Lisu Ethnic Minority

Lisu is one of 55 ethnic minorities in China. Originating from the northern Qinghai-Tibet plateau, the Lisu ethnic group is a transnational minority group of China, Myanmar, India, and Thailand. The Lisu ethnic minority in China is mainly distributed in Yunnan, and Yunnan has a Lisu population of about 660,000. 

History of Lisu Ethnic Minority

Lisu ethnic group is originated from the ancient Diqiang tribe, has an origin relationship with Yi minority. The genesis legends handed down by Lisu ethnic minority from generation to generation have a lot in common with the creation legends of Yi minority, Naxi minority and Hani minority in Liangshan, which indicates that each group of Yi language branch has had close kinship since ancient times. In ancient times, they belonged to the same race, after a long history of development, gradually divided into different tribal groups, and then formed a single ethnic group.

1 to 3 century AD, Yuesui(越雟), Jianwei(犍为), Taideng(台登), Qiongdu(邛都) and Dingzuo(定筰) were inhabited by Sou(叟), Sui(雟), Pu(濮) and other tribes- the Yi and Lisu ancestors. These all belong to the Yi language branch tribe and group. There was neither a unified clan name nor a unified organization, but a number of scattered tribes, large and small. In the mid-16th century, most Lisu people still lived a hunting and gathering life, living on both sides of the Jinsha river. Historically, Lisu society developed slowly. Until the democratic reform in the 1950s, Lisu society still retained some residual forms of primitive clan system.


The name of Lisu can be found in the writings of Tang dynasty. Fan Chao(樊绰) of Tang dynasty called it “Lisu(栗粟)” in book of Manshu(蛮书) and regarded it as an integrated component of “Wuman(乌蛮)” at that time. It is closely related to Yi and Naxi minorities in terms of ethnic origin. Lisu was still regarded as a branch of Luoluo (Yi ethnic group) in Ming dynasty. The name Lisu has been used for more than 1,000 years, except for slightly different characters in historical records.


Lisu ethnic minority can be divided into two groups, south and north, Lisu language they speak also has some differences. The northern Lisu people mainly live in Nujiang Lisu autonomous prefecture, part in Lijiang, Diqing, Dali, as well as Sichuan’s Liangshan, Yanyuan, Yanbian, Muli, Dechang and other counties. The southern Lisu people are mainly distributed in Yingjiang county of Dehong prefecture, Baoshan city, Lincang city.

Feature of Lisu Areas

The Lisu people inhabit a mountainous area slashed by rivers. It is flanked by Gaoligong Mountain on the west and Biluo Mountain on the east, both over 4,000 meters above sea level. The Nujiang River and the Lancang River flow through the area, forming two big valleys. The average annual temperature along the river basins ranges of 17-26℃, and the annual rainfall averages 2,500 millimeters. Main farm crops are maize, rice, wheat, buckwheat, sorghum and beans. Cash crops include ramie, lacquer trees and sugarcane. Many parts of the mountains are covered with dense forests, famous for their China firs. In addition to rare animals, the forests yield many medicinal herbs including the rhizome of Chinese gold thread and the bulb of fritillary. The Lisu area also has abundant mineral and water resources.

Religion of Lisu Ethnic Minority

Lisu people generally believe in primitive religion, which takes nature worship and soul concept as its basic content, and kills animals and sacrifices in case of disease and disaster as its main form, existing in Lisu areas. Since modern times, Christianity and Catholicism have been introduced into Nujiang area, and some Lisu people have converted to Christianity, while a few have embraced Catholicism.

Nature worship of animism prevails among Lisu people. In their ideas, mountains, rivers, sun, moon, stars, animals and plants are dominated by “gods” or “ghosts”. Thus, mountains have mountain spirits, trees have tree ghosts, and water has water deities. Almost all natural phenomena have become the objects of their belief and worship.

In the early 20th century, Christianity and Catholicism were introduced into the Nujiang Lisu area by British and French missionaries. Because they had a unified classic, and a more complete form of etiquette. Some of the precepts and credos advocated by Christianity and Catholicism were conform to the traditional moral norms of Lisu, so they were gradually spread among Lisu people. After the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the people’s government advocated the freedom of religious belief under the premise of patriotism, and Christianity was further spread. 

Culture Heritages of Lisu Ethnic Minority


Autonomous Areas

Lisu Ethnic Towns

Festivals and Activities of Lisu Ethnic Minority

Lisu Villages

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