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The Painting Featuring the Customs of “Heilou” Miao Ethnic Group

Qing dynasty (1644-1912)

Material: Paper

Length:30.9 cm; width: 24.5 cm

The Painting Featuring the Customs of “Heilou” (literally means black building/tower) Miao Ethnic Group depicts a drum tower and some people standing below it, with long spears in their hands. Inside the drum tower, one person is beating the drum. Among the crowd below the drum tower stands one man, who is leading an ox and talking with another person nearby. On the left side of the painting, there are three Chinese characters “Hei Lou Miao” (Heilou Miao Ethic Group), which demonstrate the theme of the painting. At the lower right corner, there is a collector’s stamp, which reads “Collected by Mr. Yu in the north of Anhui province”. There is plenty of space left blank in the painting, since it is structured in a simple way. The painting is represented with light colors and fine brushwork.

Two different Albums of Paintings Featuring the Various Miao Ethnic Groups have been collected by Hunan Provincial Museum, one consisting of 32 paintings while the other one consisting of 26. The above mentioned painting is from the first album. It is said that by referring to the book – A Historical Record of Qian (today’s Guizhou province) during Qing dynasty (from 1644 to 1912), one can find out what customs are represented in the painting. It is recorded that “A drum tower is usually built by the nearby villages of the Heilou Miao ethnic group. Its height is relative tall, with several floors. It is called Gathering Hall. Placed in the tower is a drum, which is made of a big hollowed-out truck. When an emergency occurs, one can get into the tower and beat the drum so as to warn other villagers. Then everyone who hears the drum would immediately come to the tower, usually with spears or other weapons in their hands. Anyone who suffers injustice can also beat the drum and the head of the village would defend him or her against an injustice. This person has to prepare an ox as a gift to the village, to show gratitude for solving his or her problems. Those who beat the drum just for fun or those who fail to come to the gathering will be punished: they have to give an ox to the village as a public property.” Therefore, the customs shown in the painting can be clearly understood. One person beats the drum so as to gather all the villagers. After hearing the drum, everyone comes to the drum tower, holding spears. The one leading an ox is supposed to be from the family who has problems to solve. The Gathering Hall shares similar social functions with those of the drum towers built by Dong people nowadays.


The Painting Featuring the Customs of Dong Miao Ethnic Grou

This painting depicts the scene in which the women of Dong Miao ethnic group hang their harvested crops on a long pole in order to dry them in the sun.

The Painting Featuring the Customs of the Qingjiang Hei Miao Ethnic Group

It depicts the scene of courtship of the Dong people. The man and the woman, who are sitting close to each other and drinking happily with the ox-horn cups, are possibly a couple of lovers.

The Painting Featuring the Customs of Heijiao (literally means black feet) Miao Ethnic Group

This painting represents the custom of Heijiao Miao ethnic group practicing divination by using the snails. They are widely known as armed robbers. It can be seen that four men are fully armed before they set off to commit the robbery. They practice divination by letting the snails fight against each other in the wooden basin so as to foretell the result of the impending robbery. Two women are standing by and watching this divination. It seems that their attention is completely drawn to the fight.

The Dong ethnic group

The Painting Featuring the Customs of “Heilou” Miao Ethnic Group represents the customs observed by the Dong people, who inhabit the Southwest of China, mainly in the bordering area of Guizhou Province, Hunan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. As one of the three representative architectures of the Dong people, the drum tower is the political and cultural centre of Dong people’s villages. The drum tower usually consists of three to seven floors. Some may be higher than seven floors, but this is rather rare. In front of the tower is the square, which can accommodate all the villagers. It is called “drum tower lawn”. Major events of the Dong people, such as festivals, gathering of villagers, weddings, funerals, and so on, are held at the “drum tower lawn”.

A drum is placed in the tower, hence the name Drum Tower. The drum is made from cowhide and there are two drum sticks. The drum made from cowhide can be hung at the top floor of the tower or placed at the first floor of the tower. Only when an emergency occurs can one beat the drum, such as a fire disaster, a burglary, or an ox being stolen. By beating the drum, one would alert all the villagers and everyone would come to the rescue immediately. They would make concerted efforts to put out the fire or catch the burglar or thief. But if no emergency occurs, beating the drum is strictly forbidden.