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She Musician
She Musician | © 11shliu / Pixabay
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An Introduction to China's She People

Picture of Rachel Deason
Updated: 3 May 2018
A small minority group spread across mountainous lands, the She have long learned to live in harmony with their neighbors.

The She people are one of China’s 56 officially recognized ethnic groups and consist of nearly 710,000 members living throughout China’s east and southeast. It is believed that they are the forbears of Taiwan’s Hakka minority, not to be confused with the mainland’s Hakka people, who are Hakka-speaking Han Chinese.

Homeland

The She make up the largest minority group in Fujian province, and over 50% of all modern She live there. The rest are spread out across Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, and Guangdong provinces.

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Huotong, Fujian | © HAI YANG / Flickr

History

The exact origin of the She people is unknown; however, they are believed to have settled modern day Guangdong province sometime during the Neolithic age. After other peoples moved to their settled lands during the Warring States period, the She left due to high competition for resources, migrating to mountainous regions in Jiangxi and Fujian provinces. For this reason, the She used to refer to themselves as “Guests from the Mountains.” Of course, as the She stayed longer in their new homes, they became much more than guests, instead developing the mountainous terrain into wet rice plantations and tea fields.

By the Tang dynasty, the She had achieved governmental recognition of their status as a people and were organized into prefectures governed by feudal lords. Unfortunately, the lords kept the She in poverty by seizing large tracts of their land. In the Ming dynasty, however, the She were able to send representatives to court to fight for their local interests.

Culture

Though the She have cultural traditions that set them apart from any other people, their long cooperation with the Han majority has led to the adoption of many Han practices. For instance, the She natively speak their own language, classified at times as Hmong-Mien and at others as Sino-Tibetan, but today speak Mandarin even among themselves. In the past, the She tended to be polytheistic, believing in hosts and spirits, but abandoned the superstitious parts of their faith due to the discouragement of such beliefs under the People’s Republic of China. Many now practice Buddhism.

The She are said to enjoy singing and incorporate it when possible into their festivals. When dressing for cultural performances or special occasions, She women wear bright, short dresses with patterned legwarmers. And though She society is patriarchal, it is not uncommon for husbands to take their wives’ surnames.