co nh g v nh n b x

The Naxi

Alternate names: Na-khi, Mosuo, Moxie.

Population: 308,000

Localization: In China, Yunnan Province, Lijiang Municipality, Baidi Township in Shangrila, Weixi County. Some in Sichuan Province.

The Naxi is one of the best known Chinese nationalities. Their pictographic Dongba script, the paradisiacal environment where they live, and the splendor of Lijiang, their main city, have lead thousands of travelers, from China and abroad to Naxi lands. Some of their most famous places have suffered important changes, not always benefiting the local people. On the other side, an international interest for Naxi culture, make it a valuable treasury on the eyes of the Naxi themselves.

Basic Facts about Naxi Culture

Introductory Articles in Ethnic China

The Naxi of Southwest China: their culture preserves a set of special characteristics that make them one of the more interesting peoples of our planet

Naxi pictographic script: the only living pictographic script in the world is the called Dongba script.It is called the Dongba script because is primarily utilized by Dongba priests and shamans when they carry out their different ceremonies, rituals and exorcisms.

Echoes of the Naxi culture: Yang Fuguan proposes that the peoples living in the Zang-Yi corridor of western Sichuan must be considered to belong to the same family that the Naxi (in fact he considers the Naxi nationality to be composed by five ethnic groups whose cultures and languages are related, to whom he calls collectively Naq)

History of the Naxi: 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. In the year 1253, the son of Maizong, Aliangzeng, provided assistance to the Mongol conqueror.

The descend of Man, the main myth of the Naxi: Congrenlien knows of the coming flood and the way to avoid it, becoming the only human being that survives it. He wanders alone looking for a woman to marry.

Shu nature spirits and Naxi ecological thought: As every time the ceremony is performed, their main myths and taboos related with nature are chanted, it serves as a collective compromise to protect the ecological balance.

Love and Marriage among the Naxi: The young Naxi traditionally enjoyed freedom to meet and love people from the other sex. But unmarried people have forbidden keeping sexual relations. Pregnant girls are forced to abort; and their descendants, excluded from the family and society.

The Naxi and Ezra Pound concept of Paradise: "It seems that the Nakhi world had been dwelling in Pound's mind during the years he wrote the last cantos. The Nakhi community appears in Canto CX "it reappears in the fragment "From CXII" which depicts the Nakhi paradisiacal landscape."

Baisha Frescos of the Naxi: One of the most remarkable icons of the artistic heritage of the Naxi people are the Baisha Frescos, a set of Ming Dynasty religious paintings that decorate the walls of the main temples of Baisha Village, a small village situated 10 kilometers off Lijiang.

E-Dongba software for writing Dongba Pictographs: the use of the Edongba software must develop beyond the field of academic researches and educational materials to include its use in graphic design, maps elaboration and promotional materials. Its use fits perfectly for most of the symbols included in most maps.

More introductory articles

Naxi Script Resource Center.

With interesting information about the Dongba characters and some in-deep studies of some of their main charcateristics.

EDongba Software.

Edongba was constituted by a Font and a Input Method Editor. It is a interesting program to input Dongba hieroglyphs and Geba scripts. The beauty and versatility of this software merit to become the standard in Yunnan cartographic and tourist design.

Naxi Dongba

A laberynth of information in both English and Italian languages where all lovers of Naxi culture will be very happy to get lost.

Academic Materials about the Naxi

The Naxi language

Harald Bockman.- The Typology of Naxi Tomba Script.

Some materials and some views on a script which in terms of evolution of the script belongs to a very early stage.

Hanny Feurer and Yang Fuquan.- Greetings among Naxi and Kham Tibetans on Yunnan' High Plateau.

The sociolinguistic research reported here consists of greeting patterns of Naxi and Kham Tibetans, collected in urban, rural and enclave settings of northwestern Yunnan between 1991 and 1996.

Seaver Johnson Milnor.- A Comparison Between the Development of the Chinese Writing System and Dongba Pictographs.

Dongba pictographs developed in a context of contact with other writing systems, among them Chinese and Tibetan.

Michailovsky, Boyd; Michaud, Alexis.- Syllabic inventory of a Western Naxi dialect, and correspondence with Joseph F. Rock's transcriptions.

This paper offers new data and a guide to an older resource: the correspondences between our transcriptions and the script invented by the ‘botanist-explorer’ Joseph F. Rock.

Alexis Michaud and Jacqueline Vaissile.- The phonetic evolution of reduplicated expressions: Reduplication, lexical tones and prosody in Na (Naxi):

Na (also known as Naxi and Moso), a Sino-Tibetan language spoken in China, has a wealth of reduplicated constructions.

Takata Tokio.- A Note on the Lijiang Tibetan Inscription.

In 1992, a stone monument was discovered at Gezi, in Shigu zhen, Lijiang district, Yunnan province.

Naxi Mythology and religion

Bai Gengsheng.- Nakhi Tiger Myth in its Context:

The author will try to sort out the background of Nakhi tiger myth and provide a general perspective for the Tibetan-Burmese, or even China’s, tiger cultures.

Emily Chao.- Suicide, ritual, and gender transformation among the Naxi

.Ritual elaboration was aimed at the incorporation of Chinese values, while suicides were acts of resistance against them. Naxi suicides may be understood in terms of the clash between preexisting Naxi gender values and Chinese conceptions of female chastity and paternity.

Naxi Culture

Anthony Jackson.- Naxi Studies: Past, Present & Future.

In truth there is nothing very remarkable about the Naxi... they have been written about in the West than any other minority nationality in China.

Li Guowen.- The Naxi Traditional Medicine-The Dongba Sutra of Naxi Ethnic Group

Analyzing these characters from the point of view of medicine, we know that the forefathers of the Naxi Ethnic Group had a discovery of human body, its parts and the positions, viscera, diseases and medicine in very early times, and formed their own cognition of the medicine rudiment.

Irene Masdeu Torruella.- Del silencio de los hombres sabios a la popularidad del arte dongba contemporáneo: Una aproximación antropológica a la recuperación de las tradiciones naxi a través de los objetos artísticos.

This paper shows the active role that the Naxi art objects performed in the recuperation of Naxi traditional culture and its power to influence the formulation of new meanings of the word "Dongba".

Charles F, McKhann.- Fleshing out the Bones: The Cosmic and Social Dimensions of Space in Naxi Architecture:

The anthropogenic myth of the Naxi people of Southwest China is the story of the descent from Heaven of Coqseelilee, the earth born man, and his celestial wife.

Charles F, McKhann.- Naxi, Rerkua, Moso, Meng: Kinship, Politics and Ritual on the Yunnan-Sichuan Frontier

For nearly a hundred years now, there has been a debate on the cultural and historical relations between the Naxi of what I will call the Lijiang area and the Moso of Ninglang, Yanyuan, Yanbien and Muli counties.

Andrea Stelzner, Ge A-gan and He Xiaoxun.- Ethnic Minority People in Yunnan: Naxi Culture and the Role of Women

A Dongba does not pass on his knowledge to women, but only to men." But, ironically enough, there is a female saint honored in each and every Dongba script. The name of this goddess is Pancisamei. Among the many saints in the Naxi belief system, she is the master of divination rituals.

The Naxi in the present world

Mette Halskow Hansen: Learning to be Chinese: Minority education and Ethnic Identity among three ethnic groups of China.

Charles F. McKhann.- The Naxi and the Nationalities Question

The difference between the residence patterns, descent systems, and hierarchical structures of Naxi and Mosou have obvious economic implications.

Charles F, McKhann.-Tourisme de masse et identite sur les marches sino-tibetaines.

The number of tourist/days per year has passed from 100.000 in 1991 to 3,1 millions in 1999.

Marsha Smith.- Constructing Identities: Tensions in Defining Naxi/Mosuo and Bai/Yi Ethnicities:

Some groups do receive a great deal of provincial and national subsidization to re-establish cultural educational centers and religious activities.

Seth Sicroff, Empar Alos and Roshan Shrestha.- Independent Backpacker Tourism: Key to Development in Remote Mountain Destinations. 2003

The objective was to promote independent baclpacker tourism as a means of expanding economic opportunity while fostering cultural and natural conservation.

Lixin Yang, John Richard Stepp, Selena Ahmed, Shengji Pei, and Dayuan Xue. Dongba Papermaking in the Naxi Highlands of Northwest Yunnan, China.

The present study focuses on papermaking, a socioecological practice that began in China, as a case study to examine the influence of development on cultural practices and natural resource management. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 100 informants between
2002–2011 to understand the management and use of W. delavayi for Dongba papermaking and the impact of market integration on papermaking.

Thesis and dissertations

Hongzhi Gao.- Towards sustainable communities: Environmental and resource management in Lijiang, China. 1998

This research project examines and evaluates sustainability in its complexity within an institutional, socio-econonic, and technological context through a case study of environmental and natural resource management in Lijiang, a traditional community in southwest China.

Jung-Yao Lu.- The recipient construction in Naxi

Li Pingping.- Typological transformation of courtyard house in Lijiang area : women and nuclear space of Naxi dwelling. 2005

Although many traditional Han courtyards were destroyed during the upheavals in the first half of the twentieth century, an important and diverse group of courtyard types can still survive in the Lijiang area in northwest Yunnan Province. The diversity of the surviving forms reflects a period of dynamic change, apparently closely related to changes in the mode of production and in the status of women in this district. Most previous studies of Naxi dwellings focus on describing and classifying courtyard dwellings in Lijiang Old City, or on exploring the cultural influence of the Han courtyard.

Pierre-Alexis MICHAUD.- Prosodie de langues a tons (naxi et vietnamien), prosodie de l'anglais : eclairages croises

Yu Haibo.- Identity and schooling among the Naxi : becoming Chinese with Naxi characteristics. 2008.

Books and references

Bibliographic materials


The author about his book: Some information about the origin of this book, the main aim of the author wrtting it and its main values

Contents: The contents of the seven chapters dettailed in this document: 1. The Naxi of Southwest China. 2. Echoes from the past: Naxi History. 3. Gods and Dongbas: Naxi Religion. 4. Naxi Culture 5. Naxi life cycle. 6. Naxi Yearly cycle. 7. Music, Arts and Literature.

Introduction: The role of the Naxi as preservers of ancient cultural heritages can be attributed to the isolation of some communities and to the writing of a surprising amount of sacred books, maybe thousands of them treasured in the hands of their religious specialists, known to the outside world as the Dongba Classics.

Glossary of Naxi terms.

Free books about the Naxi

Peter Goullart.- The forgotten Kingdom.

The classical book about the life of the Naxi nationality in the Lijiang of the 1940s

J. F. Rock- Studies in Na-khi literature.. Bulletin de l'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient. 1937

Not until recently has it become known that the Mo-so or Na-khi posses a voluminous literature all in manuscript form. The majority of these books are written in primitive pictographic characters.

J. F. Rock- The Romance of K'a-ma-gyu-mi-gkyi . Bulletin de l'Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient. 1939

The Harlalu ceremony is performed almost daily in some Na-khi home of the Lichiang district. This Romance explains the wave of suicides among the young Na-Khi.

Free excerpts of books dealing with the Naxi

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

The Naxi in The Forgotten Kingdom of Peter Goullart,

The Chapter VII of this wonderful book about the Naxi and Likiang in the 1940s depicts Naxi life and culture.

English books about the Naxi:

We try to build a complete list of the books published about the Naxi, including some difficult to find books published in China.

A collection of Dongba Pictographs in Different Forms: The book is not aimed at giving a complete guide of pictographs variations among the Naxi but to call the attention of the reader to the same existence of these variants forms, and maybe to offer some clues about the patterns of variation.

- A History and Anthropological Study of the Ancient Kingdoms of the Sino-Tibetan Borderland. This book provides one of the most comprehensive descriptions of the Naxi history, religion, pictographic writing, wedding and family life.

The Ancient Nakhi Kingdom of Southwest China. Joseph F. Rock. The quality of the first-hand information Joseph Rock provides, has made this book the starting point of many new researches, even half a century after the publication of the book.

- A Road Close to the Gods - Dongba Painting "The Road to Heaven". A wonderful book about one of the most important rituals of Dongba religion, a treasury now accessible to the global public. It is a reproduction of the longest and best preserved of the old Dongba scrolls.

- Comprehensive Introduction to Tourism and Famous Products of Lijiang: In the natural environment of Lijiang is stressed Yulong Mountain, Tiger Leaping Gorge and the First Bend of the Yangtze River in Shigu.

- Proverbs of the Naxi Nationality: The pictographic component of the Dongba script is so manifest that even readers without any knowledge of it, can find some connections between the pictographs and the English translation.

Naxi Culture Through American Eyes: Pinson's book is an account of seven years of her family life in a small Naxi village. She arranged the information in nine chapters dealing with the most important events of the Naxi yearly cycle, from the winter season, the time of killing pigs, to be married and to raise a new house.

A Naxi-Chinese-English Dictionary: After more than 16 years of work on Naxi language, Thomas M. Pinson’s dictionary was published at the end of 201. This is a monumental work that will allow the western researcher to dive in the Naxi spoken language.

Chinese Bibliography of the Naxi:

Some of the most important books about Naxi life, culture and history.

An annotated collection of Naxi Dongba Manuscripts. 100 Volumes: The work is impressive in itself; libraries usually have one column of shelves devoted to store this opus magnum. The care with which the material part of the editing process has been carried out make this work a public homage to the Naxi culture.

Research on Naxi Dongba culture: One of the basic works about the Naxi in Chinese language. This book is a compilation of articles with a broad thematic that includes all the aspects of the Dongba culture.

He Yunfeng.- Naxi zu yinyue shi (History of the music of the Naxi nationality)

This thesis is the product of the author's many years of fieldwork, specialized research and collection of material. It incorporates a wide range of the latest research and methodologies within the fields of music, history, ethnology, folk customs, archeology, linguistics, etc.

Researches on Naxi History and Society

Almost half of the 218 pages of this first volume are a "Collection of Historic Materials about the Naxi Nationality", a work of Xu Hongbao and Wang Hengjie, where they put together hundreds of references in Chinese historical documents and local gazetteers related to the Naxi nationality

Researches on the Dongba Mythology- Bai Gengsheng

According to the writer the main characteristics of Naxi mythology are its relationship to a religious tradition, to the literary works of the Dongba priests, its poetic style and its artistic value.

Outlook of the Naxi culture.

Along this chapter the variations of the Naxi culture are fully considered, and many of the paragraphs deal with the characteristics of the Naxi people around Lijiang, of the Moso around Yongning, the Ruarke (1) in Baidi Township, or the Masha in Weixi County.

A Collection of Naxi Proverbs

The book of He Jiezheng however, is aimed at the Naxi youngster, it includes several hundreds of proverbs with their Chinese meaning and the original Naxi phonetic reading.

Naxi Popular Festivals

Naxi festivals are closely related to their religious beliefs; the time of celebration of these festivals is related to the seasons of their productive life. Some of these festivals were registered in their Dongba classics, providing an idea of the way they were celebrated in the past.

Etymology of Naxi Dongba pictographs

The book of He Baolin is particularly interesting because it deals with a big number of pictographs, building around most of them a kind of etymology of the Dongba characters.

The Dongba Culture Unveiled. Mu Lichun

He emphasizes the important of the Sv life god, showing how the main ritual changes in the life of a person are related with his or her acquisition, preservation, and disposal of this Sv life god common to the family. The angle he uses to explore different aspects of the Naxi culture provides the reader with new and original insights in their traditional culture: birth, coming on age, marriage and death.

Lubanlushao - A Naxi myth.

Lubanlushao is one of the three main myths of the Naxi. It is the tragic romantic story of two lovers separated by the rules that regulated marriages in Naxi modern society. It is at the same time the tragic story of the Naxi young that, as the protagonists of this tale, commit suicide to avoid an undesired marriage.

Bai Gengsheng - Essays on symbolism in Dongba mythology

The book begins with a short theoretical introduction to myth and symbolism and the symbolism in the Dongba myths. In Dongba traditions there is a rich amount of symbols related with nature worship, reproductive worship and deities worship.


The Naxi in the Art, art of the Naxi

Photo Exhibitions

Ethnic China photo exhibitions

Old Pictures about the Naxi Nationality: We suggest to have a look at this Websites, where a nice selection of old pictures, most of them from the fist half of the twentieth century, are exhibited.

More Photo exhibitions


Naxi music: A guide to download their music

Films and Video

Some videos about the Naxi: The best videos available online to understand Naxi nationality life and culture.

Documentary Films about the Naxi: Some films depicting Naxi life and culture.

Image of the Naxi Nationality in the Chinese Films: Some information about six films where the life and culture of the Naxi is somehow depicted.


The Naxi art: The most interesting aspect of Naxi art is their Dongba religious art that includes not only the pictographic script, some times nicely coloured, but also ceremonial paintings, dances, etc.

Art Exhibitions


Travel to Naxi lands: Lijiang is the traditional capital of the Naxi. It was the center of Naxi economy, culture and politics during the last centuries. An important stop in the tea caravans.

sons of heaven
Ceinos's last book
Dongba priests in a ceremony
Happy gathering in a Naxi festival
Working of the Edongba software
naxi headdress
Headdress of the Naxi women in Baishuitai
Lijiang (the Naxi city) by night
Altar to the spirits of wind
naxi music
Rees's book about Naxi music
naxi proverbs
Naxi proverbs
naxi painting
The Road to Heaven. Painted by Dongba He Zhiben

General -Achang - Bai - Baima - Baoan - Bulang - Buyang - Buyi - Chashan - Dai - Daur - Deang - Deng - Dong - Dongxiang - Dulong - Ersu - Ewenki - Gejia -Gelao - Hani - Hezhe - Jingpo - Jino - Kucong - Lahu - Lhoba - Li - Lisu - Manchu - Maonan - Miao - Mongols - Moso - Mulao - Namzi - Naxi - Nu - Oroqen - Pumi - Qiang - Sani - She - Shui - Talu - Tibetan - Tu - Tujia - Uygur - Wa - Xibe - Yao - Yi - Zhuang