Hezhe Ethnic Minority has a long history. Ancestors of Hezhe people settled in the drainage areas of Songhua River, Heilongjiang River, and Wusuli River in Northeast China. They used to be a branch of Nuzhen in Ming Dynasty. Hezhe Ethnic Minority is considered as the core of ancient Hezhe Clan.
It comprised of people from Oroqen, Ewenki, Manchu, Han, and Mongol nationalities, and developed to be a relatively steady body in early Qing Dynasty. Hezhe people have their own spoken language but without written characters. In early times they recorded something through chopping timbers, splitting leather, or inserting grass. Hezhe language belongs to Altai branch of Tungus system, a kind of language with adhering characters.
Generally speaking, it can be divided into two categories: Qileng and Hezhen. But it changed a lot in the process of communication and interaction with neighboring nationalities. In fact, Hezhe language is a lingua franca. Based on the original linguistic structure, many other compositions, such as Manchu language, Mongol language, ancient Asian language, and a little part of Chinese, were combined with Hezhe language. With a smaller population living separately, Hezhe people started communication with Han people much earlier than other ethnic minorities. Therefore, most Hezhe people understand the spoken and written forms of Chinese.
The Hezhe’s ancestry can be traced to the Xizhens, or called Suzhens or Jizhens, a race of the nomadic Tartar horsemen living in northern China in the ancient times. In the history, the Hezhes used to be called by various names, such as Yilou in Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) and Wei Dynasty (220-265), Wuji in Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), Wuji Mohe in Sui Dynasty (581-618). In Liao Dynasty (907-1125), they were called Nvzhen. In Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), they were called Wudige or Jiliemi. In Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the tribes were united to form the Hezhe Ethnic Group.
Hezhe people make their clothing of fish skin or animal skin, and their fish skin dresses are very unique. When making the fish skin clothes, people remove the full skin of a silver carp and dry it. After processing the fish skin to make it as soft as cotton cloth, people sew it with silver carp skin threads and make it into clothes. Hezhe people also make clothes of deer skin or roe skin, and these clothes are usually sewed with roe tendon, deer tendon or skin threads. Men wear roe fur coats in winter and garments with buttons on one side in the front in summer. The wristbands and front of the garment are usually trimmed with colored cloth or dyed into colored graduated shade, and sometimes decorated with two rows of fasteners made of catfish bones. Women wear fish skin or deer skin clothes, which are decorated with graduated shade.
Hezhe people live on fish as they live along Heilongjiang, Songhuajiang and Wusulijiang rivers. They have many different ways of eating fish. They not only cook fish but also eat raw fish, usually sturgeon and carp fish. When making raw fish dish, people cut off the heads, skin and bones of the living fish, cut the fish meat into thin pieces, dip the fish pieces into some rice vinegar until the fish pieces turn white, season the fish pieces with salt and other condiments, shredded potato, caraway and bean sprout. This dish tastes fresh, cool, refreshing and delicious, and it doesn’t have any unpleasant fish smell. Hezhe people also entertain guests with raw fish. They also cut fish into thin slices and toast them on fire, season the fish slices with condiments and make delicious fish dish.
God Deer Festival is held on March 3rd and Sept. 9th of the lunar calendar. People dance to pray for the god to exorcize the ghosts, bring good luck and ward off calamities. They also pray for a good harvest for the coming year.
Wurigong, meaning the fun day or the sports meeting, is held biennially in May and June of the lunar calendar and it lasts for three days. Competitive activities including swimming, boating, net casting, pushing and pulling and straw fish forking are held during the festival. The local people also hold banquets where they eat and drink together.