The 2,545,059 Bouyei (1990 estimate) live in Guizhou Province, and they speak a language that belongs to the Zhuang-Dong Branch of the Sino-Tibetan Family. Although there is now a writing system for the Bouyei language, Han is often used in written communications.
The closeness of the Bouyei language to that of the Zhuang indicates a common ancestry. During the Qing dynasty, the Chinese government replaced indigenous headmen with appointed officials. Before 1949 the Bouyei were called the "Chungchia" ("Zhongjia" in the new romanization).
The Bouyei live on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, which rises from 400 meters in elevation in the south to 1,000 meters in the north. Their climate is almost tropical, with an average annual temperature of 16° C and an annual rainfall of between 100 and 140 centimeters. The Bouyei also benefit from the fertile soil. For their own consumption they raise wet and dry rice, wheat, maize, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, potatoes, and beans. They also grow cotton, ramie, tobacco, sugarcane, tung trees, tea, coffee, bananas, silk, hemp, and cocoa as cash crops. They produce batik, embroidery, sleeping mats, and bamboo hats for sale. The Bouyei forests supply pine and fir lumber. Prior to 1949 the Bouyei were also known as peddlers and traders throughout the area and played a middleman role between the Han and the minority peoples.
The Bouyei live in villages, each of which contains several clans. These villages may be located on the plains or in river valleys. Houses are either two-story buildings (with livestock living on the ground floor) or bungalows.
Traditionally, a woman signaled her desire for a particular man by throwing him a silk ball that she had embroidered. If he returned her interest, then the couple dated and later become engaged to marry. Today, the Bouyei are heavily intermarried with the Han in some areas. They adopted the parentally arranged "feudal" marriage form at the same time other features of their culture underwent Sinicization.
Several religions are represented among the Bouyei. Some are Christian and some are Daoist, but the majority are polytheistic animists who practice ancestor worship.
Ma Yin, ed. (1989). Chinas Minority Nationalities, 348-353. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
National Minorities Questions Editorial Panel (1985). Questions and Answers about China's Minority Nationalities. Beijing: New World Press.