Naxi People

Naxi People

The Naxi people (also called Nakhi) live in southwest China, mainly in Yunnan on the margins of Tibet and Sichuan around the city of Lijiang. As one of the unique ethnic groups in Yunnan Province, Naxi people are currently about 300,000 of the total population. The Naxi language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family, but they are best known for still using pictographs for writing. If a trip to Lijiang is in your plan, then we are happy to share its cultural customs with you so that you can smoothly integrate into the local life when visiting Lijiang.

The Origin of Naxi People

The origin of the Naxi people is said to be that around the 7th century BC, the Di tribes migrated to the west and southwest parts of China, some part of them entered the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and the other part mixed with some Qiang people, who lived in the southwest region during the Yellow Emperor period, and gradually developed into the Naxi, Bai, Yi, Tibetan and other ethnic groups in Yunnan today.

The Naxi have their legends about the origin of their ethnic groups: after a flood in ancient times, there was only one person named Chongren Lien left in the world. After many twists and turns, he got married to the goddess Chenhong Baobai and gave birth to three sons, the ancestors of the Tibetan, Naxi, and Bai nationalities.

Naxi people

Naxi in traditional dress

Lijiang Dongba Religion

The Dongba religion, which the Naxi people believe in, is a secularized, polytheistic primitive religion. There is no difference between the gods and humans, no matter how they look or live. The god of heaven, Laoapu, was a shepherd who led his dogs to hunt and fish; the gods of the yang and the yin, while milking cows, also roll wheat ears and weave blankets. The imagination of the Naxi people about the gods is limited within the scope of what is related to them.

Sacrifice to Heaven, sacrifice to the Shu (the natural god of the Naxi), sacrifice to ancestors, and sacrifice to the wind (bring the men and women who commit suicide for love to regeneration) are the most important religious ceremonies of Dongba religion.

Sacrificing to the heavens is a tribute to the ancestors of Naxi and various gods, and the sacrificial office is to express the desire to live in harmony with nature.

The ancestor worship is to guide the dead ancestors on the way back.

These ceremonies are presided over by Dongba and are held in people’s yards and outdoors on flat ground or by the river.

The Dongba religion has no temples and no full-time priests. Dongba(in the Naxi language, priests are called Dongba) usually does not deviate from production and life but presides over religious ceremonies at the request of others. The inheritance and development of the Naxi religion and culture are due to the contributions of the Dongba people.

Naxi Dongba Music Concert 

Naxi Culture

Dongba script, which has a history of about a thousand years and more than 3,000 words, belongs to the type of pictograph. It uses simple strokes to express the outlines of things, things, and meanings. Some sentences are very similar to a picture. They only serve as a hint, and there is no fixed reading method. Therefore, even if you can speak Naxi and recognize each pictograph, you still cannot read the scriptures. Only Dongba believers who have studied since childhood can read scriptures and recite sentences.

The “Dongba Jing” is a scripture of the Dongba religion, written in the Dongba script and produced before the 11th century. In addition to religious aspects, it contains astronomy, geography, historical figures, medicine, animal husbandry, family patterns, food and life, ethnic relations, local customs, etc. It is an encyclopedia for understanding the ancient Naxi society.

Naxi Ancient Music is the oldest music in Yunnan back to the 14th century. As one of the oldest schools of music in China, Naxi ancient music has a unique charm thanks to the integration of Taoist ritual music, Confucian ceremonial music, and the literary lyrics, poetic topics, and musical tones of the Tang, Song, and Yuan Dynasties.

With three characteristics, say ancient classical melodies, centuries-old instruments, and aged musicians (many musicians are in their 80s or 90s), Naxi Ancient Music is praised as the fossil of music.

Every visitor may have a chance to spend 1.5 hours enjoying its glamour in the Naxi Ancient music hall of Lijiang Old Town.

Joseph Rock in Lijiang Yunnan

Dr. Joseph Rock, an Austrian-American botanist, was the first Western scholar to study the Dongba culture. Image Source

Costume of Naxi Minority

The clothing of the Naxi people has changed a lot from ancient to modern times.

Now the men’s clothing is roughly the same as that of the Han people, while the women’s costume still retains their unique national style.

It is characterized by a wide-waisted and large-sleeved top, plus a waistcoat, mostly in blue, white, and black, with a pleated apron at the waist, wearing pants, a sheepskin shawl on the back, and the shawl is decorated with exquisitely embroidered seven-star patterns. It is “draped the stars and wearing the moon”, which symbolizes the diligence of Naxi women.

Naxi Girl in traditional costume

Naxi Girl in traditional costume

Festivals in Lijiang

Many festivals of the Naxi people are the same as those of the Han people as the Spring Festival, Sweeping Tomb Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and so on. But their traditional festivals are more distinctive, such as Sanduo Festival, Bangbang Fair, Torch Festival, and July Mule and Horse Fair.

1. Lijiang Sanduo Festival

Every year on the February eighth day of the lunar month, it is a unique sacrificial festival of the Naxi people – the Sanduo Festival. It is a grand festival for the Naxi people to worship the biggest protector of their nation – “Sanduo God” and is also a statutory national festival for them.

The Sanduo Festival is a sacrificial holiday and has a history of more than 1,200 years. It aims to inherit the culture of harmonious coexistence between man and nature.

Sanduo God, also known as Apu Sanduo, is the protector and God of war of the Naxi people. According to legend, the Sanduo God rides white horses, wears white armor and helmets, and holds white spears. He was invincible in attack and invincible in battle. Naxi people also believe that “Sanduo” is the incarnation of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Naxi People’s Annual pig Feast

2. Lijiang Bang Bang Fair

The January fifteenth day of the lunar calendar is the last day of the Naxi Spring Festival, and it is also their traditional festival – Bang Bang Hui. Bangbang Fair is the Bamboo and Wood Farming Tools Trade Fair, to prepare farm tools for the upcoming spring plowing.

3. Naxi Torch Festival

Like the Yi Nationality, The Torch Festival of the Naxi people is a festival to pray for a good harvest of the coming year. The Naxi celebrate the Torch Festival on the 25th, 26th, and 27th day of June in the lunar calendar, and it is a grand festival for the Naxi people after the Spring Festival.

4. July Mule and Horse Fair in Lijiang

It is held every year in the middle of the seventh month of the lunar calendar and usually lasts for about ten days. It mainly deals with large livestock such as cattle, mules, and horses, and is called the “July Mule and Horse Fair”. The July Mule and Horse Fair has a long history and is famous far and near. The 3000 meters from the street to the venue, the flow of people is uninterrupted. Today’s Naxi “July Fair” has truly become a new-look exposition in the frontier and an exchange exhibition for ethnic friendship, which increasingly shows its unique characteristics.

You would like…

Recommended Tours in Yunnan

Rice Terraces Yuanyang

Sky Mirror: Yuanyang Rice Terraces Tour

4 days | Kunming, Shilin, Jianshui and Yuanyang
A short trip including the most beautiful and majestic rice terraces of China and lively ethnic markets.


Wonders of Yunnan

16 days | Best seller
A travel plan for travelers who want to explore the most attractive landscapes of Yunnan in one trip.

Jinghong Mekong River Market

Tropical China in Xishuangbanna

6 days | Jinghong, and Jingmai
As a locality of the Dai minority, the rice terraces, tea gardens, primitive forests, and valleys compose the marvelous landscapes of Xishuangbanna.