The Red Yao people have lived a unique lifestyle in the mountains near Guilin, China for thousands of years. They wear distinctive colorful clothing, but are most known for the long hair of the women. On our way to the Longshen Rice Terraces we stopped and visited a village and saw a show focusing on the Red Yao culture.
There are 56 ethnic groups in China. The largest is the Han people making up over 90% of the population. When a Westerner thinks of a “Chinese” person, they are typically thinking of people that are part of the Han ethnic group. The other 55 ethnic groups in China make up about 8.5% of the population and are spread throughout the country. The Yao people are one of these minorities with their own customs and culture.
The Yao women are known for their long hair. The culture places a high value on women having long hair. They believe that the longer the hair, the more luck, longevity and wealth will come to the family. A woman cuts her hair once in her life, when she is eighteen, before she is married. The cut hair is not discarded. It is saved for a lifetime and wrapped into her existing long hair in daily life. Hairs that fall out during combing are carefully saved as well. So, a Yao woman will have three bundles of hair on her head: live hairs growing out of her scalp, a bundle of hair that was cut when she was 18, and the collection of hairs that have fallen out of her head and have been saved over her lifetime.
Hair care is an important part of daily life. A wooden comb is used to comb the hair daily. A shampoo made of rice washing water and mountain herbs is used to make sure the hair is clean and strong.
Another interesting aspect of life is that a woman’s marital status and whether she has any children can be determined simply by the way wears her hair. An unmarried woman wears her hair under a black headscarf. A married woman wears her hair wrapped with a bundle of hair cut when she was 18 and a bundle of hair collected over her lifetime worn on top of her head. A married woman with children wears her hair similarly to a married woman without children except that the hair forms a bun in the front of her head.
The show itself was very interesting showing singing and dancing by the women and girls. Each dance represented something, unfortunately, I didn’t understand all the explanations.
After the show, we had one of the best lunches we had in our entire time in China at a Yao restaurant. It was very interesting observing these people and getting a glimpse at their way of life.