Sung by Tao Zi-gai.
This song raises a number of problems. The first is a discrepancy between the title and the text regarding the central character in the story. In the former he is called Gi-dleu and in the latter Shi-tru, to which is added the style, "the Elder". The song comes from the extensive repertoire of Tao Zi-gai, but it is by no means certain that he also supplied the title. In modern spoken Miao the name Gi-dleu would probably be Hmao-dleu, the clan name which is identified with the Chinese surname Han. Presumably, for at no point is any explanation offered, Shi-tru is an archaic form of the same name.
This personage was a Miao, as witnessed by the fact that when he died, he was buried and mourned by the Miao community, but otherwise he is scarcely recognisable as such. The song portrays an individual who possessed considerable wealth in silver which he decided to spend on land, concubines and a grandiose building scheme. From his fellow Miao, who were, no doubt, tenants on his estates, he exacted unpaid labour in exactly the same way as did the hated Yi landlords.
Nowhere is the origin of the Elder Shi-tru's great wealth explained. There are indeed branches of the Miao race which do, in fact, possess considerable wealth in the silver ornaments worn by the women, but this silver is not normally negotiable. It has to be passed on to the next generation. Generally speaking, the A-hmao were among the poorest of the poor, and such limited wealth as they might possess would have been reckoned in flocks and herds, not in silver.
Having acquired an estate and built himself a fine house, the Elder Shi-tru took steps to establish a family. Again the song does not explain, but it may be assumed that he already had a legitimate Miao wife, but no children, and it may be that to have married another Miao woman would have raised inter-clan trouble, so he opted to secure, first an Yi, and then a Chinese slave girl, in the hope of raising a family. In this, however, he was disappointed, and when he died, his servants, not his family, had to see to the funeral arrangements. This they did, but apparently with the minimum of expense, since the animals slaughtered for the occasion are described as "da ngga", that is "small" or "tiny".
Some of the place names mentioned in the song are identified in the footnotes as being on the Yunnan - Guizhou border just to the east of the city of Zhaotung. Indeed the quarry which supplied the stone for the building scheme was located at "ndrang Mu-di", that is the Zhaotung plain.
There is no clear description of the building which the Elder Shi-tru erected. Although it had a room big enough to house a small elephant, it was not a dwelling. He had already built a fine house to live in. This structure needed considerable quantities of both stone and timber, so that it must have comprised more than stone monumental obelisks, although these are definitely mentioned in the text. Putting together all the information that can be gleaned, the central structure seems to have been a pagoda, nine storeys high, set on a large stone platform, raised nine steps above ground level. Obelisks, constructed of shafts of dressed stone, also stood on the platform, perhaps one at each corner, although this is not specified in the song. From the points of the turret roofs of the pagoda hung wind bells in the manner of Chinese temples. To build all this the Elder Shi-tru employed Chinese craftsmen, while the Miao had to supply the labour required. When completed, the "Chinese king" was so impressed that he ordered the Elder Shi-tru's name to be engraved on memorial tablets of wood and stone. However, it is by no means clear in the song who the "Chinese king" might have been, and there is no explanatory note to help. The Emperor in Beijing was a thousand miles away.
It is possible that this unlikely story is the folk memory of some inter-clan rivalry, and that Gi-dleu was not an individual but a Miao group which, for a time, and with Chinese backing, exercised dominance over their fellow Miao clans. Document M which preserves the song, was intended as an outline of Miao history, so that clearly, its compilers regarded this song as more than just a piece of fiction.
There remain a number of minor points, which require explanation. Lines 20 to 24 say that, when completed, the Elder Shi-tru's house had beehives tied under the eaves. Miao beehives were sections of tree trunk some four feet long and eighteen inches in diameter, which had been hollowed out and blocked up at the ends with circular boards, leaving a small hole at the bottom of one end for the bees to enter and leave. These hives were sometimes placed in a garden plot near the house, but often, to prevent them from being stolen and to keep them dry, they were hung under the eaves of the house.
Lines 87 to 91 describe the use of flails for threshing rice. The flails were two stout sticks four or five feet long, linked together at one end in a special way with leather thongs. One stick was held firmly with both hands, while the second was swung around behind the worker's head and allowed to fall flat on the grain to be threshed, the whole length hitting the ground at the same time. With rhythmic swaying of the body and arms, the flail rose and fell continuously. This work was often undertaken by young women.
Lines 106 to 112, together with a number of lines later in the song, tell how, as the men carried the balks of timber along, they were chanting as they went. Each tree trunk was very heavy and needed eight or more men to carry it, in much the same way as Chinese coolies carrying sedan chairs. The chanting was to ensure that the carriers kept in step as they went.
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