Deng People in Tibet
Enjoy Modern Life
Deng people, a branch of the native Tibetan who lived in
west China's Tibet, have started their modern life with
modern household appliances such as telephones and TV sets.
However, in the 1950's, they led a primitive life in which
they cut rope into different lengths to record events and
they cultivated farmland by reaphook while controlling weeds
by spreading fire.
Deng people, also known as the Dengba, lived in Tibet's
Zayu county and virgin forest areas between the Himalayas
and the Hengduan Mountains at an elevation of 1000 meters.
At present 1,320 Deng people are living in the Zayu County
which now has nine Deng villages.
Although they have no written language, the Deng people
have their own spoken language, which derives from the Tibetan-Myanmese
branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family.
Their clothing is unique. Women favor silver ornaments
while most of the men wear black headscarf and always carry
a knife on their belt.
the 1950's, the Deng people were always looked down upon
because of their poverty and were even nicknamed "monkey"
or "wild man".
Today, each Deng family has its own beautiful wooden residence,
surrounded by flourishing flowers and trees and a good view
of distant green terraced fields.
Local villager Dongwei built his new house a few years
ago, planting his courtyard with thriving flowers and fruit
trees and installing a disk antenna in his yard.
His two-floor house is economically used. The first floor
is for livestock or storing goods. On the second floor,
several rooms leading off a corridor are arranged in an
orderly manner for family members.
In his living room, the television set, VCD and a pile
of CDs are in the cabinet, showing the well-off owner's
His little sister is a movie star fan. Movie star posters
are stuck everywhere in her room.
Dongwei says that being raised in poverty, his father got
used to the simple life in their old house, which was dark
and damp but warmer than new house in winter.
Songniao, a local official who is also a Deng ethnic, says
that in the past, most Deng people lived in shelters which
were set up halfway up a hill, in order to plant corn with
The annual output was so low that villagers were short
of food eight to nine months of the year. Sometimes they
had to survive by hunting wild animals or searching for
wild fruit and herbs.
Social researchers believed that until the 1950's, the
Deng people did not have any social strata, hierarchy and
privacy. At the time, they were still living a primitive
According to Songniao, from 1966 to 1968, the central government
spent 160,000 yuan (US$20,000) to build new houses along
the Zayu River to relocate the local Tibetans. The People's
Liberation Army (PLA) helped the Deng people move away from
the isolated mountain areas.
After moving to their new homes, the Deng people blended
in well with local villagers. The younger members began
learning Tibetan and mandarin, cultivating farmland with
advanced modern tools.
So far, over 90 percent school-aged Deng children are receiving
an education. Many Deng people have been trained as officials.
Until the early 1980's, the Deng women still retained a
convention of smoking. At the time, it was very common to
see in Deng villages that young and old women with long-stemmed
tobacco pipes, smoking and chatting in the middle of the
Today, women in Deng villages can seldom be seen smoking.
They prefer to go dancing or listen to music in their spare
Recently, the local government spent over 400,000 yuan
(US$80,000) to set up the 10th Deng village and built a
recreation center for the villagers.
Kapuxia, a young Deng villager says that in the language
"Deng" originally meant impoverishment, but today
it has a new meaning. Nowadays, "Deng" is interpreted
as the synonym of "happiness".