The buttons below link to details of our trip through Yunnan. The gallery link takes you to photos of our trip and 'About' includes travel practicalities as well as a reading list.

Introduction Kunming to Dali Places - Shaxi to Shangri LaPeople AboutGallery

Vicky's blog has a lot more detail and colour. You can read the first episode here



Yunnan People

Yunnan has 24 minority nationalities, many with several branches and they inhabit about two-thirds of the land, although two-thirds of the total population is Han as they live mostly in cities. Where the minorities make up the majority of population in a district, county or prefecture, or where they occupy most of the land they have been granted independent status. Therefore Diqing is a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and Lijiang is a Naxi Autonomous County. This status has wavered over the years - during the Cultural Revolution minorities were generally attacked, but in 1979 Deng Xiaoping reversed policy and supported the ethnic minorities again. Today fortunes are mixed: autonomous status still exists although children in rural Diqing are required to go to a (Chinese) boarding school from an early age much to the concern of their Tibetan parents.

Bai women in Xizhou market

In Kunming we see city people - modern dress, out walking their dogs or practicing Tai Chi. As we start driving into the country we see traditional villages. First Yi villages and then Bai - similar construction but different decoration.

Bai are the predominant nationality around Erhai Lake, in Dali and Xizhou. The Bai are known as good farmers and hard workers - they are prepared to take on building and labouring jobs. We watch them planting out the rice paddies around Xizhou with rice seedlings from the seed beds.

Old Naxi villagers in Yuhu

The Naxi people's 'capital' is Lijiang where they have been since at least the 10th Century. When Kubilai Khan arrived in the area in 1254 their horsemen helped to settle the rest of the region and were rewarded by their chief being made local Governor. The same happened when the Ming army arrived. For 100s of years the Mu Family ruled the Naxi from their mansion in Lijiang. The 13th C chief that became the governor is also credited with inventing the pictogram language in which Naxi history and legends have been recorded. This is well presented in the museum by Black Dragon pond in Lijiang. The older Naxi women still wear blue pinafores with shawls held on by crossing blue or black bands across their chests. Both the men and women favour Chairman Mao style blue hats.

Yi women dressed for the tourists

In Lijiang and Dali we also see Yi people. There are 24 branches to the Yi minority and they are the largest nationality in Yunnan after the Han. Around Lugu lake the Yi still practiced slavery until the 1950s - the Black Yi lorded over the White Yi and sometimes enslaved them along with people that they captured on raiding parties to the plains. In fact you had to be pretty careful if you were venturing into Yi country as you were likely to end up doing a lot of unpaid work. The women above are dressed up for the tourists. Typically the local Yi women wear colourful dresses, white long sleeved shirts and black waistcoats. The broad hat above signifies married women. The Yi are renowned for their hospitality and go to great lengths to entertain visitors (not sure how this reconciles with their warlike enslaving nature).

Tibetans watching the dancing in Shangri La

Once we reach Shangri-La we are in the Tibetan Autonomous Province. Many of the Tibetans here are from Lhasa and other Tibetan towns and have moved here hoping to make better lives. The Tibetan women often still wear blue smocks with colourful embroiders jackets and headdresses made of long strips of pink material. Many of the Tibetans around Shangri La are farmers with herds of cows, ox/yak crosses, pigs, sheep and goats. They also grow barley traditionally. In the villages around Napa Lake we see cabbage, lettuce, onions and other vegetables growing - "the farmers let their fields to the Chinese who are good at growing vegetables" I am told.

Dancing in the square in Shangri La

How long you will be able to see these minority people following their traditions and old way of dress remains to be seen. Parents want their children to learn the traditions but the young want to wear modern dress and the government wants to raise the standards of education and with this comes assimilation. Today these traditions are seen as a draw for the ever increasing number of Chinese tourists so maybe there is still an incentive to preserve the old ways.