Zhuang - Orientation

Identification. The Zhuang are the largest of China's minority peoples. Their autonomous region covers the entire province of Guangxi. They are a highly Sinicized agricultural people and are closely related culturally and linguistically to the Bouyei, Maonan, and Mulam, who are recognized by the state as separate ethnicities.

Location. Most Zhuang live in Guangxi, where they constitute about 33 percent of the population. They are concentrated in the western two-thirds of the province and neighboring regions of Guizhou and Yunnan, with a smaller group in Lianshan in northern Guangdong. For the most part, villages are in the mountainous areas of Guangxi. Numerous streams and rivers provide irrigation, transportation, and more recently, hydroelectric power. Much of the province is subtropical, with temperatures averaging 20° C, reaching 24 to 28° C in July and lows between 8 and 12° C in January. During the rainy season, from May to November, annual rainfall averages 150 centimeters.

Demography. According to the 1982 census, the Zhuang population was 13,378,000. The 1990 census reports 15,489,000. According to 1982 figures, 12.3 million Zhuang lived in the Guangxi Autonomous Region, with another 900,000 in adjacent areas of Yunnan (mainly in the Wenshan Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture), 333,000 in Guangdong, and a small number in Hunan. At least 10 percent of the Zhuang are urban. Elsewhere, population density ranges from 100 to 161 persons per square kilometer. The reported birth rate in recent years is 2.1, which is in line with China's family-planning policies.

linguistic Affiliation. The Zhuang language belongs to the Zhuang Dai Branch of the Tai (Zhuang-Dong) Language Family, which includes Bouyei and Dai and is closely related to the standard Thai language of Thailand and the Standard Lao of Laos. The eight-tone system resembles that of the Yue (Cantonese) dialects of the Guangdong-Guangxi area. There are also many loanwords from Chinese. Zhuang consists of two closely related "dialects," which are termed "northern" and "southern": the geographical dividing line is the Xiang River in southern Guangxi. Northern Zhuang is more widely used and is the base for the standard Zhuang encouraged by the Chinese government since the 1950s. A romanized script was introduced in 1957 for newspapers, magazines, books, and other publications. Prior to that, literate Zhuang used Chinese characters and wrote in Chinese. There was also Zhuang writing that used Chinese characters for their sound value only, or in compound forms that indicated sound and meaning, or created new ideographs by adding or deleting strokes from standard ones. These were used by shamans, Daoist priests, and merchants, but were not widely known.

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