Written By Maria Giglio
Once upon a time in Southwest China, three brothers were born. As they grew up, it was clear that the boys were so different, that they also spoke different languages: Bai, Tibetan and Naxi. Each brother then decided to settle in a different area between Tibet and Yunnan. This fascinating ancient legend about the birth of Southwestern Chinese culture is only a taster of the immense diversity to characterize the region.
Did you know?
Probably you already know that China is known for its high population density. Not everyone knows, however, that unlike many other huge Countries like the United States or Canada, Chinese territory is also very rich in cultural diversity. The whole land counts as many as 56 recognized minorities in China. Interestingly, almost half of them are concentrated within the Yunnan Province in Southwest China. Curious to know who they are? There are at least 25 communities inhabiting the Yunnan territory: Achang, Bai, Bulang, Buyi, Dai, De’ang, Dulong, Hani, Hui, Jingpo, Jinuo, Lahu, Lisu, Miao, Mongolian, Naxi, Nu, Pumi, Sani, Shui, Tibetan, Wa, Yao, Yi and Zhuang.
The map below shows the territory of Yunnan, divided by ethnic groups.
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Despite the alarming level of poverty spread across the territory, Yunnan people are renowned by locals and international tourists for their extreme hospitality, courtesy, natural cheerful spirit and vitality. Each different group has its own rich cultural heritage and proudly showcases it through colorful traditional attires, arts and crafts passed down across generations.
We at Interact China celebrate diversity and worship oriental beauty. We exist to support the people of Yunnan to move from poverty to prosperity cooperating with local artists to promote their products worldwide! Keep reading to get to know where our partners come from!
Dai or (Thai) people live in the Southern area of the Yunnan. As the name suggests, they are strictly related to their Thai (and Laos) neighbors.
Dai communities count as many as 1,000,000 people. This means that there is a lot of infra-group diversity, including language and custom, although all sub-groups share a common script which is completely different from national Chinese.
Dai culture is full of vitality and fun: one of the most important celebrations is the “Water Splashing Festival” recurring during the Dai New Year. What is the main activity of the ongoing celebrations? Well, you can see yourself..
Traditional attire for women include tight-sleeved short dresses to exalt the feminine figure. Especially in Xishuangbanna region, there is a preponderance of bright colors such as light green, pink and light blue. Here are two examples of our Dai products:
Hani people occupy a large portion of Southeast Yunnan. They have a long lasting tradition of artistic skills, especially textile art which they use as a way to express individual identity and personality.
Hani people especially give out their creativity through stitching and weaving. The recurring abstracted geometries suggest that a language hides through textiles. Below there is a taster of our collection of Hani bags: can you guess what these patterns tell?
Unlike many groups, Hani people love black and dark blue: they extract pigments from local Indigo plant. This doesn’t mean that they have a mournful spirit: usually dark backgrounds come with lots of colurful decorations.
The Lahu people inhabit the Southern areas of the province. Still today, Lahu enjoy a very natural lifestyle. Animistic religion is still very diffused across the different sub-groups of this population.
Fun fact: legend says that the founding father of Lahu culture was a man who had been fed and raised by dogs since his birth.
As a result of this Lahu version of Romulus and Remus Roman legend, people of this tribe worship dogs as their ancestral protectors and tribute them in their arts and crafts. Usually the dog is represented with a triangle, like in these Lahu bags from our collection. Aren’t they a piece of art?
Lisu people live in the North-western border of Yunnan close to Burma.
These lively people too live in very natural environments and practice animistic religion. As a result, their art features a distinctively primitive character. A joy to the eyes of color-lovers. Lisu love to show off their creativity wearing bold vibrant outfits.
A truly social community, Lisu use clothing and accessories to attract one another and get together. For example, young men usually craft extravagant bags like the one below for courting. The more the tassels and pompoms, the merrier! This one makes a long way to the top…
Miao Hmong people constitute the largest minority group in China, amounting to as many as 9,426,007 people only in the Yunnan province. An originally nomadic people, large communities of Miao also inhabit neighbor regions of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
With over 5,000 years of history, Miao people can boast of an incredible infra-group diversity, although their artistic skills as featured in their impressive apparel can be considered a common feature. Miao people are worldly renowned for their textiles and rich, heavy jewelry which they proudly wear as expression of identity and history.
The making of incredibly elaborate silver jewelry such as the above horn headdresses not only reveals a high level of creativity but also an exceptional crafting technique. I dare you to find anything similar elsewhere! We are proud to offer you a huge variety of products from these incredible artists and lovely people. I didn’t know where to start, so visit our website for a full experience! 🙂
Miao silver art originates in the originally nomadic nature of the tribe. Silver jewelry was crafted from from melted coins to be carried around more easily when travelling. It was also used as dowry for marriage and more generally to express the family social status. Today, the Chinese government supports the preservation of Miao traditional silversmithing (accredited as National Cultural Heritage in 2006) yearly supplying special stocks of silver to Miao communities.
As the name suggest, Chinese Tibetan people occupy the north-western border of Yunnan, close to Tibet. Settled in the cold and windy mountains of the Tibetan plateau, these people live in harsh and isolated conditions, but are nonetheless cheerful.
Considerably influenced by Buddhist tradition, Tibetan people enjoy a modest lifestyle in deep connection with nature and spirituality.
The spiritual dimension of Tibetan culture reflects in their arts and crafts, entrenched with deep symbolic meaning. For example, many Tibetan jewels are made with Dzi, a local patterned black and white gemstone which is said to influence energy flux. Our Tibetan jewels keep it classic with turquoise and coral, acknowledged for their healing purposes:
Finally, the Yi people inhabit the remote mountains of northern Yunnan, even though the largest representation lives in Sichuan Province.
A peaceful people living in contact with nature, Yi are known for their incredible embroidery skills, which are full part of their cultural heritage and daily attire.
Yi people like to express their wishes for a better and wealthier life through their colorful attire. Despite the hardship of life living conditions, Yi textiles such as this lovely bag below are a full statement of joy. Can’t you feel some good vibes?
If you enjoyed this article, help us grow! We strive to make the lives of these communities better by creating opportunities for their social and economic development. Shop our articles and visit us soon!
About Interact China
“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”
Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.
So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.
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