History of the Naxi

 

The Naxi are one of the oldest ethnic groups that inhabit the northwest of Yunnan Province. It is thought that they descend of the old Qiang that lived in pre-dynastic times between Gansu and Shaanxi Provinces.

The Qiang were displaced by the Chinese expansion. Nomads as they were, some of them escaped to the west and others migrated to the south. In fact, history books mention that in the 3rd century a people called Moxie or Moxie Yi, possibly ancestors of the Naxi, were living in the region located to the east of their current location. It is possible that the Naxi and the Moso had a common origin, but there are historical reports that place them in Lijiang and Yongning respectively during the 7th century.

While the Moso remained in a very isolated region, the Naxi, in Lijiang, suffered the attacks of the Nanzhao Kingdom, becoming one of their vassal states. The Naxi resistance forced the rulers of Nanzhao to deport some of them to Kunchuan and Xicuan, where they mixed with the ancestors of the Bai.

At the end of the Song Dynasty, the head of de Naxi in Lijiang, Zhang Maizong united several small tribes of the proximities, and got freedom from Dali Kingdom. When in the year 1253 the army of Kublai Khan passed trough Naxi lands in his way to attack Dali Kingdom, the son of Maizong, Aliangzeng, provided assistance to the Mongol conqueror. From this first alliance with the Mongols the relationship of the Naxi with the dominant dynasties in China was unbeatable.

In the 13th century the Yuan dynasty established the Lijiang Prefecture that was governed by Naxi local rulers called Tusi. From the following century all the Tusi belonged to the Mu family. Considered hereditary kings of Lijiang, their dynastic line kept the power until 1949.

During the Yuan and Ming dynasties Lijiang, Ninglang, Weixi, Yanyuan and Muli were under the tusi system. The descendant in fourth generation of Aliangzen, Mudeqin went in person to Nanjing, to give the Naxi tribute to the Ming emperor Hong Wu. He received the title of King of Mutian, agglutinating around its power in Lijiang, the Naxi tribes.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Lijiang Kings played an outstanding role in the contention of the Tibetan armies that dispute the Chinese the control of Yunnan. In fact, in emperor Wanli's time, they defeated the Tibetans in a big battle, annexing to Lijiang Weixi County.

Years later the military importance of the Naxi diminished, becoming Lijiang the most important economic, commercial and cultural center in the trade routes from Dali (capital of Yunnan) to Lhasa.

Its narrow relationship with the Chinese generated important cultural, technical and artistic influences. In 1418 were established the first Chinese style schools in Baoshan, Tongan and Julu. The power of the tusi increased, the development of agricultural techniques brought an enrichment of the society and a bigger social division.

While in Lijiang, Weixi, and Zhongdian the production increased and with it, the social inequality. In Ninglang, Yanyuan, Yanbian and Muli, the Mosos, isolated of the external world, maintained their traditional society.

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