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Bai people

Women dressed in Bai costumes
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 and Benzhuism

The Bai or Baip (Bai language: Baipho /pɛ̰˦˨xo̰˦/ (白和); Chinese: 白族; pinyin: Báizú; endonym pronounced ) are 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
Chinese 白族


  • Names 1
  • Location 2
  • Origin 3
  • Language 4
  • Religion 5
  • Food 6
  • Tea Ceremony 7
  • Clothes 8
  • Festivals 9
  • Cormorant fishing 10
  • Architecture 11
  • Notable Bai 12
  • See also 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15


The Bai people hold the white colour in high esteem and call themselves "Baipzix" (pɛ42 tsi33; Baizi 白子), "Baip'ho" (pɛ42 xo44; Baihuo 白伙), "Baip yinl" (pɛ42 ji21; Baini 白尼), or "Miep jiax". Baip people literally means 'white people' in Chinese. In 1956, of their own will they were named the Bai nationality by Chinese authorities.

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 (军家), 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. This state, called Baizi Guo (白子国,State of Bai), was not documented in Chinese orthodox history but was frequently mentioned in Yunnan oral history. It was believed to be built by the first king called Long You Na (龙佑那), who was given a last name Zhang (张) by Chinese General Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮). Zhuge conquered the Dali region at that time and picked up Zhang and assisted him to build the State of Bai. The State of Bai was where Baiya, Midu (弥渡白崖) is today. [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 tongue is either a member of the Sinitic branch or the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family or possibly part of an independent branch of this family. 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.


A tea-serving ceremonial ground.

Although most Bai people adhere to Buddhism,[5] they also have a native religion of Benzhuism: the worship of ngel zex (Chinese: 本主 ben zhu), 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 they 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.[6]


The Bai diet typically comprises sharp, cold and spicy flavours. Cured ham or fish with rice is 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.[7] 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)).[8]

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).[7]

The second course is sweet tea. Pieces of walnut kernel and roasted ru shan (乳扇) (a dairy product specific to the Dali region)[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] 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).[7]

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.[8]


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 Mt. 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

  • Chen Yiqin (谌贻琴) - Deputy Communist Party Secretary 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 Liping (杨丽萍) - dancer
  • Yang Yuntao (楊雲濤) - dancer
  • Zhang Lizhu (张丽珠) - gynecological scientist.
  • Wang Xiji (王希季) - space scientist, 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. ^
  3. ^ 释, 同揆 (c. 1681). 洱海丛谈(Erhai Congtan). p. 3. 
  4. ^ "Ethnic Groups -". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  5. ^ [3], [4] Ethnic Groups -
  6. ^ Gladney, Dru C. (1996). Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic (2 ed.). p. 33.   (1st edition appeared in 1991)
  7. ^ a b c "大理白族“三道茶”(民俗风情)". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "大连日报". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  9. ^ 100道 云南美食 图文版 大理乳扇 大理名菜 大理小吃-大理美食-★昆明中国国际旅行社 七彩云南旅游网-7C6U.CN
  10. ^ "腾讯文学 - 文字之美,感动心灵". Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  11. ^
  • Travel China Guide - Bai minority ethnic group

External links

  • The bai ethnic minority
  • Bai nationality
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