¡¡¡¡The Naxi ethnic
minority has a population of 308,839, 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 is plentiful.
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
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.
According to historical documents,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 lord caste.
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
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
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
Naxi 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
Naxi 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.
The Naxi communities had reached
the stage of feudal society long before the nationwide liberation
in 1949, though the stages of development were not the same. In
Lijiang, southern Weixi and Yongsheng counties where a feudal landlord
economy was prevalent, certain factors of capitalism began to take
shape. In Jinjiang and Sanba in Zhongdian County the remnants of
manorial economy could still be found. In northern Weixi and part
of Ninglang counties in Yunnan Province and Yanyuan County in Sichuan
Province, the main form of economy was manorial.
The level of agricultural production
was higher in the landlord economy areas. The landlords and rich
peasants, who accounted for 10 per cent of the population, owned
60 to 70 per cent of the land. They exploited the peasants through
land rent, usury and hiring them as farmhands. The rates of the
rent ranged from 50 to 80 per cent of the crops harvested and the
annual interest rates of the usury reached as much as 300 per cent.
They also exploited the peasants through their privileges, with
the backing of reactionary political rulers. They forced the peasants
to work for them without pay, to present them with gifts, and to
render various kinds of corvee labor.
In the manorial economy areas, the
manorial lords owned almost all the land, water resources, grasslands
and forests. In some places, each peasant had to do as many as 150
days of unpaid labor a year. The manorial lords in the Yongning
area invented 35 pretexts to exploit the peasants. They included
the so-called fish tax, water tax, firewood tax, death tax, and
Under the manorial lord, the commoners
were second-class citizens. Generally, the commoners did not own
any land, and only after they had accepted merciless exploitation,
such as heavy taxes and corvees, were they given a small piece of
land. In this way they actually became serfs tied to the land of
the lords. If they failed to pay their debts or committed crimes,
they could be reduced to the status of household slaves. Completely
under their masters' disposal, they could be sold, bought, exchanged
or given as presents.
During the War of Resistance Against
Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, foreign trade in China's southeastern
coastal area came to a standstill and transport between China and
Myanmur was blockaded by Japan. This resulted in an unprecedented
boosting of Sino-Indian trade, and Lijiang became a trading center
for India, Tibet and China's interior. Millionaire businessmen (some
being Naxis) began to appear.
Lijiang County had a more developed
handicraft industry than the other Naxi areas where landlord economy
predominated. It covered iron, copper, carpentry, tanning, textiles,
papermaking, tailoring, construction and sculpture. Copper articles
and leather products were particularly famous.