Amiwa Trek website English version
The Bai Nationality (白族)
The Bai nationality numbers nearly two million people living predominantly in Yunnan Province (80% in Dali prefecture and in the town of ShaXi), Guizhou Province (BiJie), Hunan Province (SangZhi) and Sichuan Province. The Bai are said to be particularly fond of the colour white, whence their name (bai means ‘white’ both in the Bai language as in Mandarin Chinese).
The Bai people have distinguished themselves on several occasions in history of southern China. They did so first with the Kingdom of NanZhao (南诏, 737-902 A.D.) that, depending upon one’s source, was founded either by chief XiNuLuo (細奴邏) of the MengShe tribe (蒙舍) or by PiLuoGe (皮罗阁), who was initially supported by the Tang Dynasty; the eleventh King of NanZhao (of the dynasty’s 22) established Buddhism as the state religion. Later, the region was home to the Kingdom of Dali (937-1253 A.D.).
The Kingdom of Dali was vanquished by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, which only managed to win by an act of treachery: an inhabitant of the ErHai Lake region revealed the location of a secret passage through the CangShan mountains that enabled the Mongol warriors to sneak in and overthrow the Bai defences.

The Naxi Nationality (纳西族)
The Naxi, sometimes called the Nakhi, number nearly 300,000 and were thrust into the limelight by the American botanist Joseph Rock and the Taoist Russian doctor Peter Goullart (Forgotten Kingdom), both of whom lived in the town of LiJiang in the 20th century and travelled extensively throughout the region until 1949.
Especially renowned for their ancestral music (widely heard in LiJiang), the Naxi also integrated the styles of the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties into their musical culture. The principal style of music, BaiSha, owes its origins to the Mongol emperor Kubilai Khan – Genghis Khan’s grandson – who thanked the Naxi for their help during a military expedition to Dali by leaving them a contingent of his personal musicians. The DongJing style, of Taoist origins, was developed later.
One of this nationality’s unique characteristics is its age-old pictogram-based writing system used by the priests. You will have no trouble spotting these special characters in LiJiang.
The nationality’s major festivals include the Torch Festival (the 24th and 25th days of the 6th lunar month) and the SanDuo Festival in honour of the patron god of the Naxi people, SanDuo. Their religion, DongBa, originated in the Tibetan shamanist religion Bön. (Amiwa organises trekking routes through the area in which DongBa is said to have been born.).
Beginning in the 14th century, the Naxi embraced Tibetan Lamaism (of the Kagyu school), especially in those areas inhabited by the Mosuo. In fact, although the Mosuo nationality is officially included with the Naxi, the Naxi have been largely influenced by the Han Chinese while Tibetan culture has had a greater impact on the Mosuo. Likewise, the Northern Naxi (also known as the Deqen Naxi in Deqen county and Tibet’s Makham county) speak a different dialect of Naxi and practice different customs from those of the Naxi of LiJiang.

The Tibetan Nationality (藏族)
Tibet’s ancient history and its particular school of Buddhism, as well as more recent events, have kept the limelight on the Tibetan people, by far the most well-known ethnic ‘minority’ group in China.
They can be found in the northernmost part of Yunnan Province, part of historic Tibet, in the DiQing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (not to be confused with the city of DeQin, the prefecture’s administrative centre). ZhongDian (also known since 2001 as Shangri-La, 香格里拉县and called Gyalthang in Tibetan) lies at the heart of Tibetan Yunnan. The southern gateway to historic Tibet, the town is also known for the magnificent SongZanLin monastery (often called the Little Potala Palace), its hot springs and its wide-open plains.

The Yi Nationality (彝族)
Once known as the Lolo (or Luoluo), the Yi nationality numbers some 8 million in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi, and its people can also be found in Vietnam and Thailand. In reality, this nationality groups together many distinct ethnic groups, including the Nisu, Nasu, Sani, Axi, Lolopo and Pu, whose only shared trait is that they all live in mountainous regions. Their various languages and dialects are different and do not enable them to easily communicate across groups.
Most Yi are animist and their shamans are known as bimo. It should be noted that some Yi in LuQuan County are Christian and there is no shortage of churches in the area.
Known for their ancient and complex system of slavery in Yunnan Province, the Yi differentiate between Black Yi, nuohuo, and White Yi, qunuo.

The Lisu Nationality (傈僳族)
The Lisu number approximately one million and live all across Yunnan Province (in the LiJiang, BaoShan, NuJiang and DeHong prefectures), in Myanmar (their country of origin), in Thailand and even as far afield as the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
One special aspect of the Lisu is that many of them have been Christians (nearly 300,000 in Yunnan) since the early 20th century (with the arrival of the China Inland Mission).  They also have their own system for the phonetic transcription of their language and its dialects, thereby making it possible to print publications in their own tongue. It was with this system that the missionary James O. Fraser completed the full translation of the New Testament in 1932.

Other Nationalities
The People’s Republic of China has 56 official nationalities, which include the Han majority (90% of the population) and 55 ethnic minorities. This number, however, should be taken with a grain of salt as certain nationalities have been determined by somewhat arbitrary means (see the Yi nationality above for an example). Some of the ethnic groups living in south-western China can also be found in other Southeast Asian countries.
Yunnan is home to nearly half of China ethnic groups (25 out of 56 officially), who make up approximately one third of the province’s population.

For Further Information...
If you are interested in these nationalities, we highly recommend the books of Françoise Grenot-Wang, also known as Fang Fang (only available in French), including Au coeur de la Chine, une Française en pays Miao [In the Heart of China: A French Woman in the Land of the Miao] (May 2007, Albin Michel, ISBN 9782226179449).
This section will be updated with other reading material in the coming months.

Higherland Inn, trek, Dali, Yunnan, Chine