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Tujia language (traditional), Southwestern Mandarin Chinese

Animism, Buddhism, Taoism

The Tujia (土家族; pinyin: Tǔjiāzú; endonym: Bizika 毕兹卡), with a total population of over 8 million, is the 6th largest ethnic minority in People's Republic of China. They live in Wuling Mountains, straddling the common borders of Hunan, Hubei and Guizhou Provinces, and Chongqing Municipality.

Their endonym Bizika means "native dwellers" in the Tujia language.


The Origins of the Tujia

Although there are different accounts of their origins, the Tujia may trace their history back over twelve centuries, and possibly beyond, to the ancient Ba people who occupied the area around modern-day Chongqing some 2,500 years ago. The Ba Kingdom reached the zenith of its power between 600 BC and 400 BC but was destroyed by the Qin in 316 BC. After being referred to by a long succession of different names in ancient documents, they appear in historical records as the Tujia from about 14th century onwards.

The Tujia under the Ming and Qing Dynasties

The Tujia tusi chieftains reached the zenith of their power under the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), when they were accorded comparatively high status by the imperial court. They achieved this through their reputation as providers of fierce, highly-disciplined fighting men, who were employed by the emperor to suppress revolts by other minorities. On numerous occasions, they also helped defend China against outside invaders, such as Japanese pirates who ravaged the coast during the 16th century.

The Manchus conquered China in 1644 and established the Qing Dynasty. Ever suspicious of local rulers, the Qing emperors always tried to replace Chinese officials with Manchu officials wherever they could. In the early 18th century, the Qing court finally felt secure enough to establish direct control over minority areas as well. This process, known as gaituguiliu (literally 'replace the local [ruler], return to mainstream [central rule]'), was carried out throughout south-west China gradually and, in general, peacefully. The court adopted a carrot-and-stick approach of lavish pensions for compliant chieftains, coupled with a huge show of military force on the borders of their territories.

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