History of the Bulang


It is thought that the Bulang are descendants of the so called Pu peoples who lived in the Xishuangbanna area since at least the Qin Dynasty, about 2,200 years ago. This is why they are considered (with the Wa and the Deang, with whom they share ancestry), to be one of the aboriginal peoples of southwest Yunnan.

During the 8th and 9th centuries they were known as "Puzi" meng. According to the chronicles of travelers from those days they were hunter-gatherers.

In the beginning of the 14th century, some of the Bulang living in Xishuangbanna Prefecture came under the rule of the Dai Tusi (local leaders coming from the minorities themselves who ruled on behalf of the Chinese emperor). This is how they started being influenced by Dai religious, cultural and political life. This influence has continued up until today.

While the Bulang living in Xishuangbanna Prefecture have received more influence from the Dai people, those living in Lincang and Simao have maintained the most unique features of traditional Bulang culture.

During the Ming Dynasty they started neglecting hunting and harvesting and took up farming. Differences between Bulang living in one region and those in another increased as some Bulang were influenced by the Han culture and others by Dai culture.

Literature from those days refers to the Bulang as follows:

"They are dark-skinned and live on the mountain peaks. Clothing, weddings and funerals are as the Bai Luoluo".

"They ride horse without bridle; they walk bare-footed and are good archers".

"They live on the mountain peaks where they cultivate the land, burn the mountain and cut the trees. Every field is cultivated for several years."

During the Qing dynasty, most of the Bulang had already settled in a territory roughly the same as their current location. Though nominally subdued, they stirred up revolts several times against the Tusi and the emperors. The most important uprising was in 1861, when the Bulang from Mojiang joined the Hani who were already in rebellion against imperial rule. This uprising lasted for seven or eight years.

Before 1949, there were fairly big social differences.

In the regions of Lincang and Simao there was a strong feudal system. They had lost the previous communal ownership of the land (except for the cemeteries), and had devolved into a private property system that handed over vast amounts of land to landowners who rented it out to peasants at exorbitant rates. During the years of the Republic of China, the Bai-Jia system was introduced in this area, in order to better control the minorities living in the mountains.

In Xishuangbanna, they were still in the last stages of an earlier societal system, but also at the beginning of a rising feudalism. Their economic growth was much slower. Under Dai rule, they appointed hereditary chiefs, known as "Ba", who ruled over several small villages and collected taxes for the Tusi.

These small villages, which were made up of between 20 to 100 families, had communal property over farmlands, forests and pastures. But even though they all had the right to work the land, nobody had the right to sell any portion of the common property. However, at the time of the Revolution of 1949 the first steps taken to privatize the land had greatly profited the newly emerged landowners.
Popular communes were introduced in the Bulang region in 1958, with the establishment of cooperatives years later. The communist movement brought dramatic changes to Bulang traditional culture. Since then, under the influence of the Chinese Communist Party, great economic changes have taken place.

The difficult modernization of Bulang life make impossible to foresee how they and their traditional culture will fare in the future.

The Bulang living in Bulangshan and other remote areas of Xishuangbanna Prefecture are facing hard times in recent years, due to the removal of some services formerly provided by the government, such as health services, education, and infrastructures, resulting in a lack of opportunities to enjoy the benefits of a market economy.

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