Identification. The She are one of China's officially recognized national minorities. Lacking any written language, She traditionally have relied on songs and tales to encode their identity and to preserve their historical experience. Their most important legend, "The Song of Emperor Gao Xin," provides a myth establishing their social origins. In ancient times, a man named Pan Hu acquired the right to marry the third daughter of Emperor Gao Xin for helping the sovereign to defeat a strong enemy. The princess bore three sons and a daughter. The first son, placed on a tray when he was born, was given the surname Pan (tray, plate); the second son, after being put into a basket upon birth, was named Lan (basket); and the third son, because thunder sounded as he was being born, was called Lei (thunder). The daughter took her husband's surname, Zhong. She today maintain that these individuals are their apical ancestors, and the four surnames are in fact the most prevalent ones within She communities. The original meaning of she (and yu ) was "slash-and-burn," so the name perhaps acknowledges an early mode of production. Han Chinese began using the name "She" during the Southern Song dynasty (twelfth century A.D. ). Shemin (which uses a different Chinese logograph for she) roughly translates as "hut people," or "shed people," and refers to the She practice of building small houses that abut the sides of steep hills. Historical records indicate that the She were also called "Dongliao" (cave Liao) and "Dongman" (cave barbarians). The She call themselves either "Shanha" or "Shanda," meaning "mountain guests," implying their past inhabitation of lower-lying regions.
Location. The available evidence suggests that the She once lived primarily in Guangdong Province, but starting in the early seventh century A.D. migrated north to the border region separating the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang in southeast China. She settlements lie generally at elevations of 500 to 1,000 meters above sea level and are situated on steep slopes that descend to narrow valleys cut by short, fast rivers. Proximity to the East China Sea produces a warm, humid climate with ample rainfall and frequent fog. Fertile soil and the accommodating weather make the area good for certain types of farming.
Demography. Census figures from 1990 put the She population at roughly 630,400, the great majority of whom live in the two provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian. Smaller communities are also found in Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Anhui.
Linguistic Affiliation. She people speak a language very close to Kejia (or Hakka), an important Sino-Tibetan variety found in various parts of southeast China. Because their communities have long been interspersed with those of the Han Chinese, the She also use Mandarin and local Chinese languages and have developed a local dialect. In addition, they have come to rely upon Chinese script in the absence of an indigenous writing system.