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Lijiang: Naxi Minority


14:02, August 01, 2011

In this episode of Travelogue, Chen Lei will take you to an ancient land of China, Lijiang of Yunanan province. We will discover the beauty of local Naxi minority groups and its mysterious Yulong Mountain and Yun Shang Ping grassland.

Variety of China's landscapes, diversity of its people. Welcome to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a perfect example of a combination between human and nature. Besides of marvelous sceneries, there are also beautiful minority groups, such as Naxi groups, living around these sceneries.

Lijiang nestles at the foot of Yulong Snow Mountain in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province. For the past thousand years, it has been one of the most famous towns in all of China. In ancient times, it was settled by Nomadic tribes-people. In 1253, the great Mongol leader Kublai Khan established a garrison in Lijiang, from where he headed further south to conquer the State of Dali.

Today, some 188,000 Naxi people are living in the county of Lijiang. They account for almost 60 per cent of the county's total population of 325,000. Of the rest, the majority are ethnic Han, Bai, Lisu, Pumi and Tibetan. All in all, twelve ethnic groups call Lijiang home. Minority – that is non-Han – people constitute eighty-three percent of the total population.

Baoshan Stone Village is located in the north of Lijiang – some 110 kilometers from the ancient town itself. The stone village actually stands on a huge rock beside a river called the Jinsha, at an altitude ranging from 1,600 to 4,600 meters. The village is home to around a hundred Naxi families, who live, surrounded by mountains and cliffs. There is only one way into the village from the mountain path; and at the far side, a stone gate shows the way to the Jinsha River.

From a distance, the stone village looks like a well-cultivated Bonsai tree resting in a ceramic pot; as I get closer, I find the residents are friendly, but there’s no disguising the strong sense they feel of being independent from the rest of the world.

I’m going to sit down.

A very good town, it only has 108 families living here. People all notice me. There are no strangers here. I’m the only one staying here. Everybody is camera shy. It’s there first time in this town, that there is a camera. Actually, without the camera, everybody is very relaxed. They talk to you and invite you to their homes. It’s quiet relaxing, but right now, they don’t like it.

Seem like they are more interested then I do. That reminds me of one think. When we live somewhere, we kind of ignore the surroundings, even living in beautiful places like this. Taking a picture and showing it to them, is a great example.

As I make my way further into town, a gentleman waves to me. It turns out he wants to show me some of his artwork. He explains that when he’s not doing his farming work, he spends his time making carved wooden figures.

Look what an artist!

These are the local houses and buildings, in this little village. They call it the Hesik house style. It means that the houses of your neighbors are build right next to your house. It’s so close build, you can even shake hands and you can touch your neighbor’s roof. And you can see people, closely, walking around here. It’s so close build.

The Stone village is not a castle built out of stone, but a town built on a gigantic rock. Their houses are not the only example of the locals making effective use of the plentiful supplies of rock and stone. Some people use rocks to make the columns that support their houses; some make desks and tables from rocks; and some manage to fashion everyday items such as water vats, kitchen implements and even beds from rock. The constant use ensures that all the rocks and stones are polished smooth.

All the buildings in the stone village are made by hand and moved in, piece by piece, by hand. All the rocks and stones they use, they have to carry in on their own backs. Just sometimes they may get a horse to help.

The town of Shuhe was built on the mountainside and faces a river. In fact, two rivers pass on each side of – or more accurately, through the village. The villagers have built channels that carry water past each house. The rivers, channels and roads form a network that has turned the town into something resembling a honeycomb. The walls of the houses here are built of stone, fetched from the nearby mountains.

For a minority group, water is a sort of life. It’s very important to them. Therefore, they’ll choose a place to life nearby the water. Or they retract the water to their villages. They have a special design here. The water comes down in three sections and one stream that’s coming down. The first one is to wash in it or to drink it. The second one is to clean their food and the third one is to wash the rest of the things. So this explains why this is a typical design.

Compared to ancient Lijiang, there’s something even more natural about the houses here. In the middle of Shuhe, there is a square with a market called, not surprisingly, Shuhe Square Market. It’s very relaxing just to gaze at the romantic scenery and the tourists passing by.

The Naxi women living in Lijiang are easy to spot, because of the way they dress. Blue, white and black are their favorite colors. Typically, their costume consists of a loose, wide-sleeved gown with a waistcoat on top, trousers, a pleated apron and a pair of embroidered shoes shaped like boats. The collar, sleeves and front of their clothes are embroidered with flowers. Often they also wear a sheepskin stole, with seven round patterns embroidered on it, representing seven stars that symbolize the remarkable talents and hardworking spirit of Naxi women.

If you take a stroll through Shuhe, you get a sense of an ancient town that is quite well developed. There’s a fascinating mix of Naxi culture and tradition, with such signs of modern society as Internet cafes and coffee shops and bars.

Visitors to ancient Shuhe have three pleasant ways to pass the time; getting on line, chatting, and doing nothing more taxing than read a book.

The ancient town of Dayan in Lijiang has a history of over 800 years. A well known saying, "each house is built by a stream and surrounded by willows" refers to Dayan. More prosaically, the town is sometimes called "Suzhou on the Plateau".

Lijiang's important as a stop on the Tea and the tiny town of Dayan epitomizes Horse Trail. Caravans passing along the route would stop in Dayan to rest and replenish their supplies before continuing their long and weary journey. Some travelers would linger. The Tibetan merchants in particular would find it hard to tear themselves away from the pleasant climate and the colorful Naxi folk customs and culture. The locals did a good business from the passing traders who came through the town in steady numbers. They built many hotels – and this marked the start of a flourishing tourist industry. These merchant-oriented hotels can still be found today in Dayan, on Xinyi Street, near Niujiaxiang, and on Jishanxiang Alley.

You can spend 10 Yuan or 20 Yuan on a plague with a ring. On this plague you can make a wish. They call it a wish-plague. So all these plagues up here are wishes from people who bought the plague. Let me read some of them.

- Dear, I love you, you’re my baby

- My uncle, I love you.

- My parents, I love you.

- Wish you all the best.

- Oh this one! I wish you watch travelogue every day.

- We love travelogue its host.

- Ray is the best!

Just kidding…these are the wish-plagues of tourists who came here and spend 10 or 20 Yuan. Look at this, there are like hundreds or thousands of them. Look at that!

This is my real wish-plague. Watching CCTV-9, watching my show (I Love You).. So I bought this. This one was 20 Yuan. So I’m going to hang it up, to make sure, everybody can see it.

That’s it. I got my plague, right there. I got my wish up there. Everybody can see it. It’s a commercial, actually. An add! Hundred thousands of people come over here, so when you come to Liijang, remember to visit this girl. She’s my plague hanging up there. NEXT!

In fact, the ancient town of Lijiang developed from a largely Naxi settlement established in Dayan during the Southern Song Dynasty, some eight centuries ago. In December 1986, the State Council designated Lijiang as a national-level site of historical and cultural importance.

This is how people live. This is very interesting. This is how people are living, how they clean their houses. The river around this town, there are many bridges. I was told there are 365 bridges. They call that, one day, one bridge. And the water is underneath. So everybody just uses the water of the river, around the town. They use the river to clean their houses like that. I was told a long time ago, when they open that door, all the water would come down. This is very clean environment. So, I’m going to do some work.

The town of Lijiang, screened by a mountain and facing a river, has never needed high walls. Ancient streets cross it and lanes paved with coloured stones and lined with houses built of wood, stone and mud. The style is simple and practical, yet nonetheless attractive. Small streams run parallel with Sifang Street, which cuts across the middle of the town, and the many other lanes.

The Dongba script used by the Naxi people has some 1,700 written characters. Believe it or not, the pictograph is still alive and well in Lijiang today.

We talked about the language. We talked about this Dongba culture language and characters. We talked about their jewelries and all their decorations. But today it’s the first time, I see this gentleman how to write. This is how they write. Many people tell me, Chinese characters are very hard to write. Try this one, very hard!

Look at this. This is again, a wish. Let me translate. I need to translate it. This is my name – This is my wish – This is my friend’s name – and the wish is: be happy every day.

These are tree bark. It’s what we use to make Dongba paper. Let’s take a look over here. Inside is the tree bark. It must be boiled for 3 days and nights, or around 80 hours.

Dongba culture, it’s named after the Dongba church. It reverses to Naxi ancient culture with the long history of nearly 1000 years.

The Dongba church is a primitive religion of nationality. Believing in the mighty god and its deeply influences by: Buddhism and Taoism. Dongba means being talented. It’s a combination of which doctor, scholar, artist ion and a craftsman and an important success of traditional culture.

Dongba paper consists a large of volumes and there are still 1700 kinds and all over 20.000 volumes till now. These are collected in the libraries, museums of Luijiang, Beijing and Taiwan in China as well foreign countries such as: United States, Germany and France.

The paper contains, philosophies, history, medicine, and religions to astronomy, literature and arts. It’s a real encyclopedia of the Naxi ancient society.

As you know, music is a major element of all the ethnic groups in China. However, modern music, you can find everywhere. Even in this little ancient town, there are bars all over. In this bar, for example, you can find Bob Marley. Reggae music is very popular. But if you really want to listen to ethnic group music, like the local traditional music of 400 years ago, I’ll show you where to find this.

Dongba music – sometimes called Naxi ancient music – comes in two principal forms. First there’s the An Hun Qu, which dates back over 700 years but is rarely performed today. Then there’s the Lijiang Dongjing music, which has its origins somewhat later – in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Whatever its form, Dongba music closely reflects Naxi culture – not least in its Daoist theme.

15 kilometers north of the town of Lijiang is a magnificent, snow-capped mountain extending for 35 kilometers from north to south. As you climb up the mountain, you become acutely aware of the marked changes in the environment and temperature – a product of the mountain's temperate-glacial climate.

Here, among the dangerous hills and rivers of the Hengduan Mountains, in the wild lands and forests on the "Roof of the World", a mysterious ancient road winds and wanders. It’s probably one of the most terrifying roads on the planet. For over a thousand years, caravans traveled quietly along it. You can still see holes in the stone, some as much as 70cm deep, made by restless horses stamping their hooves. It seems there are numerous stories to be told about this ancient path. The piles of stones by the roadside are Mani altars, carved with religious scriptures and symbols. This is the Ancient Tea and Horse Trail, one of the highest, most precarious and oldest roads anywhere in the world – and a major conduit for cultural and economic exchange.

Lijiang ping is a large patch of pastern talked away hidden by an amount of virtual forests, on the eastern side of the Yulong, Snow Mountain. Through out the ages, the grassland has been seen as a get-a-way to a mysterious kingdom and a holly land for young lovers.

With the development of its civilization, fewer people are forced to marry. And this is no longer the spot, where lovers came together, at all causes. This place has been turned into a stage where young people from different minority groups, perform folkdances and sing their folk songs to welcome visitors. Lijiang ping has a small cable car, which provides you to access the grassland area.

Lijiang today is no longer the "forgotten kingdom" it once was. The Lijiang people are by nature warm-hearted and hospitable, and whatever their ethnic origin, they offer a warm welcome to friends from both home and abroad. And rather like the Lijiang people, the magnificent and mysterious Yulong – or Jade Dragon – Snow Mountain is also opening its arms to the world.


1. The Naxi people are clever creating over 1000 Naxi characters, and writing over 30000Dongba religious texts.

2. The Naxi people are industrious, especially the women, who take on house hold chores and agricultural work.

3. The Naxi people are enthusiastic, frank, and dedicated to love.


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