The Yi Nationality

Name: Yi, Lolo, Noso, Nuosu

Population: 7,700,000 (only in China)

Habitat: Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces in China. Also in other countries of Southwest Asia

Introductory Articles in Ethnic China

  • The elusive Yi: The Yi are one of the most interesting and more numerous minorities in China.
  • Yi Autonomous Administration: They are spread in most of Yunnan Province, south of Sichuan and southwest of Guizhou.
  • Notes on the Nuosu (Yi) script: There are some legends that say that the Yi script was invented toward 7th or 8th the century, although there is not certainty of its use until the documents carved in stone of the 14th century.
  • Did the Yi give the name "China" to China?: In the last issue of the Sino -Platonic Papers, Geoff Wade (1) provides some evidence as to think that the name "China" refers to an old Yi nationality ruled polity: The old Kingdom of Yelang.
  • The origin of the universe: a myth of the Yi goddess: This is one of the most important myths of the Yi. In its various versions, Aheixinimo, the Great Goddess creates everything that exists in nature. Here we introduce a short summary of this myth.
  • Danced funeral of the Awu Yi: this dance is to express the pain for the death of a person, and to open the way for the soul.
  • The Zijun Yi: heirs of an old Kingdom: The Zijun or Shamudai, are about 20.000 people living in the banks of Dianchi Lake
  • Axi Fire Worship: To commemorate Madeng, deified as God of Fire, every year the Axi people carry on the Fire Worship Festival. Though this festival was forbidden during the Cultural Revolution, in the last years has become more and more important for the people of these mountains
  • Poverty of the Yi Nationality in Liangshan: Dire poverty among the Yi Nationality in Liangshan Mountains forces children 12 years old to migrate to work in coastal cities.
  • Notice of the Xiangtang ethnic group: a branch of the Yi nationality with a population of around 85.000. Most of them are widely dispersed in some counties in west and south Yunnan, usually in hilly terrains, with poor lands and bad communications.

    More introductory articles

Scholars Researches available in the Web

Ayi Bamo.- The Bi-mox in The Liangshan Yi Society

Take Meigu County for example, statistics shows that there were 6850 bi-moxes (male only) in 1996, covering 4 percent of the total population and 8 percent of the male. The variety of religious ceremonies amounted to over 200 and religious scriptures reached a staggering number of 115,000 copies.

Mark Bender.- "Tribes of Snow" Animals and Plants in the Nuosu Book of Origins (Asian Ethnology)

This paper examines how select images of life forms in the text relate to historic and contemporary Nuosu culture, and suggests that in the traditions of the Hnewo, boundaries between the realms are conceptually mitigated by the ultimate origin of all life in the sky.

David Bradley.- The status of the 44 tone in Nosu

In the ¡°standard¡± Shengza variety of Nosu, the 44 tone frequently has slight creakiness in phonation, and varies somewhat between a completely level tone and one with a slight rise or rise-fall;

David Bradley, Maya Bradley and Li Yongxiang.- Language endangerment in China: The Yi of Kunming.

The Kunming area is particularly significant for the Yi as, according to their traditional written history, it was their original homeland, from which they dispersed starting about 1500 years ago. Prior to that time, they were ruled by a series of Yi dynasties including the Dian and Cuan who controlled eastern Yunnan from their centres around Dian Lake near Kunming up to about 800 AD.

Kenneth Chan.- A Bilingualism and Language Vitality Survey of the Gan Yi in the Yi Mei Duo Village of the Shilin County of the Yunnan Province of China. 2008

Although the Gan Yi can understand a basic level of Sani Yi, they might find it more difficult to understand more complex Sani Yi materials. Language shift to Chinese is evident in this Gan Yi village.

Stevan Harrell.- Reading Threads: Clothing, Ethnicity, and Place in Southwest China

Despite decades of pressure to become revolutionary or modern, people in the hill regions of Southwest China, like their ethnic relatives across the border in Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, associated ethnicity with clothing.

Stevan Harrell.- Ethnicity and kin terms among two kinds of Yi

Stevan Harrell.- Nuoso lacquerware: a traditional craft and its recent transformations.

Stevan Harrell.- The History of the History of the Yi

Stevan Harrell and Li Yongxiang.- The History of the History of the Yi Part II. Over the past 50 years, there has developed an educated, sophisticated, bicultural minority elite involved in administration of all sorts, particularly in cultural affairs and in cultural scholarship.

Stevan Harrell, Thomas M. Hinckley, Li Xingxing, Joanne Ho, Kayanna Warren and Ross T. Nadal.- Historical Ecological Change in the Upper Baiwu Valley

The Upper Baiwu Valley in Yanyuan County is an ecologoical and human system that has been changing and adapting to human use for hundreds of years. Since 1956, the pace of ecological change has speeded up, and a series of ecological shocks ecoshock have swept over the valley.

Stevan Harrell ang Bamu Qubumo.- The Nuosu Yi of Liangshan, China

In this article, we illustrate the general forms and principles of Yi clothing by concentrating on the clothing and body ornamentation styles of the Nuosu, one of the Yi peoples least influenced by outside societies and cultures.

Stevan Harrell and Kayanna Warren. A short summary of Nuosu Ecology and Ethnoecological Concepts

This egalitarian consumption in the face of rigid social hierarchy was the result of the economic correlates of social status being connected with livestock and luxury goods, rather than with agricultural land and products or with forestry.

Thomas Heberer.- Ethnic Entrepreneurship and Ethnic Identity: A Case Study among the Liangshan Yi (Nuosu) in China


By means of a questionnaire survey of Yi-Chinese bilingual students at the Ethnic Secondary School of Xichang, and observations of natural language use by urban Yi-Chinese bilinguals and rural Yi monolinguals, the author of this article seeks to understand current use of Yi family, education, religion, work, and the media in order to assess Yi¡¯s vitality and social function in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture.

Shao-Hua Liu.- Emerging Modernity in a Periodic Marketplace in Southwest China.

This paper examines the effects of a periodic marketplace in the post-socialist transition of China's Nuosu (Yi) minority in Liangshan.

Chunlin Long, Sumei Li,Bo Long,Yana Shi and Benxi Liu.- Medicinal plants used by the Yi ethnic group: a case study in central Yunnan (J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009; 5: 13)

The characteristics of medicinal plants were analyzed. Some new findings (such as new curative effects and new preparation methods) were recorded These newly gathered ethnobotanical and medicinal data are precious sources for the future development of new drugs, and for further phytochemical, pharmacological and clinical studies.

Lu Yunchun, Liu Yitang, Meng Simu and Bruce Hansen.- Language Survey Report on the White Yi of Stone Forest County

This short note reports on an effort to assess language information from speakers of White Yi who were reported to reside in Shilin (Stone Forest) County of Yunnan Province of China. No speakers were found, and it was concluded that there are no speakers of White Yi indigenous to this county.

James A. Matisoff.- Much Adu about something: extrusional labiovelars in a Northern Yi patois.

In a recent article in Minzu Yuwen, the Chinese linguist Pan Zhengyun describes a subdialect "Adu" of the Northern group of Yi (= Loloish) languages that has a series of labiovelar initials, /kp-, kph-, gb-, .gb-, .m-/, not to be found elsewhere in the entire Yi family.

Poling, Victoria, Jiro Kusonose, Marie Tsiang, and Shermi Liang.- Nuosu biodiversity and ethnobotany: A case study in the Yangjuan area, Yanyuan County, Liangshan Autonomous Region. 2003

An ethnobotany portion of our survey was also conducted for the purpose of assessing how the Yi people in of this region made use of the plants surrounding their villages.

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.

Benoit Vermander.- Nuosu Religion: Rituals, Agents and Beliefs- Renlai 2007

Religion can be approached and defined from a variety of standpoints. I choose here to pragmatically study Nuosu religion as a complex of rituals; the agents that participate in them; and set of beliefs that somehow underline these rituals while their maintenance is supported by this very performance. In one approach, Nuoso religion can thus be described as a set of rituals proper to the Nusou people living on the Liangshan territory.

Benoit Vermander.- The Future of Nuosu Religion - Renlai 2007

Will local religions proper to several ethnic minorities throughout Asia eventually disappear? Or is their resilience stronger than generally thought? Let us examine this question through the prism of "Nuosu religion"

Benoit Vermander.- The Shamaness and the Baby- Renlai 2006

She herself has in her hands two other glasses, larger in size, and she pours the content alternatively form one cup to another. Her psalmody starts with the genealogy of her trade, the sunyit line to which she belongs. She takes the rooster presented to her and breaks its spur. The door of the room and the one of the little house are kept open.

Benoit Vermander.- The Yis of Liangshan prefecture- beyond and behind ethnicity. eRenlai, 2007

Zheng Chengjun.- Animal Husbandry and Resource utilization in a Yi community in Xiaoliangshan, Ninglang County, Yunnan

Free books about the Yi

Goullart, Peter.- Land of the Lamas (Adventures in Secret Tibet)

Seventh Sister and the Serpent. Narrative poem of the Yi people

Vicomte D`Ollone - In forbidden China.

Henri d'Ollone - Les derniers Barbares, 1911.

Aimé-François Legendre - Le far-west chinois: Kientchang et Lolotie (1910) (In French)

Yi priests and witches in Paul Vial work: Here we translate his words regarding the Yi religious specialists.

The Nosu (Yi from Liangshan) in Camps and Trails in China: Roy Chapman Andrews, Camps and Trails in China (1918)

Books and references

Basic Bibliography of the Yi

Interesting book about Yi nationality painting: "Na Shi", meaning drawing or painting in the Yi language, was a style of painting of the primitive Yi nationality, which was used as offering sacrifice to their gods and ancestors in funeral ceremonies.

Some books about the Axi branch of the Yi nationality: A first selection of books related to this important branch of the Yi

Reading curses, a wise man tale. There was a young couple that worked in the house of the Tusi as servants. The girl was very beautiful, and the Tusi harassed her continually. Not being able to tolerate more this situation, they went to see the wise man Luomo Azhi

Chinese Bibliography of the Yi

Photo Exhibitions


  • Yi music
  • A guide to download their music

Films and Video

Art and Handicrafts


  • Travel to Yi lands
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