Qiang, romantic cloud-dwelling artists

Qiang Symbol
Qiang Symbol

 

Who are the Qiang?

Qiang is a very old name in China, recorded on Oracle bone scripts more than 3,000 years ago. Qiang is the chinese name but they call themselves Rma and are also known as the cloud people since they live mainly in the mountains of northwest Sichuan on the edge of the Tibetan plateau.  Qiang social organization is based around fortress villages (zhai 寨) extending along a mountain valley stream (gou 溝) .  For example the Jiuzhaigou area was shared between Tibetan and Qiang peoples and is part of the Aba or Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture.  Unfortunately the Wenchuan district of Ngawa was the epicentre of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake (also known in China as Wenchuan earthquake), which had a devastating impact on all areas inhabited by the Qiang community.

The Qiang people have their own language in a number of Qiangic dialects, but lack a common writing system.  Linguists classify Qiangic language family as Tibeto-Burman and also place the Tangut language of Western Xia or Tangut empire as a Qiangic language.  However the Tangut state bordered the Mongols and most of its records and people were thoroughly destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan in 1227 and so it is believed that survivors fled west to western Sichuan and northern Tibet.

Qiang Culture

Qiang people are hospitable and good at dancing and singing.  They have a songs and duets for all occasions but especially love. Qiang have a rich variety of romantic songs covering male-female love duet, and all aspects of romance and courtship songs.
花儿纳吉 “Happy as a flower”, is a very typical Qiang love song, with a test and vow of love:

Wen Chuan Qiang Embroidery Old Lady
Qiang clothing

大河流水小河哟清哟,花儿纳吉,不知小河儿节有多哟深哟,节节马尔舍;
Clear river water, happy as a flower, I do not know how deep,  stay true;

丢个石头试深哟浅哟,花儿纳吉,唱个山歌儿节试妹哟心哟,节节马儿舍。
I drop a stone to test the depth, happy as a flower, sing a mountain song to test the heart, stay true.

太阳出来喜盈哟盈哟,花儿纳吉,叫声阿妹儿节仔细哟听哟,节节马儿舍;
The sun comes out, happy as a flower, listen carefully to the sounds, stay true;

要学松树万年哟青哟,花儿纳吉,莫学花椒儿节黑了哟心哟,节节马儿舍。
Learn from the pine to stay green ten thousand years, happy as a flower, don’t copy the pepper and have a black heart, stay true.

 

Qiang Arts and Crafts

Qiang Embroidery
Qiang embroidery

For thousands of years the Qiang people developed their own very attractive cultural arts and handicrafts, countless generations have selected and refined the shapes, patterns, colours, used in Qiang embroidery, cross-stitch, and silver production.  For example, Qiang Qiang embroidery, earrings, bracelets and so on, have a very distinctive traditional style and require exquisite artistic and technical skills.  Early in the history of China, one of the branches of the Silk Road was the tea-horse road, a narrow pass over the mountains of Sichuan and Tibet leading down to Bengal.  Ming and Qing dynasty chinese merchants also spread Qiang silver and embroidery to Southeast Asia along this trade route.  However, this trade was repeatedly disrupted because of political instability and the trade route collapsed.

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Ancient tea and Horse Road, 19th century

The Qiang crafts are a valuable intangible cultural heritage of humanity. However it is not commercialised and is in danger of disappearing under the impact of the modern economy.  Really is a pity!

Inkston went to the Qiang area to find traditional artists, practicing their ancient traditions for embroidery and silver production.  We hope that although the ancient Tea-Horse Road isn’t operating, the modern internet network and low friction online operations can help these beautiful craftspeople continue their heritage into modern times, and bring their work to a wider world.

See Qiang products and the story of Qiang embroidery for more details.

Qiang stories and craftwork

     

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