ETHNONYMS: Derung, Dulongzu, Qiu, Tulong

One of the smallest minority groups of China, the Drung in 1990 numbered 5,816. They are located in northwestern Yunnan Province, near the Myanmar (Burma) border, and are spread over an area of a hundred miles along the valleys of the Dulong River. Mountains of 4,000 to 5,000 meters above sea level enclose the area, and climate varies from the semitropics of the valleys to six-month snow cover at higher altitudes. The Drung language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman Branch of Sino-Tibetan and is very close to one of the neighboring Nuzu dialects. Between the Tang and Song dynasties they were first a frontier people of the Nanzhao Kingdom and then under the authority of the Dali Kingdom. From the Song until late Qing dynasties they were part of the domain of the Lijiang (Naxi) tusi system of appointed native officials whose posts became hereditary, and in late Qing much of the area was a part of the temple domain of a Tibetan Lamaist monastery. To add to these threats to their autonomy and cultural identity, they were under considerable pressure from the Lisu and some were incorporated into Lisu society as slaves.

The Drung continue to exploit a number of ecological niches with a local economy based on slash-and-burn agriculture (maize, wheat, beans), fishing, forest and mountain hunting, and collecting of wild plants for food and medicinal use. Since the 1950s, the government has encouraged the planting of paddy rice and raising of cattle and pigs. Although the Drung have been pressured to adopt Chinese dress, they continue to weave the distinctive striped flax cloth that is worn by both sexes as a cloak, skirt, or wrapping during the day and serves as a blanket at night.

In the late 1940s and 1950s the Drung were still organized into fifteen exogamous patrilineal clans ( nile ) , each of which held claim to particular valley lands, mountain lands, and forest areas. The clans were divided into ke'eng, or villages, composed of several closely related multigeneration households of twenty to thirty persons each. There were village communal lands and lands assigned to houses. Each personal name incorporated three names: the name of the clan, house, or village; one's same-sex parent's name; and an individual given name. Nowadays, a person must also have a proper Chinese name for registration purposes. At puberty, girls received facial tattoos that indicated their clan affiliation, a custom no longer followed.

Marriages were parentally arranged and usually monogamous. Some polygamy occurred, either through the levirate or through marriage to two or more women of the same ke'eng. Residence was patrilocal. Cattle, iron items, and cloth were required as the bride-price. Bride-service was sometimes substituted to fulfill the payments. Since the clans were ranked, it was unusual for a man's sister to marry into the clan from which he and his agnates drew brides. Women had high status in their marital households, participating in economic decisions and overseeing the distribution of resources, as well as participating in agricultural labor.

In 1956, the Drung-Nu Autonomous County was established, and authorities encouraged the Drung to participate in a land-reform program. (Chinese sources disagree about the extent to which this plan was carried out and how.) Shortly thereafter, the government organized the Drung into collectives and communes, which did not replicate former clan or lineage holdings but instead created new units in which Drung of various clans joined members of other ethnic groups to work assigned areas of land. This plan was facilitated by government irrigation projects that opened up some 6,000 hectares for paddy rice in the Dulong River valley. However, recent reports (see Shen Che) suggest that many Drung can be found in the uplands, practicing their traditional economy. Even so, the institution of the extended-family communal longhouse is disappearing, rejected by the younger generation.

The religion is animistic, with shaman practitioners. In the 1930s some of the Drung were highly receptive to the teachings of American and Canadian Protestant missionaries in the area, and in the mid-1950s it was estimated that close to one-third of the Drung identified themselves as Christian.


Fan Yumei, et al., eds. (1987). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu fengqinglu (Customs of China's national minorities). Chengdu: Sichuan Nationalities Press.

Ma Yin, ed. (1989). Chinas Minority Nationalities, 329-332. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

National Minorities Commission, ed. (1981). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu (China's national minorities). Beijing: Peoples Press.

National Minorities Commission, Yunnan Provincial Editorial Group, and Li Zhaolun, eds. (1981). Dulongzu shehui lishi diaocha (Research on the society and history of the Dulong). Vols. 1-2. Kunming: Yunnan Peoples Press.

Shen Che, and Lu Xiaoya (1989). Life Among the Minority Nationalities of Northwest Yunnan. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.


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