Each nationality has its particularities in terms of language, religion, and in the ways of conducting themselves in relation to others, in attire, eating habits, the way of travelling, festivities, marriage, birth and burial customs, just as people say that "Yunnan has ten thousand kinds of customs and conventions". In order to exhibit the customs and conventions of the 26 nationalities in Yunnan, it is planned to build 26 natural villages, giving prominence to the architectures of various nationalities. Now eight villages have been completed and they were officially opened on February 18, 1992. The group sculpture at the entrance is called "white elephants greeting guests". When night falls, real elephants in the villages would solute to guests.
Each of the 26 nationalities in Yunnan has a village built on the premises, and there are also a square symbolizing the unity among various ethnic groups, a theatre for the performance of ethnic songs and dances, a folklore museum, and a museum of ethnic waxworks. The typical villages include those representing Dai, Bai, Naxi, Mosuo, and so on.
With three sides facing water and all with green trees and beautiful flowers, the Dai Village is the first village in the ethnic village. The main buildings are the wood or bamboo pile-dwelling houses with wood stilts propping the houses and ladders leading up. Every year towards the end of June of the Dai calendar (April 13th – 15th of the Gregorian calendar) is the Dai Water Splashing Festival, as well as the Dai New Year’s Day. It is quite ceremonious. On the second day of the festival, a water fight involves all the village people, even the visitors as everyone carries any basin or bucket they can lay their hand to, fill it with water and dumps on the closest target as a cleansing blessing of good fortune. It is really a wild and wet holiday full of fun.
The typical Bai Village is composed of some traditional Bai residential houses with rooms on three sides and a wall (with the door) on the southern side. Tourists should never miss the occasions of Bawang dances and March Street (a festival normally celebrated from March 10th to 21st of lunar calendar in Dali).
Naxi Village is located to the east of Bai Village. Tourists can appreciate Naxi folk culture (called Dongba Culture), especially the local Dongjing music, the so-called sound of nature.
Next to Naxi Village is Mosuo Village, which still maintains the matriarchy clans and the customs. What are special in Mosuo Village are the exquisite wood houses, delicious food, beautiful girls and last but not the least, the mysterious custom of walking marriage. Mosuo people’s marriage culture is quite uncommon. They prefer a visiting relationship between lovers---an arrangement they sometimes refer to in their language as sisi (zou hun in Chinese, meaning walking back and forth; or azhu zou hun, meaning friend marriage. Azhu means friend in Mosuo language). A Mosuo woman is free to receive male visitors after the coming-of-age ceremony at 12. A lover may stay overnight in her room but will return to his own mother’s home. Children born from such a relationship live with their mother. In Mosuo society, lovers can end their relationship at any time. For example, a woman may refuse her lover by simply no longer opening the door. Their marriage relationship is not a formal one.
In addition to the ethnic constructions, clothes and customs, there are activities that take place such as performing white elephants, ethnic singing and dancing performances. The climax of the performances is a film shown on a fountain of water. Tourists can also taste the local food and buy the ethnic art crafts here. They can also attend some typical festival celebrations of the ethnic groups. For example, the March Street (Bai Nationality), Water Splashing Day (Dai), Torch Festival (Yi), Daogan Festival (Lisu), and so on. The “villagers” are all chosen from the youth of the relevant nationalities to act as guides or performers for tourists.
Yunnan Ethnic Museum, the best and largest ethnic museum in China, is located near the Ethnic Village. It is composed of the Exhibition Museum, the Research and Office Building, a storehouse and a handicrafts workshop. In the exhibition museum there are 16 exhibition halls with a total area of 6,000 sq meters, a demonstration workshop and a gallery. There is a square before the museum buildings.