The Naxi ethnic minority

The Naxi ethnic minority

    The majority of China’s Naxi population, numbering 277,800, lives in the Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County; the rest reside in Weixi, Shangrila, Ninglang, Deqin, Yongsheng, Heqing, Jianchuan and Lanping counties in Yunnan Province.
    The Naxi areas 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 the Jade Dragon Mountain is known 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 are abundant.

    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. With this script they recorded a lot of beautiful folklore, legends, poems and religious classics. However, it was 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.

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. 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. It is extremely important for the study of Naxi literature, history and religion.

    The Naxis are fond of singing and dancing. The most popular songs 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. 

    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 were built in 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.

Religion

    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." Men's garments are similar to those of the Han people.

    The traditional festivals include the "Farm-Tool Fair", "God of the Rain Festival", and "Mule and Horse Fair" . There are also the Lunar New Year, the Pure Brightness Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Torch Festival.

    Cremation has been a tradition since ancient times. It was common in the past to chant scriptures at the funeral ceremony to expiate the sins of the dead.

    In the Lugu Lake area, among some of the Naxi people, who are also called Mosuo, there still existed remnants of a matriarchal family structure. 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.