Major area of distribution: Yunnan and Sichuan
Religion: Dongba and Lamaism
The Naxi ethnic minority has a population of 277,800, most of whom live in concentrated communities in the Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County in Yunnan Province, the rest being scattered in Weixi, Zhongdian, Ninglang, Deqin, Yongsheng, Heqing, Jianchuan and Lanping counties in Yunnan Province, as well as Yanyuan, Yanbian and Muli counties in Sichuan Province. A small number live in Mangkang County of Tibet Autonomous Region.
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, maize, wheat, potatoes, beans, hemp and cotton. The bend of the Jinsha River is heavily forested, and Yulong 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. Water resources are abundant.
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.
According to historical documents, the forefathers of the Naxi people were closely related to a tribe called "Maoniu Yi" in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), "Mosha Yi" in the Jin Dynasty (265-420) and "Moxie Yi" in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Between the early 10th century and the middle of the 13th century, production in the Lijiang area underwent marked changes, as agriculture replaced livestock breeding as the main occupation of the people. Scores of agricultural, handicraft, mineral and livestock products were turned out, and the county presented a picture of prosperity. During that period, a number of slave-owning groups in Ninglang, Lijiang and Weixi counties gradually grew into a feudal manorial lord caste.
In 1278 the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) established Lijiang Prefecture representing the imperial court in Yunnan Province. This resulted in closer links between the Lijiang area and the center of the empire.
In the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the leader of the Naxi people, named Mude, was made the hereditary chieftain of Lijiang Prefecture, exercising control over the Naxi people and other ethnic groups in the vicinity. Throughout the Ming Dynasty, the hereditary chieftains from the Mu family kept taxes and tribute flowing to the Ming court in the form of silver and grain. The Ming, in turn, relied on the Mu family as the mainstay for the control of the people of various ethnic groups in northwestern Yunnan Province.
Later, with the development of the productive forces, buying, selling and renting of land began to take place in the Naxi areas, marking the beginning of a landlord economy.
From 1723, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), hereditary local chieftains in the Lijiang area began to be replaced by court officials and the hereditary chieftain surnamed Mu thus became the local administrator.