The Dai

Name: Dai, Tai, Shan

Population: 1,150,000

Localization: Yunnan Province, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefectures, and several discrits between them.

The official category "Dai" includes several Tai-speaking groups linguistically related to other peoples belonging to the Tai-Kadai (Dong-Tai in Chinese) linguistic family and classified under the categories Zhuang, Li, or Shui. Those groups currently categorized as "Dai" were traditionally designated by the Han Chinese as "Pai-yi" -a name whose origin remains obscure. Han Chinese, following also traditional categories, still divide these peoples according to arbitrary, non-emic denominations, such as Han Dai (Dry-land Tai) and Shui Dai (Water Tai), Huayao Dai (Flowered-belt Tai), etc.

The two most important Tai groups included in the "Dai" category are the Tai Neua, who inhabited mainly the Tai Khong area (Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture), as well as other regions along the Burmese border, and the Tai Lue, who live mostly in the Sipsong Panna (Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture), bordering Myanmar and Laos. There are also smaller populations of these groups in neighbouring Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. While the culture of these main groups, as well as that of the Tai Mao, also concentrated in the Tai Khong area and along the Burmese border, is determined by the Theravada Buddhist tradition, other groups have maintained Tai cults previous to the arrival of Buddhism in these regions. This is also the case for a small number of Tai groups living along the Vietnamese border, such as the Tai Dam, Tai Khao or the Tai Leang (Black, White and Red Tai, respectively).

In spite of a supposed common origin and common cultural traits, historically most of the groups categorized as "Dai" had hardly any contact among them, and developed diverse economic and cultural systems: the Tai Neua or the Tai Lue, for instance, were culturally closer to other Tai groups inhabiting areas being part of present-day Myanmar (the so-called "Shan") or Thailand. As it is true for these areas, Tai groups living in present-day P. R. China lived in interaction with other, mainly Mon-Khmer or Tibeto-Burman-speaking ethnic groups such as Bulang, Akha/ Hani or Lahu.

Introductory Articles in Ethnic China

The Dai peoples: The official category "Dai" includes several Tai-speaking groups linguistically related to other peoples belonging to the Tai-Kadai
The sacred forests of the Dai: Protecting the ancestors - protecting nature.

The Dai of Dehong: In Yunnan province there are at least two major centres of the Tai civilization. One is Sipsongpanna, home of the Tai Lue in southern Yunnan, and another is Daikong, home of the Tai Yai in western Yunnan.

Scholars Researches available in the Web

Cai Kui, Du Juan, Dai Cong and Hu Huabin.- Cultural Relevance for Rural Community Development in China: A Case Study in Bai, Jingpo and Huayaodai Communities of Yunnan Province.

A three-year study over the Bai, Jingpo and Huayaodai communities in Yunnan Province reveals that the community development is significantly influenced in various ways by such cultural factors as the concepts of development; concepts and traditions of inter-community relationships, consumption, marriage and gender; patterns of decision-making and production, resource and income allocation; as well as the role of information dissemination systems, religion and ritual.


La cultura de los Tai Lue de Sipsong Panna ha pasado de ser considerada in toto como un obstaculo para el progreso socioeconnmico exigido por las autoridades centrales, a convertirse en uno de los motores principales de la industria turisica en la zona.

James r. Chamberlain.- The Black Tai Chronicle of Muang Mouay

Is a genre of text which contains the history of the Tai people of a particular Muang... These local administrative unirts were originally considered to be twelve in number.

Sara L.M. Davis.- The Writing on the Wall: Marking the Limits of Ethnicity on China’s Borders

But in Sipsongpanna, some elements of the unapproved, unofficial ethnic culture were also preserved underground. An ancient text, an old temple, an epic poem in praise of the dead prince: all were saved because someone took a risk

Jerold A. Edmondson.- The power of language over the past: Tai settlement and Tai linguistics in southern China and northern Vietnam.

This paper will range over three historical aspects of The Power of Language topic and over a time frame on the order of forty thousand years. The first theme to be considered will concern the power of language (language in the genes) that can tell us the story of the very remote past of Tai migration and settlement from a place in India. From there the Tai precursors then moved into the border areas of SE Asia/Yunnan Province, China.

Chit Hlaing (F. K. Lehman).- The Central Position of the Shan/Tai as ¡®Knowledge Brokers¡¯ in the Inter-ethnic Network of the China-Burma (Myanmar) Borderlands.

On the one hand I have worked on the nature of Wa (Pirok) Theravada Buddhism and the history of the Wa Kingdom’ of Ban Hong, and the Shan have played a central role as source of knowledge about Buddhism and of kingship, providing models of both for these Wa.

Foon Ming and Liew-Herres.- Intra-dynastic and Inter-Tai Conflicts in the Old Kingdom of Moeng L¨¹ in Southern Yunnan

Power struggles within ruling houses are a classic problem causing the weakening of dynasties and inviting foreign invasions. The Tai polities in pre-modern Asia were no exception. This recurrent problem is documented not only in contemporary Chinese sources, but also in the various versions of the Tai chronicles that the present writer has investigated.

John Hartmann.- Linguistic and Historical Continuities of the Tai Dam and Lao Phuan: Case Studies in Boundary Crossings

Hasegawa Kiyoshi.- Cultural Revival and Ethnicity: The Case of the Tai Lue in the Sipsong Panna, Yunnan Province.

The accelerated development of market economies and inter-regional exchange in the border areas of Yunnan and Mainland Southeast Asia since the 1980s has complicated the relationships among nation states and ethnic groups across national boundaries.

Hasegawa Kiyoshi.- Ethnic Tourism and Cultural Change in the Border Region of Yunnan Province: A Case Study on Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture

In this paper, I would like to examine the process of tourism development and its socio-cultural impact on the Dai people, by focusing on the inter-ethnic relations between the Han and ethnic minorities in Sipsong Panna since the 1980s.

He Shaoying.- An Exposition on the Funeral Rite and View of Soul of the Dai Nationality in Jinping

Extensively influenced by the view of soul, the local Dai People never let down guard towards the funeral rites. Usually, all the families in the whole village, even the friends and relatives who live hundreds of li (2 li = l kilometer) away, should come over to join in the funeral, making the occasions so grand

Helen James.- Transition and Tradition in a White Tai Village in north Vietnam


Pattiya Jimreivat.- Culture and Tradition of the Tai People in Sipsongchutai: Maintenance, Revitalization and Integration into the Present Vietnamese Society

This paper studies the Tai in Northwestern Vietnam or Sipsongchutai to find out how the Tai, an ethnic minority group in the area, manages to maintain their ethnic identity and the same time to be accepted by the Vietnamese.

Susan McCarthy.- Gods of Wealth, Temples of Prosperity: Party-State Participation in the Minority Cultural Revival

This article contrasts Chinese government support for the minority cultural revival among the Bai and Dai in Yunnan Province, with a crackdown on religious expression in Beijing. Inconsistencies in the state's behaviour in these cases might be attributed to arbitrary decision-making, or to "internal orientalism".

Marie Mellac.- Des « rizières du muong » aux « rizières de la coopérative» : réflexion sur l’évolution des catégories cognitives mobilisées par les Tai du nord-ouest du Viêt Nam dans le domaine foncier

This paper aims to address the conditions of this persistence in the case of one of the two study groups, the Tai of the north-west. Numerous ethnographic studies on this group for the pre-collectivist period have shown this group to be specific in three ways: its political and social organization is highly hierarchical and complex.

Wasan Panyagaew.- Moving Dai: Stories from the field, part II

Uncle Le also told me how when he was about ten, led by his mother and his step-father, his family had left Sipsong Panna during the civil war in Keng Hung, and moved to Muang Singh, then a French colony. He grew up there, still in Lue country.

Heather Peters.- Tattooed Faces and Stilt Houses: Who Were the Ancient Yue? - Sino-Platonic Papers

One favorite theory at the moment is that the Yue people were ancestral to the various Tai speaking populations, i.e. the Tai Lue, Tai Neu, Tong, Shui, Bu Yi and the Zhuang, living today primarily in southwestern China.

Suriya Ratanakul.- Tai People and Their Languages: Theories Concerning the Origin of the Tai Language and the Tai Homeland

How is it that locating the homeland of the Tai-speaking people at the foot of the Altai Mountains amounts to patriotism?

Ronald D. Renard.- Creating the Other Requires Defining Thainess against Which the Other Can Exist: Early-Twentieth Century Definitions

This paper discusses “Thainess,” prior to the 1900's. Before then, people in what is now Thailand and also nearby, distinguished socially between tai and kha. Whereas tai were literate members of lowland kingdoms that had law codes, professed (local forms of) Buddhism, and sometimes built large architectural structures.

Fahui Wang, John Hartmann, Wei Luo, Pingwen Huang.- GIS-Based Spatial Analysis of Tai Place Names in Southern China: An Exploratory Study of Methodology.

THis research is an exploratory study demostrating how modern GIS and spatial analysis techniques can benefit researchers in historical-linguistic-cultural studies.

Yang Guangyuan.- A Cultural Interpretation of the Religious and Sacrificial Rites of the Dai Nationality in Xinping, Yunnan Province

Primitive religion is usually the first popular religious belief of any ethnic group in its survival and development. In the early stage of Dai society, the Dais believed in the Family God (phi1 hcn2), the Village God (tsau3 man3) and the Meng God (sc3 mci2 or tsau3 mci2)

Yuan Yan.- An Interpretation of Religious Influences of the Dai Nationality on the Atsang Language and Culture: A Case Study

From the Song dynasty, the two nationalities have been living on neighborly terms with each other. This was briefly recorded in history. But in the Qing dynasty the Atsang people were
recorded as “Atsang-yi”. They had been regarded as a part of the Dai nationality.

Zheng Xiaoyun.- The culture of the Huayaodai and its prospects -comparative research on the cultural characteristics of the Dai peoples living in the upper reaches of the Red River.

Changes in contemporary Huayao Dai culture are discussed in this paper. Although traditional forms of dress and housing, tooth dying, tattooing, ethmic language, festivals and traditional religion are preserved, there have been changes since the 1950s, due to modern education and health care, as well as greater contacts with other cultures

Books and references

Free books about the Dai Nationality

The Dai of Yunnan in 1917, as seen by Roy Chapman Andrews in Camps and Trails in China

Basic Bibliography of the Dai

A book about the Water Culture of the Dai: The writer introduces some flood-related myths of the ethnic groups of Yunnan, with their common characteristics and their main differences. He stresses the importance of the flood as a process of destruction of the old world, where out of any order, men and gods can communicate freely.

Ebing and Sangluo - A Dai tragic love: Fringed in the Buddhist belief of the retaliation for our acts, prior to and wrapping the love story is the fight between a lady who possess magical powers and the religious orthodoxy represented by the temple and its monks.

On the Dais Traditional Irrigation System and Environmental Protection in Xishuangbanna.- Gao Lishi: we are repeatedly informed of the benefits than had for the region ecosystem, not only the irrigation system of the Dai but also the slash and burn agriculture of the mountain people surrounding them

Chinese Bibliography of the Dai

Free Thesis and Dissertations

Cai Kui .- Changes in land use in response to socio-economic changes in Xishuangbanna, People's Republic of China

Comparatively Dai people cultivate more intensive on paddy land than the other two ethnic groups, Hani and Jinuo villagers produce more subsistence crops on upland than Dai; and deforestation is most serious in the Hani village than in those of Dai and Jinuo. The evidence shows that the great differences in traditional land use among Dai, Jinuo and Hani have gradually disappeared.

Photo Exhibitions

Ethnic China photo exhibitions

- Market Day at Gasha Township: Every Sunday Dai women from the villages around Gasha attend the weekly market...some times attired with their best clothes, some times only with the conical hat that protects them from the burning sun.

More Photo exhibitions


Dai music
A guide to download their music

Films and Video

Documentary Films about the Dai
Available dvds and vcds about the Dai
Image of the the Dai in the cinema

Art and Handicrafts

The Dai in the art
Art Exhibitions


Travel to Dai lands

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