Introducing the Bai

 

The Bai is one of the minorities of Southwest China that has been in contact with the Chinese people for a longer period of time. They have received many cultural influences from the Chinese. This has been due, in part, to the accessibility of the lands they inhabit, to their condition of farmers, (with a rice culture similar to the Chinese), and to their peaceful character.

There are near 1.700.000 Bai people living in the South of China. Most of them (about 1.500.000) in Yunnan Province. The rest in the neighbours provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan.

In Yunnan most of the Bai are concentrated in the fertile plains that surround Dali city, on the shores of Erhai Lake, in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. In Guizhou, the Bai can be found in Bijie. In Sichuan they live near Xichang

Bai people call themselves Baizi or Baini. Before 1957 Chinese people call them Minjia.

There are two ethnic groups who are considered branches of the Bai: the Leimo and the Nama.

According to the official histories, the ancestors of the Leimo and Nama people migrated toward their current territory, in the basin of the Mekong River several centuries ago. So long time away from the mainstream of the Bai culture has created many linguistic and cultural differences. Though they share a common ancestry with the Bai, they have give up some of the most important features of their cultural, social and spiritual life. It is possible that nowadays they must be considered as differentiated ethnic groups.

The Bai language belongs to the Tibetan Burmese family, Yi branch. They have numerous Chinese loan words. In fact, most of the Bai are bilingual.

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