Bai people

The Bai or Baip (Bai language: Baipho /pɛ̰˦˨xo̰˦/ (白和); Chinese: 白族; pinyin: Báizú; endonym pronounced [pɛ̀tsī]) are an East Asian ethnic group. They constitute one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. They numbered 1,858,063 as of 2000.

Bai people
Romanizationbah zoh
Southern Min
Hokkien POJPe̍h-cho̍k
Teochew Peng'imPêh-tsôk
Eastern Min
Fuzhou BUCBah-cŭk
Bai female costumes
Women dressed in Bai clothings
Total population
Regions with significant populations
China, mostly in the Yunnan province (Dali area), Guizhou province (Bijie area) and Hunan province (Sangzhi area)
Bai, Chinese
Buddhism, Benzhuism, Taoism and Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Han Chinese • Hui
other Sino-Tibetan peoples


The Bai people hold the colour white in high esteem and call themselves "Baipzix" (pɛ˦˨ tsi˧; Baizi 白子), "Baip'ho" (pɛ˦˨ xo˦; Baihuo 白伙), "Baip yinl" (pɛ˦˨ ji˨˩; Baini 白尼), or "Miep jiax". Baip people literally means 'white people' in Chinese. In 1956, the Chinese authorities named them the Bai nationality according to their preference.

Historically, the Bai had also been called Minjia (民家) by the Chinese from the 14th century to 1949.[2] Minjia means civil people and natives, as opposite to Junjia (軍家), which means the military people who were Han Chinese.

The origin of the name Bai is not clear, but most scholars believe that it has a strong connection to the first state Bai people built in roughly the 3rd century AD. This state, called Baizi Guo (白子國; State of Bai), was not documented in Chinese orthodox history but was frequently mentioned in the oral history of Yunnan Province. It was believed to be built by the first king, Longyouna (龍佑那), who was given the family name "Zhang" (張) by Zhuge Liang, the chancellor of the state of Shu Han (221–263 CE). Zhuge Liang conquered the Dali region at that time and picked up Longyouna and assisted him in building the State of Bai. The State of Bai was located in present-day Midu County, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province.[3]


Bai Architecture

Bai people live mostly in the provinces of Yunnan (Dali area), and in neighboring Guizhou (Bijie area) and Hunan (Sangzhi area) provinces. Of the 2 million Bai people, eighty percent live in concentrated communities in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province.[4]


The origin of Bai was heavily debated over roughly the past century. Ironically those debates were of the groups of people who were assimilated into Bai, rather than the issue per se. According to archaeological excavations around the Lake Erhai, Bai people were originated in the lake area. The earliest human site was discovered in the early 20th century, which was called the paleolithic Malong relics of Mt. Cangshan (苍山马龙遗址), dated circa 4000 bp. The late sites include Haimenkou of Jianchuan (剑川海门口,3000 bp), Baiyangcun of Binchuan (宾川白羊村, 3500 bp), and Dabona of Xiangyun(祥云大波那, 2350 bp).


An estimated 1,240,000 (as of 2003) of the Bai speak the Bai language in all its varieties. The origins of the language have been obscured by intensive Chinese influence of an extended period. Different scholars have proposed that it is an early offshoot or sister language of Chinese, or a separate group (though usually still within the Sino-Tibetan family).[5]

The Bai call themselves Baizi, Baini, or Baihuo. They have 60 other names, including the Han term Minjia (for the Bai in Dali). In the Tang and Song Dynasty, Bai was written using Chinese characters in a manner similar to the way in which the Man'yōgana (万叶假名) were used to write Japanese. A Latin-based writing system was developed in 1957.


Bai Tea Serving Ceremonial Ground
A tea-serving ceremonial ground.

Although most Bai people adhere to Buddhism,[6][7] they also have a native religion of Benzhuism: the worship of ngel zex (本主; běnzhǔ), local gods and ancestors. Ngel zex could be any heroes in history, the prince of the Nanzhao regime, a hero of folklore or even a tiger (for instance, Laojun Jingdi 老君景帝 is a tiger).

There are minorities practicing Taoism and Christianity.

There are a few villages in Yunnan where residents are Muslims, but speak Bai as their first language. These people are officially classified by Chinese authorities as belonging to the Hui nationality and call themselves Bai Hui ("Bai-speaking Muslims"). They usually say that their ancestors were Hui people, who came to Yunnan as followers of the Mongolian army in the 14th century.[8]


The Bai diet typically comprises sharp, cold and spicy flavours. Cured ham or fish with rice are common dishes; for some groups based in mountain areas corn is a staple food.

Tea Ceremony

The Bai tea ceremony, San Dao Cha 三道茶 (Three Course Tea), is most popular among the Bai in the Dali area and is a common sight at festivals and marriages. It is both a cultural ceremony and method of honouring a guest.[9] The ceremony is often described in Mandarin as, 'Yiku, ertian, sanhuiwei' 一苦二甜三回味 (First is bitter, Second is sweet, Third brings reflection (aftertaste)).[10]

The first tea course starts with baking the tea leaves in a clay pot over a small flame, shaking the leaves often whilst they bake. When they turn slightly brown and give off a distinct fragrance, heated water is added to the pot. The water should immediately begin bubbling. When the bubbling ceases a small amount of bitterly fragrant, concentrated tea remains. Due to the sound the hot water makes when it enters the clay pot the first course tea was, in previous times, also known as Lei Xiang Cha 雷响茶 (Sound of Thunder Tea).[9]

The second course is sweet tea. Pieces of walnut kernel and roasted ru shan (乳扇) (a dairy product specific to the Dali region)[11] are put into a tea cup with brown sugar and other ingredients. Boiling water is added and the tea is then offered to the guest. This tea is sweet without being oily, so the guest can easily drink it.[12]

The third tea is made by mixing honey, Sichuan pepper, slices of ginger and cassia together in a china cup with hot Cangshan Xue green tea.[12] The product is a tea that is sweet, coarse and spicy all at once. This Dali specialty has a noticeable aftertaste, which meant it was known as Hui Wei Cha 回味茶 (Reflection Tea).[9]

The 18 procedures of the tea ceremony are governed by strict etiquette, which follows the principles of etiquette, honesty and beauty. As such, the tea ceremony is considered by some to perfectly embody the hospitable Bai people's current customs.[10]


The Bai people, as their name would suggest, favor white clothes and decorations. Women generally wear white dresses, sleeveless jackets of red, blue or black color, embroidered belts, loose trousers, embroidered shoes of white cloth, and jewelry made of gold or silver. Women in Dali traditionally wear a white coat trimmed with a black or purple collar, loose blue trousers; embroidered shoes, silver bracelets and earrings. Unmarried women wear a single pigtail on the top of the head, while married women roll their hair. The men wear white jackets, black-collared coats, and dark loose shorts. Their headwear and costume reflect the Bai symbols: the snow, the moon, the flower, and the wind.

The modern Bai are famous for their tie dyes and use them for wall hangings, table decorations, clothing, etc.


The grandest festival of the Bai people is the Third Month Fair, held annually at the foot of Mount Cangshan in Dali between the fifteenth and the twentieth day of the third lunar month. Originally it was religious activity to rally and pay homage, but it gradually evolved into a fair including performances of traditional sports and dance, as well as the trade of merchandise from different regions.

Another important festival is the Torch Festival, held on the 25th day of the sixth lunar month to wish health and a good harvest. On that evening, the countryside is decorated with banners with auspicious words written upon them. Villagers then light torches in front of their gates and walk around the fields while holding yet more torches in order to catch pests.

Cormorant fishing

Cormorant fishing uses cormorants for fishing and is practiced among the Bai fishermen.


The Bai architecture is characterized by three buildings forming a U and a fourth wall as a screen. The middle has a courtyard. The houses are usually built out of brick and wood, and the main room is in the middle (opposite the screen wall). The screen wall is built with brick and stone. The house is painted in white with black tile paintings depicting animals and other natural images. The detailing usually is made of clay sculpture, woodcarving, colored drawing, stone inscription, marble screens and dark brink. It produces a very striking and elegant effect.

Dali is well known for its marble. The name for marble is 'Dali marble' in Chinese. It is used in modern architecture by the Bai.

Notable Bai

  • Shen Yiqin (谌贻琴) - Deputy Communist Party Secretary, Governor of Guizhou province
  • Duan Siping (段思平) - founder of the Kingdom of Dali
  • Zhang Le Jin Qiu (张乐进求) - legendary ancestor of the Bai
  • Zhao Fan (趙藩) - scholar, calligrapher and poet
  • Zhao Shiming (赵式铭) - scholar, the first one who studied the Bai language the most systematically.
  • Zhang Jiebao (张结宝) - a famous bandit leader, active in the 1920s in northwestern Yunnan.
  • Yang Chaoyue (杨超越) - idol singer and artiste
  • Yang Rong (楊蓉) - actress
  • Yang Liping (杨丽萍) - dancer
  • Yang Yuntao (楊雲濤) - dancer
  • Zhang Lizhu (张丽珠) - gynecological scientist.
  • Wang Xiji (王希季) - astronomer, member of Chinese Academy of Science.
  • Xu Lin (徐琳) - linguist, one of two founders of modern grammar of Bai language.
  • Zhao yansun (赵衍荪) - linguist, one of two founders of modern grammar of Bai language.
  • Zhou Baozhong (周保中) - military general, who led the battles against the Japanese invasion in Northeastern China.

See also



  1. ^ "The Bai Ethnic Group". Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  2. ^ "Voice quality" (PDF). Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  3. ^ 释, 同揆 (c. 1681). 洱海丛谈(Erhai Congtan). p. 3.
  4. ^ "Ethnic Groups". Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  5. ^ Wang, Feng (2005). "On the genetic position of the Bai language". Cahiers de Linguistique – Asie Orientale. 34 (1): 101–127. doi:10.3406/clao.2005.1728.
  6. ^ "Ethnic Groups -". Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  7. ^ "Ethnic Groups -". Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  8. ^ Gladney, Dru C. (1996). Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic (2 ed.). p. 33. ISBN 0-674-59497-5. (1st edition appeared in 1991)
  9. ^ a b c "大理白族"三道茶"(民俗风情)". Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  10. ^ a b "大连日报". Archived from the original on 1 January 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  11. ^ "100道 云南美食 图文版 大理乳扇 大理名菜 大理小吃-大理-昆明中国国际旅行社有限公司". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  12. ^ a b "腾讯文学 - 文字之美,感动心灵". Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2015.


External links


Azhaliism (Chinese: 阿吒力教 Āzhālìjiào) is a Vajrayana Buddhist religion practiced among the Bai people of Yunnan, China. The name comes from lay tantric priests called azhali (Sanskrit: acharyas) who are key figures in the religion, known for their use of spells and mantras.The tradition was founded by an Indian acharya named Candragupta who traveled to the kingdom of Nanzhao (653–902) from Tibet in 839. It is a hybrid tradition showing Chinese, Tibetan and Burmese influences.This tradition was also the major religion of the Dali Kingdom (937–1253). Key deities in this tradition include Mahakala (known locally as 'Black Sky god') and Acuoye Guanyin. The Shibaoshan (Stone Treasure Mountain) grottoes, about 10km north of Shaxi, Yunnan, are examples of the art of this Vajrayana tradition.The tradition faced several challenges during Yuan and Qing rule (such as being banned in 1507 and competition from Han Buddhist schools like Chan) but it continues as a living religion today.

Bai language

The Bai language (Bai: Baip‧ngvp‧zix; simplified Chinese: 白语; traditional Chinese: 白語; pinyin: Báiyǔ) is a language spoken in China, primarily in Yunnan province, by the Bai people. The language has over a million speakers and is divided into three or four main dialects. Bai syllables are always open, with a rich set of vowels and eight tones. The tones are divided into two groups with modal and non-modal (tense, harsh or breathy) phonation. There is a small amount of traditional literature written with Chinese characters, Bowen (僰文), as well as a number of recent publications printed with a recently standardized system of romanisation using the Latin alphabet.

The origins of Bai have been obscured by intensive Chinese influence of an extended period. Different scholars have proposed that it is an early offshoot or sister language of Chinese, part of the Loloish branch or a separate group within the Sino-Tibetan family.

Bai people (South Sudan)

The Bai people is an ethnic group speaking the Bai language in South Sudan. The Bai language is a Niger–Congo language. Several thousand persons belong to this group. The Bai people mostly inhabit the Southern Sudanese state of Western Bahr el Ghazal.


Benzhuism (Chinese: 本主教; pinyin: Běnzhǔjiào; literally: "religion of the patrons") is the indigenous religion of the Bai people, an ethnic group of Yunnan, China. It consists in the worship of the ngel zex, the Bai word for "patrons" or "lords", rendered as benzhu (本主) in Chinese, that are local gods and deified ancestors of the Bai people. It is very similar to common Chinese religion.

While many of the Bai are Buddhists, the local government of China has recently helped the revival of the Benzhu ethnic religion, for example through the promotion of the Gwer Sa La festival.

Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture

Dàlǐ Bai Autonomous Prefecture (Chinese: 大理白族自治州; pinyin: Dàlǐ Báizú Zìzhìzhōu; Bai: Darl•lit Baif•cuf zirl•zirl•zox) is an autonomous prefecture of northwestern Yunnan province, People's Republic of China. Dali has an area of 29,460 square kilometres (11,370 sq mi) and its seat is located in Xiaguan, Dali City.

Duan Siping

Duan Siping (Chinese: 段思平; pinyin: Duàn sīpíng; IPA: [twân sí.pʰǐŋ]) was a statesman who founded and became the First Emperor of the Kingdom of Dali in 937. The Kingdom retained independence from Han China until the Mongol invasion in 1253 led by Kublai Khan.

Lanping Bai and Pumi Autonomous County

Lanping Bai and Pumi Autonomous County (simplified Chinese: 兰坪白族普米族自治县; traditional Chinese: 蘭坪白族普米族自治縣; pinyin: Lánpíng Báizú Pǔmǐzú Zìzhìxiàn) is located in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan province, China.

Longing for Husband Cloud

Longing for Husband Cloud or Cloud Gazing or Cloud of Eternal Sorrow (望夫云) is a story of the Bai people.

It is also the title of a 1962 Chinese-language western-style opera composed by Zheng Lücheng to a libretto by Xu Jiarui.

Longjia language

Longjia (autonym: suŋ˥ni˥mpau˨˩) is a Sino-Tibetan language of Guizhou, China related to Caijia and Luren. Longjia may already be extinct (Zhao 2011).

The Longjia people now speak Southwestern Mandarin, though they used to speak their own language, and have had a long presence in western Guizhou. According to the Guizhou Ethnic Gazetteer (2002), the Longjia language was spoken in Dafang County, Qianxi County (Zhongping District 中坪区; Xinfacun 新发村 of Pojiao District 坡脚区), and Puding County (Jiangyizhai 讲义寨 of Baiyan Township 白岩乡). It is reportedly most similar to Caijia, and has many Old Chinese loanwords.

Midu County

Midu County (simplified Chinese: 弥渡县; traditional Chinese: 彌渡縣; pinyin: Mídù Xiàn) is a county in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture located in west-central Yunnan province, China.


The Man, commonly called the Nanman or Southern Man (Chinese: 南蠻), were the ancient indigenous peoples who lived in inland South and Southwest China, mainly the Yangtze River valley. They are believed by scholars to be related to the Sanmiao in ancient Chinese texts. The Nanman included multiple ethnic groups, probably related to the predecessors of the modern Zhuang, Tai, Miao (Hmong) peoples, and non-Chinese Sino-Tibetan groups such as the Bai people. There was never a single polity that united these people, although the major state of Chu ruled over much of the Yangtze region during the Zhou dynasty and was heavily influenced by the Man culture.

Rushan cheese

Rushan (乳扇; pinyin: rǔshān, literally "milk fan") is a cow's milk cheese of Yunnan, China. It is traditionally made by the Bai people, who call it nvxseiz (or Yenx seinp, in another dialect of Bai), the etymology of which is unclear.It is flat and has a leathery texture. It may be served fried or grilled and rolled up on a stick. The Mandarin name means "milk fan" as it is said to resemble a folding fan.When served grilled (often as a street food), it is usually spread with various sweet condiments and rolled around a stick, resembling an ice pop. Some of the popular toppings include sweetened condensed milk, rose petal infused honey, chocolate syrup, and fruit preserves.

If rushan cheese is served deep fried, the cheese changes its texture and becomes somewhat flaky.

Sadu language

Sadu (autonym: sa˥du˦˨pʰo˧˩˧ (Bai 2012:9)) is a Loloish language of Yuxi, central Yunnan, China.

Sangzhi County

Sangzhi (simplified Chinese: 桑植县; traditional Chinese: 桑植縣; pinyin: Sāngzhí Xiàn) is a county in Hunan Province, China, it is under administration of the prefecture-level city of Zhangjiajie. Located on the northern margin of Hunan, Sangzhi County is bordered to the east by Cili County, to the south by Yongding and Wulingyuan Districts, to the west by Yongshun and Longshan Counties, to the north by Xuan'en and Hefeng Counties of Hubei, Sangzhi is also the home of the Tujia, Miao and Bai people. The County has an area of 3,474 kilometres (2,159 mi) with rough 479,500 of population (as of 2015). It is divided into 23 township-level divisions (November 27, 2015), its county seat is Liyuan Town (澧源镇).Rana sangzhiensis is a frog that was described as a new species for science from Sangzhi.

Shen Yiqin

Shen Yiqin (Chinese: 谌贻琴; pinyin: Shèn Yìqín; born December 1959) is a Chinese politician of Bai ethnic heritage serving since September 2017 as the Governor of Guizhou, a province in southwestern China. She is the first female Governor of Guizhou in history.

Yang Chaoyue

Yang Chaoyue (Chinese: 杨超越, born July 31, 1998) is a Chinese teen idol member signed under Wenlan Culture. After finishing third in Tencent's girl group survival show Produce 101, she debuted as a member of Rocket Girls 101.

Yang Rong (actress)

Yang Rong (Chinese: 杨蓉, born 3 June 1981) is a Chinese actress of Bai origin. She is best known for her roles in Cosmetology High and Memory Lost.

Yunnan cuisine

Yunnan cuisine, alternatively known as Dian cuisine, is an amalgam of the cuisines of the Han Chinese and other ethnic minority groups in Yunnan Province in southwestern China. As the province with the largest number of ethnic minority groups, Yunnan cuisine is vastly varied, and it is difficult to make generalisations. Many Yunnan dishes are quite spicy, and mushrooms are featured prominently. Flowers, ferns, algae and insects may also be eaten. The cuisine of Yunnan is often compared to the cuisine of Southeast Asia as the province borders the region and many of the ethnic minorities or related cultural groups also have a presence in Southeast Asia.

Three of the province's most famous products are the renowned Pu'er tea, which was traditionally grown in Ning'er; as well as Xuanwei ham, which is often used to flavour stewed and braised foods in Chinese cuisine and for making the stocks and broths of many Chinese soups, and guoqiao (crossing the bridge), a rice noodle soup with chicken, pig's kidney and liver, fish and pickled pork.

Yunnan cuisine is unique in China for its cheeses like Rubing and Rushan cheese made by the Bai people. Other influences include Mongolian influence during the Yuan dynasty (ie. Central Asian settlement in Yunnan), and the proximity and influence of India and Tibet on Yunnan. Yunnan cuisine is gaining popularity in the west.

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