History of Shui Ethnic Minority

The Shuis are probably the descendants of the Luoyues, one of the early tribes that lived along China’s southeastern coast before the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 24). They adopted their present name at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

In the Song Dynasty (960-1279) villages were formed and rice growing began. By the end of the Song, the Shuis had entered the early stage of feudalism. The nobles bearing the surname of Meng initiated in the upper reaches of the Longjiang River a feudal system which bore the distinctive vestiges of the communal village. The Yuan rulers (1271-1368) established local governments at the prefectural level in an attempt to appease the ethnic groups. The Ming period witnessed a marked economic growth in Shui communities. The introduction of improved farm tools made it possible for farmers to open up paddy fields on flatland and terraced fields on mountain slopes. The primitive “slash and burn” farming gave way to more advanced agriculture characterized by the use of irrigation and draught animals. As a result, grain output increased remarkably.

The Ming imperial court followed the preceding dynasty’s practice of appointing hereditary Shui headmen. Under this system, the Shuis had to pay taxes to and do corvee for these court-appointed headmen as well as for the imperial court.

During the two centuries between 1640 and 1840 the Shui economy continued to develop. Farm production registered a marked increase, with per hectare yield of rice on flatland reaching 2,250 kilograms. Some quit farming and became handicraftsmen.

After the Revolution of 1911, national capitalism gained some ground in the area. In what is now the Sandu Shui Autonomous County, iron mines and plants processing iron, mercury and antimony were set up, but later they were either taken over by Kuomintang monopolist capital or went bankrupt. The comprador capitalists plundered the rich natural resources, while big landowners annexed large areas of farmland. Ruthless exploitation through usury, hired labor and high land rent robbed farmers of 60 to 70 per cent of their crops, thus ruining a great many farmers.