Sui people
Ethnie shui 2404a.jpg
A Sui woman in Guizhou, China
Total population
430,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
 China (Guizhou, Guangxi);  Vietnam
Mandarin Chinese, Sui
Buddhism, Taoism

The Sui people (Chinese: 水族; pinyin: Shuǐzú; autonym: ai33 sui33[1]), also spelled as Shui people, are an ethnic group living mostly in Guizhou Province, China. They are counted as one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China.

History and demographics

Bracelet worn by the Sui people
Bracelet worn by the Sui people

The Sui are descended from the ancient Baiyue peoples, who had inhabited southern China before the Han dynasty (Wei 2003:viii). The name "Sui," which means "water" in Chinese, was adopted during the Ming Dynasty.

Today, 93% of all Sui people (322,000 individuals) reside in Guizhou, China, with 63%[2] of them living in Sandu Shui Autonomous County. To the south, 10,000 Sui live around Yingdong village in Rongshui County, Guangxi (Edmondson 2008). Small pockets of Sui people also live in Fuyang and Yiliang Counties, Yunnan. Additionally, there are 120 Sui living in Hồng Quang District, Tuyên Quang Province, northern Vietnam who are the descendants of Sui people who had left Sandu County 8 generations ago (Wei 2003:vii).


Main article: Sui language

The Sui speak a Kra–Dai language, part of the Kam–Sui languages.


Traditional Shui houses in Sandu
Traditional Shui houses in Sandu

The Sui are organized around family clans. Villages usually have a few hundred inhabitants, most of whom have the same family name (Wei 2003:ix).

Traditional Sui houses are usually made of fir or pine, although today the houses are increasingly made with bricks. There are three main types of traditional Sui housing (Wei 2003:ix):

  1. ɣaan2 faaŋ1 (Chinese: ganlan mulou) - The ganlan stilted house, which has two or three stories. The second floor is used for the living quarters whereas the first floor is used primarily as a stable and storage area.
  2. ɣaan2 hum5 - The ground house, which has one story.
  3. The split level house - a "hanging foot" building called diaojiaolou in Chinese. These houses are built on hillsides, with longer pillars supporting the downhill-facing side of the house, and are called "hanging house" (diaojiao) since the pillars supporting the house are sometimes located outside the walls.

If a woman is widowed, she covers her hair with a fabric of white color for three years. The Sui possess a lunar calendar that is initiated in the ninth lunar month. Their funeral services are elaborate and long ceremonies where animal sacrifices are carried out in honor of the dead. Except for fish, Sui villagers usually refrain from eating meat after the death of a person (Wei 2003:xvi).


The staple food of the Sui people is glutinous rice. Supplementary grains and tubers include corn, wheat, barley, millet, and sweet potatoes. Rice is either steamed in a bamboo steamer or cooked in a covered pot over a low fire. Popular rice-based dishes include ʔjut7 (Chinese: zongzi) and cooked glutinous rice with chrysanthemum and puffed rice (Wei 2003:xiv). Sui women also give glutinous rice to relatives when visiting them.

Fish is one of the most important sources of food. Like the Dong people, many Sui raise carp in village fishponds (Wei 2003:xiv). A popular dish consumed during the summer is a kind of sour broth called lu5 hum3. Sui families also regularly hold communal hot pots. Kippered fish (hum3 mom6), kippered meat (hum3 naan4), and the meat of suckling pigs are also popular. Rice spirits are popular among the Sui, and are also consumed during marriages, funerals, festivals, and building raising events. The Sui are also famed for their jiuqian wine.


Festivals include (Wei 2003:xix):

  1. Wangsi in Duyun (Pandong) City
  2. Malian, Layou, Miaocao, Shuidong in Sandu County
  3. Tingpai, Hengfeng, Heyong, Tianxing in Sandu, Libo, Dushan Counties
  4. Zhonghe, Dixiang, Jiuqian in Sandu County
  5. Sandong, Shuinian, Xingxiang in Sandu County.

The bronze drum is often played during festivals, and singing, dancing, slaughtering livestock for food, and giving thanks to family ancestors are typical of these festivals (Wei 2003:xxii).


The Sui are mainly polytheists and practice ancestor worship as well. Shamans were traditionally hired to carry out prayers and sacrifices in the houses of those that were sick or close to death. The Sui religion has more than 900 ghosts and gods that can cause both good fortune or misfortune (Wei 2003:xxii). Some deities and legendary figures are also borrowed from Chinese folk religion.

The Sui people have a wide array of taboos and superstitions, such as (Wei 2003:xxiv-xxv):


Provincial level

Distribution by province
Region Sui Percentage
Guizhou Province 369,723 90.86%
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Province 15,476 3.80%
Yunnan Province 12,533 3.08%
Jiangsu Province 2,775 0.68%
Guangdong Province 1,948 0.48%
Zhejiang Province 1,421 0.38%
Elsewhere 3,026 0.74%

By county

County-level distribution of the Sui

(Only includes counties or county-equivalents containing >0.5% of China's Sui population.)

Province Prefecture County Sui Population % of China's Sui Population
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Sandu Shui Autonomous County 189.128 46,48 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Libo 35.407 8,70 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Rongjiang 33.678 8,28 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Duyun 32.702 8,04 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Dushan 26.299 6,46 %
Yunnan Qujing Fuyuan 10.567 2,6 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Danzhai 10.501 2,58 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Leishan 5.227 1,28 %
Guizhou Liupanshui Pan 5.164 1,27 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Liping 4.710 1,16 %
Guizhou Liupanshui Shuicheng 3.875 0,95 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Congjiang 3.300 0,81 %
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture Jianhe 3.293 0,81 %
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Liuzhou Rongshui Miao Autonomous County 3.183 0,78 %
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Hechi Nandan 3.083 0,76 %
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Hechi Yizhou 2.160 0,53 %
Guizhou Bijie Qianxi 2.102 0,52 %
Others 32.523 7,99 %


Sui oral literature is rich in myths, songs, and folk tales. The list below is from Wei (2003:xxvi).

Excerpts of Sui songs can also be found in Fang-Kuei Li's 1977 book Shuihua yanjiu (Research on the Sui language).

See also


  1. ^ Diller, Anthony, Jerold A. Edmondson, and Yongxian Luo eds. 2008. The Tai–Kadai Languages. Routledge Language Family Series. Psychology Press.
  2. ^ "全国唯一的水族自治县——三都宣告脱贫-新华网". Archived from the original on August 9, 2020. Retrieved 2021-02-24.