¡¡¡¡The Nu ethnic minority, numbering some 28,759,
live mainly in Yunnan Province's Bijiang, Fugong, Gongshan and Lanping
counties, which comprise the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture.
Others are found in Weixi County in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous
The Nu people speak a language belonging
to the Tibetan-Myanmese group of the Chinese-Tibetan language family.
It has no written form, and, like many of their ethnic minority
neighbors, the Nus used to keep records by carving notches on sticks;
educated Nus nowadays use the Han language (Chinese) for administrative
The Nu homeland is a country of high
mountains and deep ravines crossed by the Lancang, Dulong and Nujiang
rivers. The famous Grand Nujiang Canyon is surrounded by mountains,
which reach 3,000 meters above sea level. Dense virgin forests of
pines and firs cover the mountain slopes and are the habitat of
tigers, leopards, bears, deer, giant hawks and pheasants.
The area is rich in mineral deposits
and valuable medicinal herbs. In addition, with a warm climate and
plentiful rain, it promises great hydroelectric potential.
Origins and History
In the eighth century,
the area inhabited by the Nus came under the jurisdiction of the
Nanzhao and Dali principalities, which were tributary to the Tang
(618-907) court. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties it came under
the rule of a Naxi headman in Lijiang. From the 17th century, rulers
comprised various Tibetan and Bai headmen and Tibetan lamaseries.
These rulers usurped the Nus' land and carried many of them off
From the mid-1850s, the British colonialists
who had conquered Myanmur pushed up the Nujiang River valley. They
were followed by American, French and German adventurers. This caused
friction with the Nu and other minority peoples in the area, such
as the Lisu, Tibetan and Drung ethnic minorities. In 1907, these
peoples banded together to stage a mass uprising against the encroachments
of French missionaries.
Culture and Customs
Before the founding of the People¡¯s
Republic of China in 1949, social development was uneven among the
various Nu communities. The Nu people in Lanping and Weixi counties
had long entered the feudal stage, and their methods of production
and standard of living were similar to those of the Hans, Bais and
Naxis. There were vestiges of primitive communalism in the Nu communities
in Bijiang, Fugong and Gongshan, where private ownership and class
polarization had only just begun.
Bamboo and wooden farm tools were the
main implements of production, and major crops were maize, buckwheat,
barley, Tibetan barley, potatoes, yams and beans. Output was low,
as fertilizer was not used and crop techniques were primitive. The
annual grain harvest was some 100 kg short of the per capita need
and the diet was supplemented by hunting and fishing using bows
and poisoned arrows.
Industry was represented by handicraft
products made on a cottage-industry basis -- linen, bamboo and wooden
articles, iron tools, and liquor. Surplus handicrafts were bartered
for necessities in the small markets.
Before China¡¯s national liberation
in 1949, land ownership took three forms: primitive communal type,
private and group-ownership. The older Nu villages in Bijiang and
Fugong retained vestiges of the ancient patriarchal clan system;
there were ten clan communes located in ten separate villages, which
each had communal land. According to a 1953 survey, a landlord economy
had emerged in Bijiang County, with an increasing number of land
sales, mortgages and leases. In some places, rich peasants exploited
their poorer neighbors by a system called "washua," under
which peasants labored in semi-serf conditions. Slavery was practiced
in a fraudulent form of son adoption.
Monogamy was the general practice,
although a few wealthy landlords and commune headmen sometimes had
more than one wife. After marriage, men would move out of the family
dwelling and set up a new household with some of the family property.
The new family, however, still retained a cooperative relationship
with the parental family and the whole clan. The youngest son lived
with his parents and inherited their property. Women had low social
status, doing the household chores and working in the fields but
having no economic rights at all.
The traditional burial forms dictated
that males be buried face upward with straight limbs, while females
lay sideways with bent limbs. In the case of a dead couple, the
female was made to lie on her side facing the man and with bent
limbs -- symbolizing the submission of the female to the male. When
an adult died, all the members of the clan or village commune observed
three days of mourning.
The Nus live in wooden or bamboo houses,
each usually consisting of two rooms. The outer one is for guests
and also serves as the kitchen. In the middle is the fireplace,
with an iron or stone tripod for hanging cooking pots from. The
inner room is used as a bedroom and grain storage, and is off-limits
to outsiders. The houses are built by the common efforts of all
the villagers and are usually erected in one day.
Until the mid-20th century,
both men and women wore linen clothes. Girls after puberty wore
long skirts and jackets with buttons on the right side. Nu women
in Gongshan wrapped themselves in two pieces of linen cloth and
stuck elaborately-worked bamboo tubes through their pierced ears.
Married women in Bijiang and Fugong wore coral, agate, shell and
silver coin ornaments in their hair and on their chests. For earrings
they used shoulder-length copper rings. Besides, all Nu women like
to adorn themselves with thin rattan bracelets, belts and anklets.
Nu men wear linen gowns and shorts, and carry axes and bows and
The staple food of the Nus is maize
and buckwheat. They rarely grow vegetables. In the past, just before
the summer harvest they had to gather wild plants to keep alive.
Both men and women drink large quantities of strong liquor.
The Nus were animists, and objects
of worship included the sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, trees
and rocks. The shamans were often clan or commune chiefs and practiced
divination to ensure good harvests. Apart from that, their duties
also included primitive medicine and the handing down of the tribe's
folklore. Any small mishap was the occasion for holding an elaborate
appeasement rite, involving huge waste and hardship to the Nu people.
In addition, Lamaism and Christianity had made some headway among
the Nus before liberation.
The Nus practice an extempore type
of singing accompanied on the lute, flute, mouth organ or reed pipe.
Their dances are bold and energetic -- mainly imitations of animal
China¡¯s national liberation came to
the Nu areas in 1950. Local governments gave out free food grains,
seeds, farm implements and articles of daily use to the Nu people
to help them tide over their difficulties and boost production.
In 1954 the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture was established,
which had under its jurisdiction the counties of Bijiang, Fugong,
Gongshan, Lushui and Lanping (this last incorporated in 1957). On
October 1, 1956 the Gongshan Drung and Nu Autonomous County was
The pace of social reform varied in
the different Nu areas. For instance, in the more-developed Lanping
County, where feudalism had gained a strong hold, land reform was
carried out, followed by the establishment of cooperatives in 1956.
In Bijiang, Fugong and Gongshan counties, where vestiges of primitive
communalism still survived, the government adopted a policy of first
developing production and then gradually eliminating exploitation
and primitive practices.
People from outside were sent
in to promote advanced production techniques, and start up educational
and public health projects. Special funds were earmarked for irrigation
projects, land reclamation, paddy-field development and sideline
Light industries and mining, too, have
gained a foothold among the Nus, and grain production has increased
several times owing to the transformation of poor land into paddy
fields. The formerly isolated Nu communities are now linked to each
other by a network of highways, and some 20 chain bridges now span
the Nujiang, Lancang and Dulong rivers.
At the time of the mid-20th
century, only about 20 people of Nu origin had received primary
education. Now there are primary schools in all townships and most
villages, and a middle school in every county. The majority of Nu
children are in school.
Four hospitals and a network of clinics
and community healthcare centers have done much to control dysentery,
typhoid, cholera and other epidemics.