. Some songs are predetermined, but many of them will be improvised and are designed to make people laugh. Choirs will even challenge each other to singing matches, where participants try to think of innovative lyrics that their competitors can’t match. Zhuang girls will also compete in a game known as the Bamboo Pole Dance.

The festival is sometimes referred to as the Zhuang Valentine’s Day because it’s one of the few times in the year when unmarried youths can mingle freely. Thus it is often seen as the perfect opportunity for men and women to meet their future partner. Five-coloured rice is a festival speciality and is prepared by first dyeing rice using locally sourced plants to turn it black, red, yellow, purple and white, and then steaming it until it is fragrant and perfectly cooked. Don’t let the vibrant colours put you off; this rice is a real treat!

The festival commemorates a legendary girl called Sanjie Liu, who lived sometime during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). She was an extraordinarily competent singer and no one could match her in singing competitions. Although in the original legend she might be a Han girl who was only renowned for her singing, the legend was changed in 1949 to suit political purposes and was popularised by the 1960 film Liu Sanjie.

In the new version of the legend, she is described as a courageous Zhuang girl who confronted the local landlords and exposed their baseness in her songs. Her rebellious attitude eventually led to her being kidnapped and drowned in a pond by the landlords. However, she emerged from the pond riding on the back of a carp and ascended to heaven, where she became the Goddess of Singing. Regardless of the political propaganda that surrounds this legend, the date of the festival is largely believed to coincide with that of Sanjie Liu’s death. The show Impression Sanjie Liu in Yangshuo is loosely based on her legend.

The Ox Soul Festival

Zhuang Ox Soul FestivalThe Ox Soul Festival takes place on the 8th day of the 4th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar, falling sometime during May, and is dedicated to worshipping the Ox King. It is believed to coincide with the Ox King’s birthday and, on this day, he supposedly descends from heaven to protect his subjects from illness. Not only are oxen indispensible to the Zhuang as draft animals, but they strongly believe that the ox was sent from heaven to help them, so many Zhuang communities regard them as holy animals.

On the day of the festival, all manner of sacrifices will be made to the Ox King, from glutinous rice to whole chickens. No one is allowed to work their ox that day and farmers must go to the cattle barns to free the animals from their yoke. The oxen are then bathed, which is accompanied by the beating of drums. Finally, oxen are fed with five-coloured rice while the owners sing folk songs. The Zhuang believe that all of the whipping and hard work during the ploughing season causes the oxen to lose their souls, so this festival is designed to summon their souls back. It reflects the love and respect that the Zhuang have for their work animals. After all, everyone needs a little TLC now and then!

The Ghost Festival

Zhuang Ghost FestivalThe Ghost Festival is celebrated over a period of several days and starts on the 14th day of the 7th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar, or sometime during August. At the start of the festival, families will stop work and clean their homes rigorously. They then prepare an offering of duck, pork, and good wine, along with some candies and fruits, and welcome the ghosts of their ancestors into the house. When the festival ends, the family will say goodbye to the ghosts and burn objects that they think the ghosts will need in the afterlife. The Zhuang people worship their ancestors like gods and so this sombre festival is designed to honour them.

The Frog Festival

Zhuang Frog FestivalThe Frog Festival is held throughout the 1st month according to the Chinese lunar calendar, and commemorates an ancient deity known as Mother Frog. This deity is the daughter of the Thunder God and is the carrier of rains, so during this festival people pray for rain and a good harvest in the coming year. The highlight of this festival is a special Frog Dance, where performers don frog-headed hats and dance like the frogs found in the famous Rock Paintings of Mount Hua.



Ping’an Village

Ping'an Village 01

Ping’an Village has become by far one of the most famous locations to witness and hike up the magnificent Longji Rice Terraces of Longsheng County. It is located about 100 kilometres (62 miles) away from Guilin city and is home to over 50 families, with a population of about 200 people in total. The vast majority of people living in Ping’an are of the Zhuang ethnic minority and so it is sometimes referred to as Ping’an Zhuang Village. These Zhuang locals have been living in this area for over 600 years and their ancestors built the Longji Rice Terraces that are still in use today. These rice terraces stretch up the mountain, from 300 metres up to 1,100 metres above the sea level, and were first built during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), although they were not finished until the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The rice terraces near Ping’an are considered to be the earliest and most developed in the Longji Scenic Area, which is why Ping’an is the most popular village for tourists. This has both its advantages and its pitfalls. Since Ping’an is far more tourist oriented than the other villages, there are plenty of guesthouses, restaurants and other modern amenities available there that the other villages simply aren’t equipped with. That being said, the downside of this is that Ping’an is far more crowded than the other villages so, if you want a more rugged, remote tour of the rice terraces, perhaps Ping’an is not the place for you.

The village of Ping’an is characterised by its 80 households, which are three-storey stilted wooden houses that have lasted for over 100 years. Like the Miao ethnic minority, the Zhuang people also refer to these houses as Diaojiaolou, although the architectural style greatly differs from that of its Miao counterpart. The Zhuang Diaojiaolou are built on flat ground, unlike those of the Miao people, and each of the three storeys will have a hemp railing. The top two storeys are supported by the large wooden pillars below and are used mainly as living spaces. The bottom or ground floor is used as a stable for domestic animals. All of these little homes, stacked next to one another in neat wooden piles, make the village of Ping’an look rather quaint and adorable.

The Zhuang people living in Ping’an still maintain many of their ethnic customs, so Ping’an is also a wonderful place to experience the daily life of the Zhuang ethnic minority. The men wear hand woven long sleeved shirts and trousers whilst the women wear white shirts, black pants and colourful cloths or wraps atop their heads. This traditional dress is far simpler than many other ethnic minorities and reflects the humble, industrious lifestyle of the Zhuang people. As you walk through the streets of Ping’an, you’ll notice that village life has remained largely the same for decades. The adults still diligently farm the fields, the children still play with their modest toys, and the elderly still sit on their doorsteps, chatting or snacking on sunflower seeds. With the backdrop of the golden rice terraces in the distance, Ping’an is truly a rural paradise.

The two main attractions in the village are the two scenic spots known as “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” and “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers”. “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” consists of seven small piles that stand separately in the middle of seven rice paddies. These seven piles are remnants from the construction of the rice paddies. There is another, empty rice paddy in the centre and, when it is filled with water, it is said to look like a small moon with the seven piles surrounding it resembling the stars. “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers” are nine ridges that have branched off from the main terrace and five nearby piles leftover from their construction. The nine ridges look like nine dragons winding their way towards the Jinsha River to drink and the five piles resemble five tigers guarding the dragons and the land. These two scenic spots provide a perfect birds-eye view from which to admire and take photographs of the rice terraces billowing out across the mountains.

From Ping’an, there are many hiking trails along the Longji Rice Terraces, the shortest of which will normally take about 2 hours. You can also hike from Ping’an to Longji Village, which takes about 2 hours, and, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can hike from Ping’an to Dazhai, which takes 5 to 6 hours. In this case, it is advisable that you stay overnight in either Ping’an or Dazhai. These hikes are a wonderful way to exercise, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and wander through the terraced fields at your own pace. These rice terraces look particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset, meaning any traveller would benefit from an overnight stay in Ping’an.


Since Ping’an has been developed as a tourist site, the facilities and hotels in the region are much better than in other villages. The village boasts about 80 hostels and hotels, which are all of a good standard. Li An Lodge, a four-storied hotel located on top of the rice terraces near to the “Seven Stars Surrounding the Moon” scenic area, is considered to be the best hotel in the area. The stunning views from its balconies and its beautifully decorated rooms have made it exceedingly popular with tourists. However, the hotel only has 20 rooms and they can be quite expensive so it is important to book well in advance.


There are plenty of lovely restaurants in Ping’an that offer a variety of home-cooked, local cuisine. The most popular local dish is called Bamboo Rice and consists of roasted meat, rice, taro or pumpkin and spices that have been stuffed into a fresh bamboo tube. The bamboo tube is then filled with a small amount of water and sealed using a corn cob. The tube is roasted on an open fire until the bamboo has turned black and the ingredients are thoroughly cooked. The soft roasted rice absorbs the tender flavours of the bamboo and spices, giving this dish its distinctive flavour. Other local dishes include a kind of locally cured and preserved bacon and a spicy sauce known as Longji Spicy Chilli Sauce that is made from locally sourced chillies.

How To Get There

Ping’an is the most accessible village in the Longji Rice Terrace Scenic Area. First you need to take the express bus from Guilin to Longsheng County Town, which takes about 2 hours. The buses between Guilin and Longsheng are very regular and usually run at 15-minute intervals. In Longsheng you’ll need to purchase your tickets for the rice terraces. From Longsheng, you’ll have to take another bus to Ping’an Parking Lot, which should only take you about an hour. The parking lot is not actually in Ping’an so you’ll need to walk about another 20 minutes to get into the village proper. If you are only taking a day trip to Ping’an, you’ll need to arrive and leave early. The last bus from Ping’an to Longsheng departs at 4.30pm every day, so be sure not to miss it!

We recommend you bring some warmer clothes with you and a raincoat, as the rice terraces will get cooler as you ascend them and the wind makes it difficult to carry an umbrella if it rains. Please also remember to ask permission of any of the locals before taking photos of them.