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15 July 2015

Home > About Hunan > National Customs

Dong Ethnic Minority

Nestled among the tree-clad hills dotting an extensive stretch of territory in Huaihua, Xinhuang, Zhijiang, Jingzhou, Huici, and Suining are innumerable villages, in which dwell the Dong people.

With no written script of their own, before 1949, many Dongs learned to read and write in Chinese. Philologists sent by the central government helped work out a Dong written language on the basis of the Latin alphabet, in 1958. 

Living Quarters

The Dongs live in villages of 20-30 households, which are located near streams. There are also large villages of 700 households. Their houses, built of fir wood, are usually two or three stories high, stand on stilts, and are usually located on steep slopes or riverbanks. People live on the upper floors, and the ground floor is reserved for domestic animals and firewood. In the old days, landlords and rich peasants lived in big houses with engraved beams and painted columns. Paths inside a village are paved with gravel, and there are fishponds in most villages. One lavish feature of Dong villages is the drum towers. Meetings and celebrations are held in front of these towers, and the Dong people gather there to dance and make merry on New Year's Day. Standing 13 stories high, each is decorated with carved dragons, phoenixes, flowers, and birds.




Men usually wear short jackets with front buttons. In the mountainous localities in the south, collarless skirts and turbans are worn. Females are dressed in skirts or trousers with beautifully embroidered hems. Women wrap their legs and heads in scarves, and wear their hair in a coil. Home-woven cloth is used to make traditional Dong clothing; finer cloth and silks are used for decoration, or for making festival costumes. Machine-woven cloth that is printed black, and purple or blue, is becoming more popular.



Farming is the major occupation of the Dongs, who grow rice, wheat, millet, maize and sweet potatoes. A typical Dong diet consists mainly of rice. In the mountainous areas, glutinous rice is eaten with peppers and pickled vegetables.



One of the Dongs favorite trees is oil-tea camellia trees. Serving guests with oil-tea is the traditional way the Dong people show hospitality. Another favorite tree of this ethnic group is fir, which is grown very extensively. Whenever a child is born, the parents begin planting fir saplings for their baby. When the child reaches the age of 18, and marries, the fir trees, which have also matured, are felled, and used to build a home for the couple. For this reason, such fir trees are called "18-year-trees". With the introduction of scientific cultivation methods, a fir sapling can now mature in only eight or 10 years, but the term "18-year-trees" is still current among the Dong people.


Many popular legends and poems, covering a wide spectrum of themes, have been handed down, from generation to generation, by the Dongs. Their lyrics tend to be very enthusiastic, while narrative poems are subtle and indirect, allusive and profound. Songs and dances are important aspects of Dong community life. Since ancient times, the Dongs have worshipped both Gods and Ghosts. Under the influence of the Han culture, though, some Dongs have converted to Buddhism.


Folk Culture and Art



Most spectacular is the folk architecture that goes into the construction of bridges. Wood, stone arches, stone slabs, and bamboo are all used in erecting bridges. The roofed bridges, which the Dongs have dubbed "wind and rain" bridges, are best-known for their unique architectural style.



The Dongs have many festivals: Spring Festival, Ox Worshipping Festival, New Harvest Festival, Qingming Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, etc.


Chinese source: