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Mysterious and Endangered: The Xibe Ethnic Group’s Westward Movement Festival

China consists of 55 ethnic groups which bring much exotic flavor and diversity to its profound and evolving culture. Today, let us unveil the mysterious look of the Xibe ethinic group and its Westward Movement Festival.

Profile of The Xibe Ethnic Group


 Trace back to history, the Xibe Ethnic Group, descendants of the Xianbei tribe which established the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 - 534) has inhabited the Songnen Plain in Northeastern China and Hulunbe’er Plain in Northwestern China before the 16th century. They are versatile and courageous, good at singing, dancing and fond of wrestling. Their outstanding horsemanship and especially archery skills win them reputation as “the race with abundant archery talents”. The Xibe believe in Polytheism, Shamanism and Buddhism. Xinjiang’s Xibe habitants speak the Xibe language, part of the Tungus-Manchu group of the Altaic phylum; whereas Northeastern China’s Xibe dwellers speak Chinese and Mongolian. Their own culture, Xibe language and written script are developed from Manchu language, famed as the “living fossil” for Tungus-Manchu language’s research by linguists, but they are facing distinction due to various reasons such as cultural assimilation, and actions are took to preserve them.


The Xibe Wearing Traditional Costume

the Xibe People in their Traditional Costume

The Origination of The Xibe Ethnic Group’s Westward Movement Festival


 The Westward Movement Festival, one of the Xibe people’s most prominent traditional festival, serving to commemorate the westward movement of their forefather who bade farewell to their hometown to guard borders over 200 years ago. Falling on April 18th in lunar calendar, it is called "the Four-one-eight Festival", or Family Remembrance Day for expressing homesickness.

As a mysterious, endangered and marginalized festival, it enjoys over 200 years’ history and celebrated with activities like singing, dancing, picnicking and wrestling. It embodies the Xibe culture in a comprehensive way, and is the best approach to present and spread the Xibe culture. Now it is inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage authorized by the State Cousil of China.

According to history record, on April 18th,1764 (the 29th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign), a total of 3275 Xibe people, including 1018 government officials and soldiers together with their families, were summoned up by the Qing government to move from Northeast China’s Shengjing (today's Shenyang City in Liaoning Province) to Northwest China’s Yili area of Xinjiang Province, to settle down there cultivating the barren land as well as consolidating and reinforcing the northwestern border after the government had quelled the rebellions in Junggar and other areas in Xinjiang. On that very day, a farewell dinner was held in their ancestral temple called Taiping Temple and ceremonies like honoring their ancestors were performed. Under the lead of Manchu officials the next morning, the poorly-equipped Xibe people embarked on the journey which lasted one year and five months. They climbed over mountains and forded rivers, dining in the wind and sleeping in the wild, trekking across deserts and grasslands in Mongolia and overcame starvation, drought, and diseases before they reached the faraway northwestern border with striking stamina and tenacity.

Since then, April 18th of the lunar calendar of each year is celebrated with activities like ritual sacrifice and honoring their ancestors in temples. Each household will prepare meat and brown rice to commemorate their ancestors’ heroic and patriotic deeds. It is also a time to recall their fellowmen in their hometown.



The statues illustrating the scene of the Xibe's Westward Movement in 1764.

Performance illustrating the migration history 1764 at a Westward Movement Festival.


The Celebration Activities of The Xibe Ethnic Group’s Westward Movement Festival 

 On the very day of this festival, all Xibe people will dress up and gather together to celebrate. A variety of activities, including picnicking, shooting, martial arts competition, singing and dancing will be held. They will play the "Dongbuer", sing the "Moke tune", and dance the vigorous, light "Beilun dance" accompanied by their traditional musical instruments. The girls' marvelous "shoulder shaking" and the guys' "duck-step" are vivid and fascinating with exotic flavor, expressing their homesickness and wishes for the bright future.

Among them, the 5-SO style (also called huidiao style, characterized by enthusiastic, light, lively and cheering melody) westward movement music especially worthy of recommendation. Its each single song contains over 400 lines of lyrics, 12 passages with three passages being a phrase. Featuring both solo and chorus and mainly themed with westward movement, its songs have evolve into seven categories within 200 years’ enrichment, improvement and innovation, integrating into the festival as the most expressive and unique art form.



this Festival's Musci Featuring both Solo and Chorus and Themed with westward Movement

Interesting Xibe Folk Dance-"Beile'n"

 The Xibe is reputated for their outstanding archery skills

Xibe People's Ancestor Temple


Main Characteristics of The Xibe Ethnic Group’s Westward Movement Festival

Inherit the Xibe’s ancient fishing and hunting custom and primitive culture forms developed in Northeastern China’s Da Xing An Ling Mountain Range.

Inherit the primitive culture customs and forms relating to shamanism. A variety of primitive forms of shamanism prevails among them such as the Shanman Climb the Blade Stairs Ceremony, the Ceremony to Summon Shaman, together with the Shanman songs and music, serves as the precious “living fossil” for worldwide Shaman culture explorers to carry on study.

Inherit the cultural tradition of “advocate Manchu language, value horsemanship and archery”. The Xibe insists using Manchu language from westward movement to 1940s and creates the Xibe language and script based on it. The Xibe language and script are praised as the “living fossil” for worldwide Tungus-Manchu folklore and custom research.

Inherit the patriotism embodied by their honorable ancestors who made outstanding contribution on maintaining the peace by guarding the western borders at huge sacrifice. Patriotism, an indispensible and eternal theme distinguishes this festival, bestowing it with depth and profound culture significance.

Evolving from the Temple Fair (Miao Hui), this festival gains popularity and influence gradually. From private-run to government-run, with participants expanding from the Xibe people to all Chinese, this festival spreads from Xinjiang province to Northeastern China, crossing time and space, and forming a culture transmission space with multiple-dimension and multi-perspective.

The Immeasurable Cultural Value Underlying this Festival

This festival is the best channel to transmit and spread the Xibe’s splendid ancient culture, the best way to present its customs, traditions, beliefs, emotions, mentality as well as exotic art crafts and unique music and dance. Based on the Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County, where this festival is mainly celebrated, it spreads to areas occupied by the Xibe nationwide, forming a cultural transmission space embracing history, geography and mentality aspects meanwhile.

The Endangered Festival and its Culture

Due to various reasons this festival facing extinction. The oral and written literature of the Xibe and their primitive and ancient fishing and hunting customs are fading away. The ancient Shamanism culture is no exception, it faces the crisis of extinction due to lack of inheritors. Very Few people masters Manchu language and script. The Xibe around the age of 50 fail to master the Xibe language script also, for it has been marginalized, just as many other civilization like Maya. There are not so many folk artists, and the remaining few are at their senior age. Besides, the features of this festival are weakened gradually. All these alerting facts call on our attention to preserve and protect this festival and the Xibe culture. China attaches great importance to preserve the culture heritage. On May 20th, 2006, this festival was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage authorized by the State Cousil of China.


 The Protection on the Culture Space of Westward Movement Festival 

the Xibe Script

Actions should be taken to protect this fascinating and endangered festival, its emergence, development and evolution documents as well as its contemporary ecological environment, including:

The origination of this festival, the primitive culture or sub-primitive culture it inherits, the Xibe ancestors’ labor, social and ceremony activities;

The philosophy on human, space and environment it embodied through evolving during different periods;

The patriotism spirit fostered since westward movement;

The festival’s culture spreading or transmission ability; the different forms of this festival both private-run and government-run; the form, content, characteristics, venue, environment of this festival held nationwide;

Both the Manchu and the Xibe’s language and script played a vital role in transmitting the culture of Westward Movement Festival during its emergence and development period, and the Manchu language and script survived has immeasurable value on the exploration of the Manchu- Tungus’ folk custom and culture worldwide, thus deserves good protection. The Xibe language and script, its usage environment, the function it serves regarding the protection and preserve of this festival should be well protected also.


The Protection on the Folk Custom of Westward Movement Festival

In order to preserve the festival’s ancient and contemporary documents and to protect its tangible and intangible culture, the following aspects should be taken into account, and those valuable ones should be composed as reports:

The primitive and contemporary form of the Xibe’s fishing and hunting culture and forest culture;

The trace of the Xibe’s ancestor worship, fire worship, nature worship and totemism;

The shamanism culture, its trace, forms and folk custom;

The blending of the Xibe culture (advocating Manchu language and valuing horsemanship and archery) with other diverse culture;

The knowledge on nature and the universe by the Xibe people;

The social customs, etiquette, ceremonies ranging from ancient to contemporary periods;

Folk performance art including dance, music, instrument music, drama, chant, rap, entertainment;

Folktales comprising of stories, lyrics, fairytales and legends;

Traditional craftsmanship and handicrafts; the aesthetic value of shaman costume; folk painting, carving, embroidery, ancient script;

Xibe People's Traditional Handcrafts :doll

 Wallets with Emboidery

Ecological culture and human: fashion culture, cruise culture;

The list and documents, files regarding folk artists;

The prominent historical, religious, artistic, ethnographic, sociology, linguistics, cultural anthropology, ethnology, folklore study, folklore literature value underlying Westward Movement Festival.

This year, the Xibe Ethnic Group’s Westward movement festival will take place on May 8th in Yili area, Xinjiang province. If you are interested with exotic festivals, and ready to experience the mysterious Oriental culture, this is definitely a grand event you should not miss.




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