Story of a hereditary headmen family of Dai ethnic group


Photo shows Han Guixiu (罕贵秀) who is sixty-five years old now. She is the last princess from the last hereditary headmen family of feudal society among Dai ethnic group in Cangyuan County, Yunnan province. [Photo/ Gao Wei]

As the last princess of Dai ethnic group in Yunnan province, Han Guixiu (罕贵秀) is sixty-five years old now. Han Guixiu’s father Han Fumin (罕富民) used to be the last hereditary headmen of feudal society. With rich treasures and power on the land of over 6,000 square kilometers in Cangyuan County and some parts of today’s Myanmar, he cooperated with the Kuomintang, the founding and ruling political party of the Republic of China (ROC). However, his fortunes declined after being attacked by a Va tribe. After several years’ exile in Myanmar, he returned to China and began his new life.

Dictated by Han Guixiu, the story is all about vicissitudes of the aristocrat’s family.

Han Guixiu, born in a feudal family of hereditary headmen in Dai ethnic group, is the last princess of Dai ethnic group in Cangyuan Va Autonomous Prefecture.

Han Fumin (罕富民), Han Guixiu’s father, used to be a renowned headman of the last reign in Lingcang County. He administered an area of nearly 6,000 square kilometers.

Owing to the absent written record of many ethnic groups, origins of the tribes are like some fairytales, so is the family history of Han Guixiu.

"Long time ago, tribes in the Mengmao Area(勐卯) in Ruili City entered into rivalry with each other over territory, leading to chaos caused by wars every year. Some Dai people fleeing from the turbulence had to look for new habitats. One day, they arrived at a place called Mengdong(勐董) , exhausted and thirsty, after too many days’ exile. They were too weary to move a step any more when a wide pond appeared in front of them. It was so wide that people couldn’t see the border of it. Though the place looked terrific, the land around was not enough. People got dispirited when thinking of this. Maybe the Heaven paid mercy on them, the Buddha showed in front of them unexpectedly, dabbing the water with his wand. The tremendous lake disappeared without a trace, leaving a basin-like land. People then settled down here."

There was another edition of the story. "Two brothers, Han Xie(罕谢) and Han Sang(罕桑), ran away from the wars in Mengmao Area in Ruili City. They stopped over a place named Mengjiao (勐角) and settled down later. With the increase of population, this place seemed narrow and crowded. In order to reclaim new places, the two brothers looked for new homes. The younger brother was lucky to find a flat field covering a large area, but he concealed the land from his brother. Later this place was named Mengxing (勐省), and "Xing" means concealment in Dai language. His elder brother abided by the traditions of Dai---migrating to wherever water and grass were available. He rode his horse and found a new home. The place was later nominated as Gengma(耿马). The Chinese character 马(ma) means horse. The two brothers gradually extended their domain and formed new regions for Dai people." Han Guixiu introduced that her family belonged to a branch of the younger brother, and her mother’s branch derived from the elder brother’s family. Thus, her parents are genetically connected.

Photo shows young Han Guixiu (罕贵秀) who is sixty-five years old now. She is the last princess from the last hereditary headmen family of feudal society among Dai ethnic group in Cangyuan County, Yunnan province. [Photo/ Gao Wei]

The status of the hereditary headman of Han’s family was established then.

"Our ancestors were titled as headmen with high honor in Yunnan and were issued a great seal made from bronze by the imperial court. The area they regimented was pretty large, which was most areas in Cangyuan County and a part of Myanmar."

Han Guixiu’s grandfather passed away in 1945 and Han Fumin succeeded to an ivory carved with Chinese characters (世袭土司) whose meanings were hereditary headman and the seal that headmen used in the successive dynasties. Her father ascended the throne officially, becoming the last headmen.

Though twenty-nine years old, Han Fumin was in possession of great power and much wealth, and even young Han Guixiu could feel it.

"My parents gave birth to eleven children in total, and I was the third one. A common family at that time definitely could not afford to raise so many heads, but our family could. My mother was just responsible for delivering kids who were looked after by wet nurses. Each of us had one nanny who was found among the people. We provided them with accommodation and some living expenses. If they wanted to leave, they could leave at any time."

At that time, the territory of Han Fumin was nearly 6,000 square kilometers. Though there was no specific statistic about villager population under Han Fumin’s jurisdiction, in Han Guixiu’s memory, the warehouses in her family were always full.

"People brought tributes to us once a year, including cereal, opium, meat and silver dollar. I don’t remember the details, but what impressed me the most was the numerous hams drying in the courtyard. Why did I call my family rich at that time? Because we had our private army, maybe there were four hundred people who lived in the barracks no far from our house. A captain governed some soldiers and the captains were usually our family members. The soldiers were selected from villagers, and the time they enlisted in the army was decided by soldiers themselves," introduced by Han Guixiu. She said that even their ancestral graves were looked after by specialized villagers.

Photo shows Han Fumin (罕富民) and his wife. Han Fumin used to be the last hereditary headmen of feudal society of Dai ethnic group in Cangyuan County, Yunnan province. [Photo/ Gao Wei]

Compared with the later experiences, the first three years of Han Fumin’s succession was the golden period in his life. He not only took charge of wide territory and treasure filling in the home, but also acted as the honored guest of the Kuomintang (KMT). Aiming at drawing the headmen over to its side, the KMT assigned him as the president of the committee of Cangyuan County as well as a representative of KMT congress, which had extended his power.

Compared with the civil war of China (1945-1949), the liberation time of Yunnan was comparatively late. The local authority of China was not established until 1950 when the military situation in Yunnan was extremely tense. Even wars between tribes were mistaken as the "invasion" of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Han Fumin conducted visit to the chairman of Yunnan province on business in the autumn of 1949. To his surprise, just after his leave, a disaster approached. When he returned home, Tian Yuchang(田于昌), a head of Va tribe, attacked his territory.

"Dai and Va ethnic groups had engagedd in battles for many times in the history. They assaulted Gengma and Mengdong for revenge. My parents told me that they burnt down our houses and robbed all our treasures. They even excavated our ancestral graves, since Dai people were buried with some treasures in the coffin. For example, after my grandfather’ decease, he was worn rings and gemstone could be found in his mouth. At the very beginning, we thought that it was the PLA who attacked us, but later we found out that it was the Brothers Tian of Va ethnic group."

As to the Brother Tian’s behaviors, Han Fumin was out of rage. As soon as he returned home, he united all his tribes and counterattacked. However, he took a fall after two-day battle. Finally he had to flee to Myanmar.

In the memory of Han Guixiu, her father was in low spirits during the exile.

"At that time we fled with the KMT. Sometimes, we had to dodge the bombings from the airplanes. When hearing the coming of planes, we followed most people and hided in the air-raid shelters."

Peace has never come to this family, they always apprehended danger in every sound, and once a stir was heard they immediately hided in the air-raid shelter. While over time, Han honed her courage in confronting with air raids: she did not cry or make any noise, but just follow adults to run.

Zhao Tingjun (赵廷俊), the Communist Party Secretary of Cangyuan County, disguised himself as a trader to Myanmar and found Han Fumin. Zhao persuaded Han to return to China and told him that the Communist Party would forgive his past misdeeds. Facing two choices, Han hesitated. "On one hand, he didn’t believe in the new regime at that time, fearing that the Communist Party would settle accounts over him afterwards, after all he cooperated with the KMT before, and on the other hand, he was reluctant to leave his native land."

Finally, Han Fumin chose to return to his mother land. After a few days’ journey, he went back to his hometown Mengdong, together with more than forty heads in his family on October 10, 1953.

Han Guixiu was six that year, facing completely new life. (Editors:Lynn, Minnie Mao)

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