Naxi Ethnic Minority
Naxi ethnic minority has a population of 277,800, most of
whom live in concentrated communities in the Lijiang Naxi
Autonomous County in Yunnan Province, the rest being scattered
in Weixi, Zhongdian, Ninglang, Deqin, Yongsheng, Heqing, Jianchuan
and Lanping counties in Yunnan Province, as well as Yanyuan,
Yanbian and Muli counties in Sichuan Province. A small number
live in Mangkang County of Tibet Autonomous Region.
The Naxi areas, traversed by
the Jinsha, Lancang and Yalong rivers, and the
Yunling, Xueshan and Yulong mountain ranges, have
a complicated terrain. There are cold mountainous
areas, uplands, basins, rivers and valleys, averaging
2,700 meters above sea level. The climate varies
from cold and temperate to subtropical. Rainfall
Agriculture is the main occupation
of the Naxi people. The chief crops are rice,
maize, wheat, potatoes, beans, hemp and cotton.
The bend of the Jinsha River is heavily forested,
and Yulong Mountain is known at home and abroad
as a "flora storehouse." The extensive
dense forests contain Chinese fir, Korean pine,
Yunnan pine and other valuable trees, as well
as many varieties of herbs including fritillary
bulbs, Chinese caterpillar fungus and musk.
There are rich reserves of such
non-ferrous metals as gold, silver, copper, aluminum
and manganese. Water resources are abundant.
The Naxi language belongs to
the Chinese-Tibetan language family. More than
1,000 years ago, the Naxi people had already created
pictographic characters called the "Dongba"
script and a syllabic writing known as the "Geba"
script. With these scripts they recorded a lot
of beautiful folklore, legends, poems and religious
classics. However, they were difficult to master,
and in 1957 the government helped the Naxi design
an alphabetic script. Over the past few hundred
years, as the Naxi people have come into closer
contact with the people in other parts of China
politically, economically and culturally, the
oral and written Chinese has become an important
means of communication in Naxi society.
to historical documents, the forefathers of the Naxi people
were closely related to a tribe called "Maoniu Yi" in the
Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), "Mosha Yi" in the Jin Dynasty
(265-420) and "Moxie Yi" in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Between the early 10th century
and the middle of the 13th century, production
in the Lijiang area underwent marked changes,
as agriculture replaced livestock breeding as
the main occupation of the people. Scores of agricultural,
handicraft, mineral and livestock products were
turned out, and the county presented a picture
of prosperity. During that period, a number of
slave-owning groups in Ninglang, Lijiang and Weixi
counties gradually grew into a feudal manorial
In 1278 the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368)
established Lijiang Prefecture representing the
imperial court in Yunnan Province. This resulted
in closer links between the Lijiang area and the
center of the empire.
In the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644),
the leader of the Naxi people, named Mude, was
made the hereditary chieftain of Lijiang Prefecture,
exercising control over the Naxi people and other
ethnic groups in the vicinity. Throughout the
Ming Dynasty, the hereditary chieftains from the
Mu family kept taxes and tribute flowing to the
Ming court in the form of silver and grain. The
Ming, in turn, relied on the Mu family as the
mainstay for the control of the people of various
ethnic groups in northwestern Yunnan Province.
Later, with the development
of the productive forces, buying, selling and
renting of land began to take place in the Naxi
areas, marking the beginning of a landlord economy.
From 1723, during the Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911), hereditary local chieftains in the
Lijiang area began to be replaced by court officials
and the hereditary chieftain surnamed Mu thus
became the local administrator.
Art and Literature
literature is rich in form and content. Besides works by Naxi
scholars and writers, there is a repository of oral folk literature.
"Genesis," "The Rich Steal Oxen," "Revenge" and "Song of Elopement"
are characterized by simple and fresh expressions, and distinctive
national flavor. The "Dongba Scripture," a religious work,
dates back to the Tang Dynasty. Written in the pictographic
script, it describes the various aspects of life of the Naxi
people during their long transition from slavery to feudalism.
It is extremely important for the study of Naxi literature,
history and religion.
The Naxis are fond of singing
and dancing, especially at weddings and funerals.
The most popular songs are descriptive and short.
They are sung at very high pitch and with strong
rhythms, to the accompaniment of simple dances.
The most common musical instruments are flutes,
reed pipes and wind-string instruments. The ancient
musical piece, "Baishaxiyue," which
dates back to the Yuan Dynasty, was rediscovered
and preserved after the founding of the People's
Republic of China.
Naxi architecture, sculpture
and painting have reached fairly high standards.
Moreover, they are mixed with the traditional
styles of the Hans and Tibetans. Some famous buildings
preserved in Lijiang, such as the "Dabao
Palace," "Glazed Hall," "Dading
Pavilion" and "Five-Phoenix Chamber,"
were all built during the Ming Dynasty. All the
murals in these buildings have the concise and
harmonious strokes of Tibetan painting, and the
style of Taoist and Buddhist paintings of the
Tang Dynasty. Modern Naxi painting has made fresh
progress since 1949
Before 1949, most Naxi people
were followers of the "Dongba" religion,
which was a form of Shamanism. Sorcerers, called
"Dongba," were invited to chant scriptures
at weddings, funerals, the New Year Day and other
festivals. Some of the Naxis were followers of
Lamaism. Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity only
had limited access to the Lijiang area.
Customs and Habits
women wear wide-sleeved loose gowns, with jackets and long
trousers, tied with richly decorated belts at the waist. They
often wear sheepskin slung over the shoulder, on which are
seven stars exquisitely embroidered, with sun and moon symbols,
one on each side. This reflects the Naxis'admiration for diligence
-- "people start working early in the morning and do not stop
until late in the evening." Women in Ninglang County wear
short jackets and long skirts reaching the ground, with many
folds. They wrap large black cotton turbans around their heads
and wear big silver earrings. Men's garments are similar to
those of the Han people.
The traditional festivals include
the "Farm-Tool Fair" in January, "God
of the Rain Festival" in March, and "Mule
and Horse Fair" in July. There are also the
Lunar New Year, the Pure Brightness Festival,
the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival
and the Torch Festival -- all being the same as
those of the Hans.
Cremation has been a tradition
since ancient times, but in some of the Naxi areas
the custom of burying the dead was adopted in
the late Qing Dynasty. It was common in the past
to chant scriptures at the funeral ceremony to
expiate the sins of the dead.
The monogamous family under
the feudal landlord economy was the main type
of Naxi family in Lijiang, Weixi and Yongsheng
counties before liberation. However, the man enjoyed
a predominant status in the family while the woman
had little say and was denied the right to inherit
property. Young people's marriages were all arranged
by their parents.
Among some of the Naxi people
in Yongning County in Yunnan Province and Yanyuan
County in Sichuan Province, there still existed
remnants of a matriarchal family structure until
the eve of the democratic reform after liberation.
The pedigree of the family was traced back through
the maternal line, and children lived with the
mother. The woman was the head of the family,
and the property was passed to the children through
the mother, or to the nephews through the mother's
brothers. Women comprised the main labor force,
respected at home and in outside society.