Guilin is culturally diverse, with many Chinese ethnicities having made it their home over the centuries. It is not surprising given the Chinese saying: ‘Guìlín's scenery best under heaven'.
As well as the predominant Han people (who make up 92 per cent of the mainland China population), Guilin is home to at least 12 ethnicities, including the Zhuang, Yao, Hui, Miao, Han and Dong (Kam) peoples; just some of the 55 recognised ethnicities in China.
The Dong, who call themselves Kam, are known for their Sweet Rice, carpentry skills, and unique architecture, particularly their wind and rain bridges. Chengyang Wind and Rain Bridge within Guangxi (the region in which Guilin sits) is the largest and considered the best of them. Also known as Yongji Bridge or Panlong Bridge, it was built in 1916 and is 64.4 meters long, 10.6 meters wide and 10.6 meters high. It is completely made of tightly packed wood and stone, with not a single nail or rivet.
The Kam people are internationally renowned for their polyphonic choir singing.
The earliest known historical records of the Zhuang people are the Rock Paintings of Hua Mountain, the oldest of them believed to have been drawn some 16,000 years ago.
They are known for their rich tradition of written and unwritten stories, often take the form of songs, which go back at least 1000 years. One fairy tale found in very early (10th century) Zhuang opera scripts, The orphan girl and the rich girl, is strikingly similar to the Western story Cinderella.
The name Yao is attributed to a number of distinct groups, each with their own unique customs but with related origins. A noted group in Guangxi are the Red Yao who farm on the slopes of the Longji Rice Terraces, a popular tourist attraction.
This group is particularly known for their women’s hair, which is cut only once as a teenager. The way they wear their hair as adults denotes their status: a black scarf for the unmarried, in two braids if married but yet to have children, and tied around the head like a turban if married with children. Fermented rice water is used to keep the strength and colour. The Red Yao believe long hair denotes a long, prosperous and auspicious life.
The Hui, Muslim Chinese who date back to at least the 7th century, are believed to have originated from the intermarriage of Muslim traders and Han locals during the height of the Silk Road trade. Persians were the original group to bring Islam to China. Many such traders stayed, married Chinese women, and assimilated into the local culture.
Unique to the Hui cultural is their famous hand-pulled noodle soups: Lanzhou Lamian. Almost all restaurants serving the soups nationwide are owned by Hui people. Lanzhou Lamian, also known as halal beef noodles, are believed to date back to the Qing dynasty, but it was a Hui man who perfected and standardized the dish in 1915. The man, Ma Baozi, said a good bowl of Lamian should contain five colors: clearness (the broth), white (the radish), green (the cilantro), red (chili oil), and yellow (the noodles).
Maio, considered to be one of the most ancient ethnicities in China, are known for their love of silver, with the women often wearing silver jewellery and silver-coloured clothes. They are a fiercely independent people, preferring to live within their cultural group, but are also very welcoming of visitors. Hospitality and etiquette are particularly important, with rituals in place for greeting and feeding their guests.
The art of batik fabric-making is an integral part of the Miao culture and history. They have been developing batik techniques since the early years of the Han Dynasty (220 BC-AD 202). The Miao have an old folk song describing the origin of batik, which they still sing today.
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