China's Minority Peoples – The Hezhens

The Hezhen Nationality, with a population of 4.245, is one of the smallest ethnic groups of China. Most Hezhen people live in close communities in Jiejinkou, Sipai and Bacha townships of Raohe and Fuyuan counties, Heilongjiang Province.

In ancient times, ancestors of the Hezhens lived in the Heilong, Songhua and Wusuli river valleys. They were variously called the Heijin, Heizhen, Hezhen, Qileng or Hezhe people in different historical periods. After the founding of new China, these people were generally called the Hezhen Nationality, meaning "people living in the east or the lower reaches of rivers".

The Hezhen language, with a lot of expressions similar to the Manchu language, belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic family. But now only old people can speak it. As the Hezhen language has no script, they use Chinese.

Traditionally, the Hezhens are Shamanists. They lived in a rich mountain area with many rivers meandering through. The excellent natural environment made the Hezhens excel in hunting and fishing. It was said that the Hezhen area was so rich that the Hezhens could hunt roe deer with stick, fish with bowl and wild ducks were often found on the dining table. At present, fishing is the most important part in the Hezhens’ economy and thus forms the basis of the unique but rich native culture. The Hezhens, young and old, men and women, are good fishermen.

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