Ethnic groups of China
November 18, 2009 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Ethnic groups of China – that is, the officially recognized ones, in their respective finery. (Photo essay, text mostly in Chinese. Via.)
posted by joeclark (47 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't read a lick of Mandarin(?), but this was really fantastic! I know that in a country of 1.3 billion people there are bound to be various ethnic group, but seeing the cultural and physical variations between them all was stunning.
posted by chara at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2009


Too bad they couldn't include the ones that have already disappeared.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:44 AM on November 18, 2009


Wait, Russians are a Chinese ethnic group?
posted by amro at 11:46 AM on November 18, 2009


Heh, Tibetans and Uygurs.
posted by ignignokt at 11:47 AM on November 18, 2009


Heh, Tibetans and Uygurs everyone except the Han.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:49 AM on November 18, 2009


Didn't westerners used to do this in like, 1909? What a weird throwback to another age.
posted by Sova at 11:50 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Population of the groups, via wikipedia.
posted by toftflin at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2009


I wonder if China will get all multi-cultural before these groups are
diluted or simply broken up by migration both in and out of their historic regions. Fascinating photographs.

Also, I am going to hell right now. You have been warned.
posted by GuyZero at 11:53 AM on November 18, 2009


Having said that, the Kazaks look like they belong in Vegas...
posted by Sova at 11:53 AM on November 18, 2009


I wonder if China will get all multi-cultural before these groups are diluted or simply broken up by migration both in and out of their historic regions.

Yes.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:55 AM on November 18, 2009


Didn't westerners used to do this in like, 1909? What a weird throwback to another age.

The comparisons I have read have contrasted China to the UK during the Industrial Revolution. Massive migration, massive build-out of industrial infrastructure, massive pollution. One can easily imagine these photographs being made around Britain and Ireland circa 1750. Similarly, all those people would look more or less the same too. I'd be hard-pressed to tell a bunch of Cornish people from Welsh or Irish people.
posted by GuyZero at 12:04 PM on November 18, 2009


Nice! Fetishization of the subjugated other. And it's so modest how they save the Han for last.
posted by aught at 12:09 PM on November 18, 2009


Having said that, the Kazaks look like they belong in Vegas...

Yeah, I saw that Cirque du Soleil show too!
posted by aught at 12:11 PM on November 18, 2009


Having participated in (European) ethnic group events, I've always wondered about the clothes. Did anyone ever really dress up like that? Wooden shoes, OK, they are useful and more comfortable than you might suspect. But the curled up bonnets and metal headwear and whatnot?

(That said, these guys seem amazingly subdued for an ethnic clothing photo op.)
posted by DU at 12:12 PM on November 18, 2009


"Ethnic minorities in Taiwan," yes, but definitely not "Taiwanese".
posted by molybdenumblue at 12:12 PM on November 18, 2009


DU, they actually do wear some of that stuff. Even the metal hats. Well, not every day with the metal hats, but you do see crazy hats and embroidered costumes on people way out off the tourist track working a field or some such where they have no motivation to show off for a buck.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:16 PM on November 18, 2009


But the curled up bonnets and metal headwear and whatnot?

After seeing all those bearskin caps in Ottawa on Remembrance Day I've lost any right to critique other cultures' choice of ceremonial headgear. Yeah, people have weird traditional headdresses.
posted by GuyZero at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I particularly like the ones where you can see the family interacting with each other - in the Korean one, grandma has just cracked a joke - and in the Mongol below, everyone's looking at the falcon
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:19 PM on November 18, 2009


DU: Did anyone ever really dress up like that?

There are Tibetan refugees in my town who dress in formal clothing very much like that in the linked pictorial picture of Tibetans, on Tibetan holy days (new year, Buddha's birth / enlightenment day, and a few other holidays) and at the Tibetan Cultural Day fair they put on every year. I think the Tibetan women work pretty hard making the traditional clothes for their families to wear on these occasions.
posted by aught at 12:22 PM on November 18, 2009


Are the people in the pictures actually minorities, or are they all Han?
posted by Wet Spot at 12:25 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I got down to "Ethnic Blang" and decided that they were just making these up.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 12:28 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


My favorite thing about the display of different ethnic traditional costumes is that you can totally see how an example from each one could be used as a different Street Fighter character.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:30 PM on November 18, 2009


This is great, I just finished righting an essay on Sima Qian. It is neat to see the ancient kingdoms personified like this.
posted by MNDZ at 12:43 PM on November 18, 2009


The guy, front and center, in the Va is ready to fight.
posted by tayknight at 12:43 PM on November 18, 2009


Are the people in the pictures actually minorities, or are they all Han?

Maybe the real question should be are the Han actually Han or is Han just something made up to "harmonize" (read: assimilate or nationalize) earlier groups? Like how Burgundians, Franks, and Aquitanians etc. became French and then hated Germans (also including Franks and Burgundians, but we won't go there) but now they are all Europeans.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:46 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


The coolest name is the Derung one. It means 'lone dragon' in Chinese. Also, I love parsing the shooting locations. The administrative levels go from 省 (province) to 州 to 县(county?) to 乡 to 村(village) to 社. Not easy fitting some of them on envelopes, I bet.
posted by of strange foe at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2009


So which ones are the Uzbeks?
posted by Joe Beese at 1:22 PM on November 18, 2009


Are the people in the pictures actually minorities, or are they all Han?

see also: New Lives, New Ethnic Identity For Chinese Villagers (NPR)
posted by joshwa at 1:22 PM on November 18, 2009


Sui peope drive like this, while Lisu people drive like this, amirite?
posted by dgaicun at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


dgaicun: "Sui peope drive like this, while Lisu people drive like this, amirite?"

Funny... he didn't look Dongxiang to me.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:31 PM on November 18, 2009


A few weird questions came to mind as I was scrolling through...

Why are some pics repeated twice? Why is the "Ethnic Li" pic such a low resolution compared with the other images (did they crop something out)? Why is that very "indoor" studio backdrop inserted awkwardly into so many outdoor scenes (were they hiding something behind it)? And finally, isn't the official Chinese name for Taiwain "Chinese Taipei"?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:36 PM on November 18, 2009


Obviously, that's "Taiwan," not "Taiwain."
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:37 PM on November 18, 2009


Ahem. Metafilter: "ethnic Dong."

Okay, now that that is out of the way, I've started to wonder about strong cultural ties. Close friends are having more interracial children than monoracial children, and they, like me (being a white mutt with highly mobile family ties), will have more dilute roots and a less predifined path. I think that is a good thing, or a good thing to mix in with your society.

To put it a different way: people keep falling in love, and the more mixed up the kids they have (in every way) the stronger the society becomes. I think. Kinda.
posted by poe at 1:41 PM on November 18, 2009


And finally, isn't the official Chinese name for Taiwain "Chinese Taipei"?

There is an ethnic Taiwanese minority (who have their own language: Taiwanese).

From Wikipedia:

About 4,000 years ago, ancestors of current Taiwanese aborigines settled in Taiwan. These aborigines are genetically related to Malay and maternally to Polynesians, and linguists classify their languages as Austronesian. It is thought likely that Polynesian ancestry may be traceable throughout Taiwan.

Han Chinese began settling in the Penghu islands in the 1200s ...

posted by Comrade_robot at 1:55 PM on November 18, 2009


The textiles in these photos are stunning, but the mobile school-portrat-backdrop they seemed to include in each one really takes away from everything. What's the deal with that?

I kind of want to put my fingers in my ears about the politics of the situiation, so to speak, and just enjoy the photos on a purely aesthetic level.
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:16 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's something about the posing of the Tujia that makes me wonder what's going on. It's like most of the people in the picture know this is a load of BS.
posted by fiercekitten at 2:20 PM on November 18, 2009


Joe Beese So which ones are the Uzbeks ?

The Uzbeks?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:30 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


(That said, these guys seem amazingly subdued for an ethnic clothing photo op.)

Those hats just radiate confidence. You could have just been pantsed in front of your fiancee's parents, the president, and every grandparent on the planet. But if you popped on that hat, no one would even notice.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 2:37 PM on November 18, 2009


Somebody should write a sitcom where one member of each of the 57 ethnic groups get an apartment together. The mind boggles at the wacky-misunderstanding possibilities!
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:44 PM on November 18, 2009


Hey look! Samovars!
posted by Tesseractive at 2:55 PM on November 18, 2009


There's something about the posing of the Tujia that makes me wonder what's going on. It's like most of the people in the picture know this is a load of BS.

Yeah, a lot of these "ethnics" are part of China against their will. China, and the many Chinese nationalist expats, are big on pushing the whole "we're all Chinese, stop trying to break away why are you not grateful when we make you special schools you lazy ingrates" thing.
posted by ignignokt at 3:25 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm fascinated by their names. A lot of them have Chinese-style name. I'm wondering, culturally how sinicized are many of these minorities. How do they maintain their cultural identity when 90%+ of China's population are ethnic Han?
posted by Carius at 4:14 PM on November 18, 2009


In Wuhan, in central China, there's very little, tourist-wise, to see. On the other hand, there is the first railroad bridge across the Yangtze/Chang-Jiang river, which is pretty cool. It's about a mile long, and the top level is for cars, and the trains pass underneath. I walked across it one day with some friends while we were living (I was teaching, they were studying) there. On the opposite side of the river, in Hankow, you can take an elevator down to the riverside, rather than walking along the road. We took the elevator to explore the river front. To get there, you take some stairs down to a huge hall under the bridge. One wall of the hall is a giant mural, of all of the officially recognized ethnic minorties, in all of their standard finery. Every single person in the painting was gazing lovingly at the central figure of the mural, which was, of course, Chairman Mao. It was pretty amazing to see it, since, by 1999, a lot of Maomobilia had disappeared. I haven't been able to find any photos of it, but if you're ever in Wuhan, it's basically this website, but with that, "we all adore our dear leader" fervor not seen these days, outside of North Korea.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:20 PM on November 18, 2009


These remind me of the tribal photographs we have of Native Americans that were taken just before they "died out"... which of course they didn't. But still, when Europeans for instance think of Native American tribal peoples, they so often think of those photos and the accoutrements included in them as "Indian." Today, First Nations people incorporate chewing tobacco tins into jingle dresses, dyed feathers and bright colors that simply didn't exist in some mythic "traditional" period of time when all this supposedly hearkens from.

So in each of these Chinese photos, you see a variation in the level of modernity some incorporate versus others. Who picked these people? Who is considered a "good representative"? Or is it just whoever has become well known for ethnic pride to the point of "has the special clothes"?

I have a beautiful ethnic costume (called a bunad) that my Norwegian grandmother made and embroidered. However, it does not represent the valley where the family lived--it's just a design grandma wanted to try because she wanted to embroider it/thought it was pretty. Someday, some descendant of mine is going to wonder why i have this bunad from a place we're not from, not in particular. (Or will think that's where we're "from".) Oddly, the embroidery style is very similar to the Ojibwe beading and embroidery designs indigenous to where I live now. (And... these Ojibwe migrated from the east only about 300 years ago to here.)

So how many of these people are wearing an "ethnic costume" versus something that actually represents where they are from, and something they actually wear to weddings and such things?

Things are so mixed up, it's difficult to look at someone's face and say: This person is a Representative of X ethnicity. Not without an exhaustive genetic profile. And even then, people *move*. So while I love the variation, I wonder about it.
posted by RedEmma at 4:49 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is an ethnic Taiwanese minority (who have their own language: Taiwanese).

From Wikipedia:

About 4,000 years ago, ancestors of current Taiwanese aborigines settled in Taiwan. These aborigines are genetically related to Malay and maternally to Polynesians, and linguists classify their languages as Austronesian. It is thought likely that Polynesian ancestry may be traceable throughout Taiwan.


That's wrong. The aboriginals that came here starting thousands of years ago have their own languages (11? 13? I forget), most of which are dying off and close to being extinct. Taiwanese/Hoklo/Southern Min is spoken mostly by 本省人, who came here from Fujian starting a few centuries ago. Relations between the Hoklo and the aboriginals can be a bit strained.

One thing I'm fascinated about Chinese ethnic groups is the degree to which they're feminized in Chinese folklore. Subconsciously, to most Han Chinese, many ethnic minorities (not the Uighurs or Tibetans, but like the Miao in Guizhou province) are pretty girls in fancy traditional dresses who do fancy traditional dances all the time. A Miao man isn't really Miao to a lot of Han.
posted by alidarbac at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2009


alidarbac, you'll have a hard time separating that effect from the fact that women are better preservers of culture than men (in societies on the border between traditional clothing and western clothing, eg India, who wears the traditional dress?) and the trend that the figure of women is universally admired and fetishized over that of men (eg Venus of Willendorf, Beyonce, etc).

I've been thinking about and observing attitudes and policies towards the ethnic minorities in China for a while now, and I still remain very skeptical towards them across the board. But it's gotten harder for me not to believe that some Chinese, even government officials or researchers under government direction, do not have any concept of supporting and preserving local ethnic cultures at some level.

Regarding the ornateness of the costumes, two ideas are helpful to me. One is that people always put on their Sunday best to take portraits; likewise, these portraits (people have commented on the studio-like background inserted into the photos, which I like) are probably the same clothing they wear to festivals and on special occasions. For example, Andalusians dress up in flamenco outfits for the spring Feria, and might like to be remembered in that way, though on a daily basis they wear "street clothes" like your or me. The other idea is that, if indigenous people didn't adopt western clothing but had access to the contemporary fabrics, dyes and tailoring techniques, wouldn't they turn their traditional costumes into the examples in the portraits linked to above? If the Greeks stepped out of a time portal, would we criticize them for putting sequins on their togas? Or is that simply an organic updating of their traditional dress? I don't think we'd have to force it on them, like you might suspect had happened with the Chinese ethnic groups.

It was eye-opening for me to drive out into back-water Yunnan and see Miao women still wearing the traditional dress in a context in which it was not required.
posted by msittig at 7:17 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you're ever in Beijing, you can check out more about the National Minorities at the Racist Park!
posted by Abiezer at 10:58 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


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