Miao Intangible Cultural Heritage  ——  Zimei Festival

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

In the town of Shidong, the Miao celebrate the Zimei Festival every year on the fifteenth day of the third lunar month. Young Miao men and women dress up in traditional costumes and gather at the village squares of Rongjiang, Yangjia and Pianzhai. This annual tradition is an exuberant celebration of Miao culture. Called “Nong ga liang” in the Miao language, the festival centers on young women who travel from village to village, singing and dancing dressed in their finest silver jewelry, and offering Zimei rice to boys as a token of their affection.

On May 20th, 2006, the Zimei Festival celebrations of Taijiang County in Guizhou Province were among the first traditions to be designated “National Intangible Cultural Heritage” by the Chinese Government.

Getting Ready
On the first day of the festival,  every mother wakes up early to boil water,  so their daughters can wash up. Mothers help their daughters to put on layer after layer of silver jewelry,  over embroidered jackets and brocade aprons. Trying to make the daughter the most beautiful girl in town.
On the first day of the festival, a grand parade is organized by the local government. The parade is becoming the new tradition of the festival, which attracts thousands of scholars and tourists from afar. 

The Miao of Taijiang county blur the line between patriarchy and matriarchy in their celebration of the Zimei Festival, creating an opportunity for young boys and girls to flirt and fall in love.

The festival is also an important opportunity to display the rich cultural heritage of Miao artistic traditions in both textiles, metalworking and music.

This festival is not only for the young people eligible for dating, for others in the community, the Zimei Festival is a time to visit friends and family members, and to bring together the different groups of Miao to celebrate their common traditions.  

The Drum Dances provide an important way for the entire community to participate in the festival.

Mothers dress their daughters in elaborate costumes and jewelry, and then they all join in the dance circles around the drums, competing to show off not only their beauty but also their jewelry. The girls with the most silver are the pride of their families and display the highest arts of traditional Miao clothing.

During celebrations, the Miao love to sing Feige (in Chinese its literal meaning is songs that fly), in Miao it's called "HXak Yangt". The songs are improvised on the spot, the high pitch travels a long distance.

The Zimei Festival has a long history, and plays an important role in Miao courtship, but also in brining communities together to pass down traditions. 

In the evening, groups of young men and young women sing love songs back and forth to each other. The men are trying to compete for the girl’s attention, hoping she will give him some Zimei rice. For her part, the girl will hide a small token in the rice which could either be a symbol of interest or disdain.

The central custom in the festival is the eating of “Zimei rice.” Locals believe that eating this can protect against insect bites.

Most importantly, though, the rice is a symbolic gift that girls can use to flirt with boys they like.

The different colors of the Zimei rice each have their own unique symbolism. The color green represents home and the waters of the Qingshui River. Red symbolizes prosperity and growth of the villiage. Yellow symbolizes bountiful harvests of grain. Purple and blue symbolize wealth, and white symbolizes the purity of love.

The different tokens hidden in the Zimei rice communicate different sentiments. If a girl hides a pine bough in the rice, it represents needles, inviting the young man to reciprocate by giving her needles and threads to embroider flowers. If a girl hides a set of red chopsticks in the rice, it means she wants to pair with the boy. If it is a ball of cotton, that means the girl has been thinking about the boy. But if the rice hides garlic or a hot pepper it means she’s not interested in him.

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China
Credits: Story

In Collaboration with Riverbend Academy of Hmongology, Guizhou, China

--- Exhibition Crew ---

Culture Consultants: Yang Peide, An Hong
Project Coordinator: Cecilia Xiong
Exhibition Curator: Lin Wen (linwen@muc.edu.cn)
Chief Photographer: Austin Kramer
Other Photographers: Huang Xiaohai, Shi Kaibao, Lin Wen
Content Writer: Lin Wen
Translator: Austin Kramer, Li Yi, Liu Qing, Lin Wen
Proofreader: Austin Kramer
Video Clip Editor: Lin Wen

--- Mini Documentary Film Crew ---

Director: Lu Ying
Assistant Director: Zhang Te
Video Photographer: Zhi Yuehui, Zhang Te, Ji Xiang
Film Editor: Lu Ying, Zhi Yuehui, Suiwu Changjun
Script Writer: Yang Peide
Script Editor: Lin Wen
Color Adjust: Zhong Rujie, Zhi Yuehui
Music: Audio Jungle
Recording: Chenguang Recording Studio

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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