The Yi ethnic minority
| The China’s Yi population, numbering 6,578,500, is mainly distributed over the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou, and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. 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 four million Yis. 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 Yi areas are not only rich in coal and iron, but are also among China's major producers of non-ferrous metals. 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. The Yis used to have a syllabic script called the old Yi language, which was formed in the 13th century. 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.
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. 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. Patriarchy came into being at least 2,000 years ago. Around the 8th century, Nanzhao kingdom 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 kingdom was granted the title "King of Yunnan". In 937, the state of "Dali" superseded Nanzhao kingdom. After the 13th century, Dali state was conquered by the Yuan Dynasty. 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 Yi 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 economy.