Zhuang - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Paddy rice, dry-field uplands rice, glutinous rice, yams, and maize are staples, with double- or triple-cropping in most areas. Many tropical fruits (pineapple, banana, orange, sugarcane, litchi, mango) are grown, as well as a number of vegetables. River fisheries add protein to the diet, and most households raise pigs and chickens. Oxen and water buffalo serve as draft animals but are also eaten. Hunting and trapping are a very minor part of the economy, and gathering activities focus on mushrooms, medicinal plants, and fodder for the livestock. There is additional income in some areas from tung oil, tea and tea oil, cinnamon and anise, and a variety of ginseng. During the agricultural slack seasons, there are now increased opportunities to find construction work or other kinds of temporary jobs in the towns.

Industrial Arts. Most villages have always had some craft specialists skilled in carpentry, masonry, house building, tailoring, and the weaving of bamboo mats. Brocades, embroidered works, and batiks made by Zhuang women are famous throughout China and were mentioned as early as the Tang dynasty. Ordinarily, the Zhuang tend to dress like their Han neighbors, but ethnic dress has reemerged and is now encouraged by the state.

Trade. Households are heavily dependent on local markets for obtaining daily necessities and luxury goods and for selling their own products such as vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, furniture, herbs, and spices. Participation in the market is also a social pastime. Both sexes participate in market trading. These periodic markets, held every three, five, or ten days, are now the site of township, district, and county governments. A small number of Zhuang are shopkeepers in a village or market town, and with the recent reforms some now are long-distance traders, bringing clothing from Guangdong Province for resale on the local markets.

Division of Labor. Men are responsible for plowing and management of the draft animals, while women are primarily responsible for transplanting rice in the flooded fields, weeding, and harvesting. Young men are more likely to be educated and are encouraged to learn an artisan skill or seek an urban job. The development of forestry and industries in the area makes some wage labor available. With adult women engaged in agriculture, the tasks of child care, feeding of domestic animals, and some of the housework is taken on by the elderly members of the family.

Land Tenure. From the Tang through much of the Qing dynasty, a feudal landownership system was prevalent, in which households received land-use rights for their own subsistance in return for labor on the landowner's estates and other labor services. A more commercialized landlord system developed from the eighteenth century on into the twentieth, creating a large number of poor peasants. Under the current reforms, land is allocated on contract to households, according to the number of people registered as rural residents. A village administrative committee (formerly a production brigade or team under the socialist economy) oversees the allotments of arable land, particularly irrigated fields. The contract is usually for five years. All land now belongs to the state, but use rights and redistribution rest with the village. Conflicts over land boundaries between households, villages, or even townships and counties are not uncommon. Population density is now high relative to available land.

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