Naxi Ethnic Minority

Naxi ethnic minority is one of the 56 ethnic groups in China and one of the ethnic groups unique to Yunnan. Naxi is unique in art, its poetry, painting, sculpture, music and dance art are famous at home and abroad. Naxi culture is deeply influenced by Han culture.

History of Naxi Ethnic Minority

Scholars believe that the Naxi people originated from the ancient Qiang people who lived in the Yellow River region of China in ancient times. They migrated south to the upper reaches of the Minjiang river, southwest to the Yalong river basin, and then west to the upper reaches of the Jinsha river. In the Song dynasty, the Naxi area was under the jurisdiction of the Dali kingdom, while the chiefdoms of the Naxi ethnic group occupied their respective positions of power. The Dali Kingdom could not effectively control the area of the Naxi people, while the Tubo people in the north had a long history of civil unrest and could not invade southward. The Naxi area is relatively stable, with population, economy and culture developing. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties, due to the rise of Mu’s tusi in Lijiang, the Naxi ethnic group expanded outward, and Naxi’s activities were more extensive. In the northeast, it may reach the area of today’s Kangding of Sichuan and Nangongga Mountain, to the north, it may reach present Batang, Litang and Qamdo, and to the west reach the Nujiang river basin. In the first year of emperor Yongzheng of the Qing dynasty (1723), after bureaucratization of native officers, Tibetan Tusi in the north moved south, together with the large number of Yi people moving into the Yalong river basin, the population of Naxi ethnic group gradually decreased. 

Distribution of Naxi Ethnic Minority

The Naxi ethnic group is an ethnic minority group in southwest China. Its settlement is mainly distribution in Lijiang and its neighboring areas at the border of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet. Yunnan province is the main distribution province of Naxi ethnic minority. Most Naxi people live in Lijiang and Diqing in northwest Yunnan, the rest are distributed in other counties and cities in Yunnan, as well as Yanyuan, Yanbian and Muli counties in Sichuan, and a few are distributed in Markam county of Tibet.

Autonomous Areas

Naxi Ethnic Towns

Language of Naxi Ethnic Minority

The Naxi language belongs to the Chinese-Tibetan language family. More than 1,000 years ago, the Naxi people had already created pictographic characters called the “Dongba” script and a syllabic writing known as the “Geba” script. With these scripts they recorded a lot of beautiful folklore, legends, poems and religious classics. However, they were difficult to master, and in 1957 the government helped the Naxi design an alphabetic script. Over the past few hundred years, as the Naxi people have come into closer contact with the people in other parts of China politically, economically and culturally, the oral and written Chinese has become an important means of communication in Naxi society.

Dongba Scripture

Dongba scripture is not only an encyclopedia of the ancient social life of Naxi ancestors, but also a treasure house of the great achievements of Naxi classical literature. The ancient myths, epics, legends and proverbs of Naxi ethnic minority are recorded in Dongba scriptures in hieroglyphics. The chanting of Dongba scriptures has a specific location, that is, on the various sacrificial rituals of Dongba religion, most of which are a combination of religious and folk activities. All works of Dongba scriptures are recited by Dongba in a particular tune. Dongba scripture literature includes natural myths, flood myths, ancestor myths, war epics, love poems and a lot of proverbs, etc.

Religions of Naxi Ethnic Minority

Naxi people believe in many religions, such as Dongba religion(the native religion of the Naxi ethnic minority), Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism and Taoism. Dongba religion has the largest number of Naxi followers. 

Dongba Religion

Dongba religion has a great influence on the social life, national spirit and cultural customs of Naxi people, is the backbone of Naxi’s diverse religious beliefs, is developed on the basis of the original belief of Naxi in the period of clan and tribal alliance. Later, in the different historical period, it gradually absorbed some contents of Tibetan Bon and Tibetan Buddhism, forming a distinct ethnic and religious forms. It has its own ritual system, and a huge system of ghosts and gods. Animism, nature worship, ancestor worship, Chongbu(重卜), and the basic idea that “nature and man are brothers” are the main features of Dongba religion.

Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism was introduced in Naxi area from Tibet via west Sichuan since the late Yuan dynasty. After the early Qing dynasty, Tibetan Buddhism developed rapidly in Lijiang and Weixi Naxi areas. During the 180 years period from Kangxi to Daoguang, 13 major temples of the Kagyu sect were successively built with considerable religious and economic power. In the Qing dynasty, Chinese Buddhism also got further development in Lijiang area, more than 60 temples of different sizes were built, distributed in urban and rural areas. 


Taoism was spread to Lijiang in the Ming dynasty, and Mu’s Tusi invited Taoist priests from the mainland to spread Taoism in Lijiang. In the first year of emperor Yongzheng of Qing dynasty (1723), Taoism was further developed in Lijiang after bureaucratization of native officers.

Feature of Naxi Ethnic Minority

The Naxi areas, traversed by the Jinsha, Lancang and Yalong rivers, and the Yunling, Xueshan and Yulong mountain ranges, have a complicated terrain. There are cold mountainous areas, uplands, basins, rivers and valleys, averaging 2,700 meters above sea level. The climate varies from cold and temperate to subtropical. Rainfall is plentiful. Agriculture is the main occupation of the Naxi people. The chief crops are rice, corn, wheat, potatoes, beans, hemp and cotton. The bend of the Jinsha River is heavily forested, and Jade Dragon Mountain is known at home and abroad as a “flora storehouse”. The extensive dense forests contain Chinese fir, Korean pine, Yunnan pine and other valuable trees, as well as many varieties of herbs including fritillary bulbs, Chinese caterpillar fungus and musk. There are rich reserves of such non-ferrous metals as gold, silver, copper, aluminum and manganese, as well as abundant water resources.

Culture and Art of Naxi Ethnic Minority

Architecture Culture

Since the Ming dynasty, the Naxi people in Lijiang have built magnificent tile-roofed houses, but most of them are the houses of Tusi and headmen, or temples. Since the Qing dynasty, along with the increase in cultural exchange and the development of social economy and culture of Naxi ethnic minority, the construction techniques of Han, Bai and Tibetan were continuously absorbed by Naxi people, forming the architectural forms of “Three houses and one screen wall(三坊一照壁)” and “Four houses and five courtyards(四合五井天)”. This kind of civil or brick and wood structure tile-roofed building is popular in Lijiang areas, and has produced very characteristic residential courtyard. Three houses and one screen wall is the most basic and common folk dwellings among Naxi people in Lijiang.

Painting and Mural 

Dongba paintings can be divided into wooden board paintings(木牌画), bamboo strokes(竹笔画), card paintings(纸牌画) and scroll paintings. Dongba sculpture has dough sculpture, clay sculpture and wood sculpture. Dongba paintings and sculptures have a straightforward, natural and unsophisticated style. The famous Baisha mural in Lijiang is the product of the great opening up of Naxi society in Ming dynasty. The most prominent characteristic of Baisha mural is that the content of various religions and different sects in the same religion on the subject matter are integrated and coexist, and the painting techniques of various ethnic groups are mixed together.

Song and Dance

Naxi ethnic minority is famous for their singing and dancing. Representatives of Naxi music include Lijiang ancient music, Lijiang Dongjing music and so on. “Lijiang ancient music” is the artistic crystallization of diverse cultures of Naxi and Han. “Lijiang ancient music” is composed of “Baisha fine music”, Lijiang dongjing music and Huangjing music (Huangjing music is now lost). Baisha fine music is one of the few large classical orchestras in China.

Cultural Heritages of Naxi Ethnic Minority


Festivals and Activities of Naxi Ethnic Minority

Keep Reading