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Bai People, a Legendary Minority in Yunnan

The Origination of Bai Minority

Due to their obsession with color white,  Bai People are honored as  "People of White". They are also known as Bo People, a long distinct ancient tribe living in southwest China before 221BC, whose legacy to the world are 200 rocking carvings and over 223 coffins along the cliffs in GongXian County, Sichuan.
Regarding the origination of Bai people, two versions prevail: one holds that they are natives of Dali, who dwelled along Mt Cangshan and Erhai around 4000 years ago and lived on cultivating rice, animal husbandry and fishing. The other states that Bai are descendants of Dai people, or Qiang people, or Han Chinese, or even the India King Ashoka. The most convincing voice concludes that Bai people are aboriginals of Yunnan, who keep taking in other nationalities during numerous cultural and economy exchanges. The word “diversity” fits Bai people perfectly.
bai people
Bai People

Bai People: the only minority which established a kingdom on Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau

The craggy and rugged Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau is studded with dozens of minority groups, among which Bai Minority is the only one which built a local kingdom: Nanzhao Kingdom (8th---13th century). The establishment of Naozhao Kingdom ended the turbulent chorus, spurred peace and prosperity during the following 300 years as well as contributed to a unified China. In a highly isolated place where communication was inadequate between different tribes and an era marked by constant wars, it was a miracle.
From the eighth to the thirteen century, Bai people ruled this land and created splendid culture of their own. Nanzhao Kingdom , the prime era of Bai people, saw economic boom and culture renaissance. It did not disintegrate until in the 10th century and gave way to Dali Kingdom, the later stage of Nanzhao kingdom. Dali Kingdom is three times the size of today’s Yunnan: it greets Turpan in the north, India in the northwest, Jiangtou city of Myanmar in the southwest, Puan, Guizhou in the east and Vietnam in the south.

Populated at 1.85million by 2000, Bai people is the second largest minority of Yunnan. They mainly live in Dali, Nujiang River(Angry River), Baoshan, Nanhua, Yuanjiang and Kunming of Yunnan province. Dali Ancient City, the kingdom of Bai people, attracts 80% of Bais in China. In Guizhou, Sichuan and Hunan, you can also find their footsteps.

Nourished by the snow-capped Mt Cangshan and life-giving Erhai Lake, Bai people have cultivated gentle, tolerant, romantic and noble character, which enables them to live harmoniously and to unite a myriad of isolated minorities to establish the renowned Nanzhao Kingdom.

Bai People have created the most influential minority culture

Among all the ethnic groups in Yunnan, Naxi people and Bai people are reputed as the best educated. Bai people, in particular, are famous for their sense of proud when it comes to self-respect and the consciousness of cultural identity. However, this does not prevent them from appreciating and studying the advanced Han culture. From government system, technology to folklore art, Bai people absorbed the essence of Han culture innovatively without losing its own identity. Regarding literature, poetry, painting, sculpture, they have overtaken other ethenicites and created the most influential minority culture.

Adjoining to center China in the north, India and Myanmar in the south, Turpan Kingdom in the west, Dali is a melting pot where Zhongyuan Culture(Center China Han culture), Chu Culture(Hunan Culture), Bashu Culture(Sichuan Culture), Turpan Culture of Xinjiang and southeast Asian Culture converge. No wonder Bai culture is distinguished by its flexibility, tolerance and openness. Benzhu Worship, their ancient belief, is a most convincing proof.
Top Attractions of Bai people

Representing the essence of Bai culture, Bai architecture will bring you into an art palace of painting, sculptures and carvings. It is a fine example of man and nature coexisting in harmony.
For Bai people, it is a lifelong endeavor and top priority to build a decent abode, where they can rest and cultivate mind. Delicate brick, stone and wooden carvings fashioned after auspicious animals, flora and mythical figures abound in Bai architecture, lending it an air of mystique, grace and sumptuousness. Bai architecture mirrors the strong influence of Han culture, especially Confucianism, yet, it roots deeply into the soil of Bai culture. The best place to have a glimpse of Bai architecture is Xizhou Ancient Town.
bai people architecture
bai people architecture
bai architecture
bai architecture2
bai architecture
Food: Diversity is the catchword of Bai people’s cuisine, which boasts many variants and reflects various influences. Bai cuisine is characterized by its sour, sweet and spicy flavor. Rice and flour constitute their staple foods. In the mountainous area, corns, taros and buckwheat are consumed substantially. The water bounty from Erhai Lake including fish, seaweeds, crab and shrimps enriches Bai people’s menu significantly. Various flowers thriving here include rose, lotus, pear blossom, chrysanthemum, white azaleas and orchid are stir-fried, stewed or smoldered to prepare upscale dishes, and some can cost a huge sum of money.

Bai people are good at preparing pickled dishes, ham, bacon, sausage and various snacks. Diao Mei, Xizhou Baba and Rushan are famous local delicacies.

Festival dishes such as Ba Da Wan, San Luo Shui as well as Roasted Tea (Kao Cha) will be served to distinguished guests. The Three Course Tea Ceremony combining sipping tea and ritual performance symbolizes the three stages of life: bitter, sweet and lingering aftertaste.
three course tea
Three Course Tea Ceremony of Bai People


Bai people believed in witchcraft initially, which still lingers in the remote area of Nujiang. During Tang dynasty (618-907), Buddhism was introduced. Fascinated by the doctrines and ideologies, the rulers of Nanzhao Kingdom promoted this religion to its extreme. Among the 22 kings, 10 became monks. Commoners of both gender occupied themselves with reading Buddhism poetry and sutra day and night. Dali became a land of Buddhism in no time. During Yuan and Ming, Daoism and Confucianism penetrated. The result is a cultural boom signified by the co-existence of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. Meanwhile, nature worship, totem worship, hero worship also hold a space in the mind of Bai people, among which, Benzhu Worship is the most distinctive one.

Benzhu, also known as Wuzeng or Daobo, roughly means “the most revered protection God of native territory”. It is the protection god of their families and villages, who can bestow farmers with good harvest, scholars with academic achievement, artisans with peerless craftsmanship and businessmen with great fortune. Among the over 500 Benzhu gods, each has mythological or heroic story and character.
These secularized gods mainly consist of Buddha, kings, generals, heroes and even enemies. For instance, the Mighty Black God (God of Epidemic) of Tibetan Buddhism is entitled as Benzhu. Legend had it that Bai people lived so happily in this blessed land that even God felt jealousy. One day, the Mighty Black God was sent to Yunnan to spread epidemic. Intoxicated by the enticing scenery and warm-hearted people, he imbibed  the poisonous juice, which scorched him  black. To thank him, Bai people make him a Benzhu God. Wu Sangui, a notorious military general living in the Ming dynasty, brought much disaster to Yunnan and its dwellers. Rather than bear hatred, Bai people title him a Benzhu God also, and pacify him with offerings from time to time. Wishing for a happy present life, Bai people will erect at least one Benzhu monastery in their village. During the sacrifice day, those senior Bai people will gather there, beating the wooden fish and praying for good harvest, peace and prosperity. Benzhu Festival is one of the most important festival of Bai people.
bai people benzhu festisval

 Benzhu Festival

bai people benzhu festisval
bai people benzhu festisval
bai people benzhu festival
Jan 5thGe Gen Fair (Pueraria Fair葛根节)trade Pereira (a herb) and stroll along Three Pagodas
Jan 9thSong Hua Hui(松花会)celebrate the birthday of Jade Emperor
Feb 28thGuanyingtang Festivalsinging, dancing and trade
March 15 to 21March Festival (Third Month Fair, San Yue Jie)Rooted in Buddhism, this ritual Temple Fair evolves into a comprehensive carnival catering to trade, entertainment and sport. By now, it is the largest trade event in western Yunnan and the most distinctive ethnic gathering. Festivities: singing, dancing, parade, horse racing, Dragon Boat Racing, Dongjing Music Performance(an ancient classic music). Around one million people will participate in this grand economy and cultural exchange event.
April 15thButterfly Meetingsinging, dancing, romantic date
April 22 to 24Rao San LingWorship Buddha in Three Pagodas and Erhai Lake
June 25Torch FestivalActivities: ancestor worship, climb the burning poles to ignite torches, circling along the rice fields with torches, jumping over the bonfire
July 1Kaihai Festival a solemn worship ritual , fierce Dragon Boat Racing, cormorants fishing show
kaihai festival
Kaihai Festival


Ghost Festival: July 15, lunar month. On this day, people should stay in home after dark.

March Street or Temple Fair: killing animals is forbidden

Bai people are easy to identify. Just look at their white clothes and refreshing ornaments. The headgears of Bai people are distinctive. The white fleece represents the eternal snow of Mt Cangshan, the red cord or handkerchief symbolize the eye-dazzling Shangguan flower, the handchief fashioned after the crescent indicate the moon hanging over Erhai Lake, while the white tassels represents the Xiaguan Wind.  Wind,flower, snow and moon, four elements defines "Romance" in traditional Chinese culture, indicates Dali as a romantic abode inhabited by romantic people.


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