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Yi Nationality, People of Fire

Yi Nationality is the largest ethnic group living in Yunnan. They scatter widely across southwest China, especially in Sichuan as well as the middle and western Yunnan’s mountainous areas. They live on farming and hunting, and have created language, script and calendar of their own. Yi cuisine features salty, aromatic, spicy and pungent flavor. Mutton is their main source of protein. Typical cooking methods involving roasting, stir-frying and braising. Milk cake and chicken are highly recommended when you visit a Yi village. Rice wine is the most popular drink of Yi people, just like tea to Han Chinese.

Yi people celebrate a multitude of festivals such as Torch Festival, Tiger Dance Festival, Chahua Festival and Saizhuang Festival, their fashion competition and Valentine’s Day. Yi New Year Festival is very grand also, which occurs in the tenth lunar month.

Yi people adorn black and yellow color and they are born singers and dancers. To outsiders, their Taicai and Left Foot Dance are most captivating and memorable. If you cannot wait to unravel the mystery of Yi culture, I strongly suggest you visit Yiren Ancient Town, but if you want to get involved with the locals and experience the more primitive and authentic life, then consider Chengzi Ancient Village, where you can see the daily life of Yi people and their distinctive folk residences called Tuzhang House.
Religion: Nature worship and ancestral worship
Distribution: Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture(Sichuan Province) Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture (Yunnan Province)
yi nationality
Where to appreciate Yi Culture
Yiren Ancient Town(彝人古镇)Alu Ancient Cave(阿庐古洞): the biggest natural cave in Asia
yiren ancient townalu ancient cave
Miyilu Yi Ethnic Valley(米依鲁风情谷)Ten Month Solar Calendar Park(彝族十月太阳历文化园)
stone forestpuzhehei scenic resort
Stone ForestPuzhehei Scenic Resort (Yunnan)
jiuxiang scenic regiontuanshan village 
JiuXiang  Cave (Kunming, Yunnan)Tuanshan Village (the former village of Yi people)
 chengzi village 
Chengzi Ancient Town(城子古村): the most beautiful Yi village 

Yi Nationality Festivals at a Glance:
Festival Festivities
Jan 15th
Mar 28th
(lunar month)
Yi Nationality Fashion Contest
Saizhuang Festival
On the 15th day of the first lunar month, when the Han Chinese are indulging in the fun of Lantern Festival, Yi people in southwest China are celebrating Saizhuang Festival, their own fashion show and Valentine’s Day.
If you have missed the one staged in Zhiju Village, Yongren County of Chuxiong in Jan 15th (lunar month), do not feel upset. On the 28th day of the third lunar month, you can experience this in Santai Township, Dayao County, Chuxiong.
Featuring intricate embroidery, a set of Yi attire will take around one to two years to finish. Saizhuang Festival offers an opportunity for the Yi girls and women to display their handicraft skills. Those who bring the largest number of attires with the most fabulous craftsmanship will be the winner. Except for fashion show, other festivities including sports contest, dancing and singing will be held.
(lunar month)
Chahua Festival(插花节)
It is a very distinctive festival of Yi Nationality. The grandest one will take place in Huashan area, Dayao County, Yunnann province. On the 8th day of the second lunar month, Yi people will pick fresh flowers to decorate their doors, shrines and water buffalos and each other for good wishes.
Except for mutton and beef, special food including glutinous rice snacks and buckwheat pancakes will also be prepared. A bonfire will be set up during night, Yi people of both genders and all ages will dance around it to their hearts’ content. Serving as the ideal chance to find their soul mates, Saizhuang Festival has evolved into Yi people’s Valentine’s Day.
Jan 8th-15th
 (lunar month)
Yi Nationality Tiger Dance Festival(彝族跳虎节)
 Just as fire, tiger is also a cultural totem of Yi people. In the 8th day to the 15th day of the first lunar month, Yi people will celebrate Tiger Dance Festival in Shuangbai County(双柏县), Chuxiong to pay homage to tiger, the creator of all beings.
This festival is highlighted by the over 6500-year-old Tiger Reed-Pipe Dance, Big Drum Reed-Pipe Dance and Leopard Reed-Pipe Dance. Focusing on reviving the daily life of a tiger, these timeworn primitive dances will mesmerize outsides by their mysterious masks, exotic costumes and bewildering dance steps.
The 8th day of the first lunar month will see a solemn rituality performed to invite the God of Tiger by a sorcerer, and eight strong men will be selected to act as tigers. The following week will see a new member join in. These “tigers” will bring happiness and auspiciousness to each household by dancing from one household to the next. What is interesting is that these selected men are forbidden to talk during the week-long festival. With participants amounting to over 50,000, this festival will guide you into a lost hidden world of ancient beliefs. It is time to enjoy Long-Table Banquet, Tiger Worship Ceremony and grand singing and dancing joined by ten thousands of people.
 Mar 28th
(lunar month)
March Fair(三月会)
On the 28th day of the third lunar month, Yi people in Mouding County, Chuxiong will celebrate March Fair Festival. During daytime, over 100,000 people will throng into the market to trade. At night, Yi people in festival attires will dance the Left Foot Dance accompanied by Er’Hu and Yueqin. This festival will last for three days and nights.
 Jun 24th
(lunar month)
Torch Festival(火把节)
Torch Festival is the most famous festival of Yi people. This three-day festival is fueled with activities including horse-racing, wrestling, bull fighting, tug-of-war, boat racing and bonfire party.
 Oct- Nov
(lunar month)
Yi Nationality New Year(彝族十月年)
 As the grandest festival of Yi people, it usually kicks off during the tenth to the eleventh lunar month.
The first day will see Yi people clean the houses, prepare various food and worship ancestors. The second and third day will see Yi women make pork and sausage while Yi men visit other villagers to sing happy songs. The third day is the day the spirits of their ancestors go back to heaven, so a sumptuous banquet will be prepared to please them. The fourth day will see married women bring basketful of food to pay a visit to their parents. The sixth day will mark an end of their New Year Festival.
Except for feasting on supper abundant and diversified food on the long-table banquet, you can also appreciate the grand singing and dancing performed by hundreds or even thousands of Yi people. In the Ancient Town of Yi Nationality(彝人古镇), you will be overwhelmed by their sky-soaring songs, eye-dazzling dances and unrivaled enthusiasm.
 Photos of Yi Festivals
saizhuang festival
Saizhuang Festival

Yi people tiger dance festival
yi people tiger dance festival
yi people tiger dance festival
Calendar: Yi people observe the over 10,000-year-old Ten-month solar calendar, which divides the whole year into ten months, with each month has 36 days and the remaining five or six days reserved for festivals. According to this calendar, Yi people will celebrate New Year Festival twice per year. Standing out as the most ancient calendar surviving till nowadays, the Ten-month solar calendar steeped in mysticism is intertwined with Daoism, Confucianism and Yin-Yang philosophy. For instance, each month begins with mice’s day and ends with pig’s day. In one month, there are three rounds of circulation of these zodiac signs.
Tuzhang House: Tuzhang house(土掌房) is unique to Yi people, just like stilt house (Diaojiao Lou) is to the Miao people and Si He Yuan(Chinese quadrangles) is to the Han Chinese. With history dating back to over 500 years ago, it is the most ancient folk residence of Yi people. Through the innovative Yi architects, mud, wood and stones abounding in the mountainous area of Yunnan are given shape and life, which eventually become a defining cultural symbol. Tuzhang houses are mainly found in the middle and southeast Yunnan’s mountainous areas and river valleys. Most are fashioned in one-storey, and some come in two or three storeys. Tuzhang house mirrors the mixed influence of Han and Yi culture.
chengzi anceint village
Tuzhang House of Yi people

Rustic in appearance, Tuzhang House is cool in summer and warm in winter. The best place to see Tuzhang House is Chengzi Ancient Town(城子古村), Yongning Township, Huxi County, Yunnan province. The locals nickname it as Huxi County’s “Potala Palace”. For outsiders, Chengzi Ancient Town is a giant castle composed of over 1000 Tuzhang buildings, which pile up layer by layer from the valley to the hill waist. Do not feel surprised that the roofs of the lowers houses are used as courtyards of the upper ones. According to Feng Shui, this village backed up by hills and facing rivers is an ideal homeland. If you want to experience unspoiled Karst Landscape and colorful ethnic flavor, it will be a nice retreat.
luxi county chengzi ancient villageluxi county chengzi ancient village
luxi county chengzi ancient villageluxi county chengzi ancient village
luxi county chengzi ancient village

Chengzi Ancient Village

Singing and Dancing

Taicai(跳菜): Taicai is a culinary entertainment combining acrobatics, music and dance. During grand occasions such as wedding banquet, two servers will make a debut by carrying dishes by hands and heads. Accompanied by folk music, cheering yells and warm applauses, the first man will carry one plate by head and salute others in ancient Chinese etiquette named Zuo Yi. His fanciful steps and challenging stunt will lend a feeling of suspension into the air. The most thrilling part, however, is to observe his partner who will carry three plates containing eight dishes respectively by hands and head. Taicai could be the only one of its kind in the world; hence, if your visit coincides with this performance, can you afford to say “No” to it?
taicai dance yi nationallity
taicai dance yi nationallity
taicai dance yi nationallity

Left Foot Dance (左脚舞)

Enjoying a history of over 1000 years old, Left Foot Dance is the most popular and influential dance of Yi people, which is honored as the Living Fossil. Left Foot Dance originated in Mouding County(牟定县) of Chuxiong, and is performed during grand gatherings such as March Fair Festival. Featuring unrestrained nature, Left Foot Dance splits into four tunes.  Love, harvest, praising the beauty of life and show hospitality are its main themes. The best place to see Left Foot Dance is Lvzhi Town(绿汁镇), which is 44km southwest of Yimen County(易门县城) and 120km from Kunming (the capital city of Yunnan province). Jan 16th or March 27th to 29th (lunar month) will see tens of thousands of Yi people flooding in. The sheer beauty of the richly-clad crowd is a visual spectacle already, let alone to mention their fantastic performance.
yi nationality left foot dance
yi nationality left foot dance
Left Foot Dance of Yi people
Fire Worship
In the mountainous area of Mile County(弥勒县), Honghe Prefecture, Yunnan province, there are over 1200 Axi tribe of Yi Nationality. They live in quaint houses as farmers and hunters. Except for relaxing lifestyle which stays the same just as thousands of year ago, they also preserve many interesting rituals. Among which Fire Worship Ritual is the most wonderful. These photos are taken in 2012. On the third day of the second lunar month, Yi people here will celebrate Axi Fire Worship Festival(阿细祭火节).
fire worship yi nationality
fire worship yi nationality
fire worship yi nationality



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