The Yi ethnic group,
with a population of 7,762,286, is mainly distributed over the provinces
of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou, and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous
Region. There are more than one million Yis in Sichuan Province, and
most of them live in an area south of the Dadu River and along the
Anning River. Traditionally, this area is subdivided into the Greater
Liangshan Mountain area, which lies east of the Anning River and south
of the Huangmao Dyke, and the Lesser Liangshan Mountain area, which
covers the Jinsha River valley and the south bank of the Dadu River.
There are over a million Yis in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture,
which holds the single largest Yi community in China. Yunnan Province
has more than three million Yis, most of whom are concentrated in
an area hemmed in by the Jinsha and Yuanjiang rivers, and the Ailao
and Wuliang mountains. Huaping, Ninglang and Yongsheng in western
Yunnan form what is known as the Yunnan Lesser Liangshan Mountain
area. In Guizhou, more than half a million Yis live in compact communities
in Anshun and Bijie. Several thousand Yis live in Longlin and Mubian
counties in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Most Yis are scattered in mountain
areas, some in frigid mountain areas at high altitudes, and a small
number live on flat land or in valleys. The altitudinal differences
of the Yi areas directly affect their climate and precipitation.
Their striking differences have given rise to the old saying that
"the weather is different a few miles away" in the Yi
area. This is the primary reason why the Yis in various areas are
so different from one another in the ways they make a living.
The Yi areas are rich in natural resources.
The Jinsha River running through Sichuan and Yunnan and its tributaries
surging through the Yi areas in northern and northeastern Yunnan
are enormous sources of water power. The Yi areas are not only rich
in coal and iron, but are also among China's major producers of
non-ferrous metals. Gejiu, China's famous tin center, reared the
first generation of Yi industrial workers. Various Yi areas in the
Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains, western Guizhou, and eastern
and southern Yunnan abound in dozens of mineral resources, including
gold, silver, aluminum, manganese, antimony and zinc. Vast forests
stretch across the Yi areas, where Yunnan pine, masson pine, dragon
spruce, Chinese pine and other timber trees, lacquer, tea, camphor,
kapok and other trees of economic value grow in great numbers. The
forests teem with wild animals and plants as well as pilose antler,
musk, bear gallbladders and medicinal herbs such as poris
cocos and pseudoginseng.
The Yi language belongs to the Tibetan-Myanmese
Language Group of the Chinese-Tibetan Language Family, and the Yis
speak six dialects. Many Yis in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi know
the Han (standard Chinese or Mandarin) language. The Yis used to
have a syllabic script called the old Yi language, which was formed
in the 13th century. It is estimated that the extant old Yi script
has about 10,000 words, of which 1,000 are words of everyday use.
A number of works of history, literature and medicine as well as
genealogies of the ruling families written in the old Yi script
are still seen in most Yi areas. Many stone tablets and steles carved
in the old Yi script remain intact. Since the old Yi language is
not consistent in word form and pronunciation, it was reformed after
liberation for use in books and newspapers.
Historical records written in the Han
and the old Yi languages show that the ancestors of the Yi, Bai,
Naxi, Lahu and Lisu ethnic groups were closely related with ancient
Di and Qiang people in west China. In the period between the 2nd
century B.C. and the early Christian era, the activities of the
ancient Yis centered around the areas of Dianchi in Yunnan and Qiongdou
in Sichuan. After the 3rd century, the ancient Yis extended their
activities from the Anning River valley, the Jinsha River, the Dianchi
Lake and the Ailao Mountains to northeastern Yunnan, southern Yunnan,
northwestern Guizhou and northwestern Guangxi.
In the Eastern Han (25-220), Wei (220-265)
and Jin (265-420) dynasties, inhabitants in these areas came to
be known as "Yi," the character for which meant "barbarian."
After the Jin Dynasty, the Yis of the clan named Cuan became rulers
of the Dianchi area, northeastern
Yunnan and the Honghe (Red) River area. Later those places
were called "Cuan areas" which fell into the east and
west parts. The inhabitants there belonged to tribes speaking the
In the Tang and Song dynasties, the
Yis living in "East Cuan" were called "Wumans."
In different historical periods, "Cuan" changed from the
surname of a clan to the name of a place, and further to the name
of a tribe. In the Yuan and Ming dynasties, "Cuan" was
often used to refer to the Yis. After the Yuan Dynasty, part of
"Cuan" acquired the name "Luoluo" (Ngolok),
which probably originated from "Luluman," one of the seven
"Wuman" tribes in the Tang Dynasty. From that time on,
most Yis called themselves "Luoluo," although many different
appellations existed. This name lasted from the Ming and Qing dynasties
Ancient Yis experienced a long primitive
society in the Stone Age. Legends and records written in the old
Yi script show that the Yis went through a matriarchal age in ancient
times. Annals of the Yis in the Southwest records
that the Yi people in ancient times "only knew mothers and
not fathers," and that "women ruled for six generations
in a row." Patriarchy came into being at least 2,000 years
Roughly in the 2nd and 3rd centuries
B.C., the Yis living around the Dianchi Lake in Yunnan entered class
society. In the early Han Dynasty, prefectures were set up in this
area, and the chief of the Yi people was granted the title "King
of Dian" with a seal. Around the 8th century, a slave state
named "Nanzhao" was established in the northern Ailao
Mountain and the Erhai areas, with the Yis as the main body and
the Bai and Naxi nationalities included. The head of the state was
granted the title "King of Yunnan." In the same period,
"Luodian" and other groups of slave owners and regimes
appeared in the Yi areas in Guizhou. In 937, the state of "Dali"
superseded "Nanzhao," when it collapsed under the blows
of slave and peasant uprisings. From then on, the slave system of
the Yis in Yunnan gradually disintegrated.
After the 13th century, "Dali"
and "Luodian" were conquered one after the other by the
Yuan Dynasty, which set up regional, prefectural and county governments
and military and civil administrations in the Yi areas in Yunnan,
Guizhou and Sichuan, appointing hereditary headmen to rule the local
inhabitants. By the end of the Yuan Dynasty, the feudal economy
of the Yi landlords in Yunnan had developed rapidly, but remnants
of the manorial economy and slavery still existed to varying extents
in the secluded areas. The Ming Dynasty used both administrative
officials from elsewhere and local hereditary headmen, and some
of the governments consisted of both types of administrators, expanding
the influence of the feudal landlord economy. The large number of
Han immigrants also promoted economic growth in the Li areas. The
Qing Dynasty abolished the system of appointing hereditary headmen
and confirmed the appointment of administrative officials. This
enhanced its direct rule over the Yi areas, hastened the disintegration
of the manorial economy and firmly established the feudal landlord
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The Yi people have a glorious
tradition of revolutionary struggle. In the recent 100 years or
more the Yis waged powerful anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles
as well as those against slave owners. Influenced by the Taiping
Revolution (1851-1864), the struggles waged by the Yis and other
nationalities against the Qing government lasted more than a decade.
In 1935, the Chinese Red Army pushed
north to resist the Japanese invaders. The troops on the historic
Long March passed through the Yi areas, leaving a good and deep
impression on the Yis wherever they went. On their way through northwestern
Guizhou and northeastern Yunnan, the Red Army cracked down on local
tyrants, wicked gentry and corrupt officials, and opened their barns
to relieve the starving Yis. The Red Army distributed confiscated
grain, salt, ham, clothes and other such goods among the Yis and
people of other ethnic groups, who in return gave enthusiastic assistance
to it. Many young Yis joined the Army.
After crossing the Jinsha River, the
Red Army pushed towards the Dadu River in two prongs from Yuexi
and Mianning. Supported by the Army, the Yis and Hans in Mianning
established the Worker-Peasant-Soldier Democratic Government of
the county, formed revolutionary troops, abolished the "hostage
system" imposed by the Kuomintang government, and set free
several hundred Yi headmen and their relatives held as hostages.
The Red Army strictly observed discipline, firmly implemented the
Chinese Communist Party's policy for minority groups, declared that
it aimed to emancipate the minority groups, and proclaimed that
all poor Yis and Hans were kith
and kin. It called on the Yi people to unite with the Red
Army and overthrow the warlords and fight for national equality.
Inspired by the Red Army's policies, Yuedan the Junior, the chieftain
of a Yi clan in Mianning County, entered into alliance with the
Red Army General Liu Bocheng. Helped by the Yis and the chieftain,
the Red Army troops passed through the Yi areas without a hitch
and won the victory of capturing the Luding Bridge and forcing the
Conditions in the Past
Socio-economic development in the Yi
areas was lopsided before liberation, due to oppression and exploitation
by the reactionary ruling class, as well as historical and geographical
differences. The socio-economic structure fell by and large into
two types -- feudalism and slavery. Most of the Yis in Yunnan, Guizhou
and Guangxi had entered feudal society earlier on, and a developed
landlord economy had emerged in most areas except for remnants of
the manorial economy in some areas of northeastern Yunnan and northwestern
Guizhou. Certain elements of capitalism had appeared in the Yi areas
along the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway and the Gejiu-Bisezhai-Shiping
Railway. Slavery remained intact for a long time in the Greater
Liangshan Mountain area in Sichuan and the Lesser Liangshan Mountain
area in Yunnan.
The Yi people in Yunnan, Guizhou and
Guangxi, who were under feudal rule, were mainly engaged in agriculture
and animal husbandry. The growth of handicraft industries and commerce
varied from place to place. Generally speaking, the production level
of Yis living near cities and towns was approximate to that of local
Hans, but was much lower in mountain areas.
Landlords accounted for 5 per cent
of the population in those areas, and poor peasants and farmhands
60 to 80 per cent. The land possessed by landlords was on the average
10 times or several dozen times the amount owned by poor peasants,
who were subjected to cruel feudal exploitation. Land rent paid
in kind reached 60 to 70 per cent of the harvest and tenants had
to bear heavy corvee and miscellaneous levies.
Though the system of appointing hereditary
headmen in northeastern Yunnan and northwestern Guizhou was abolished
in the Qing Dynasty, some local tyrants, until liberation in 1949,
used political power and influence in their hands to bully and exploit
peasants as slave owners did, treating poor peasants as serfs.
Slavery kept production at an extremely
low level for a long time in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountain
areas in Sichuan and Yunnan. While agriculture was the main line
of production, land lay waste and production declined strikingly.
Slash-and-burn cultivation was still practiced in some mountain
areas. The lack of irrigation facilities and adequate manure, coupled
with heavy soil erosion, lowered average grain output to less than
a ton per hectare. Animal husbandry was a major sideline with sheep
making up a large part of the livestock. The rate of propagation
was very low due to extensive grazing and management.
For many centuries, barter was the
form of trading among the Yis in the Liangshan Mountain areas. Goods
for exchange mainly included livestock and grain. Salt, cloth, hardware,
needles and threads and other daily necessities were available only
in places where Yis and Hans lived together. Occasionally, some
Han merchants, guaranteed safe-conduct by Yi headmen, carried goods
into the Liangshan Mountain areas. At the risk of being captured
and turned into slaves, they went and often made a net profit of
more than 100 per cent. Suffering from a severe shortage of means
of production and of subsistence, the Yis had to endure heavy exploitation
in order to get a little essential goods. One hen was worth only
a needle, and a sheepskin only a handful of salt. Many slaves had
to go without salt all the year round.
Due to complex historical reasons,
the slave system of the Yis in the Liangshan Mountains lasted till
Before 1949, the Yis in the Liangshan
Mountain areas were stratified into four different ranks -- "Nuohuo,"
"Qunuo," "Ajia" and "Xiaxi." The demarcation
between the masters and the slaves was insurmountable. The rank
of "Nuohuo" was determined by blood lineage and remained
permanent, the other ranks could never
move up to the position of rulers.
"Nuohuo," meaning "black
Yi," was the highest rank of society. Being the slave-owning
class, Nuohuo made up 7 per cent of the total population. The black
Yis controlled people of the other three ranks to varying degrees,
and owned 60 to 70 per cent of the arable land and a large amount
of other means of production. The black Yis were born aristocrats,
claiming their blood to be "noble" and "pure,"
and forbidding marriages with people of the other three ranks. They
despised physical labour, lived by exploiting the other ranks and
ruled the slaves by force.
"Qunuo," meaning "white
Yi," was the highest rank of the ruled and made up 50 per cent
of the population. This rank was an appendage to the black Yis personally
and, as subjects under the slave system, they enjoyed relative independence
economically and could control "Ajia" and "Xiaxi"
who were inferior to them. "Qunuo" lived within the areas
governed by the black Yi slave owners, had no freedom of migration,
nor could they leave the areas without the permission of their masters.
They had no complete right of ownership when disposing of their
own property, but were subjected to restrictions by their masters.
They had to pay some fees to their masters when they wanted to sell
their land. The property of a dead person who had no offspring went
to his master. Though the black Yi slave owners could not kill,
sell or buy Qunuo at will, they could transfer or present as a gift
the power of control over Qunuo. They could even give away Qunuo
as the compensation for persons they had killed and use Qunuo as
stakes. So, Qunuo had no complete personality of their own, though
they were not slaves.
"Ajia" made up one third
of the population, being rigidly bound to black Yi or Qunuo slaveowners,
who could freely sell, buy and kill them.
"Xiaxi" was the lowest rank,
accounting for 10 per cent of the population. They had no property,
personal rights or freedom, and were regarded as "talking tools."
They lived in damp and dark corners in their masters' houses, and
at night had to curl up with domestic animal to keep warm. Supervised
by masters, Xiaxi did heavy housework and farm work all the year
round. They wore rags and tattered sheepskins, and lived on wild
roots and leftovers. Slave owners inflicted all sorts of torture
on those who were rebellious, fettered them with iron chains and
wooden shackles to prevent them from escaping. Like domestic animals,
Xiaxi could be freely disposed of as chattels, ordered about, insulted,
beaten up, bought and sold, or killed as sacrifices to gods.
Corvee was the basic form of exploitation
by the slave owners. Qunuo and Ajia must use their own cattle and
tools to cultivate their masters' land. Qunuo had to perform five,
six or more than 10 days of corvee each year. They could send their
slaves to do it or pay a sum of money instead. Corvee performed
by Ajia took up one third to one half of their total working time.
They often had to neglect their own land because of cultivating
the land of their masters. Besides corvee, Qunuo and Ajia had to
take usurious loans imposed by their black Yi masters.
Ordered about to toil like beasts of
burden, the slaves had no interest in production at all. To win
freedom, slaves in the Liangshan Mountain areas resorted to measures
like going slow, destroying tools, maltreating animal, burning their
masters' property and even committing suicidal attacks on their
masters. Though it was hard for slaves in remote mountain areas
to run away, they still tried to escape at the risk of their lives.
Spontaneous and sporadic rebellions staged by slaves against slave
owners never ceased. Organized and collective struggle for personal
rights also grew, and collective anathema often turned into small
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Rigid rules were stipulated for marriages
within the same rank but outside the same clan among the black Yis,
who relied on the "mystery" of blood lineage as a spiritual
pillar. Some 70,000 black Yis in the Liangshan Mountains formed
nearly 100 clans, big or small, of which there were less than 10
big clans each with a male population of more than 1,000. Each clan's
territory was clearly demarcated by mountain ridges or rivers, and
no trespass was tolerated. There were no regular administrative
bodies in the clans, but each had some headmen called "Suyi"
(seniors in charge of public affairs) and "Degu" (seniors
gifted with a silver tongue), who were representatives of the black
Yi slave owners in exercising class dictatorship. They upheld the
interests of the black Yis as a rank, were experienced and knowledgeable
about customary law and capable of shooting trouble. "Degu,"
in particular, enjoyed high prestige inside and outside their clans.
Headmen did not enjoy privileges over and above ordinary clansmen,
nor were their positions hereditary. Important issues in the clans,
such as settling blood feud and suppressing rebellious slaves, must
be discussed at the "Jierjitie" (consultation among the
headmen) or "Mengge" (general conference of the clan membership).
While preserving some of their original
characteristics, the clans under the slave system mainly functioned
as institutions to enforce rank enslavement and exploitation, splitting
and cracking down on slave rebellions internally and plundering
other clans or resisting their pillage externally. When subordinate
ranks staged a rebellion, the black Yi clans would take collective
action against it, or several clans would join hands to suppress
it. Under such circumstances, the unanimity of interests among the
black Yi slave owners fully manifested itself. Strictly controlled
by the black Yi clans, the slaves could hardly run away from the
areas administered by the clans. On the other hand, black Yis often
fought among themselves in order to obtain more slaves, land or
property. It follows that the clan, as an institution, was a force
safeguarding and supporting the privileges of the black Yi slave
The white Yi clans, among the Qunuos
and part of the Ajias, while being similar to the black Yi clans
in form, were actually subordinate to various black Yi clans. Only
a few white Yi clans were not subject to black Yi rule and they
formed what was known as the independent white Yi area. The white
Yi clans succeeded to some extent in protecting their own members,
and at times they would unite in "legitimate" struggles
to defend their own interests and win temporary concessions from
black Yi slave owners. But, under the rule of the black Yi clans,
they became an auxiliary tool of the slave owners to oppress the
slaves. Some clan chieftains of the Qunuo rank were fostered by
slave owners as proxies, called "Jiemoke" in the Yi language,
who collected rents, dunned for repayment of debts and served as
hatchet men, mouthpieces and lackeys for slave owners.
There was no written law for the Yis
in the Liangshan Mountains, but there was an unwritten customary
law which was almost the same in various places. Apart from certain
remnants of the customary law of clan society, this customary law
reflected the characteristics of morality and the social rank system.
It explicitly upheld the rank privileges and ruling position of
the black Yis, claiming that the rule of slave owners was a "perfectly
justified principle." The legal viewpoint of the customary
law was clear-cut. Any personal attacks against black Yis, encroachment
on their private property, violation of the marriage system of the
rank and infringement on the privileges of the black Yis were regarded
as "crimes," and the offenders would be severely punished.
In most Yi areas, maize, buckwheat,
oat and potato were staples. Rice production was limited. Most poor
Yi peasants lived on acorns, banana roots, celery, flowers and wild
herbs all the year round. Salt was scarce. In the Yi areas, potatoes
cooked in plain water, pickled leaf soup, buckwheat bread and cornmeal
were considered good foods, which only the well-to-to Yis could
afford. At festivals, boiled meat with salt was the best food, which
only slaveowners could
Cooking utensils of a distinct ethnic
color, made of wood or leather, have been preserved in some of the
Yi areas. Tubs, plates, bowls and cups, hollowed out of blocks of
wood, are painted in three colors -- black, red and yellow -- inside
and outside, and with patterns of thunderclouds, water waves, bull
eyes and horse teeth. Wine cups are hollowed out of horns or hoofs.
Yi costume is great in variety, with
different designs for different places. In the Liangshan Mountains
and west Guizhou, men wear black jackets with tight sleeves and
right-side askew fronts, and pleated wide-bottomed trousers. Men
in some other areas wear tight-bottomed trousers. They grow a small
patch of hair three or four inches long on the pate, and wear a
turban made of a long piece of bluish cloth. The end of the cloth
is tied into the shape of a thin, long awl jutting out from the
right-hand side of the forehead. They also wear on the left ear
a big yellow and red pearl with a pendant of red silk thread. Beardless
men are considered handsome. Women wear laced or embroidered jackets
and pleated long skirts hemmed with colorful multi-layer laces.
Black Yi women used to wear long skirts reaching to the ground,
and women of other social ranks wore skirts reaching only to the
knee. Some women wear black turbans, while middle-aged and young
women prefer embroidered square kerchiefs with the front covering
the forehead like a rim. They also wear earrings and like to pin
silver flowers on the collar. Men and women, when going outdoors,
wear a kind of dark cape made of wool and hemmed with long tassels
reaching to the knee. In wintertime, they lined their capes with
felt. But few slaves could afford clothes of cotton cloth, and most
of them wore tattered home-spun linen.
Most Yi houses were low mud-and-wood
structures without windows, which were dark and damp. Ordinary Yi
houses had double-leveled roofs covered with small wooden planks
on which stones were laid. Interior decoration was simple and crude,
with little furniture and very few utensils, except for a fireplace
consisting of three stones. In the Liangshan Mountains, slave owners'
houses and slaves' dwellings formed a sharp contrast. Slaves lived
with livestock in the same huts that could hardly shelter them from
wind and rain. Slave
owners' houses had spacious courtyards surrounded by high walls,
and some of them were protected by several or a dozen pillboxes.
The Yis are monogamous, living in nuclear
families. Before liberation in 1949, marriages were generally arranged
by parents, and the bride's family often asked for heavy betrothal
gifts. In many places, married women stayed at their own parents'
home till their first children were born. In some other places,
feigned "kidnapping of the bride" was practiced to add
to the joyous atmosphere. The groom's family would send people to
the bride's home at a prearranged time to snatch the girl and carry
her home on horseback. The girl was supposed to cry aloud for help,
and her family members and relatives would pretend to chase after
the kidnappers. In other cases, when people from the groom's side
went to fetch the bride, her people would first "attack"
them with water, cudgels and stove ashes, then treat them to wine
and meat after a frolic scuffle, and finally let them take the bride
away on horseback. On the wedding night, there would also be frolic
fighting between the bride and the groom as part of the ceremony.
These were obviously legacies of primitive marriage conventions.
Patriarchal and monogamous families
were the basic units of the clans in the Liangshan Mountains. When
a young man got married, he built his own family by receiving part
of his parents' property. Young sons who lived with their parents
could get a larger portion of the property. There were rigid differences
between sons by the wife and those by concubines in sharing legacies.
Property handed down from the ancestors usually went to sons by
Yis traditionally associated the father's name with the son's. When
a boy was named, the last one or two syllables of his father's name
would be added to his own. Such a practice made it possible to trace
the family tree back for many generations. In the Yi families, women
were in a subordinate position with no right to inherit property,
but the remnants of matriarchal society could still be seen clearly
sometimes. The Yis much respected the power of uncles on the mother's
side, and relations between such uncles and nephews were close.
Slaves' marriages and homemaking were in the hands of slaveholders.
The fate of slave girls was even more wretched, and they were forced
to marry just to meet the needs of slaveowners for more slaves.
The Yis in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan
Mountains practiced cremation, burning dead bodies in mountains
and burying the ashes in the ground or placing them in caves. After
the funeral, the mourners used bamboo strips wrapped with white
wool to make memorial tablets, which were wound with red thread
and placed in the trough carved in a wooden stick. Again, the stick
was wrapped with white cloth or linen. Some memorial tablets were
made of bamboo or wood and carved in the shape of figurines, which
were placed at the young sons' homes. Three years later, such memorial
tablets were either burned or placed in secluded mountain caves.
The Yis in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi
believed in polytheism before liberation 1949, combining worship
for ancestors with the influence of Taoism and Buddhism. The Yis
in the Liangshan Mountains worshipped gods and ghosts and believed
in idolatry, and offered sacrifices to forefathers frequently. Their
religious activities were presided over by sorcerers.
The earliest Yi calendar divided the
year into 10 months, each with 36 days. The tenth month was the
period of the annual festival. Influenced by the Han Lunar Calendar,
the Yis later divided the year into 12 months, using the 12 animals
representing the 12 Earthly Branches to calculate the year, month
and date. There was a leap year every two years in the Yi calendar.
The New Year festival was not fixed but generally fell between the
11th and 12th lunar months. In celebrating the New Year, the Yis
would slanghter cattle, sheep and pigs to offer sacrifices to ancestors.
In the Liangshan Mountains, people of the subordinate ranks had
to present half a pig's head to their masters to confirm their affiliation.
The Yis in Yunnan and Guizhou now celebrate the spring festival
as the Hans do. "The Torch Festival," held around 24th
of the sixth lunar month, is a common tradition for the Yis in all
areas. During the festival, the Yis in all villages would carry
torches and walk around their houses and fields, and plant pine
torches on field ridges in the hope of driving away insect pests.
After making their rounds, the Yis of the whole village would gather
around bonfires, playing moon guitars
(a four-stringed plucked instrument with a moon-shaped sound
box) and mouth organs, dancing and drinking wine through the night
to pray for a good harvest. The Yis in some places stage horse races,
bull fighting, playing on the swing, archery and wrestling.
The founding of the People's Republic
of China in 1949 ended the bitter history of enslavement and oppression
of the Yis and people of other nationalities in China. From 1952
to 1980, the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan, the
Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture and the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous
Prefecture of Yunnan were established one after another. Autonomous
counties for the Yi or for several minority groups including Yi
were founded in Eshan, Lunan, Ninglang, Weishan, Jiangcheng, Nanjian,
Xundian, Xinping and Yuanjiang of Yunnan, Weining of Guizhou and
Longlin of Guangxi.
Transformation of the only existing
slave society in the contemporary world over the past 30 years or
more has been a matter of profound significance in the Yi people's
history. In response to the aspirations of the Yi slaves and other
poor people, the people's government, after consulting with Yis
from the upper stratum who had close relations with the common people,
decided to carry out democratic reforms in the Yi areas of Sichuan
and in the Ninglang Autonomous County of Yunnan in 1956. The basic
objective of the democratic reforms was to abolish slavery and let
the laboring people enjoy personal freedom and political equality;
to abrogate the land ownership of the slave owning class and introduce
the land ownership of the laboring people to release the rural productive
force and promote agricultural production so as to create conditions
for the socialist transformation of agriculture and the movement
In accordance with the principle of
peaceful consultation, the people's government granted an appropriate
political status and commensurate material benefits to those upper
stratum people who actively assisted with democratic reforms. In
this way, many slave owners were won over, while the few unlawful
and intransigent slave owners were isolated. Thus, democratic reforms
went on smoothly.
In the spring of 1958, democratic reforms
concluded in the Yi areas in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains
in Sichuan and Yunnan. The reforms destroyed slavery, abolished
all privileges of the slave owners, confiscated or requisitioned
land, cattle, farm tools, houses and grain from the slave owners,
and distributed them among the slaves and other poor people. In
the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture and the Xichang Yi areas,
120,000 hectares of land were confiscated, and 280,00 head of cattle,
34,000 farm tools, houses composed of 880,000 rooms and 8,000 tons
of grain were either requisitioned or purchased and given to the
poor and needy along with 4,700,000 yuan paid as damages by unlawful
slave owners. The reforms emancipated 690,000 slaves and other poor
people, making them masters of the new society.
The people's government also built
houses and provided farm tools, grain, clothes, furniture and money
for the slaves and other poor people and helped them build their
own homes. In the Liangshan Mountains, the government set up homes
for 1,400 old and feeble slaves who had lost the ability to work
under slavery. Many former slaves got married and started their
own families, and many families were reunited.
The emancipated slaves took the socialist
road most firmly and shortly after the democratic reforms formed
advanced cooperatives in agricultural production.
The democratic reforms inspired the
emancipated slaves and poor peasants to reshape their land and expand
agricultural production steadily. The Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture
of Yunnan achieved a great success in increasing output of hemp,
tobacco, cotton, peanut and other cash crops. The autonomous counties
of Ninglang, Weishan and Eshan in the Honghe Yi Autonomous Prefecture
built water conservancy projects, which have played a big
role in farming.
There was no industry at all in the
Yi areas in the pre-liberation days except for the Gejiu Tin Mine
in Yunnan and a few blacksmiths, masons and carpenters taken from
the Han areas to the Liangshan Mountains. Now people in the Liangshan,
Chuxiong and Honghe autonomous prefectures have built farm machinery,
fertilizer and cement factories, small hydroelectric stations and
copper, iron and coal mines.
Lack of transportation facilities was
one of the factors contributing to the seclusion of the Liangshan
Mountains. Construction of roads started right after liberation.
In 1952, the highway connecting Sichuan and western Yunnan was reconstructed
and opened to traffic. At the same time, trunk highways linking
the Liangshan Autonomous Prefecture with other parts of the country
were constructed. The Yixi Highway was opened to traffic in 1957,
linking up the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains for the first
time in history. A highway network extending in all directions within
the prefecture had been formed by 1961. By the end of 1981, the
total length of highways in the prefecture had increased from seven
km. before 1949 to 7,368 km. While there were only 18 push carts
in the whole area before 1949, the number of vehicles in 1981 reached
11,000, of which 5,000 were motor vehicles.
local transportation department employed a total of 10,000 people.
The Chengdu-Kunming Railway crosses six counties in the Liangshan
Yi Autonomous Prefecture over a distance of 337 km., with 45 stations
on the line.
With the development of the local economy,
people in the prefecture had built 1,480 hydroelectric stations
with a total generating capacity of 97,000 kw. By 1981, providing
electric power and lighting for 80 per cent of the area.
Being extremely backward in education
in the old days, the Yi people now have primary schools in all villages.
The autonomous prefecture began setting up middle schools, secondary
technical schools and schools for training ethnic teachers in the
late 1950s. In 1981, there were 180 middle schools with 220 minority
teachers and 12,000 students, 3,780 elementary schools with 3,700
minority teachers and 66,900 pupils. Children of emancipated slaves
and poor peasants now have access to education. A new generation
of Yi intellectuals with socialist consciousness is coming to the
fore, and many Yi cadres hold leading positions at all levels of
government in the prefecture.
In the past, there were no professional
doctors, and the only way to avert and cure diseases was to pray.
Now there are hospitals and clinics in all counties. Serious epidemic
diseases such as smallpox, typhoid, leprosy, malaria, cholera have
either been brought under control or wiped out by and large. A lot
of traditional medical experience of the Yis has been collected,
summed up and improved. The world famous Yunnan
baiyao (a white medicinal powder with special efficacy for treating
haemorrhage, wounds, bruises, etc.) is said to have been prepared
according to a folk prescription handed down for generations by
Yi people in Yunnan.
The colorful literature and art of
the Yis are flourishing. The Yi people have created a great deal
of historical and literary works written in the old Yi language
and folk literary works handed down
orally. The oral folk literary works, numerous and in a great
variety, include poems, tales, fables, proverbs, riddles, etc. History of the Yis in the Southwest and
Lebuteyi, two encyclopedic works written
in the old Yi language and involving philosophy, history and religion
have been translated into the Han (main Chinese) language. The epics
Ashima, The Song of the Axi
People and Meige are
popular throughout Yunnan.
Since liberation, many Yi folk tales,
epics and songs have been published after being collected and collated.
Also published are some new works reflecting the present life of
the Yi people, such as The
Merry Jinsha River and Daji and
His Father. Yi songs and dances are rich in ethnic color. The
new folk song The Stars and
the Moon Are Together expresses through beautiful melodies the
happiness and warmth felt by the Yis in the great family of nationalities
in China. The Happy Nuosu,
another new song with cheerful and lively melodies, reflects the
joyous and energetic life of the Yi people.