With a population of 4,640, the Hezhen ethnic minority is one of the smallest minorities of China. From generation to generation, they lived in the reaches of Amur River (Heilongjiang River), Songhua River, and Ussuri River (Wusuli River) and appropriately named themselves 'Hezhen', meaning people of the eastern lower reaches. They are descendants of Heshui Tribe which reigned during the Sui (581 - 618) and Tang (618 - 907) Dynasties.
Language and Religion:
The Hezhen language belongs to the Altaic phylum. They do not have their own characters, so most write in Chinese. They believe in Shamanism, believing all have spirits and worship as many gods are there as varieties of animals and plants.
The rivers provide the Hezhen people with rich sources of fish and other wild animals. Intelligent people do quite well in making use of those gifts. They live on fishing and hunting, travel by snow dog sleds, and wear clothes of fish and deer skin, since fish skin is light, soft, and water-proof and non-abrasive. The clothes are also visually very distinctive with fasteners made of fish bone and the women's coats look like cheongsam.
Food and Food Culture:
Fish is the main staple of their diet and is prepared in a variety of ways. Frozen fillet is quite often given as gifts to distinguished guests.
The Hezhen customs related to food are unique. Before drinking wine, they must dip chopsticks in the wine, cast it to the sky and sprinkle it on the land. This is an expression of respect for both the gods and their ancestors. They do not care for drinking tea, except the tea flavored with wild rose. Instead they prefer unboiled cold water.
The Wurigong Festival began in 1985 and has been held once every two years since. Held during the fifth or sixth lunar month, the Hezhen celebrate by playing traditional sports, feasting on traditional foods, and throughout the festival singing the folklore which praises the history of their tribe. The Wurigong Festival lasts for several days. This long epopee is reputed to be the living fossil of original linguistic art of North Asia.
Spring Festival is also an important time and the Hezhen people enjoy fish feasts, dumplings and wines. Each meal should be freshly prepared and the leftovers are frozen until after this festival period has ended.