The religion of the Qiang - D. C. Graham


Excerpt of David Crockett Graham's Folk Religion of Southwest China (1)

Before the coming of Christianity, all Qiang(1) worshiped many gods, but they made no images of them. There are five greater gods, the highest generally being the god of heaven, although sometimes it is the mountain god; twelve lesser gods; and a local god for every locality with a name. In addition to all these, there are rocks and trees that are worshiped as gods. In his sacred chants, every priest calls many gods by name.

It is believed that all diseases and other calamities are caused by demons. When a person becomes ill, he naturally believes that the disease is the work of one or more demons, and he generally calls in a priest who performs ceremonies to exorcise the demons. In some of these ceremonies the priest treads on a red-hot plowshare with his bare foot, and sometimes he touches the red-hot plowshare with his tongue.

These people believe in a superhuman potency that is available through the priest and his ceremonies, and is possessed by the gods, by the priest, and by the sacred implements. This power enables the priests to do what ordinary individuals are unable to do.

All priests marry and have families, homes, and farms. They have sacred chants which are regarded as the equivalent of the sacred books of the Buddhist and Taoist priests and of the Tibetan lamas. Since the Qiang have no written language, these chants are memorized and transmitted by one priest to another, from generation to generation. In some regions the line of Qiang priests has died out, and there the Qiang often employ Chinese Buddhist or Taoist priests.

Every village has a sacred grove, the trees of which are holy and must not be cut down. In or near the sacred grove is a shrine capped by a sacred white stone where animals are sacrificed, and also a very small and plain temple or sacred shelter.

On the top of each house is a shrine for the worship of the five great gods and the twelve lesser gods, which is capped by a sacred white stone. Worship at this shrine is generally performed by an older member of the family, but sometimes on important occasions a priest is called to perform the ceremonies.

In springtime there is a ceremony in which the priest prays to the gods for a prosperous year with good crops. He promises or vows in return to sacrifice goats or a pian niu (3) (half cow and half yak) later in the year. Never is a lamb sacrificed, but always a full-grown sheep or goat or more rarely a pian niu, and the animal must be without blemish. The sacrificed animal is not burned, but is first killed and offered to the gods, then cooked and eaten by the worshipers at a feast in the temple. Any left-over food is divided and later eaten in the homes. Worship in the sacred grove, with the sacrifices and the feasts, is a community affair, with at least one representative present from each family. Women are regarded as so inferior to men that they are not permitted even to witness the ceremonies in the sacred groves or on the housetops. Certain religious ceremonies performed inside the homes can be witnessed by the women from a respectful distance.

(1) David Crockett Graham.- Folk Religion of Southwest China. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections vol. 142. 1962 Port City Press, Inc. - Baltimore, MD., U. S. A. Free download from
(2) Called Ch'iang in the English original text. We adapt to Qiang along this article.
(3) Pian niu is a Chinese word. In Tibetan is called dzo or jopkyoks, among the Sherpas in known as zopkio.

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