More than 700,000 Shes are scattered in the Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Guangdong and Anhui provinces. They live in villages of several dozen households or live along with Hans. There is a Xiaocang She Nationality Rural Township in Lianjiang County of Fujian province and a Jingning She Autonomous County in Zhejiang. Most of them reside in hilly country 500 to 1,500 meters high. Rivers have carved out their valleys. The climate there is mild and humid, the land fertile, and the agricultural products abundant, such as, rice, sweet potatoes, wheat, beans, tobacco and potatoes.
The She language is a Hmong-Mien language. Most of the She today speak Chinese dialects instead of their ethnic tongue. Those who retain their own language - just a few hundred in Guangdong province - call themselves "Hone".
Scholars disagree about the true origins of the Shes. Are they descendants of the ancient Yues? Do they share common ancestry with the Yaos? Most believe that the Shes' ancestors originally lived in the Phoenix Mountains in Chaozhou, Guangdong province. They left their native place to escape the oppression of their feudal rulers. That's why they called themselves "guests from the mountains."
In their new homes, the Shes were ruled by the central government for the first time in the 7th century, when the Tang court organized prefectures in Zhangzhou and Tingzhou in Fujian province. Feudal patterns among the Shes were well established by the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). At that time, the Shes were planters of rice, tea, sugar cane and ramie.
By the 14th century, many Shes had migrated into the mountain areas in eastern Fujian, southern Zhejiang and northeastern Jiangxi. Although they worked hard alongside Hans, many were impoverished by feudal lords who seized large tracts of land. Others had to work as hired laborers, or fled to find a living. Later in the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644 AD), their situation was improved.
The daily staple food of the Shes is rice. Most of them eat hot dishes. Every household possesses a hot pot. The meat is usually pork, and often fried with vegetables. Bamboo shoots are nearly a year-round vegetable.
The She people are fond of wine. Tea is also indispensable in their daily life. The She areas are teemed with tea, including many precious kinds, such as Huiming tea, Phoenix tea, black tea and Wuyi rock tea, etc. The oolong tea, a subcategory of Phoenix tea and one of the famous teas of China, comes from Shiguping Village where the She people live. It was a tribute to the royal palace in the ancient time. Their foods on festive occasions include black rice, themeda leaf dumpling and ciba (glutinous rice cake).
Black rice is consumed on lunar March 3. The Shes collect the leaves of Wuren Tree (a
wild plant in the mountains), grind them in a stone mortar, put them in a cloth bag, place the bag into an iron pot, add water and boil till the soup turns black, remove the residues in the bag, and soak selected glutinous rice into the soup. After a few hours, take out the rice and steam it in a wooden steamer. Black rice is black and blue in color, and soft and delicious in taste. Due to the preservative effect of Wuren, black rice will not turn sour in days in the cool and ventilated place. Eating black rice has the symbolic meaning of preparing for the spring sowing and wishing for a good harvest.
Themeda leaf dumpling, also called themeda dumpling, is usually consumed on the Dragon Boat Festival. People of the She ethnic group soak quality glutinous rice in soda water for several hours, fold two leaves into a holding base, and put the glutinous rice in the base to make a 20cm-long dumpling in the shape of a corn cob. Then put it in a pot and boil for about a dozen of hours. During the Dragon Boat Festival, themeda dumplings are offered to the ancestors, as well as presented to friends and relatives as a gift.
The Shes make ciba for the New Year, Mid-July Day and Winter Day, with the symbolic meaning of good luck and happy life. Ciba is made by soaking glutinous rice in water for a day, draining the water, steaming the rice in a wooden steamer, then grinding it in a stone mortar, and kneading it into small rolls or cakes.
The traditional costumes and accessories of She ethnic minority are multicolored and beautiful. She people like wearing green blue, and materials that are usually home-weave flax. Nowadays, the men’s clothes of She ethnic minority are the same with those of Han people, but in some parts of eastern Fujian and southern Zhejiang, She women’s clothes and accessories are of distinctive ethnic features.
Women wear clothes with flowers, birds and geometric embroidery. Often they wear bright-colored sashes or bamboo hats, decorated with pearls and trimmed with white or red silk lace. Lace is also used to trim clothing.
In some areas, women wear shorts year-round. When they do so, they wrap their legs and wear colorful waist sashes and jackets with lace. Young girls like tangling their hair with a red string to braid a plait and make a bun on the top of the head. Married women usually wear phoenix coronets, which are made by a stick of thin bamboo wrapped by red kerchief with a red cloth of about 30 centimeters long and 3 centimeters wide. Young, middle-aged and old men wear red, blue and black threads respectively in their hair.
Today, She marital customs are much like those of the Hans. But before 1949, parent-arranged marriages were common. Brides' dowries usually included farm tools, bamboo hats and rain capes. The wedding ceremony was simple. The groom would go to the home of the bride's family for a feast. Finding the table empty, he would sing out what he wanted, calling for chopsticks, wine and traditional wedding food. At the end of the banquet, he would sing again, this time ordering the dishes to be removed. The cook, in turn, would return his songs with melodies of his own. The newlyweds would say prayers to their ancestors and bid farewell to the bride's relatives. With the groom in front, they would walk to his family's home, each holding an umbrella and singing in echo. The groom's parents would welcome them at the front door, completing the wedding ceremony.
There are also some taboos for the She people during the Festivals, which are shown as follows.
Taboos during the Spring Festival: It is forbidden to tote excrement with a carrying pole on January 1. Also, it is forbidden to sweep the floor from January 1 to 4. On January 5, people see off the past year by burning the rubbish on the roadside after sweeping the floor. From the New Year’s Eve to January 3, and on January 15, it is not allowed to scold people, strike a fire, light up the lamp or borrow stuff from neighbors. It is forbidden to air clothes on January 15 and do farm work on January 20.
Marriage taboos: Women have the "trouble of 18", which means that they should not get married at the age of 18, otherwise they will not be pregnant and will do harm to their husband. Men have the "trouble of 20", which means that they should not get married at the age of 20. On the way to the husband's home, the bride should never look backward, otherwise she will be divorced and remarried. It is also inauspicious to encounter pregnant woman on her way, because they think that the pregnant woman will ruin the happiness of the bride and the evil spirits will follow the bride to her husband’s home.
Burial taboos: The relatives who were born in the opposite birth year of the dead people should not attend his or her funeral. For example, if the dead was born in the Zi year, his or her son, daughter and daughter-in-law is forbidden to attend his or her funeral if they were born in the Wu year, because Zi year and Wu year are opposite to each other. During the funeral, it is forbidden to let the coffin bump on two sides of the house gate.