Who are the Qiang?

by Benoit on Thursday, 01 October 2009 Comments
"I am Qiang" ... But who are the Qiang? Today the name refers to a small ethnic minority group in western China, 300 000 people, established on the foothills and mountains that separate the plains around Chengdu from the highlands of Eastern Tibet. In the past, the term "Qiang" was for the Han Chinese a formidable one: it referred to all pastoral peoples who inhabited the territories situated west of the central plains. The pictogram coined for designating these peoples - the one still used today for the Qiang minority - consisted of the combined images of man and sheep...

The Taiwanese scholar Wang Mingke states that “from the Late Han to the Qing period, the concept of the Qiang as a western ethnic boundary of the ancient Chinese, first referring to a huge range of people in the west, gradually came to denote only the non-Chinese people living in the upper Min River Valley and Beichuan area. This process was the result of more and more western ‘barbarians’ becoming Chinese or being classified by the Chinese into new ethnic categories. (…) The history of the Qiang is a history of a minority nationality, and also a history of the Chinese in respect to boundary formation and changes. ”

It is thus difficult to assert whether the people known today as the Qiang are truly the direct heirs of the semi-nomadic peoples who threatened the fledgling Chinese civilization, before the expansion of the Han Empire dispersed and later on assimilated them. The Qiang have long lived in contact with the Han and they also communicate with the other minorities who dwell in the Tibetan corridor. Only half of them still speak the Qiang language, or rather one of its variants, as this land of isolated valleys knows an impressive variety of dialects.

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