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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 08:42, March 05, 2006
Young minorities keep old traditions alive
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He Xiangguang has been living in Beijing ever since he left Lijiang, Yunnan, to study in the Central University for Nationalities 17 years ago.

Four years back, He, 35, and a few Naxi friends started a website which has grown into a virtual community of the Naxi people.

From just about 40 people in the beginning, the website ( now has more than 500 registered members.

According to the Lijiang city government, some 600 people of Naxi ethnicity, working in different professions, have made their home in Beijing.

Many of them are just in their 20s and 30s, but they cherish their ethnic identity and maintain links with their hometown, thousands of kilometres away.

When the website was first started, "there were very few Naxi students in Beijing and the online community could provide us much needed help and support," said He, who works in the Alcatel Shanghai Bell Co Ltd in Beijing.

"We call it the 'spiritual home of the Naxi people'," said Qiu Yuhua, 26, one of the earliest participants in the website. "I will always have a soft spot for Lijiang."

Qiu was born and raised in the old town of Lijiang. She earned a master's degree in ethnology from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences last July and now works at the China Tibetan Studies Institute. She is working on a project on the history of Tibet.

"I'm learning the Tibetan language to better understand the Tibetan people, who share many similarities with my own in terms of origin," she said.

The website has become a platform for Naxi and other people interested in this minority group to discuss topical issues such as the impact of tourism and the latest news in Lijiang.

"We don't want to see our ethnic culture blossoming and withering quickly like a flower," said He.

He and his friends have invited some scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to talk about the ancient Dongba hieroglyphs on their website.

The website also serves to help Naxis living away from their hometown.

"We talk about buying a house, getting a car, or finding a job. Economy and daily life are as important as culture," said He.

Every year, during the Sanduo Festival, He and Qiu organize the Naxi people in Beijing for a celebration. Besides students, there are also scholars, artists, journalists and people from other fields among the Naxis in Beijing.

Everyone prepares some cultural programme and all conversation is in the Naxi language. The celebrations conclude with all of them holding hands in a circle and performing the Naxi group dance.

In the past two years, the Naxis have held ceremonies to commemorate the Naxi ancestors at the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park in northern Beijing.

Apart from the Sanduo Festival, the Naxis also meet for other occasions such as the Torch Festival (in the sixth month of the lunar calendar) and the Ghost Festival (seventh lunar month). They hold painting exhibitions and seminars on Naxi culture.

Cherished traditions

Zhang Jiangtao, 29, is another active website participant. The young man has been away from his home in Lijiang for 11 years. As he works in the IT industry, he spends one to two hours every day to maintain the website.

Zhang pointed out that the Naxi minority comprises just about 300,000 people. "We can easily be inundated by other cultures. So I feel an obligation to work for our own people."

He is worried about the increasing impact of tourism on Lijiang. But he says: "Economic development has positive effects: While more people outside come to appreciate Lijiang and the Naxi culture, the local people also widen their horizons and realize the uniqueness of their own culture."

Yang Huayun, 27, is also a native of Lijiang. She graduated from Peking University and now works in a digital television company.

Yang remembers following her grandparents and parents to the Beiyue Temple at the foot of the Yulong Snow Mountain where the Sanduo God is enshrined during the Sanduo Festival and paying homage to the Naxi people's ancestors. She has been participating enthusiastically in the gatherings of Naxi folk in Beijing.

He Ling, also 27, has been working in the media since graduation from the Central University for Nationalities.

She said although living in a big city such as Beijing means missing out on the cultural atmosphere of Lijiang, she cherishes the traditions. "We all persist in speaking our mother tongue, which is very important to maintain our identity," she said.

She has been to other small old towns such as Fenghuang in Central China's Hunan Province and Pingyao in North China's Shanxi Province, but finds her hometown the most charming.

At this year's Sanduo Festival, she will join her friends to watch the special cultural performance.

"What is most important for me is not seeing the programmes, but enjoying being part of a big family," she said.

Li Ling, 30, regrets that she did not learn to play the kouxian, a plucked bamboo instrument, from her mother Li Xiuxiang, who will come to Beijing and perform in next week's show.

Her grandmother had been a famous folk singer in Lashihai, about 8 kilometres from the old town of Lijiang. But Li said both folk songs and the kouxian are difficult to learn. Although the songs have set tunes, a good singer is expected to improvise with lively lyrics.

"Without a deep understanding of Naxi culture, such improvisation is almost impossible," said Li, who has a master's degree in minorities' literature from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

While playing the kouxian with the hands, one needs to sing in a certain, peculiar way, which makes the kouxian very hard to learn.

Li has been away from home for 10 years, but often goes back. Living in Beijing, she values her hometown and its culture even more.

Although she and her brother did not learn much music from their mother, their nephew has picked up a lot. Barely 3, the boy who lives in Lijiang knows several Naxi lullabies.

Li works in the Nationalities Pictorial, which was founded in 1955 and covers minority issues in Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uygur, Korean and Kazak.

The pictorial's current editor-in-chief Che Wenlong is also a Naxi native and a distinguished photographer. This January, a picture album entitled "The Impression of Naxi" was published by the China Nationalities Photography Publishing House. Many of the pictures in the album have been taken by Che in the 31 years since he started working at the pictorial.

He Xiangguang said people in Lijiang hold grand celebrations to mark the Sanduo Festival. The elderly go to the hot springs near the Beiyue Temple to take a bath, while the young go to the old town to buy things and find love through song and dance.

Before supper, families lay out the dishes in front of the wooden plates carved with their ancestors' names.

"We believe that our ancestors come home to enjoy the meal. We Naxi people are special."

Source: China Daily

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