The 2,514,014 Dong (1990 census) live in numerous villages in the hills along the borders of Hunan, Guizhou, and Guangxi provinces. The Dong language, called Kam, belongs to the Zhuang-Dong Branch of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family. In 1958, the first writing system for the Dong was invented, using Roman letters; most Dong still use Chinese ideographs in their written communications, however.
Most villages are small (20 to 30 households) although a few are large, townlike complexes (approximately 700 households). Houses are two-story; livestock and firewood are kept on the ground floor. Dong villages feature drum towers of up to thirteen stories, where meetings and celebrations take place. Also distinctive of the Dong is their construction of elaborate covered bridges with tile roofs and stone arches.
Dong territory is subtropical, with 120 centimeters of rain annually. They raise rice, wheat, millet, maize, and sweet potatoes for their own consumption and cotton, tobacco, rapeseed, and soybeans as cash crops. The Dong also harvest large amounts of timber for sale. Other forest products include tung oil, lacquer, and oil-tea camellia.
Traditionally, only men could inherit land, though women had small plots that they farmed themselves. The monogamous Dong adopt boys when childless. After marriage, women continue to live with their parents, visiting their husbands only on special occasions; a woman lives with her husband after the birth of their first child. When a child is born, its parents plant fir seedlings so that the child will have materials with which to build a house after marrying; these trees are known as "18-year trees."
The Dong are polytheistic and worship especially a "saint mother" whom they honor with altars and temples.
The Communist Revolution has led to the introduction of factories to produce farm implements, cement, paper, and other goods.
Ma Yin, ed. (1989). China's Minority Nationalities, 354-358. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
National Minorities Questions Editorial Panel (1985). Questions and Answers about China's Minority Nationalities. Beijing: New World Press.