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Dali: Bai Minority


13:59, August 01, 2011

The Bai ethnic minority group has a population of 1,858,063. Eighty percent are living in communities in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Guizhou Province. The word Bai means white, and in the Bai minority group white is considered a sacred color meaning purity.

In this episode of Travelogue, explored Asian history and beautiful culture of Yunan Bai people. It's clever and artistic. Get a taste of the world.

Variety of China’s landscapes, diversity of its people. Welcome to Travelogue. Welcome to our minority series. This episode I take you down to the Yunan province, to experience the fine minority culture and experience the Asian town more than a thousand years ago.

Yunnan, though a province of China, is, in many aspects, a part of Southeast Asia. This is the case because it is populated not only by Han Chinese but also by a large number of minorities who have been living here for as long as history has been recorded. The Bai people are one of the dominant ethnic groups of Yunnan.

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province. However Dali is more popular in terms of tourist attractions of Yunan. Dali, some 400 kilometers to the west, is located near a major lake, Erhai Lake. And like Kunming, Dali lies at an altitude of about 1,900 meters.

The main attraction of Dali is probably the surrounding countryside. To the west lies the Cangshan Mountain Range with peaks well above 4,000 meters and a large number of most picturesque Buddhist temples.

Yunnan is probably the most colorful, and the most diverse province in China. The particular ethnic mix certainly contributes to this fact.

Actually, Yunnan is among the ethnically most diverse regions not only of China but also of all of Asia, comparable in diversity to its neighbor in the South and East.

For many centuries, Dali was the principal city of Yunnan, far more important than Kunming. Dali was the capital of the Nanchao Kingdom, which made its power felt deep into China. Much later, in the mid-19th century, Dali was replaced by Kunming as the capital of Yunnan.

Erhai is the major site of Yunnan tourist attractions. In China it is the largest highland lake next to Dianch The dimension is 41.5 km. by 8.4 km. with an average depth of 10 metres, covering an area of 250 It would be a great pleasure for the tourist to go for a boat ride on the crystal water of the lake.

In New Stone Age four thousand years ago, the forefathers of Bai ethnic began from the Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Sea as their center to live and multiply in Yunnan Province. They started the agricultural culture on the plain near the rivers and lakes this region is Dali.

During the late period of Shang Dynasty to West Han Dynasty, the Bai ethnic created splendid bronze culture of Erhai Sea.

Erhai they call it the sea, but actually it is a lake, a huge lake. And there are many options here; one of the biggest tourist attractions is to get on the big cruise ship. It can hold hundreds of people, with many entertainments. Well known for showing their fine culture.

They have singing, dancing and the well know, three style tea.

The Bai began to plant tea and make tea long ago, they have formed their unique tea culture on tea drinking, and tea tasting called "Three Paces Tea of Bai Ethnic".

That’s their tradition: three style tea.

This is the first round, which says, dancing, music and providing the tea. They come in three styles. The first one is bitter. The second one is sweeter and the third round is different. It’s called the aftertaste.

Xi Zhou Township is a typical area fulfilled with Bai people and well represented house style.

Nowadays the Bai Ethnic Village in Dali has become unique landscape and it is a beautiful sightseeing resource of Yunnan Province. With its long history, its customs, ethnic songs and dances, construction arts, are all worthy to visit for you. I suggest if you travel to Dali, go and have a look at the Bai Ethnic Village, visit the Bai family, and taste that well-known "Three Paces Tea". I believe you will have a travel worthy aftertaste.

Yan Family’s property however is the landmark of Xizhou residents of Bai minority Group.

Woodcarvings in the residential buildings are another trademark of Bai, which strongly presents the art history of Bai spirit.

Bai minority groups have their unique design of residential beauty. For example; the XiZhou Township. Yan’s family is one of the wealthy families. It’s design very unique; they present there very own style. For example this one; you have the three sides of the house. Living room right there, facing the big wall, painted all white. That’s for the lighting.

In the afternoon when the sun goes down, this big screen reflects it’s light into the living room and all the rooms around it. And as we go inside, there are more designs. Two floors, first floor, for families, living room, the major, the master of the house, living on the right and the number one son, on the left and the rest of the house is for the rest of the family and the second floor of the house is for guests or other house members.

The tradition "three rooms and one wall" is the main type of Bai houses. The arch decorated exquisitely, the furnace is magnificent, and the modeling of the houses is very graceful. Every Bai family likes to plant flowers and trees in the courtyard.

At the aspect of selecting color of wood and decoration, they all embody their own tradition. Including the wood, many stones are also used. The arch is use for modeling and inside the house; they use clay sculpture, woodcarving, and colorful drawings to decorate. They use marble and green brick to fix and beautify the construction, it is the character that the Bai ethnic. They are known to use local materials and give play to imaginations of construction arts richly, so the constructions of Bai are not only resplendent and magnificent but also very simple and generous.

Batik style on cloth with a typical color such as blue is Bai’s specialty.

A batik style fabric has been done in the following steps:


Use a plastic material lay on the original white material;


Tie the cloth with hands in various styles, then use needle pin through the patterns.


The third step of batik is to dye the material with organic products such as leaves and flowers.

Every print in the Bai minority is handmade. If you visit a studio like this, they make every single piece by hand. It’s a piece of art, which takes a long time. It looks like a simple design, but it the whole procedure takes a long time. After I my visit here, I really come to appreciate all the material.


After all the dye and tie. It comes to the easy step, dry it out.


The very last step is to untie all the nuts and release the fabric in a nature way. An amazing design will come out once the fabric is dry.

Bai also has many well-known silversmiths who have been creating many business opportunities for local people.

Silver products are very famous in the Bai minority. And of all the Bai minorities, this village, Xin Hua village, is well known for making the silver products. There are in total 1400 families, 900 or two out of those are craftsmen, making those silver products.

I walk into this Xin Hua village which has 2/3rd of the families are silversmiths. Out of all the silversmiths, Mr. Chu’s family is the largest one. Can you here that, those are the silversmiths, making products right there.

The history of silversmith in Bai has been started in about 2,500 years ago. Nowadays, silversmiths in Yunnan have an unique business position in China nationwide, especially at the Xin Hua village of Dali. Tourist buses come in and out the little village bring in hundreds of visitors from all over the world to buy silver products. 80% of the entire village population is related to the silver business.

These are all products made from this house. And this is there latest design, called “Nine dragons, hot for drinking”, which costs 10.000 rmb. And here you have a very big one, a very detailed one, with a dragon design. It is a hotpot, which is very popular in southern China. You know with the cooking in the restaurants. But this is not a regular hotpot. It’s a special design, all made out of silver. You can open it up and it has the layers, where you can put in hot water and food. This one costs 40.000 rmb.

Today, Mr. Cun Fa Biao, a famous silversmith, made a fortune out of silver products. Orders from all over the world come in to Mr. Cun’s production line that includes teapot, hotpot, liquor glass and even personal statues.

On my way back to the Hotel, traffic took us to an unexpected event that later found out is a local large religious festival.

On our road we happen to see this local festival, organized by the local people, the Bai minority. Most of the singers they get to together one or twice a year to walk around village by village and sing. There are two things they do:

1. They sing a prayer

2. To meet with their old lovers.

So we see a lot of singers, who are very happy, singing their songs and keep walking and walking.

In addition to their Azhali Buddhism, the Bai also propitiate local folk deities known as Benzhu, or "village lords," that function within society in ways similar to but in some ways intriguingly different from popular gods in Han Chinese communities.

A village's primary Benzhu may have spouse and family (and some of the primary village Benzhu are female), and most often his (or her) identity is explained on the basis of a mythical-historical story of local significance. In some cases the Benzhu of neighboring villages are related, but there is no concept of a unifying celestial hierarchy as in Han Chinese popular religion. Offerings of sacrificed chickens and other animals are common, in search of all the most wished-for benefits of ordinary life -- health, longevity, wealth, and male offspring -- and although the overall structure of the offering rituals is similar to that of Han Chinese rituals, a unique assemblage is achieved through the use of chants in the Bai language, local dance and song forms, and traditional Bai foodstuffs.

Pray to the three spirits. Three spirits stands for three locations of temples. On Chinese calendar, the holiday starts from April 23rd to 25th that people take in a group visiting all the locations and singing their thoughts and communicating in Bai language.

The Three Pagodas, though not as famous as those on the Three Pagodas Pass between Thailand and Myanmar, are among the oldest still-existing architectural structures in all of Southwestern China. The tallest of the three was built in the 9th century and reaches a height of some 70 meters. The two smaller pagodas are about 42 meters high.

Jian Chuan temple is famous for it’s Jian Chuan pagoda. It was build 1200 years ago, in Northern China. In it’s Tang dynasty. Here it’s called the Nan Chao Kingdom. Back then it’s a mature culture. This pagoda is a perfect example. Sixteen layers and it also have a great eagle on the top, which presents the fine minority group. Also the Tang dynasty is like a bigger feature and a different shape. On the other hand the small pagodas on the side represent the beauty and soul dynasty. It total different style. Anyways, so this pagoda, famous not only for it’s structure, they also represent a culture in this area.

On the way to the Jian Chuan stone caves we found many Buddha status and many temples. Jian Chuan started in 1,100 years ago. The entire area spreads to 3 locations with 17 caves. Jian Chuan stone cave is a valuable source for history studying of Nan Chao Kingdom. It contents four parts, one worship female body is a strong religious form; it also worship village lord, or called Benzhu, the king of Nan Zhao Kingdom. After Buddhist came to Dali from India, the religion in this area has been blended with various elements.

For thousands of years, there was an ancient road treaded by human feet and horse hoofs in the mountains of Southwest China

The ancient commercial passage, dubbed the "Ancient Tea-Horse Road", first appeared during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and lasted until the 1960s when Tibetan highways were constructed. Meanwhile, the road also promoted exchanges in culture, religion and ethnic migration, resembling the refulgence of the Silk Road.

The road stretched across more than 4,000 kilometers mainly in Southwest China's Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Just as the Silk Road, the Ancient Tea-Horse Road disappeared with the dawn of modern civilization, but both routes have played very important roles in the development of China. Different Chinese ethnic cultures, such as the Dai, Yi, Han, Bai, Naxi and Tibetans, have met, fused and developed along the historic road.

The old road ran across the Hengduan Mountains and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau -- an area of the most complicated geological conditions and most diversified organisms. Besides its cultural and historic value, the road was also highly appreciated by adventurers and scientists.

In a modern day today, no doubt, everywhere becomes a tourist’s attraction. Dali attracts many tourists from all over the world.

Si Deng Jie located in Sha Xi town of Jian Chuan, which is the only ancient street left from the old Silk Road.

As any visitor knows, when you come to Dali, you got to come and visit the old town, the Asian town. It’s culture mixed. You can find old times like; the building, structures decoration, everything is with a history. And you can also find a modern style like, coffee shops, bars; you can even order pizza here. It’s especially a very good place for the weekends. Saturday and Sunday afternoon just sit around and watching people, drinking coffee or beer, whatever you prefer.

That’s all for our program from Dali. Thank you for watching and we’ll see you next time.


1. Bai minority history is long, and their culture is rich.

2. The Bai people have a developed culture and are blessed with artistic sense.

3. Bai people have excellent handcrafts, and are particularly skilled in woodcarving, dying, and silverware making.


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