Ethnic China: Ethnic Yunnan


Yunnan Province has an area of 394,000 square km and a total population of 43.33 million.

Yunnan is the ethnic province of China. Officially praised as the home of 25 national minorities, its ethnic diversity is even bigger. It is said that in the 1950s, when the process of ethnic differentiation was carried on, there were about 400 ethnic entities who asked to be recognized as national minorities.

The geography of Yunnan is so diverse that we can find peoples who inhabit the tropical forest of Southeast Asia with others living in the cold mountains of the eastern end of the Himalayas.

Map of Yunnan

Most of the ethnic groups living in Yunnan belong to two big linguistic groups: The Yi or Loloish (Yi, Hani, Lisu, Lahu, Naxi) and the Zhuang-Dong or Kam-Dai (Dai, Buyi, Zhuang, Shui). Those who speak languages related to the Yi usually live in the mountains, and those who speak languages of the Kam- Dai group, in the lowlands near rivers. The lowlands are also the home of Han Chinese, and the mountains are inhabited also for some Miao and Yao populations (mainly in the eastern part of the province) or Austronesic peoples (in the south and southwest) as the Wa, Bulang and Deang peoples.

It is difficult to find in Yunnan a single territory inhabited homogenously by a single ethnic entity, but usually we find an environment with an altitude stratification, with the Dai and related peoples living near the rivers, the Yi related peoples in the middle levels of the mountains, and the Miao - Yao people in the upper part of them, sometimes at more than 3,000 m of altitude. This stratification reflects the migratory patterns of these peoples, with the Miao Yao as the last arrivals, their power relations (in the past the Dai Lue in Xishuangbanna and other kingdoms were the lords of the Akha, Bulang, Lahu and other mountain populations) and the economic development, being the lowlands, with its rich soils and good transportations, obviously the richer.

Yunnan Province comprises the following administrative entities:

Autonomous Prefectures

- Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. In the south, bordering Laos and Myanmar. Inhabited mainly by Dai Lue branch of the Dai, and the Akha, Lahu, Bulang, etc.

- Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture. In the southwest, bordering Myanmar. Inhabited mainly by Dai and Jingpo peoples.

- Nujiang Lisu and Nu Autonomous Prefecture. In the west, along the Nujiang River. It is inhabited mainly by Lisu and Nu nationalities.

- Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. Inhabited mainly by the Bai nationality, with an important number of people from the Yi nationality in the mountain regions, and some Lisu and Miao also in the mountains. The prefecture capital is Dali City.

- Deqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. In the northwest of Yunnan. It is inhabited mainly by Tibetan people, but there are also Lisu, Yi, Naxi, etc

- Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture. In the center of the province. Inhabited mainly by some branches of the Yi. As one of the only two Yi autonomous prefectures Chuxiong is considered the "epicenter of Yi culture" and the place in Yunnan where the Yi culture is best preserved.

- Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture. Inhabited mainly by Hani and Yi peoples. (Shiping County). See also Ethnic Honghe for more detailed information about its minorities.

- Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. Inhabited mainly by Zhuang and Miao.


- Baoshan Municipality . Among the minority people living in Baoshan there are about 70,000 Yi, 40,000 Dai, 37,000 Bai, 27,000 Lisu, and a small number of people belonging to other minorities.

- Lijiang Prefecture: Home of the renowned Naxi, Moso, Lisu and Yi.

- Lincang Prefecture:In the southwest of the province. Home of some nationalities, as the Wa.

- Puer Prefecture. Known as Simao Prefecture until 2007. It is a territory in south central Yunnan, with an interesting ethnic exuberance, with many autonomous counties inhabited by the Wa, Dai, Hani, Lahu, Yi and other nationalities.

- Zhaotong Prefecture: In the northeast of Yunnan. With some Miao (Flowery Miao or A-Mao) and Yi.


- Kunming City. The capital of the province. The starting point of every travel in Yunnan, it hosts Bookshops, universities, governmental and research bodies related with Yunnan ethnic groups.

- Yuxi City. South of Kunming, it includes some ethnic populations: Yi, Dai and Hani. Among its counties are: Xinping Yi and Dai Autonomous County, Yuanjiang Hani, Yi And Dai Autonomous County.

- Qujing City: Northeast of Kunming. With scarce number of minorities people.

- Dongchuan City: North of Kunming.

There is a beautiful ethnic map of Yunnan.

Books about Yunnan

Song Enying.- Indigenous ethnic groups of Yunnan: In the age of internet when the information that we are used to receive usually is transmitted as small fragments sometimes only diffusely related, this book is an interesting experiment.

More info about Yunnan and its national minorities:

Wu Qiyan and Tian Yuanyan.-The Changing Patterns of Distribution of Ethnic Minorities of Urban and Regional Areas in Yunnan, China during 1990-2000.

Western Yunnan in Roy Chapman Andrews's Book.- It is safe to assert that in hardly any other part of the world is there such a large variety of languages and dialects, as are to be heard in the country which lies between Assam and the eastern border of Yün-nan and in the Indo-Chinese countries to the south of this region.

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