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Articles Blog

Sanya, China

Karyn Planett

China’s Deep South 

Imagine that the entire nation of China was shaped like a giant, puffy potsticker with the rounded part on the bottom. Hainan Island would be a drop of soy sauce dripping off the very, very bottom. Or, a drip of soy sauce dropping off the very, very bottom. This island is to China what the Florida Keys are to the U.S. In fact, Hainan Island is so far south that it juts out into Sanya Bay and is found directly across the Gulf of Tonkin from Vietnam. And that makes for some very interesting isolation in many ways. Even the translation of the name Sanya says it all. It means, “the end of the sky and ocean” and “the end of the earth.” Well, not really but for some that, indeed, was the truth. For you, however, it’s just another notch in your see-the-world belt. And, for the record according to the People’s Republic of China, Hainan is China’s second largest island after Taiwan. According to others, Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China and is a sovereign state. Let’s not debate that here. 

Oriental Hawaii 

Some tourism enthusiasts tout Sanya as the “Oriental Hawaii.” There’s truth to that. They both are approximately the same distance north of the Equator. In addition to being a recognized for its foreign import and export activity, it also offers a leisure life associated with a coastline dotted with attractive harbors and nice beaches. More importantly, a comfortable climate for the majority of the year is a magnet for those seeking sun and surf and a balmy climate as a backdrop. Visitors usually include a stop at the Nanshan Temple to gaze upon the Jade Kwan-yin Statue, covered in 221 pounds of gold and silver plus 120 carats of South African diamonds. Or, they partake in all the usual seaside activities or elect to do nothing more than laze about under a fringed umbrella with a gracious attendant offering food and drink on an international standard. As with other bustling seaside resorts, the fresh seafood is presented daily along with a sampling of tropical fruits. Oh, and if you like beach volleyball you’ll probably find a game somewhere. This is where the national team trains.     

The Many Faces of China 

Did you know that China is home to 56 different ethnic groups? Of course, the Han Chinese are the largest group by a long shot with more than 91% of the entire Chinese population. That leaves less than 9% for the other 55 groups. And please note that this vast nation with its enormous population has lots of grey areas. Ethnicity is subject to interpretation by different experts as well as official bodies, not to mention by the people themselves. Presented here is a basis for further review and study should you wish. Also note, we leave aside for another day the discussion about Tibet and its piece in this population puzzle. We’ll also leave aside the discussion about others groups claiming a distinct ethno-national identity but haven’t as yet received it. Having said all that, know there is some consensus that the people closely associated with this area are the Li, the Miao, the Chiyou and the Utsuls. 

The Li people call Hainan Island home and count more than one million in their group. It’s claimed that they had no written script until 1957 and speak a distinct language, though many speak Chinese, as well. Their traditional garb for the women include long, tight skirts and blouses without buttons. A few of the women still engage in the practice of tattooing their faces. Their hair is worn pulled back and into a bun that’s held in place with bone hairpins. As part of their dress, the women adore themselves with silver jewelry. For a type of make-up, the women chew a mixture of shell ashes, something called arica, and leaves. This concoction stains the women’s lips a reddish color. Many family members live together in thatched bamboo houses. Their diet consists of meat and rice and they practice herbal medicine very effectively. 

The Miao people number nearly nine million though they’re scattered about. Their traditional costumes are richly decorated with silver jewelry and headgear, as well as intricate embroidery. This needlework talent is passed from generation to generation with young girls being very proficient by the time the hit their teens. This is such a large group that their traditional dress varies from region to region but is always distinctly colorful and decorative. 

The Chiyou tribe has a complicated history and is debated endlessly. Nonetheless, their influence is here as well. So, too, that of the Utsuls who number approximately 5,000. In this country, they are considered an “undistinguished ethnic group”. An important discussion swirls around their origin. Were their ancestors Muslims who arrived here from Central Asia? Or, were they Cham refugees from what is known now as southern Vietnam? Language is key here to the scientists who study the migration of people, their origins, their ancestry, and their culture. And, with most studies, the experts aren’t in agreement. It gets rather controversial and DNA even plays a role in the discussions and discovery. Suffice it to say here, this is a culturally diverse area that you’ve come upon with a rich history and even richer heritage. Perhaps a local person can share a cup of tea with you and give you their version of the story. And, have them check their watch to make sure you get back to the ship on time. Beach traffic can be busy.