Brief Introduction of Hezhen Ethnic Group

A nationality living mainly by hunting and fishing

The Hezhes are one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in China. With a present population of 4,245, they mainly live in Tongjiang city, Fuyuan and Raohe counties in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, and their compact communities are in Jiejinkou, Sipai, and Bacha, three Hezhe Autonomous Townships.

The forefathers of the Hezhes lived by the three rivers (Songhuajiang, Heilongjiang and Wusulijiang) for generations since the ancient days. In history, they used to have various names, such as “Heijin”, “Heizhen”, “Hezhen”, “Qileng”, “Hezhe” and so on. The Hezhes called themselves “Nanai”, “Nabei”, or “Naniao”, all meaning “natives” or “aborigines.” After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, they were formally named “Hezhe Nationality”, with the meaning of people residing in “the east” or in “the lower reaches” of a river.

The Hezhes have their own language, which belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic language family, with some of the lexes the same as that of Manchu. Nowadays, those who are below 50 years old cannot speak the Hezhe language and Chinese is widely used. They do not have a system of writing and use Chinese characters for written communication. They used to believe in Shamanism.

The area where the Hezhes live has green hills and clear waters, with rivers crisscrossing, so it provides a convenient natural environment for the hunting and fishing economics. As the old saying goes “hunting roes with sticks, scooping fish with gourds, and having pheasant fly into the cooker”, it is the exactly description of the Hezhes’ living of hunting and fishing. At present, the fishery is still the main source of livelihood for most Hezhes who live by the rivers. Old and young, male or female, they are all good at fishing. With fishery economy as the core, they also engage in farming, managing variously, and thus the Hezhes have formed their unique and rich culture of their nationality.