Ethnic Peoples in Yunnan

Yunnan is a border province in Southwest China with many ethnic groups. Of the 56 ethnic groups in China, 26 can be found in Yunnan. Among them, the Yi, Bai, Dai, Tibetan and Naxi ethnic groups are the largest in population. Such ethnic groups are the living legacy of the ancient civilizations of this region. The Old Town of Lijiang, built by the Naxi people, was listed as a world cultural heritage site in 1997; the Sideng Market Area of Shaxi village, built by the Bai people, with its intact way station on the Tea and Horse trade route, was listed as a world architectural heritage site in 2001; and the unique marital customs of the Mosuo people of Lake Lugu, are remnants of an alternative, matriarchal society of mankind, in which they “co-habit” but rarely marry.



The belief in Buddhism has a long history among the majority of ethnic peoples in Yunnan. Most of the traditions have continued till today. Some Dai boys go to the monasteries for Buddhist practice and study as a necessary requirement for future marriage. Tibetan families take pride in sending boys to become monks. On the first and fifteenth day of each lunar month, the Bai and Naxi villagers go to monasteries to worship Buddha by burning incense. In this way, Buddhism remains influential upon Yunnan. The world-famous ancient Buddhist relics of the Three Pagodas in Dali, the grottoes in Jianchuan and the Sungtzeling Monastery in Shangri-La (Zhongdian), are testament to this.

The ethnic people of Yunnan are very good at expressing their culture through folk songs and dances. The exciting Bawangbian dance of the Bai people; the melodious classical music of the Naxi people; the Guozhuang dance of the Tibetan people; and the delicate Peacock dance of the Dai people, to name just a few. These rich cultural traditions are also reflected in their ethnic costumes and traditional architecture.

As a Chinese saying goes, “Peoples are fostered by the very land they inhabit”. The fertile land of Yunnan helps foster the unique life style and artistic spirit of its ethnic people. This beautiful and charming place has spectacular and picturesque scenery of high mountains, great rivers, vast grasslands, and plateau lakes. Beautiful examples include the surging Tiger Leaping Gorge of the Yangtze, the rippling waters of Lake Erhai in Dali, the Meili |Snow Mountain and the tropical rain forests in the south.