Pumi Ethnic Minority

Pumi is one of the ethnic minorities with a long history and ancient culture in China, with a population of 33,600. The word “Pumi” is a phonetic translation of Pumi, which originally means “white”. It is an ethnic self-identity. It has something to do with its ancient worship of white and its symbol of auspicious.

History of Pumi Ethnic Minority

The old name of the Pumi ethnic minority was “Xifan(西番)”, which originated from the ancient Diqiang(氐羌) ethnic group. The ancestors of the Pumi nationality lived in the south of Gansu Province and the east of Qinghai Province. Later, they entered the eastern part of the Qinghai Tibet Plateau and gradually went down the Jinsha River and Yalong River. Before the 7th century AD, they had been distributed in Yuexi, Mianning, Hanyuan, Jiulong and Shimian of Sichuan Province, constituting one of the major ethnic minorities in the Xichang Prefecture at that time.

The Yuan Dynasty is an important period for the formation of the Pumi nationality. The Yuan army mobilized a large number of “Xifan” to fight in Yunnan. After the Yuan Dynasty’s extinction, the remaining people of the “Xifan” in Northwest Yunnan were the main components of the present Pumi nationality. After the migration to Yunnan, the nomadic life of the Pumi people ended. They mainly engaged in farming, animal husbandry, hunting and handicraft production. In the Ming Dynasty, there was once a tribe of Pumi who was appointed as a chieftain. Later, it was gradually replaced by the chieftain of Naxi nationality, and the Pumi nationality was transformed into the subordinate people of the chieftain of Naxi nationality. In October 1960, the State Council, in accordance with the will of the people of this ethnic group, officially designated the Pumi ethnic Minority.

Distribution of Pumi Ethnic Minority

The Pumis are concentrated in the Yunnan Province counties of Lanping, Lijiang, Weixi and Yongsheng, as well as in the Yi Autonomous County of Ninglang

Pumi Autonomous County in Yunnan

Pumi Ethnic Town in Yunnan

Featured Pumi Ethnic Villages in Yunnan

Protection Area of Pumi Ethnic Culture

Cultural Heritages of Pumi Ethnic Minority in Yunnan

Festivals of Pumi Ethnic Minority in Yunnan

Culture of Pumi Ethnic Minority


The Pumis speak a language belonging to the Tibetan-Myanmese language family of the Chinese-Tibetan system. Although Pumis in the Muli and Ninglang areas once wrote with Tibetan characters, this was mainly for religious purposes. Gradually the Tibetan characters fell into oblivion, and most Pumis now use Chinese.


Pumi villages are scattered, usually at least 500 meters from one another, on gentle mountain slopes. Pumis generally build their houses from wood and with two floors, the lower for animals and the upper for people. Almost all family activities indoors take place around the fireplace, which is in the middle of the living room on the upper level.


In addition to maize, their staple food, Pumis also grow rice, wheat and highland barley. Their variety of vegetables and fruits is limited to Chinese cabbage, carrots, eggplant and melons. A favorite food of the Pumis’ is “pipa meat” — salted pork wrapped in pork skin in the shape of a pipa, a plucked string Chinese instrument with a fretted fingerboard. They also like tobacco, tea and liquor. Liquor, in fact, is used both as a sacrificial offering and as a gift for the living.


Pumi women in Ninglang and Yongsheng often wrap their heads in large handkerchiefs, winding their plaited hair, mixed with yak tail hairs and silk threads. They consider plait beautiful, the more so the bigger it is. Normally, they wear jackets with buttons down one side, long, plaited skirts, multi-colored wide belts and goatskins draping over their backs. In the Lanping and Weixi areas, women tend to wear green, blue or white long-sleeved jackets under sleeveless jackets, trousers and embroidered belts. Often, they wear silver earrings and bracelets. Pumi men wear similar clothes: linen jackets, loose trousers and sleeveless goatskin jackets. The more affluent wear woolen overcoats. Most carry swords.


Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Pumi society was in many ways still organized according to the pre-feudal clan system. In Yongsheng County, for example, clan members lived together, with different clans having different names. Families belonging to the same clan regularly ate together to commemorate their common ancestry. Marriage was primarily between clans. Internal disputes were arbitrated by the patriarch or other respected elders. Clan members shared a commitment to help one another through difficult times. In Yongsheng, ashes of the dead of each clan were placed in the same forest cave.


Pumi communities in Yongsheng and Ninglang counties were primarily made up of big families, while in Lanping and Weixi counties, small families prevailed. Only sons were entitled to inherit property, and the ancestral house usually was left to the youngest son. Monogamy was customary, although some landlords were polygamous. Parents chose their children’s spouses, and marriage between cousins was preferred. Most women married at 15, while most men at 18. After 1949 such objectionable practices as forced marriage, engagement of children not yet born and burdensome marriage-related costs were gradually done away with.

Song and Dance

Pumis are good singers and dancers. Singing contests in which partners alternate verses are a feature of wedding ceremonies and holidays. They dance to the flute, incorporating in their movements gestures tied to their work as farmers, hunters and weavers.