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Audible | Traditional Ox Dance in Shizhu - Highlighting the Heritage of the Tujia Ethnic Group

By YAN DENG|Mar 26,2024

Editor's Note: This article is produced in collaboration with the Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies as part of a series of ongoing reports exploring the city's abundant resources in intangible cultural heritages.

The traditional Ox Dance in Shizhu. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

"King of Tofu, Clang ah long ah hey," "Gonna kill the patrol, eh ma na ang..." is a little tune commonly heard when the Tujia "Wanniu," or ox dance, is traditionally performed in and around the ancient town of Xituo in Tujia Autonomous County in Chongqing.

According to Shizhu County Annals, the Tujia people in Shizhu have built Bull King Temples in various places, offering sacrifices to King Bull on April 18 every year so the ox can rest and feed well. In the period of farming civilization, ox were particularly important to local production and people's lives. Hence, its people would pray for good weather, bountiful harvests, and their livestock's safety through the Ox Dance during the farming seasons and festive scenes.

The Tujia "Wanniu" in Shizhu employs cow bones made of bamboo, cloth-covered cow bodies, and cow heads crafted from paper paste, with eyes drawn on with strokes. Moreover, "Wanniu" emphasizes the coordination and performance skills of the two individuals portraying plow oxen beneath the cowhide props.

"Wanniu" typically involves a team of seven or eight individuals. One person, holding an oxen stick, embodies the elder brother herding the cattle, while another, carrying a straw basket, represents the elder sister. Two participants wear ox-shaped costumes to form the ox body, and the remaining four serve as musicians, playing gongs and drums. The performance, mirroring actual ox farming, sees the elder sibling leading the 'ox' through a series of exaggerated actions like grazing, scratching, rolling, and leaping, all choreographed to traditional songs and rhythms, creating an engaging and lively dance.

A highlight of the performance is when the "ox" feigns anger, a moment where the cowherd, with dramatic flair and a stern voice, directs the 'ox.' This act, where the 'ox' playfully charges and 'knocks down' the cowherd, elicits hearty laughter from the audience. Amidst this, participants sing back-and-forth verses, like "As long as we are diligent..." and "No worries about food or clothes...", expressing hopes for prosperity and well-being, weaving a rich tapestry of cultural tradition and community aspiration.

On November 11, 2014, the State Council approved the traditional Ox Dance "Wanniu" from Shizhu County, Chongqing Municipality, to include in the fourth batch of the National List of Representative Intangible Cultural Heritage Projects. In November 2019, the list of National Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Units was announced, with the Shizhu Tujia Autonomous County Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center obtaining the qualification as the protection unit for the Ox Dance project.

As a unique folk culture of the local Tujia ethnic group, the traditional Ox Dance shows us a beautiful scene of harmonious coexistence between human beings and animals and the Tujia people's expectation for a good harvest and a better life. It has been passed down to this day because it is not only "a folk art that has been alive for thousands of years," but also the gems of the art of Tujia people passed down from generation to generation.

Chinese script: Jia Xinyu

Tutored by:  Xu Li

Translation: Zhu Xianfang

Tutored by: Liu Yuting  Lu Siying

Voice-over: Wang Jingxuan

Tutored by: Chen Juan


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