History of Deang Ethnic

Deang was a name given to this ethnic group in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Before that time the Deangs along with the Blang and Va ethnic minorities speaking a south Asian language inside Yunnan Province were called "Pu people," according to historical records. In those bygone times the "Pu people" were distributed mainly in the southwestern part of Yunnan Province, which was called Yongchang Prefecture in the Han Dynasty (206B.C.-220A.D.). Their forefathers settled on the banks of the Nujiang River (upper reaches of the Salween that flows across Burma) long before the arrival of the Achang and Jingpo ethnic minorities.

Development of Deang society has been uneven. Since the Deangs have lived in widely scattered localities together with the Han, Dai, Jingpo, Va and other nationalities, who are at different stages of development, they have been influenced by these ethnic groups politically, economically and culturally. Dai influence is particularly strong since the Deangs had for a long period lived in servitude under Dai headmen in feudal times. However, some traces of the ancient clan and village commune of the Deang ethnic minority are still to be found in the Zhenkang area.

The production unit of the Deang ethnic group is the family, and there is marked division of labor according to sex and age. The farm tools used are bought from Han and Dai regions. Generally speaking, the Deangs practice intensive farming on flatland and on farms near the Han and Dai regions or in paddy fields. Dry land is not cultivated meticulously.

In Deang villages in the Dehong area, the cultivated land used to be communally owned. The wasteland around each village was also communally owned, but people could freely open up the land for cultivating crops. If the land was left uncultivated, it automatically reverted to communal ownership again. In later times, the selling or mortgaging of paddy fields and gardens led to the emergence of private ownership. As a result, most of the paddy fields came into the possession of Han landlords, rich peasants and Dai headmen.

Without either draught animals or funds, and burdened down with taxes and debts, the Deangs could not open up hillside land and gradually became the tenants or farmhands of the landlords, rich peasants and headmen. Many cut firewood, burned charcoal and wove in the off-hours to make ends meet.

In the Zhenkang Prefecture, which had plenty of dry land and little paddy land, private ownership of land and usury had been uncommon. Yet feudal ownership and tenancy show such traces of communal ownership of land as strict demarcation lines between the land of different villages and clearly-marked signs between communally owned land, woods and small privately owned plots. Communal land in each village was managed by headmen. And anyone, from other villages who wanted to rent the communal or private plots, had to get the permission of village headmen.

Some Deang people still retain some traces of the communal system in the way they live. A clan commune was formed by many small families with blood relations. Usually thirty to forty people shared one outsized communal house, but each individual family had its own fireplace and kept its own account. Primitive distribution on an equal basis was practiced in farming. But exploitation had appeared with some families owning more cows and working less.

The Deang people everywhere used to live under the sway of the feudal lords of the Dai ethnic group. Deang headmen in the Dehong region were either appointed by Dai chieftains or were hereditary. To control and exploit the Deang people, Dai chieftains granted official titles to Deang headmen and let them run the villages, impose levies, and collect tributes. Some Deang people who lived in or near areas under the Jingpo's jurisdiction had to pay "head taxes." This constituted another burden for the Deangs who were bled white by heavy taxes and rents collected by Dai chiefs or the Kuomintang government.

Landlords and rich peasants of the Deang ethnic group made up only two per cent of the population. Many of them were appointed headmen of Dai chiefs. Being tenants or farmhands of either Han landlords and rich peasants or Dai headmen, most Deangs lived in dire poverty.

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