The Qiang Ethnic Minority call themselves "Ri Ma", "Ri Biao", "Ru Ma", and "Er Ma. Qiang in Chinese means shepherds. They are historically shepherds, so the Sacred Sheep is prayed to as a god. The Qiang Language is a branch of Tibetan. It has two different dialects; one in the north and one in the south. The southe1rn dialect is popular in some areas of Maoxian and Wenchuan counties, whereas the northern dialect is popular in Shaba, Chibusu, Songpan County, Heishui County, Beichuan County, etc. Even though only two distinct dialects exist, each area has its own variation of their prevalent dialect. The Qiang people who live near roads and areas of Han and Tibet have come to learn a little Mandarin. , Historically, the Qiang people adopted the use of Mandarin Chinese characters, because they lack their own writing system. In 1989, the Chinese government promoted the creation of Qiang characters; the Qiang people endeavor to use their own characters in Qiang inhabited areas.
Qiang people still have their original religion. They believe that everything has anima; therefore, they worship over 30 deities. They respect four main kinds of deities: Nature, Ancestral, Deities, and Totems.
In history, wizards in Qiang areas always organized and took charge of religious events and temples. Being a wizard functioned as a regular day job in the Qiang society. Only men can take charge of important religious affairs. The wizards had the authority to marry as well. The Qiang scriptures and teaching were only recited aloud because they lacked a system of writing. Before grand ceremonies, wizards couldn't eat Chinese onions and garlic for 49 days. In order to show their respect to the deities, they should have a shower before the ceremony. Wizards should also deal with some daily affairs, such as holding the sacrificial rite to the Holy Mountain, curing diseases, repairing houses, holding the wedding ceremony, and naming babies. Thus, wizards have very high positions in Qiang areas. They are not only the medium between humans and god, but also the spreaders of their own culture.
The grandest folk festivals in the Qiang area are the sacrificial rite to the Holy Mountain and the "Qiang Nian Festival". They are held in spring and fall respectively. They pray to have good weather in spring and thank god for the harvest in fall. In different regions, the sacrificial rite to the Holy Mountain is held at different times: Some in January, some in April and some in May. Some of them hold it once, some twice, while some three times in one year. The procedures of the rite are very complicated. Different areas have different totems, and there are three major forms in the rite: the Sacred Sheep, the Sacred Ox, and the Sacred Dog. The ceremony is held on a spacious land in the forest. In some areas, the Qiang people are now allowed to fell firewood, cut grass, and go hunting.
"Qian Nian Festival" is held by the Qiang wizards on the 1st of October of the lunar calendar every year. It usually lasts 3 to 5 days; however, some villages spend 10 days. According to Qiang custom, people should offer a sacrifice to the Sky Divinity, the Mountain Divinity, and the Village Divinity. At that time, people in the whole village will get together to have dinner. They will also drink, and dance on the festival. The festival is held by the wizards.
People living in the upper reaches of Minjiang River still keep the primitive customs of the Farming Period. They build stone residences along the hills and live a life of self-sufficiency. They produce apples, prickly ashes, and walnuts in Qiang areas.
The folk residences in the Qiang Ethnic Minority are always built with stone. Most of the residences are single-floor houses, but some have two or three floors. Generally, 30 to 50 families make a village. Those villages are always distributed half-way down the hills, or along river basins. "Deng Long" is a special residence. They always lie at the entrance of the village and have the functions of defense and ramparts during the war. "Deng Long" is a cultural phenomenon in the Qiang Ethnic Minority.
Clothes are made by Qiang people themselves. The clothes are generally made of flax, furs of ox or sheep and fabric. After China's liberation, people living on the river basins wear Han fashions.
There is a ceremony when a man becomes 15 years old. People sit around a fire. The man, wearing new clothes, will kowtow to the picture of their ancestor. The wizard then presents him with an amulet.
The people are monogamous. There were many historical customs about marriage. For instance, two babies were engaged even when two women were still pregnant. There was "Kids Marriage", which meant that the two kids were engaged when still young. There are some procedures on engagement. After getting marriage and having a baby, there is a celebration.
The Qiang people have many forms of funerals. Besides cremation, there is interment, sky burial, and cliff burial. Qiang people have rich folk literary works left from ancient times till now. These works tell us that the Qiang Ethnic Minority is a nationality good at singing and dancing. The art of embroidery in Qiang Ethnic Minority has a very important position in the history of handicraft art in China.