History of the Dulong, for centuries isolated from the outer world


We know few details about the history of the Dulong, because they have been living isolated in one of the most remote regions of China, or even Yunnan Province. The Dulong Valley is even now often closed to external communication during half of the year. There is scarce information about them in the imperial histories and travelers' chronicles, and usually is not first hand.

Some authors think that, as their language belongs to the Tibeto-Burmese family, they probably came from the northwest of China, migrating to the south across the ethnic corridor located in the west of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, as did other ethnic groups that speak related languages. According to their tradition, they came from the east, and there are reasons to think that they arrived in the valley of the Dulong River from Lanping and Jianchuan counties. Nevertheless, the Dulong are possibly the first inhabitants of the region they actually occupy.

Ethno-genetic studies will provide new keys in coming years to the origin of the Dulong and the time of their migrations.

They have been living in the Dulong River (Irrawady) Valley from at least the time of the establishment of the Nanzhao Kingdom, near present day Dali, in the 8th century. During the Ming dynasty they paid imperial tribute to the Tusi of Lijiang, under whose jurisdiction they were officially living.

Their life changed two hundred years ago, when their isolation was broken by the arrival of two powerful neighbors, the Tibetans from the north and the Lisu from the east. Both imposed themselves on the Dulong, causing significant modifications to their society.

The Lisu carried out sporadic expeditions to capture Dulong, to keep as slaves. The Dulong tried to balance regional power with the Tibetans and, invoking their protection, exchanged with them slaves (orphans or people separated from Dulong society) for cows.

Toward the end of the 19th century some French missionaries arrived among the Dulong.

In 1935, American missionaries also arrived there, and converted some followers in four villages, where churches were built and Christian rites were performed.

Until the middle of the 20th century, they were denominated "Qiu", and the river where they live, Qiujiang. From then on, the river and people both became known as the Dulong.

Many of them only had contact with the external world upon the arrival of the communist government after the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. The socialist reforms of the fifties didn't hold many novelties for a people that already lived in equality, but it caused the virtual disappearance of some Dulong customs considered primitive by the Chinese, such as the face tattoo of the Dulong women, and their sacrifices of cows.

Although their material progress has been very slow, their relationships with the external world have increased significantly. Many young Dulong have received education in the regional centers and even in the provincial capital, Kunming.

The opening of the first highway to their region at the end of 1999 (before, it was necessary to walk three days from Gongshan), has further integrated Dulong society but, as yet, the road is not always passable. Nonetheless, one of China's most remote peoples are now slowly becoming assimilated into larger Chinese society.

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