------Program code: DO-080818-01261 (what's this?)

Source: CCTV.com

08-18-2008 08:34

Watch Video: Part 1 >>

The water pours down from the high mountains and brings life to the grass and trees below. The mountains and water also nourish the Shui people; and they, in turn, have given life to and preserved the art of Shui Shu.

Xu Xiake, the famous traveler of the Ming Dynasty, once wrote: “Here the mountain peaks give the impression of a forest”. His remark is a reference to the unique Karst landform of southern Guizhou Province. The region has plenty of rainfall and vegetation, but is rarely visited by frost. There are few major rivers, but numerous springs and waterfalls.

Libo County in Guizhou Province is situated in a region of Karst landform. On its 2,000 square kilometers live more than 167,000 people, of whom 87% are ethnic Shui.

The close association between the Shui people and water is evident even in their name, which means water.

As Xie Chaohai explains, the Shui Nationality were originally northern fishermen. But for some unknown reason, they fled south, eventually reaching Guizhou Province. They have their own language, which belongs to the Dong-Sui branch of the Zhuang-Dong group of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Although they still tend to live by water, the Shui are now mostly farmers. Their traditional houses, known as Diaojiao, are similar to those of many other southern ethnic groups.

But one thing that sets the Shui apart form other ethnic groups, is their written language. Their characters and classics are written in what is known as Shui Shu, a kind of hieroglyph. Texts written in Shui Shu are a record of their history and contain moral guidance. In essence, the Shui Shu texts advocate kindness and mutual assistance.

Not far from Libo County is a graveyard containing a number of Ming tombs. On them are many clearly decipherable Shui Shu characters. This suggests that Shui Shu was in use in the Ming Dynasty. However, the graves offer no indication of when it first originated.

Although it’s impossible to say who created Shui Shu, the masters offer a very mysterious version of its origin.

Libo County has beautiful mountains and rivers. Every spring, the blossoming wild plums bathe the peaks in a gentle fragrance. The waters assume various shades of white and dark green. Festivals are held to admire the plums, attracting Shui people from all around, dressed in their finest.

The most important part of the celebration is the offering. Masters come from all the surrounding villages to arrange Shui books and food on the altar. After lighting the incense, they read aloud Shui Shu texts recording how their ancestors created the world and the Shui language.

The Shui Shu masters are selected for their honesty and high level of education. Their knowledge comes from their fathers and older Shui Shu masters. It takes them decades to earn the respect due to a Shui Shu master.

In recent years, Shui Shu has attracted considerable outside attention.

The Shui Shu texts can be regarded as an encyclopedia for the Shui people. They are a compendium of the Shui people’s knowledge. The texts have an influence on people’s daily activities at home and at work.

Shui Shu texts fall into many categories. There are texts about agriculture that record the local climatic features and the local farming traditions; put together, these provide guidance for farmers. There are texts about the dates and seasons of the calendar, based on the stars and moon’s orbit. Texts about architecture explain the traditional techniques of building houses, roads, bridges and even pigsties and chicken pens. A text on animal and plant protection warns people against killing wild animals, destroying forests, and polluting the water. Texts on ceremonies document the key Shui festivals, such as Duan and Mao. Interestingly, the festivals fall at different times of the year and in different regions, so that people can celebrate them in turn and have more contact with one another. Texts about handicrafts and manufacturing teach the skills and techniques of making artifacts. A special category is the texts about marriage. They elaborate the precise procedures for the proposal, engagement, and wedding ceremony, and also lay out the most propitious days. Surprisingly, there are even Shui Shu texts about commerce, covering topics such as business operation and joint investment, and how to avoid losses and make a profit.

The Shui Shu texts also record the typical ways in which people express love. Love, it is said, should be conveyed through singing, in the traditional love songs inherited from their ancestors.

It’s by singing songs to each other that young Shui people fall in love. When the time comes for them to marry, everything is done in conformity with what is recorded in the Shui Shu texts. The parents ask a Shui Shu master to work out the most propitious dates for the engagement and marriage, based on the hour and date of the couple’s birth.

Once the date is set, the Shui Shu master will write a propitious message, based on the bride’s birth date, on a slip of red paper. This will play a key role in the wedding.

When the day arrives for the groom to collect his bride, the girl’s family prepare a fine meal. They also put her dowry and all the gifts from her friends and relatives in the family room.