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Yunnan Culture

Yunnan's cultural life is one of remarkable diversity. Archaeological findings have unearthed sacred burial structures holding elegant bronzes in Jinning, south of Kunming. In Zhaotong in northeastern Yunnan, there has been discovered, frescos of the Jin Dynasty (265–420). Many Chinese cultural relics have been discovered in later periods. The lineage of tribal way of life of the indigenous peoples persisted uninfluenced by modernity until the mid-20th century. Tribal traditions, such as Yi slaveholding and Wa headhunting, have since been abolished. After the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), when many minority culture and religious practices were suppressed, Yunnan has come to celebrate its cultural diversity and subsequently many local customs and festivals have flourished.


The numerous minority groups in Yunnan have created lasting and splendid cultures due to their diligence and wisdom over centuries. Among these cultures, as acknowledged in the history of cultures in Yunnan, three major ones are the highlights, namely the Ancient Dian Culture, the Cuan Culture, and the Nanzhao-Dali Culture; the Ancient Dian Culture, centered around the Dianchi Lake from the Pre-Qin Period (221-207 B.C) to the Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D), epitomizes the culmination of the bronze age civilization in Yunnan; the Cuan Culture, which rose slightly later in the valley of the Panjiang River, embodies the cultural development of this province in the middle ancient times; the Nanzhao-Dali Culture, which formed and fully developed around Er'hai Lake, strikingly characterizes the local ethnic cultures in Yunnan. After the Yuan and Ming dynasties, with the constant inflow of Han people to Yunnan, the Han people gradually dominated the province and the Han culture became the dominating culture of the province co-existing with the colorful indigenous ethnic cultures.


This section provides a brief introduction to the above-mentioned three major indigenous cultures of Yunnan, as well as another three local ethnic cultures: Pattra-Leaf Culture (Dai), Dongba Culture (Naxi), and Bimo Culture (Yi).


The Ancient Dian Culture




The Ancient Dian Culture refers to that created by the Dian tribe during the years from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-475 B.C) through the Warring States Period (476-221 B.C) to the mid Eastern Han Dynasty (25 B.C-220 A.D). In 279 B.C, King Qingxiang of Chu State dispatched his general Zhuang Jue  to Dianchi Lake in Yunnan for a pioneering mission, and with his forces Zhuang claimed this land for the Chu State; however, later on their way back home they were cut off by the troops of the Qin State which destroyed the Chu State; Zhuang and his more than 20,000 soldiers were obliged to settle down, and "did in Rome as Romans did"; then Zhuang set up the Dian Kingdom, a slavery state, and proclaimed himself king. Zhuang's descendant Changqiang sent his officials to help the envoys of Emperor Wudi (156-87 B.C) in the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C-24 A.D) to explore the "Shu-Yuan-Du Road" -the Southern Silk Road (Shu refers to Sichuan, Yuan refers to Yunnan and Du refers to Ancient India). After Changqiang surrendered him and his army to the Han Dynasty, he was appointed by Emperor Wudi as the king of Dian Kingdom and granted a golden seal.


In fact, the economy and culture in the Dianchi area were already much developed long before Zhuang Jue came to Yunnan; according to Records of the Historian, "By the 300-li Dianchi Lake lies a vast fertile flatland stretching for thousands of li "where the indigenous people" live in communes and practice farming". After Zhuang settled down in Yunnan, his men married native women and a brilliant bronze culture of the Ancient Dian thus grew out of the Chu Culture and the local ethnic cultures in Southwest China.


Yet the records about the Ancient Dian Kingdom are far from complete though some are found in Records of the Historian(<>, same hereunder) and a few other historical works; thus little was known about it for centuries. In the late 20th century when three important archaeological discoveries were made in Yunnan, many priceless historical relics including bronze wares and lacquer wares were unearthed and the long buried Ancient Dian Kingdom was exposed. In addition to the "Seal of the  Dian King" unearthed at the Shizhai Mountain in Jinning which has proved the real existence of the Ancient Dian Kingdom, those unearthed at the Lijia Mountain, Jiangchuan and in Yangputou Township of Guandu District in Kunming have been paid attention at home and abroad for their fineness, variety and scale, and have been recognized as important discoveries in 1992 and 1999 in China; these three discoveries constitute the "tripod" of the archaeological excavations that serves to prove the existence of the Ancient Dian Kingdom.


Both historical records and archaeological finds have revealed that the Ancient Dian Kingdom existed roughly between the Warring States Period and the mid Eastern Han Dynasty. With the present Jincheng Township of Jinning County as its capital, the kingdom extended to Qujing and Luxi in the east, to Lufeng and An'ning in the west, to Zhaotong in the north and to Xinping, Yuanjiang and Gejiu in the south; with the Dian being its majority, the kingdom included such nationalities as the Kunming, the Sou, and the Han. Further, this area had the most advanced economic production in Yunnan at that time, and based on farming, it had also developed husbandry, fishery and hunting; it was also fairly advanced in such industries as mining, textile and pottery.


When talking about the Ancient Dian Culture, we refer to two historical periods, namely the first lasting from the Spring and Autumn Period to the late Warring States Period and the second from the late  Warring States Period to the mid Eastern Han Dynasty. Since the Ancient Dian Kingdom did not yet develop a language of its own, its own culture and those before it were all represented by the Bronze Culture.


The Bronze Culture during the first period is symbolized by the bronze drum unearthed in the Wanjia Flatland of the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture and the bronze coffin unearthed in Dabona of Xiangyun County. The bronze drum, made more than 600 years before Christ (i.e. in the Spring and Autumn Period) is a plain traditional vessel between cauldron and drum generally acknowledged to be the oldest of its kind in the world; weighing 257 kg, the bonze coffin excavated at Dabona is the largest bronze ware in Yunnan.


The period from the Warring States Period to the Han Dynasty marked the culmination of the bronze culture in Yunnan, of which the bronze objects unearthed both at the Shizhai Mountain of Jinning and the Lijia Mountain of Jiangchuan are the most typical; these bronze wares include such objects as military weapons, farming tools, post-railing house models, bronze pillars, and bronze reed pipes. Among the objects unearthed at Shizhai Mountain, the most valuable are shell containers in the form of drum and barrel; as many as 17 bronze drums were unearthed at this mountain, the largest number of bronze drums ever unearthed at a single site in China. The varied patterns cast on the surface of the vessels represent such social events as production, sacrifice offering, battle and tribute paying, and thus most vividly reveal social features of the slavery system in the Ancient Dian Kingdom; the lid of a vessel is as small as 20 to 30 cm in diameter, but cast on it were more than 100 human figures, and all vividly characterized; in a scene of homicidal sacrifice, for instance, as many as 127 human figures were facing east. In some battle fighting scenes, the pig-tailed Kunmingese were usually shown in defeat, captured, and beheaded by the bun-haired Dians. Their hairstyles are represented exactly as recorded in Records of the Historian by Sima Qian. Among the bronze wares unearthed at the Lijia Mountain, the most priceless is the "Cow and Tiger Bronze Table"; it is the best quality product in the bronze realm of the Ancient Dian Culture. Also it is noteworthy that the high quality of the bronze ware excavated at the Shizhai and Lijia mountains had much to do with the then popular "lost-wax" casting technique; the ratio of copper and tin in the bronze ware was scientific.


To sum up, the highly advanced Ancient Dian Culture fostered the area around Dianchi Lake into an early political, economic and cultural center of Yunnan, thus exerting its influence to the vast minority area in Southwest China and developing the society, economy and culture of this area.


The Cuan Culture




The Cuan Culture is a cover term for the local cultures that persisted in Yunnan for more than 500 years from the Three Kingdoms (220-280A.D) to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D). It covers the whole area of Nanzhong (including province of modern Yunnan, Southwest Sichuan and West Guizhou) with Weixian County (presently Qujing) as its center.


During the early Shu Han Dynasty, distinguished families from the upper class Han emigrants and ethnic commanders or chieftains of the local minorities took advantage of the internal troubles of the Shu Han government and launched rebellions against it. After Zhu Geliang suppressed the rebellions, Nanzhong gradually restored its unity and stability. In the third year of the Jianxing Period (225 A.D) when the seat of the local government was moved to Weixian County (now Qujing), the county became the political, economic and cultural center of the Nanzhong area. During the Eastern Jin Dynasty when wars broke out in the Central Plains, these defeated upper class families recovered and developed; of these the Cuan family became the most powerful. In the 5th year of the Xiankang Period (339 A.D), Cuan Chen managed to dominate Nanzhong; after that, the Cuan family ruled over this area for 409 years until the 7th year of the Tianbao Period (748 A.D) of the Tang Dynasty when the Western Cuan was terminated by Nanzhao.


The ancestors of the Cuan family were originally from the Central Plains region called Cuan and hence got the name for their clan. Then they migrated southward to Yunnan and developed into a very distinguished family whose members held high positions. Cuan Longyan (385-446 A.D); for example, received various titles from the government in the Central Plains such as "General Longxiang, Field Officer of Protecting Minorities, Governor of Ningzhou Prefecture, and Marquis of Qiongdu County". The Cuan family reigned at a time when the Central Plains were undergoing turmoil and thus unable to attend affairs in the southern frontiers; the Cuan family members were, therefore, actual rulers of Yunnan who were historically known as "generals in public but emperors in secret", though they still acknowledged the Central Plains as the orthodox government.


After Cuan Chen and his descendants successively became rulers of Nanzhong, the surname "Cuan" was adopted as a general term for all the races in the territory governed by this family, and a new national community-the Cuans gradually came into being; it was composed mainly of the Han emigrants and the Dian, although other races were also included. During the reign of the Cuan family, the Cuan people developed farming as their major economic activity and husbandry as a minor, and their territory was divided into two sections around Weixian County, namely the section west of the county was called the Western Section (Western Cuan) and the section east of the county was the Eastern Section (the Eastern Cuan). Directly administered by the Cuans, the Western Section was economically and culturally better developed than the Eastern. Ethnically, the Western and the Eastern Cuans constituted the Baiman and the Wuman who later became the ancestors of the Bai and the Yi.


Just as the Cuan people were a mixture, so the Cuan Culture was a composite of many elements. Indeed, it is generally accepted among scholars that the Cuan Culture should include a part of the Han Culture, a part of the indigenous culture, and combination of the two.


The part from the Han Culture is most significantly reflected on the "Two Cuan Tablets", namely the tablets of Cuan Baozi and Cuan Longyan. On one hand, the calligraphy of the Chinese characters inscribed on the tablets marked a stylistic transition from the official to the regular, a style that has been widely acclaimed by generations of historians, epigraphers and calligraphers as representative of the highest level ever achieved in Chinese calligraphy during the period from the Wei (220-265 A.D) through the Jin (265-420 A.D) to the Northern and Southern Dynasties (42-550 A.D); on the other hand, the excellent and graceful language of the tablets is of a high artistic value and the events recorded in the inscriptions have not been included in historical books and thus have an esteemed documentary value.


The indigenous element of the Cuan Culture is chiefly embodied by the tadpole language (also known as the "right" language or the Bimo language), an invention of the Wu'man Sheik of the Eastern Cuan in which wizards of the Wu'mans wrote a large number of books on astronomy, geography, almanacs, Confucian works, medicine, literature and genealogy.


The integration of the Han and the indigenous cultures has been manifested mainly in the "ethnic assimilation" of the distinguished Han families when there existed a combined worship of "host ghosts" of ancestors by different races, tribes, and villages, of primitive clan totems (such as tiger, ox, serpent, fire, rice), and varied primitive religious cults and folk customs.


To conclude, the Cuan Culture played a vital role in the evolutionary history of cultures in Yunnan by serving as a link between the Ancient Dian Culture and the Nanzhao-Dali Culture.


The Nanzhao-Dali Culture




During the Tang and Song dynasties (960-1279 A.D), local cultures developed successively around Er'hai Lake in the kingdoms of Nanzhao (748-902) and Dali (937-1253) over a period of more than 500 years, another culmination in the cultural history of Yunnan.


Between the 7th and 8th centuries, the Mengshe Kingdom and other five kingdoms as well as the Xi' erhe Ethnic Group formed in the vicinity of Er'hai Lake. All inhabitants in these kingdoms ethnically belonged to the Wuman (ancestors of the Yi) and, due to its location in the south of the kingdoms, the Mengshe Kingdom was historically known as the Kingdom of Nanzhao (Southern tribe, Zhao refers to tribe). In order to deal with the Tibetan regime, the Tang government attempted to support the rising Mengshe Kingdom in the southwestern frontier and even helped it to annex the other five kingdoms and the Xi'erhe Group. During the Kaiyuan Period (712-742) of Emperor Xuanzong, Piluoge, King or chieftain of the Mengshe Kingdom gradually unified the districts surrounding Erhai Lake and in the 26th year of that period (738 A.D), he was crowned by Emperor Xuanzong as King of Yunnan with a royal title "Guiyi", indicating that the Nanzhao Kingdom was finally established; the following year witnessed the shift of the capital of the kingdom to Taihe (a town south of Dali), and the political center of Yunnan at that time was accordingly shifted from Qujing to Dali. The territory of the kingdom, approximately one and a half times larger than that of the present Yunnan Province, included the whole province of Yunnan, West Guizhou, Southwest Sichuan, and even parts of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. It was ruled by 13 kings with Xinuluo as its first king and lasted for 250 years until its termination in the year 902 A.D.


After the termination of Nanzhao came three transit dynasties, namely the Great Changhe Kingdom, the Great Tianxing Kingdom, and the Great Yining Kingdom, which together lasted for merely 36 years; during this period, the power of the noble Baiman kept rising steadily. From 937 A.D when the Kingdom of Dali was founded by Duan Siping, a Baiman aristocrat, to 1253 A.D when it was exterminated by Kublai Khan, the Dali Kingdom lasted for 316 years under successive reigns of 22 kings with a territory almost as large as that of the Kingdom of Nanzhao. Therefore, the kingdoms of Nanzhao and Dali existed at almost the same time as the Tang and Song dynasties did in the Central China.


Buddhism was introduced to Yunnan under the reign of King Xinuluo and culminated under the reign of the10th king Quan Fengyou when monasteries and temples were built across the kingdom: 800 major ones and 3,000 minor ones. The Buddhism practiced in Nanzhao belonged to the esoteric Tantric School, characterized by worship for Avalokitesvara (Guanyin or Goddess of Mercy), the Great Black Deva (Da Hei Tian Shen) and the Guardian King of the North. Buddhist worship thrived so well during the  Kingdom of Dali that the whole country had became a land of Buddhas, and nine out of the 22 kings became Buddhists monks; innumerable monasteries and stupas were built, Avalokitesvara and Armitabha were worshiped in almost every household; this popularity of Buddhism had, no doubt, exerted a profound influence on the cultures of Nanzhao and Dali and some scholars, on account of this, have even declared that the cultures of Nanzhao and Dali are, by their very nature, Buddhist cultures.


From the immense buildings of pagodas, stupas, grottoes, and paintings left by the kingdoms of Nanzhao and Dali, the pervading influences of Buddhism on every aspect of the social life in that age is clear. The most vivid and convincing expression can be found in the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple in Dali, Butuoluo (Yuantong) Temple, West and East Pagodas in Kunming, Buddhist Scripture Pillar at the Dizang Monastery (nowadays Kunming City Museum), White Pagoda in Dayao, the Pagoda on the Shuimu Mountain in Xiangyun, the Grottoes on the Shizhong Mountain in Jianchuan, the Grottoes in the Fahua Monastery in An'ning, the Scroll of Nanzhao Resurgence, and the Scroll by Zhang Shengwen.


According to the Unofficial History of Nanzhao, the construction of the Chongsheng Temple and the Qianxun Pagoda proved to be a forbidding task; altogether 800 houses were built along the four sides of the base that was seven miles long; over 40,000 kilograms of bronze was used to cast more than 10,000 statuettes of the Buddha, and more than 700,000 workers were requisitioned. And the Tripitaka Pavilion in Kunming, exquisite in both design and craftsmanship, "ranks among the best works of art ever produced in Central Yunnan."


The Scroll of Nanzhao Resurgence and the Scroll by Zhang Shengwen were regarded as the two most important paintings in the history of Yunnan, and became a part of the imperial collection of the Qing Court only after some adventures. The Scroll of Nanzhao Resurgence, 5.73 meters long and 0.3 meters high, was painted in the closing years of the kingdom. It seeks to publicize how the devout ancestors of Nanzhao followed Buddhism, and how they were aided by the bodily appearance of gods during the course of setting up their kingdom; the Scroll by Zhang Shengwen, painted by a royal painter of the Dali Kingdom, is about a Buddhist service held in the kingdom; in this grand painting, 16.36 meters long and 0.3 meters high were painted images of Buddhist gods, Buddhistsattvas, Ashta gatyahs, and other divine ancestors; this picture enchanted Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) so much that he wrote nearly 500 characters in praise of it, it was even lauded with Bianjing Bazaar on Pure Brightness (Qingming Shanghe Tu), another famous scroll of its time, as "Dual Unique from North and South China." As well-known state-treasured paintings, they both occupy significant positions in the history of Chinese painting. Another two forms of religion related to the Nanzhao-Dali Culture were the "local god worship" popular in Nanzhao and the" patron god worship" as practiced in Dali.


On the Weibao Mountain in Weishan County, the birthplace of the Nanzhao Kingdom, stands the Mountain God Temple where Xinuluo, the local mountain god, has been enshrined. Legend goes that Xinuluo was enlightened by Supreme Master Lao and therefore became the local mountain god, revered only to Taoism in Yunnan; this stands for a transitional combination of Taoism with the primitive religions of the Wu'man before the newly introduced Buddhism became popular in Yunnan, and contains factors such as ancestor and hero admiration. Even to this day, the worship of local gods is a common practice among the Yi. The worship of "patron gods", a special religious belief that sprang up in the closing decades of the Dali Kingdom, is a collective worship of certain idols performed in the village unit. Put plainly, a "patron god" is a guardian of the local area or village in various forms; for instance, it can be an animal or plant such as a monkey, an ox, or an ancient tree; or it can be a historical figure such as Zheng Hui, Li Mi or even legendary figures such as Du Chaoxuan, and Duan Chicheng; it can further be a moral wife, a dutiful son or a skillful craftsman. This patron god worship has to do with nature worship, but it also involves such primitive concepts as the worship of ancestors and heroes; thus by nature it reflects a weakening adoration of esoteric Devas in Yunnan as a result of worshiping a patron god or "god for the local community" .This practice of patron god adoration is still very popular among the Bai people today.


Before the Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907 A.D), the Er'hai Lake area was economically less developed than the Dianchi Lake area and the eastern parts of Yunnan. Yet after a development of more than 500 years during the kingdoms of Nanzhao and Dali or the Tang and Song dynasties, the Bai and the Yi, the two major ethnic groups of the kingdoms, and other fellow groups, not only thrived economically around Er'hai Lake but also created the brilliant Nanzhao-Dali culture, thereby forwarding the course of the history of Yunnan and bringing about a new climax in the history of its culture.


The Pattra-Leaf Culture




The Pattra-Leaf Culture is a symbolic term referring indirectly to Dai Culture. Pattra is a kind of woody palmate plant growing in tropical and subtropical areas. The Dai use pattra leaves as a medium of written language and thus endow this natural substance with a particular touch of culture.


Since almost all Dai people were Buddhist, the essence of the Pattra-Leaf Culture was mainly preserved in Buddhist scriptures written in the Dai language. It is said that sutras preserved in the Buddhist circle of Xishuangbanna amount to more than 84, 000 fascicules, all bulky and voluminous; these sutras fall into four major categories, namely Sinayapitaka (21,000 volumes), Vinayapitaka (21,000 volumes), and Adhighatmapitaka (42,000 volumes) and the annotative and interpretive classics of these sutras. These sutras in various versions, either in Bali transliteration or in Dai translation, or in Bali transliteration with Dai annotations, serve a vital function in retaining the 0riginal features of Southern Buddhist classics. For instance, in Sinayapitaka are the most familiar Jataka Sutras with 547 stories about the life of Sakyamuni; Vishendoro, the last of the stories, for example, was so much adored by the Dai in Xishuangbanna that it still exerts influence on their Buddhist services, daily activities and customs. In fact it has been held as a religious norm observed even by laymen.


In addition to Buddhist scriptures, there are annotative works by generations of eminent Dai monks and scholars. These works involve astronomy, almanacs, history, medicine, language, literature, sports and customs, covering so many fields that they could be regarded as a Dai encyclopedia; though not included in the authentic Buddhist sutras, they have been kept in the Buddhist monasteries and passed down in the form of classics.


Buddhist sutras and other works engraved on pattra leaves are called pattra-leaf scriptures. The making of pattra-leaf scriptures is an exquisite process divided generally into two steps, namely preparing leaves and engraving scriptures. To prepare pattra leaves, first raw leaves are collected and bound into bundles with three to five leaves in each; the bundles were put into a cauldron to boil with a proper amount of tamarind or lemon added. When these bundles are properly cooked, they are rubbed with fine sand, cleaned in water and dried in the sun; then flattened and trimmed to a size about 50 to 60 cm long and 8 cm wide, and kept 500 to 600 pieces in a box for use. Before engraving, the pattra leaves have to be grated with a thread ink-marker on both faces with 5,6,or 8 lines on each; put the grated leaves on a wooden rack and engrave scriptures with a cutting stencil. When the engraving is finished, powdered carbon and oil are applied on the nicking and to clear up the face. The work of engraving is generally brought to a temporary close when 10 to 20 leaves are done, and then a fascicule is bound with gold powder or red (black) lacquer applied along the sides. With decorations, wrapping satchels or holding boxes added, fascicules would be lovely and damage-resisting. A full-length pattra-leaf sutra may fill 10-20 fascicules, and the advantage of pattra-leaf classics is the possibility of being kept for several or even dozens of centuries since they are immune from insects, borers, weathering or decomposing.


The choice of pattra leaves for a medium in writing reflects Dai's intelligence and resourcefulness. At the outset, the engraving of pattra leaves was limited to keeping Buddhist scriptures, but as society and culture develop, this means was extended to an increasing variety of political events, business transactions, legal affairs, artistic activities and so on. The Pattra-Leaf Culture cannot cover Dai culture in a broader sense of course, but is certainly the most striking part that has made an indelible contribution to the accumulation, dissemination and prosperity of this culture. As a treasure house for researches into the traditional Dai culture, the Pattra-Leaf Culture is not only a gem of the Dai culture but also an enchanting branch in the Chinese culture and world cultures.


The Dongba Culture




The Naxi is a minority with a long history and a brilliant culture. With a population of 300,000, this group mainly live in Yulong County, Lijiang City of Yunnan Province. It has become known worldwide for having kept its own ancient and unique Dongba Culture and thus claimed to be a small group that has created a grand culture.


The Dongba Culture or the traditional Naxi Culture, derived its name from the Dongba scriptures preserved in the Dongba hieroglyphic language. Dongba scriptures are classics of the Dongba religion which, characterized as worship of ancestor and nature, was based on the Naxi primitive religion integrating cultural factors from the Han, the Tibetan and other nationalities.


Sutracaryas of Dongba religion are called Dongba meaning "sage". They are disseminators of the Naxi culture, and function as sorcerers, doctors, scholars, artists and craftsmen. They also take part in farming activities, and are turned to in sacrificial ceremonies.


The Dongba culture is a most inclusive term referring mainly to the language and scriptures; the Dongba language is actually composed of 1,400 hieroglyphic characters and symbols that are still used by Dongbas, researchers and artists of the culture. It is by now the only living hieroglyph in the world and is regarded as a precious cultural relic of mankind; on August 30, 2003, the Dongba classical literature was accepted as a written world heritage by UNESCO.


Initially created in the Tang Dynasty, the Dongba writing has a history of over 1,000 years; phonetically it is articulated in the Naxi vernacular as "Sijiu Lujiu" meaning to paint woods and stones just as they are seen. This pictographic language came to be called the Dongba language since it was employed to write down scriptures by Dongba of the religion; based on ideographic symbols, this language also takes in some phonographic loan characters and diacritics.


"Dongba scriptures", as the name suggests, means scriptures written in the Dongba language. The existent Dongba scriptures add up to approximately 20,000 fascicules of more than 1,500 types, involving such fields as philosophy, history, religion, medicine, astronomy, folklore, literature and art. In addition to the abundant records about inviting gods and driving away ghosts, about praying for happiness and longevity and about warding off calamities and disasters, there are a 1arge number of ancient literary works of the Naxi people, such as fairy tales, narrative epics, proverbs and ballads. The most well known are the creation epic Genesis, the heroic epic War between White and Black, and the tragic epic Migration of Herdsmen, which are called the three major Naxi epics and acclaimed as the three pearls in Dongba literature. Dongba scriptures are, therefore, also nicknamed as encyclopedias of the Naxi ancient society.


Also included in the Dongba culture are its paintings, dances, and music as well as its religious rites and ritual implements. The paintings can further be classified into wood-slats, cardboards and cloth-rolls, with the last being the most renowned. Route Map of Gods, the most typical of the cloth-rolls, is held to be a treasure of ancient Naxi paintings; a huge painting of 14 meters by 0.3 meters, it describes scenes from Heaven, Earth and Hell. In this picture are more than 370 colorful images of the Buddha, devils, wild animals and human figures, all painted with bold strokes. Dongba dance, originating from the production and life of Naxi ancestors, reveals both the natural disposition and the original beauty of Naxi people; in the Cuomo Dance, a so-called textbook for dance, for example, 60 types of dance are recorded concerning worship of Buddhist gods; It is esteemed as one of China's relatively ancient and complete atlases of dance and, most amazingly, its instructions are still workable to its music. The ceremonies of Dongba religion total more than 50 types, of which the major ones are worship of the Heaven, worship of ancestry, worship of wind, and prayer for longevity; so far, as many as 30 ritual implements for services of this religion have survived.


Many other countries have built their own collections of Dongba scriptures, for instance, the U.S.,the U.K., France, Japan, Germany, Italy and Austria. In the U.S. alone, the collection in the Library of Congress plus that in Harvard Library numbers over 4,000 volumes. In China, Dongba scriptures have been collected by the Library of Yulong County, the Library of Yunnan Province, China National Library, the Library of Central Nationalities University, and libraries in Taiwan.


Ever since the 19th century, Chinese scholars like Zhang Taiyan, Liu Bannong and later Fei Xiaotong have attempted to gather, sort and study the Dongba language; their work drew worldwide attention in the 1870s. Afterwards, scholars from France, the U.S., Germany, Sweden, Japan and other countries started to collect and study Dongba writing. In his book, A Study of Mo-So published in 1913, the French scholar M. Jaques Bacot (1877-1965) first introduced 370 Dongba characters to the outside world; the American scholar J. F. Rock (1884-1962) compiled A Na Kni-English Encyclopedic Dictionary; among the works by Chinese scholars, A Dictionary of Mo-So Hieroglyph by Li Lincan and An Atlas of Naxi Hieroglyph by Fang Guoyu stand as two masterpieces.


Over the period from 1981 to 2001, the Lijiang Institute of Dongba Culture of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, through the concerted efforts of a dozen researchers and ten veteran Dongba,  managed to complete and publish A Complete Annotated Translation of the Naxi Classics of Dongba Culture  (100 volumes). This voluminous work contains 1,000 Dongba classics and, for the reader's convenience, is arranged in the order of Dongba original, international phonetic transcription, then literal and free versions of Chinese translation. Thus, even common readers of Chinese can expect a fair understanding of the hieroglyphic Dongba classics that otherwise would be as difficult to them as books from heaven.


For better protection, research and development of the Dongba Culture, in1984 the Naxi Dongba Cultural Museum was founded at the Black Dragon Pool of Lijiang. The museum has more than 10,000 Dongba cultural relics and various other historical relics and offers the "Dongba Culture Exhibition", thereby attracting more than 100,000 visitors each year; meanwhile, it also compiles and publishes Newsletter of Dongba Culture and has established the Lijiang Naxi Dongba Cultural School; for its outstanding work over the past years, this museum has been rated as one of the ten excellent prefectural and county museums in China, awarded the honor of "Advanced Cultural Unit in China", and listed as one of the bases for patriotism education of the province.


The Bimo Culture




The Bimo Culture is also known as Yi Culture. According to a census taken in 1990, the number of the Yi living in Yunnan  (4.05 million)  is 60 percent of the total Yi population throughout China; this fact not only  renders Yunnan a province that has the largest distribution of Yi people  but also makes the Yi the most populous among all the minority groups in this province. Bimo Culture, therefore, plays a significant role in the ethnic cultures of Yunnan.


Bimo, the Chinese transliteration of the Yi equivalent meaning "ceremonial master", is a host of sacrificial ceremonies in the Yi primitive religion. But due to differences among the local Yi dialects, this term has different versions when put into Chinese, such as Baima, Beimao, Beima, and Bimu. Bimos, or whichever you like, came into existence at the end of the primitive society when the Yi primitive religion emerged; they knew the Yi language well, acquainted themselves with the Yi history  and ceremonial customs, held sacrificial ceremonies, practiced divination, disseminated the Yi language, and even provided medical service for the common Yi people. In ancient times, Bimos were "divine personnel inseparable from the Yi chieftains even for a single moment", but they were degraded to the common during the Ming and Qing dynasties when hereditary chieftains were replaced by government-appointed officials.


The Yi language, originating from ancient times, was known in historical books as the "Cuan language", the "Wei language", the "Luo language", "the ethnic language" or the "Luoluo language"; it is a monosyllabic language the characters of which, according to statistics, vary from 6,000 to 10,000 in different Yi inhabited areas. Although academic circles still do not agree on when and who created the Yi language, they generally believe that more characters were in use in the Ming and Qing dynasties than in the Tang according to surviving documents. One amazing fact about the Yi language is that it can be adopted to decipher some mysterious symbols on the pottery unearthed at the Banpo archaeological site near Xi'an which are recognized as the beginning of Chinese characters some 6,000 years old; the ancient Yi language also shares more than 100 characters with oracle bone inscriptions, the earliest known Chinese writing; thus it can be surely concluded that the Yi language bears the same historical origins with the Chinese language. There is a common saying that Bimos had much to do with the creation of the ancient Yi language, or to put it another way around, they have been in control of the language from the very outset and used it as a tool for religious activities.


Bimos had, from the beginning to modem times, remained "ancient sages" who also served as historians, wizards and doctors. We can find in their roles they are somewhat superstitious in a sense, but the major part is ethnic knowledge and sciences instead of superstition. So there is every reason to claim that Bimos were folk intellectuals who preserved, inherited and disseminated the traditional Yi culture.


The term Bimo Culture can be understood in two levels. In a broad sense, it includes the language, culture, literature, philosophy, history, religion, folklore, ethics, astronomy, almanacs, medicine, farming and husbandry of the Yi; in astronomical almanac, for instance, the Yi Ten-Month Solar Calendar is renowned for being season-accurate, easy-to-be-remembered and time-tested. It fully shows the world an aspect of the brilliant ancient Chinese culture; while in a narrow sense, the term is confined only to the primitive sorcery and religious scriptures with the Bimos being its highlights. When a Bimo practices his sacrificial witch craft, he usually makes use of such ritual implements as a black robe, a sacred hat with eagle claws indicating their religious authority, a divine fan, and a bronze bell. The ceremonies he hold include divining, averting, swearing, warding-off, oath taking and offering divine verdicts. Bimo scriptures, although varied and voluminous, fall roughly into 4 categories, namely divination, explication, prayer and sacrifice.


The Yi classics are scattered among the people, and some are in other provinces or even other countries. Great attention has been paid to the work of collecting, sorting, and studying them since the foundation of P.R.C in 1949. In the early 1980s, the Central Nationalities University attempted to sort out the existent Yi classics in Beijing and obtained 659 books of which 514 were from the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan; in 1982, the prefectural government held a forum to confirm Bimo as "intellectuals of the ancient Yi culture", and soon the Chuxiong Institute for the Yi Culture was established and some Bimos who had mastered the Yi language were recruited as researchers in this institute; by 1999, the institute had rendered 280 Yi classics (15 million characters) into Chinese and (approximately 0.7 million characters) published five of them.

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