My school time in Taipei has been beginning since 3 weeks ago. I took 4 classes this semester, and one of them is “Ethnic Development in Mainland China”. Why I took this class? Simply because I’m planning to write about Chinese minority for my thesis. Beside of that, this class is really interesting because both the lecturer also the content of the study is made me really curious.
At the first meeting, Dr. Chang (the lecturer) explained about the syllabus of the class. I’m really excited when I read that there are two performance class on it; watching the Chinese minority ethnic performance. For the first performance, Dr. Chang gave us free ticket to watch “Brave Oroqen” performance, on Saturday, 29th September 2012 in Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.
This is my first time to see an ethnic performance, so I’m truly excited when I got this chance. The hall gate was opened at 7 pm, but many people already queuing there since 6.30 pm and it’s a very long one. I can saw excitement in their face, and so does mine. After entering the hall and found my seat, I heard an introduction about the whole line of the performance. Although I didn’t understand Chinese very well, I still can understand what they want to deliver. Because before going to SYS hall, I did a small research about what Oroqen is, so that I can get preliminary information and understand the big frame of the performance.
Anyway, what is Oroqen? The Oroqen or Elunchun (鄂倫春族; Èlúnchūn zú) are one of the oldest ethnic groups in northeast China and they are one of 56 ethnic groups which still existed in PRC. According to the 2000 Census, total population estimated 8,196 where 44.54% live in Inner Mongolia and 51.52% along the Heilongjiang River (Amur) in the province of Heilongjiang. They speak Oroqen language, a Northern Tungusic language spoken in the People’s Republic of China. It’s interesting to know that the Oroqen language is still unwritten. However, the majority of the Oroqen are capable of reading and writing Chinese and some can also speak the Daur language (Wikipedia).
Overall, the show lasted around 1, 5 hours. With wearing their traditional customs, they perform many songs and dances, which describe their daily life and tradition. The first chapter of the performance was about a group who performed Oroqen daily life activities and family life, also about their hunting activities, religious activities, and activities in each season (fall, winter, spring and summer). My first impression was their life is really connected to the nature. And I think it formed their cultures and tradition. We can see it from their clothing, religion, and activities.
Knowing the meaning of Oroqen itself, which means “the people inhabiting on mountains” or “the people employing reindeer”, we can understand directly what the performance want to show. Oroqen people are expert on hunting. Not only the man, it mentioned that Oroqen women also have a good shooting talent. It is because their living environment is based on hunting, which is important for their source of food and clothing. Their clothing, shoes, hats and household appliances is made from various mountain animals’ skin, such as deer furs, bearskin, birch bark, etc. The traditional dwelling which called sierranju (xierenzhu) is covered with birch bark in the summer and with deer furs in the winter (Wikipedia; Oroqen people). Those clothing have very beautiful pattern and shape, and it seems very warm if we use it in winter.
From the article I read, it mentioned that with the changes of time, rapid development of society and the improvement of living standards, now Oroqen people has no significant difference with Han majority, since they are using modern clothing. But older people are still willing to wear traditional national dress and in every festival and special occasion, all the Oroqen people dressed in traditional costume.
The next part of the show is about the Oroqen religion. The Oroqen believe in shamanism, the worship of natural objects, and animism. It can be seen from a shaman who did a ritual in front of a tall larch tree, which the trunk is cut off bark, and they draw a face shape above also covered it with a red cloth. This is to show their worshiping to mountain god. Oroqen Shaman’s wearing a special clothes, named cap of God, God clothes and tambourine. This clothing appearance is resembles samurai armor. According to text, Shamanism in northeast China has nearly a thousand years of history as a spiritual and cultural phenomenon. But with the social development and the progress of science, shamanism has been faded and now only become a historical and cultural phenomenon.
What made me interested is how the CCP/ Chinese government policy related to Oroqen religion. It said that until the early 1950s the main religion of the Oroqen was shamanism. In the summer of 1952 cadres of the Chinese communist party coerced the leaders of the Oroqen to give up their “superstitions” and abandon any religious practices.
The next chapter of the show is about Oroqen traditional Arts. They showed us various dances and folk songs which used for various occasion. From the national books of Chinese ethnic minorities volume, it said that the Oroqen dance can be divided into three categories; entertainment, ritual and religion. Mostly, the dances imitate the animal movements or represent the nature such as the blooming flower in the spring season. Many man and woman are dancing together, and the way they dance has special rhythm; the speed is from slow to fast to intense the action performances. And another thing that I learned from this performance is about their etiquette. The main etiquette has knees the greeting and kowtow the two feet. The Oroqen very respect the elderly and their elders. Kowtow ceremony purposes pray God worship, weddings, funerals, festivals and other occasions.
After watching the performance, I become more interested about ethnic minorities in China. The performance helps me to understand how their culture and tradition are. Furthermore, I become more interested on how Chinese government maintains those 56 ethnic minorities. What kind of policies and support that the government gave to develop the minorities? How to manage the minorities as one nation of China? How the minorities adapt with the fast growing development of China? How the Oroqen keep their tradition and cultures? I hope that I can find the answer and explore more about ethnic minorities in China.
- National five Books of Chinese ethnic minorities volume, State Ethnic Affairs Commission of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from http://www.seac.gov.cn/col/col331/index.html
- Noll, Richard and Kun Shi. Chuonnasuan (Meng Jin Fu); the Last Shaman of the Oroqen of Northeast China. the Journal of Korean Religions, 2004, 6:135-162. Retrieved from http://web1.desales.edu/assets/desales/SocScience/Oroqen_shaman_FSSForumAug07.pdf
- Orochen Foundation official website. Retrieved from http://www.orochenfoundation.org/
- Orochen. Retrieved from http://baike.baidu.com/view/593769.htm
- Oroqen people. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oroqen_people
Private collection of Retno Widyastuti. September 29th, 2012