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Yi History

Yi has many subgroups. Historically, they shared more than 100 self-appellations such as Nuosu, Niesu, Nasu, Lowu, Axipo and Sani. After 1949, they are officially named Yi Ethnic group.Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

The ancestors of Yi people were closely related with the Di-Qiang(古氐羌) people, acient nomadic ethnic groups living in the Northwest of today's China. Many of those Di-Qiang moved southward and they gradually mixed with local people in the Southwest, so their descendants developed into a new people around 4 to 5 thousand years ago. The newly developed group was mentioned as "Bo" (僰)or "pu" (濮) in Chinese historical records or documents and was thought of as a branch of the Qiang posterity.Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

At the beginning of 400 B.C, the descendants of a noble of Di-Qiang(古氐羌) named Wugoyuanjian(无弋爰剑), moved southward from the He-Huang area(today's Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai provinces) to the area between Mianshan Mountains and Jinsha River where their posterities evolved into many Qiang groups as Wudu(武都), Guanghan(广汉), yuexi(越嶲)with the Xi(嶲) and Kunming(昆明), two local groups, as their neighbors. During the period of Wei and Jin Dynasties, the Kunming group and the Bo(僰)or Pu(濮)group developed individually.Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

During the period of Sui and Tang dynasties, the ancestors of Yi were divided into two subgroups referred to as Wuman and Baiman (Black Local People and White People) in Chinese documents and records. The former developed from the Kunming tribe and the latter from mainly the Shou and Pu and other minority tribes. The inhabited area covered the central area of Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and part of Guangxi as it is today. In the 30s of the 8th century, six Yi slavery tribes appeared in the area in the north part of Ailaoshan and the area around the Erhai Lake. Piluoge, the leader of Mengshezhao tribe, conquered the other five tribes and founded the Nanzhao Kingdom, a slavery regime in 783A.D. with the Yi as its main citizens and the Bai and Naxi included. Its territory covered the east part of Yunnan, the west of Guizhou and the south part of Sichuan. Later, Loudian and other slaveholders blocs or regimes were established in the Yi area of Guizhou. Meanwhile tens of the "zimo", the former military leaders in Liangshan Yi area in Sichuan also declared independence and set up their own governments. In 1253A.D (the 3rd year of Menggehan Emperor's reign, Mongolian Yuan Dynasty), the Mongolian cavalry attacked Yunnan in three routes. The urgent and dangerous situation made those half-independent Yi tribes, who distributed far away from each other, reunited under the name of Lolo people and founded a slack alliance to defense the their home against the Mongolian cavalry, their common invading enemy. During the Ming dynasty which lasted 276 years, the hereditary aboriginal Yi governments known as Tusi in Chinese in Shuixi(水西), Wusa(乌撒), Wumeng(乌蒙), Mangbu(芒部), Dongchuan(东川), Yongning(永宁), Mahu(马湖)and Jianchang(建昌)across the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan often supported each other and remained their slavery system well.Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

During the period of the reign of Kangxi Emperor and the reign of Yongzheng Emperor, the Qing government implemented the policy of replacement of aboriginal hereditary officials with appointed officials. As a result, some tribes were rapidly transitioned from slaveries to feudalist societies while the ones in some places in Yunnan and Sichuan, especially those in Daliangshan and Xiaoliangshan, were well kept. Later, 6 big families or clans relatively adopting the Chinese family names of 龙(long),陇(long),陆(lu),卢(lu),禄(lu) and安(an) as their own families' names, established feudal bureaucrat comprador blocs in east Yunnan. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, the Yi People were finally liberated from the slavery system or feudal system and lived a completely new life.The Yi people have both language and traditional writing system. The language belongs to Yi Cluster of Tibetan-Burman Branch of Sino-Tibetan Family and has six dialects that are the East Dialect, the Southeast Dialect, the South Dialect, the West Dialect, the North Dialect and the Central Dialect. Each dialect has its own sub-dialects and vernaculars.Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

The Yi's traditional writing was referred to as "Chuai wen"(爨文), "chuaizi"(爨字), "chuaishu" (爨书), "Lolowen" (倮倮文), "Wei wen" (韪文)or "yijing" (夷经)in the Chinese historical documents while the Yi people call it "nuosubuma"(诺苏补玛), "naisusongna" (乃苏讼纳), "niesusuo" (聂苏索), "nisi"(尼斯), "azesu"(阿哲苏)or "nasusuo" (纳苏缩). No final decision has been concluded yet on the time the Yi writing originated. The inscriptions on the pottery of the late Longshan culture unearthed from the Dinggong site in Zou county Shandong province are very similar with the Yi characters and even can be read in Yi writing way. The seal or stamp in Yi characters of Tanglang prefecture in the West Han Dynasty was found in the Zhaktong prefecture of Yunnan. A tablet in Yi characters in East Jin Dynasty named Jihuo Tablet was also excavated in Dafang county of Guizhou. According to the historical records or documents in both Chinese and Yi, the Yi writing system can be calculated being created in Han Dynasty or even earlier. As for the creator of the Yi writing, there are many ones in Yi folk legends: Jilu the Old, Benduobengen, Bi-awu, Baibogen, bi-adie, Ranranyiyi and other. The Yi writing is a syllabic one in which each character represents one meaning. The characters amount to more than 10,000. Dot, horizontal, vertical and horizontal-turning strokes are the parts that constitute the characters. Pictograph, associative compounds, self-explanatory and phonetic loan are the main way in which the characters are formed. Most of the characters are single characters and very few are compound ones. Most shapes or structures of Yi characters in Yi ancient reccrds from Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi are the same or at least similar. But thare are some differences in writing ways because of the facts that residences are far away cut apart by mountains and rivers and that some mistakes were inevitably made when people copied the records from generation to generation. The Yi writing in Liangshan of Sichuan is horizontally written from right to left side while in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi vertically from left to right.Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Many ancient books, records and documents have been collected in many libraries, research institutes and translation agencies both at home and abroad(as in England, Japan, France and Swiss). And many more are privately collected by many common Yi people. These Yi historical records, documents and books deal with many aspects such as religions, history, philosophy, literature, language and its writing, medicines and medicals, astronomy, geography and farming skills. Some famous works are mentioned as examples in the follows. Xinan Yizhi (Yi Records in the Southwest), known as Yi's encyclopedia, containing 378,000characters, deals with many aspects. It records the ancient Yi people's rich knowledge about the universe, the history of human being, "Bagua" (eight trigrams) and "hetu", the explanation and practice of "jingluo"(Chines and Yi medical term, means main and collateral channels in a human being's body), and astronomy and Yi calendar. Qisushu (《齐苏书》) is a Yi medical works or dictionary which is said to be written in the reign of Emperor Jiajing of Ming dynasty and won the title of "bright bear in Ailao Distriction. Asima(《阿诗玛》), a long narrative poem in Sani Dialect, is a classic works. Beside, the Creation of Universe(《洪水泛滥史》), Great Flood(《创世记》), and the origination of Human Being(《人类的起源》) are also well-known works written in Yi. The Yi works were often written on paper, silk cloth and skins of sheep, goats or oxen with brush or bamboo slips, while a few of them were also carved on bamboo tubes, bamboo slips or bones of oxen, sheep or goats with knives. Most of the Yi works were handwritten, and few were wood plate-printed or lithographic printed. More than thousand handwritten books on Yi history and culture have been found circulating in different Yi inhabited areas, most of which are about the creation of the heaven and earth, the origination of human being, the Great Flood, Marriage between Elder Brother and Younger Sister, wars and migrations, philosophy, arts and religions etc. Four great epics---Lengeteyi(《勒俄特依》), Axi's Xianji(《阿细的先基》), Meige(《梅葛》), and Chamu(《查姆》), four great narrative poems---Asima(《阿诗玛》), Mama's Daughter(《妈妈的女儿》), My Youngest Cousin in Law(《我的幺表妹》), and Running away for the Sweet Land(《逃到甜蜜的地方》), are favorite readings among readers at home and abroad, of which Asima has been translated into a dozen languages and has won a worldwide reputation. Much medical knowledge were also well recorded in Yi documents. Some works on Yi medical practice written in Yi during the period of Yuan and Qing dynasties are listed below: Looking for the Right Medicine(《寻药找药经》), Medical Calculation(《医算书》), A List of Some Prescriptions(《献药经》), On the Yi Medicine in Ming Dynasty(《明代彝医书》), Medical Guidance(《指路经》), etc. In the past decades, literate works and arts by contemporary authors and artists have been developed well and many famous author and artists have been appearing in the horizon.Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Many of the Yi characters were inscribed on tablets or carved on rocks. The Yi characters on Houqi Tablet (《火济碑》)excavated in Dafang county, Guizhou province were carved in East Jin dynasty. The bronze or copper bell, also found in Dafang, which was molded in the 21st year of the reign of Emperor Chenghua in Ming dynasty (1485 A.D), was engraved in both Chinese and Yi characters. The Cliff Engraved with Characters(《镌字岩》) in Luquan county, Yunnan province, which was engraved in the 12th year of the reign of Emperor Jiajing in Ming dynasty (1533A.D), was also engraved in both Chinese and Yi characters. Tombs stone tablets and guiding stone tablets carved in Yi characters are countless. Bones of oxen, sheep and goats and tiles carved with fortune-telling instructions in Yi characters are also numerous.Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, the Yi traditional writings in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Guangxi have been standardized and these standardized writings have been put into use in the Yi inhabited areas. The Tentative Program for Standardization of Traditional Yi Characters(《彝文规范试行方案》) was worked out in Sichuan in 1975, in which 819 characters were decided as standardized ones. The program was ratified to put into practice in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture by the State Council (which still have been putting into practice at present), and had good results. Izg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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Article by Pu ZhongliangTranslator:Shi Defu & Li Jie,Photo by Lielai.LaduIzg彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆