The Jingpos speak a language belonging to the Tibetan-Myanmese family of the Chinese-Tibetan language system. Until 70 years ago, when an alphabetic system of writing based on Latin letters was introduced, the Jingpos kept records by notching wood or tying knots. Calculation was done by counting beans. The new system of writing was not widely used, however. After 1949, with the help of the government, the Jingpo people have started publishing newspapers, periodicals and books in their own language.
According to local legends and historical records, Jingpo ancestors in ancient times inhabited the southern part of the Xikang-Tibetan Plateau. They gradually migrated south to the northwestern part of Yunnan, west of the Nujiang River.
Jingpo people lived in thatched cottages of bamboo. The cottages, oblong in shape, had two storys. The lower floor, about one meter above the ground, is forkeeping animals, while the upper floor, usually partitioned into four to ten rooms with bamboo walls, is the living quarters for family members. In the middle of every room is a fireplace, around which people sleep. Every seven or eight years, cottages have to be rebuilt. Rebuilding, having the help of all villagers, is completed in several days.
Rice is the staple food, although maize is more important in some places. Vegetables, beans, potatoes and yams are grown in cottage gardens. Jingpos also gather wild herbs and fruit as supplementary food.
Jingpo men usually wear black jackets with buttons down the front and short and loose trousers. Elderly people have a pigtail tied on top of their head and covered with a black turban. Young people prefer white turbans. Jingpo men going out invariably wear long knives on their waist or take rifles with them. All carry elaborately-embroidered bags containing items such as areca and tobacco. Jingpo women usually wear black jackets with buttons down the front middle or front left. Matching the jacket is a colorful knitted skirt.