Sichuan Museum – #4 Ethnic Collection 少數民族展

The Sichuan Museum has more than 7,000 ethnic cultural relics from minority tribes found around the Sichuan mountains. These include handicrafts and relics from Yi 彝族, Tibetan 藏族, Qiang 羌族, Miao 苗族, Hui 回族, Mongolian 蒙古族, Tujia 土家族 and other 14 ethnic minority.

Ethnic Collection 少數民族展

Sichuan is a landlocked province in Southwest China occupying most of the Sichuan Basin and the easternmost part of the Tibetan Plateau between the Jinsha River on the west, the Daba Mountains in the north, and the Yungui Plateau to the south. 

The distribution of the tribes

Sichuan provincial capital is Chengdu, and the minority tribal areas are given their own Autonomous Prefecture status – There’s the Yi Autonomous Region, Tibetan Autonomous Region and Qiang Autonomous Region. And there’s also a unique autonomous region not belonging to a predominant tribe in the region, but for the pandas called Wolong Autonomous Region.

Yi tribe 彝族

Lacquerware of Yi tribe, Neoteric Times

Craftsmen appeared very early in the history of the Yi tribe 彝族. Lacquerware were like a shining star among Yi utensils. The most used colors in Yi lacquerware are black, red and yellow. The technique used on Yi lacquerware started 1,700 years ago. The earliest Yi people created and used wooden and leather utensils, which was the origin of lacquerware. After the Han Dynasty, Yi people developed the craft and created the lacquerware with their own ethnic characteristics.

Curse (left) and Prevent Leprosy (right) scriptures on patchment in Yi scripts 彝文, Neoteric times

Yi is a member of the Loloish branch of the Tibeto-Burman languages spoken by about 4 or 5 million people in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi in southern China. Yi, which is known as 彝 in Chinese and Lolo in English, has six main dialects: Northern Yi (ꆈꌠ – Nuosu), Western Yi (Lalu), Central Yi (Lolopo), Southern Yi (Nisu), Southeastern Yi (Nasu) and Eastern Yi (Nasu). There is limited mutual intelligibility between them.  Northern Yi has the most speakers – about 2 million – and is spoken south-western Sichuan, mainly in the Liangshan Yi Nationality Autonomous Region (凉山彝族自治州), and in Northern Yunnan.

Miao tribe 苗族

Traditional silver adornments of the Miao 苗族, Modern time

The daily clothing worn by Miao tribe 苗族 will differ from place to place and many of the Miao subgroups are designated by the colour of their clothes. On top of their beautifully embroidered clothes, Miao women are also famed for the glittering silver adornments that they wear during festival time. The Miao people regard silver as a symbol of wealth and so have a particular fondness for it. They also believe silver symbolises light and good health, so wearing silver will ward off evil spirits, stave off natural disasters and bring good fortune. When it comes to the ornamental silver worn by the Miao women, the heavier the better, so some festival outfits can weigh upwards of 20 to 30 jin (about 10 to 15 kg).

Chinese moon lute 大月琴, Modern times

The resemblance of this octagonal lute to the full moon (yue) gave it its name. The yueqin or Chinese moon lute 大月琴 developed from a much larger long-necked lute that appeared in the Qin and Han dynasties. Its four strings are tuned in pairs, a fifth apart. Like the sanxian, it encloses a vibrating plate. Found in popular ensembles and the Beijing opera and used to accompany song, the yueqin has not been fully embraced by the modern Chinese orchestra. The player presses the strings between the high frets making chord playing difficult but giving increased control over the timbre and intonation. Strings are plucked with fingernails or a pick using up- and down-strokes and tremolo techniques that sustain and give color to a tone.

Iron triangular fork (top) and broadsword, Neoteric time

The Tiger Fork is a Chinese polearm that likely had its origins as a tool for fending off deadly predators such as tigers or bears and became a weapon of self-defense and war for its usefulness in foiling and entrapping strikes from an opponent. In early 20th century photographs of Chinese village patrols, town militias or even royal retinues it is common to see at least a few men armed with Tiger Forks. Like many such weapons, it has now become a staple of Chinese martial arts practitioners.

Qiang tribe 羌族

Wooden bows and leather knee guards from Qiang tribe, Modern time

Ensconced deep in a valley blanketed with hardy shrubs and fringed by sand-coloured rocks, these mountains have long been home to the Qiang people. According to Shang dynasty inscriptions, the Qiang tribe 羌族 are an ancient tribe that moved to the mountains of West Sichuan and the upper Min River region over 2,000 years ago. Encircled by the Tibetans to the west and north, and the Han Chinese to the east and south, the Qiang lands once served as a battleground in clashes between these larger ethnic groups. Coupled with occasional infighting with other Qiang villages, each settlement was under constant threat of invasion. To protect themselves, the people utilised the natural resources of the valley to construct hamlets with thick walls, small windows and watchtowers that reach up to seven stories high.

Qiang’s Wood Human Head Pestle 羌族木人頭杵, Neoteric time

The shibi is at the centre of Qiang culture. These wizards perform traditional ceremonies and dances on special occasions, such as during the Qiang new year, which falls on October 1 of the Lunar Calendar. Furthermore, because the Qiang people have no written language, many shibi have memorized epic poems that tell of the Qiang history. This pestle is most likely an article of worship used by the shibi called a phurba. The phurba, or the magical dagger, is an esoteric ritual weapon used to conquer evil spirits and destroy obstacles.

Following the Wenchuan earthquake on May 12, 2008, a few ethnic Qiang villages in the mountains of Sichuan Province were destroyed. Some ethnic Qiang people, who lived a traditional farming and grazing lifestyle for centuries, were forced to move to a new location, where they no longer live off of the land and must resort to tourism for income.

Tibetan tribe 藏族

Tibetan Bone Girdle with Bead and Copper Bell Ornament 骨雕圓珠銅鈴圍腰飾, Modern time

Bone aprons, jewellery and crowns are used both in Tantric rituals and religious dance performances. The bone objects have their origin with Tantric deities known as Heruka.

Bronze and brass teapots, Ghee (left) toad-shaped (right). Modern time

Buttered tea 酥油茶 is the favourite drink of Tibetan people. It usually consumed while eating Tsampa. It is made of boiled brick tea and ghee. Ghee, which looks like butter, is a kind of dairy product of fat abstracted from cow milk or sheep milk. Tibetan people like the ghee made of yak milk. When they make buttered tea, they mix boiled brick tea and ghee in a special can, add some salt, pour the mixed liquid into a pottery or metal teapot and finally heat up it.

Sichuan Provincial Museum 四川博物院
251 Huan Hua Nan Lu, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Date Visited : Aug 2018

1 comment on “Sichuan Museum – #4 Ethnic Collection 少數民族展

  1. Pingback: Sichuan Museum – #8 Pottery from Antiquity 歷代陶器 – live2makan

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