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Legend of the Hundred Birds Costume of the Zhuang Nationality
Inscribed list: National List, Fourth Batch
Inventory no.: I-147
Nominating unit(s): Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Heng County
The Zhuang nationality lives in southern China, mostly in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and has a rich local history and culture. One of the more well-known legends among the Zhuang people is that of the Hundred Birds Costume.
As the story goes, in the Zhuang village, there was a poor teenager named Zhang Yayuan (), who lived with his mother and made a living through working for the Tusi, or chieftan() chopping wood on the hills. One day, he came across a chicken resting on the pile of chopped woods, so he decided to bring her home and take care of her. The chicken magically transformed into a lovely lady after Zhang took care of her with kindness for a half year. Later, they married each other and became a happy couple.
Learning of Zhang’s wonderful wife, the Chieftain became jealous and desired the wife for himself. Although he tried to fool the couple numerous times, he was still outsmarted by the lady at each turn. Until one day, the Chieftain decided to forcefully seize the lady. At that moment, the wife was able to direct Zhang to shoot a hundred birds down and make it into a costume, and after a hundred days to wear it and find her at the Chieftain’s office”. Thus, with a broken family and hopes of rescuing his wife, Zhang proceeded on the task. Meanwhile, back at the Chieftain’s home, the lady had lost her smile and was depressed. To win her heart, the Chieftain attempted to impress her with silver coins, but was unsuccessful.
After climbing 99 mountains and crossing 99 rivers, Zhang achieved in his task of shooting a hundred birds to make the hundred birds costume. He traveled to the Chieftain’s location. When his wife saw him, her gloomy countenance immediately changed and she was full of smiles. The chieftain desired the costume, and in order to please the lady, took of his chieftain robe to change into the hundred birds costume. Zhang helped the chieftain into the costume, and using this opportunity, stabbed the chieftain to death. Zhang and his wife then departed from the palace and went to a faraway place, where they lived happily.
It is assumed that the legend was a commentary on the injustices of the hierarchical system, and was created back in the days when the Tusi, who were hereditary tribal leaders recognized as imperial officials, ruled parts of southwest China, from the Yuan to the Qing dynasties. Due to the lack of written documentation, the story could be only preserved through verbal accounts and the collection work done by the poet Wei Qilun in the 1950s and 60s, and who wrote a poem based on the legend in 1955.
The legend of Hundred Birds Costume has also been adapted into other genres of performing arts, including the Zhuang Opera and an acrobatic show that premiered in 2018.
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