¡¡¡¡The Lisu ethnic
group numbers 634,912 people, and most of them live in concentrated
communities in Bijiang, Fugong, Gongshan and Lushui counties of
the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern Yunnan Province.
The rest are scattered in Lijiang, Baoshan, Diqing, Dehong, Dali,
Chuxiong prefectures or counties in Yunnan Province as well as in
Xichang and Yanbian counties in Sichuan Province, living in small
communities with the Han, Bai, Yi and Naxi peoples.
The Lisu language belongs to the Chinese-Tibetan
language family. In 1957, a new alphabetic script was created for
the Lisu people.
The Lisus inhabit a mountainous
area slashed by rivers. It is flanked by Gaoligong Mountain on the
west and Biluo Mountain on the east, both over 4,000 meters above
sea level. The Nujiang River and the Lancang River flow through
the area, forming two big valleys. The average annual temperature
along the river basins ranges between 17 and 26 degrees Centigrade,
and the annual rainfall averages 2,500 millimeters. Main farm crops
are maize, rice, wheat, buckwheat, sorghum and beans. Cash crops
include ramie, lacquer trees and sugarcane. Many parts of the mountains
are covered with dense forests, famous for their China firs. In
addition to rare animals, the forests yield many medicinal herbs
including the rhizome of Chinese gold thread and the bulb of fritillary.
The Lisu area also has abundant mineral and water resources.
According to historical records and
folk legend, the forbears of the Lisu people lived along the banks
of the Jinsha River and were once ruled by "Wudeng" and
"Lianglin," two powerful tribes. After the 12th century,
the Lisu people came under the rule of the Lijiang Prefectural Administration
of the Yuan Dynasty, and in the succeeding Ming Dynasty, under the
rule of the Lijiang district magistrate with the family surname
During the 1820s, the Qing government
sent officials to Lijiang, Yongsheng and Huaping, areas where the
Lisus lived in compact communities, to replace Naxi and Bai hereditary
chieftains. This practice speeded up the transformation of the feudal
manorial economy to a landlord economy, and tightened up the rule
of the Qing court over Lisu and other ethnic groups. In the years
preceding and following the turn of the 20th century, large numbers
of Han, Bai and Naxi peoples moved to the Nujiang River valleys,
taking with them iron farm tools and more advanced production techniques,
giving an impetus to local production.
For a long time the Lisus, under oppression
and exploitation by landlords, chieftains and headmen, as well as
the Kuomintang and foreign imperialists, led a miserable life. In
Eduoluo Village of Bijiang County alone, 237 peasants out of the
village's 1,000 population were tortured to death in the 10 years
prior to liberation by local officials, chieftains, headmen or landlords.
The Lisus also suffered exorbitant taxes and levies. The household
tax, for example, was 21 kilograms of maize per capita, accounting
for 21 per cent of the annual grain harvest. Moreover, there were
unscrupulous merchants and usurers. The arrival of imperialist influence
at the turn of the 20th century put the Lisus in a far worse plight.
During the period between the 18th
and 19th century, the Lisus waged many struggles against oppression.
From 1941 to 1943, together with the Hans, Dais and Jingpos, they
heroically resisted the Japanese troops invading western Yunnan
Province and succeeded in preventing the aggressors from crossing
the Nujiang River, contributing to the defense of China's frontier.
Socio-economic Conditions Before 1949
social economy in the various Lisu areas was at different levels
before China¡¯s national liberation in 1949. In Lijiang, Dali, Baoshan,
Weixi, Lanping and Xichang, areas closer to China's interior, a
feudal landlord economy was prevalent, with productivity approaching
the level in neighboring Han and Bai areas. Some medium and small
slave-owners had appeared from among the Lisus living around the
Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains, taking up agriculture or
part-agriculture and part-hunting, and using ploughs in farming.
As for the Lisus living in Bijiang,
Fugong, Gongshan and Lushui, the four counties around the Nujiang
River valley, their productivity was comparatively low. They had
to make up for their scanty agricultural output by collecting fruits
and wild vegetables and hunting. Their simple production tools consisted
of iron and bamboo implements. Slash-and-burn was practiced. The
division of social labor was not distinct, and handicrafts and commerce
had not yet been separated from agriculture. Bartering was in practice.
Some primitive markets began to appear in Bijiang and Fugong counties.
Improvement in productivity brought
about changes in ownership. Prior to 1949, private ownership of
land had been established in the four counties around the Nujiang
River valley, though landholding was generally small. The rural
population had split up into classes, but the remnants of primitive
public ownership and patriarchal slavery still existed. Land ownership
was in three main forms: private ownership by individual peasants,
ownership by the clan, and public ownership by the clan or village.
Among the three, the first was dominant, while the second was a
transitional form from the primitive public ownership of land to
private ownership. Only a small portion of land was publicly owned.
As a result of the penetration of landlord
economic factors and the instability of the small peasant economy,
more and better land came under the ownership by some clans, village
chieftains or rich households. An increasing number of poor peasants
became landless. They lived on rented land or as hired farmhands.
Patriarchal slavery existed in the
Nujiang River area in the period between the 16th century and the
beginning of the 20th century. The slaves were generally regarded
as family members or "adopted children." They lived, ate
and worked with their masters, and some of the slaves could buy
back their freedom. The masters could buy and sell slaves, but had
no power over their lives. The slaves were not stratified. All these
reflected the characteristics of exploitation under the early slavery
In post-1949 days, the remnant of the
clan system could still be found among the Lisus in the Nujiang
River valley. There were more than a dozen clans there, each with
a different name. They included Tiger, Bear, Monkey, Snake, Sheep,
Chicken, Bird, Fish, Mouse, Bee, Buckwheat, Bamboo, Teak, Frost
and Fire. The names also served as their totems. Within each clan,
except for a feeling of kinship, individual households had little
economic links with one another.
The clan and village commune played
an important part in practical life. The "ka," or village,
meant a place where a group of close relatives lived together. Some
villages were composed of families of different clans. Every village
had a commonly acknowledged headman, generally an influential elderly
man. His job was to settle disputes within the clan, give leadership
in production, preside over sacrificial ceremonies, declare clan
warfare externally, sign alliances with other villages, collect
tributes for the imperial court. Under the rule of a chieftain,
such headmen were appointed his assistants. When the Kuomintang
came, they became the heads of districts, townships or "bao"
(10 households). When there was a war, the various communal villages
might form a temporary alliance; when the war was over, the alliance
Apart from common ownership of land
and working on it together, clan members helped one another in daily
life. When there was wine or pork, they shared it. When a girl got
married, they shared the betrothal gifts given to her parents; and
when a young man took in a wife, the betrothal gifts for the bride's
family were borne by all. Debts too, were to be paid by all. These
collective rights and obligations in production and daily life made
it possible for clan relations to continue for a long time.
In the past the Lisu people worshipped
many gods, nature and a multitude of other things. This appeared
to be a remnant of totemism. Religious professionals made a living
by offering sacrifices to ghosts and fortune-telling. During the
religious activities, animals were slaughtered and a large sum of
money spent. In the middle of the 19th century, Christianity and
Catholicism were spread into the area by Western missionaries.
Customs and Habits
The monogamous family was the basic
unit of Lisu society. Sons left their parents and supported their
own families after getting married. The youngest or only son remained
with the parents to take care of them and inherit property. The
daughter had no right of inheritance but could take her husband
into her parents' home instead of being married off. Marriages were
arranged by parents, with enormous betrothal gifts.
The dead were buried. Generally the
village or the clan had its own common graveyard. For a man, the
cutting knives, bows and quivers he had used when alive were buried
with him. For a woman, burial objects were her weaving tools, hemp-woven
bags and cooking utensils, to be hung by her grave. When an elderly
man or woman died, the whole village stopped working for two or
three days. People tendered condolences to the bereaved family,
bringing along wine and meat. Generally the mound on the burial
ground was piled one year after the burial, and respects to the
dead were paid three years after the burial, and offerings ended.
In most areas the Lisu people wear
home-spun hemp clothes. Women put on short dresses and long skirts.
Their heads are decorated with red and white glass beads and their
chests with necklaces formed by strings of colored beads. Men wear
short dresses and pants reaching the knee. Some of them wear black
turban. A cutting knife dangles at a man's left waist, and a quiver
hangs at his right waist.
Their main staple foods are maize and
buckwheat. Hunting yields abundant meat. During their major festivals,
they slaughter oxen and pigs. Both men and women are heavy drinkers.
The Lisu people live in two types of
house. One is of wooden structure, with the four sides formed with
12-foot-long pieces of timber, and on top of them is a cover of
wooden planks. It looks like a wooden box. The other is of bamboo-wooden
structure, supported by 20 to 30 wooden stakes and surrounded with
bamboo fences, with a thatched or wooden roof. In the center of
the house is a big fireplace.
The festivals of the Lisus living closer
to the hinterland are nearly the same as those of the Han, Bai,
Naxi and other peoples around. During the Lunar New Year, the first
thing they do is to feed their cattle with salt to show respect
for their labor. They have the Torch Festival in the sixth month
of the year, and the Mid-Autumn Festival in the eighth month. The
Lisus in the Nu River and Weixi areas enjoy their "Harvest
Festival" in the 10th month, during which people exchange gifts
of wine and pork. They sing and dance till dawn.
Life After Liberation in 1949
The Chinese People's Liberation Army
liberated the vast area in northwestern Yunnan Province in early
1950, bringing a new life to the Lisu people.
In August 1954 the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous
District was established, covering Lushui, Bijiang, Fugong and Gongshan
counties. The autonomous district was changed into an autonomous
prefecture in January 1957, and Lanping County, too, was placed
under its jurisdiction.