Lisus Ethnic Minority

The Lisus is an ethnic group only existing in Yunnan Province, mainly inhabiting Nu River LisusAutonomous County and Weixi Lisus Autonomous County in China's Yunnan Province. Others distribute in some counties in Yunnan Province such as Lijiang, Baoshan, Diqing, Dehong, Dali, Chuxiong etc. and some counties in Sichuan Province such as Xichang, Yanyuan ,Muli, Dechang etc. According to the fifth national population census in 2000 year, the population of the Lisus is 634,912.

Origin and history

The Lisu ethic group originated from the ancient Qiang ethic group, enjoying the same root with the Yi ethic group. The earliest description of the Lisu could be found from the books written in Tang Dynasty. According to the history books in Tang Dynasty that Lisu (which is called Wuman including Lisu Man, Shi Man, Shun Man; Man is a name for ethic group in ancient China) inhabited in a wide area which is now in Yabi River, Jiansha River, Canglang River in Sichuan and Yunnan Province. During the Yuan and Ming Dynasty, the Lisus were under control by the local Naxi feudalism chieftains in Lijiang and other Places.

During the middle of the 16s, the Lisus cannot stand the slavery and oppress of the local Naxi chieftains (also called tusi, system of appointing national minority hereditary chieftain or headman by the central government in the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties). Led by headman, Mubipa, the Lisus crossed Canglang River, climbed over Piluo snow-capped mountains and eventually arrived in Nujiang River area. For the next two centuries, the Lisus experienced several migrations due to the defeated revolt.


The Lisus have their own language, a branch to Han-Tibetan Language system. They used to have their own characters but not very completed. With the help of the central government, they created a kind of new character on the basis of Latin letters in 1957.

Lisus calendar

According to the locale climate and geographic environment, after a long time practice, The Lisus people developed from their year-after-year productive activities a set of natural calendar applicable to the local agriculture and daily life based on the local climate and geographic environment. This kind of calendar developed with the help of the blossom of flowers and voice of bird, so it is called Flower Bird Calendar. It divides one year into ten months, including blossom month, birdcall month, mountain burnt month, hungry month, collection month, harvest month, vintage month, wedding feast month, spring festival month and building house month. Actually, this kind of calendar is a ten-month calendar, which represents the wisdom and intelligence of the Lisus.


Generally speaking, for the Lisus living in Nujiang River area, take corns, buchwheat, potatoes and broomcorn millet as their staple food, while for those living in the river valley may choose rice together with some other food like corn and potatoes.

The Lisus are good at making fruit vinegar. In the right season every year they pick and clean ripe peaches and pears, then put them into a huge pottery jar, dipping in the spring water. During the summer, they take out this delicious fruit vinegar and drink with seed powder of Chinese prickly ash. The old fruit vinegar is also a good remedy for diarrhea.

The Lisus people like drinking very much. Every year, immediately after the autumn, almost all families make wine so the villages are filling with the fragrant wine smell. There is a kind of watery wine which is indispensable to every people there. To make the wine, you have to fry the raw materials including cereals including highland barley, wheal, and corn. When these cereals become yellow and cooked, mix some self-made distiller's yeast. Then fill the mixture into a pottery jar, add some fresh mountain spring water, leaven the mixture to ferment, and pressurize the jar for one day. When it is ready you may serve with a hollow straw. This kind of watery wine carries a strong sweet smelling. It can stimulate the appetite as well as refresh and satisfy your thirst.

The Lisus' main culinary ways are boiling and barbecue, and their special cuisines are inclusive of the following:

Kuoshuai Ele:Kuoshua Ele is a kind of corn porridge. First cook the green corn and peel the corn seeds. Then add the baked salt, and cook the peeled corn with kidney bean, bacon or pi-pa shaped preserved meat. When finish, add some bamboo vegetables to make the porridge much more delicious and nutritious.

Baked Meat Cubes:The Lisus are very hospitable to the guest with very special treatment. One of the warmest welcome is to treat the guest with baked meat cubes. Anytime when the honorable guests come to visit or some local family slaughters a fat animal, the Lisus will cut down a big chunk of freshest and purist meat and bake to treat the guest with wine.

Winnowing Basket Rice and Tongxin Wine: Eating winnowing basket rice and Tongxin wine is one of the highest etiquette for treating guests. Winnowing basket rice is called Boji Rice in Chinese, which is to fill a big round winnowing basket with white rice covered with big chunks of baked sucking pig meat, preserved meat and taros. A Boji looks like a round table which can accommodate 5-6people at one time. When the food and wine are ready on the Boji, the dinner is ready to serve. The way to serve you yourself is to make a rice ball with both hands instead of chopsticks and eat with a piece of meat. In Chinese it is called Shou Zhua Fan, it's so wonderful to experience the original simplicity. When eating the Boji Rice, the beautiful Lisus girls will drink Tongxin wine with every guest in turn with no exception; it is called Ban Duo or Xia Pian Da in their dialect which shows their characteristic of hospitality to the guest.


The Lisus people wear the clothes woven by themselves with no big difference in designs and ornaments among them. The only big difference is the color and on that basis the Lisus are divided into White Lisus, Black Lisus and Variegated Lisus. The Variegated Lisus's clothes are bright and colorful while the Black Lisus' clothes look elegant and graceful.

Costumes of Women

Inhabiting in the area of Nujiang River, the white and black Lisus women wear right-front-open jacket and linen longuette. The married women wear long-to-shoulder big copper earrings, and studded their hair with coral and pearls, while the young girls usually do up their braids with white-small-shell-studded red thread. Some women like to wear a string of agate, shell or silver coins; some of the shells are carved with horizontal and perpendicular lines or small holes. Some of the valuable brooches are worthy the price of one or two cattle. The clothes for the variegated Lisus living in the area of Yongsheng and Tengchong are gorgeous. Women there like to wear laces-trimmed jackets and longette, wrap their hair with colorful headcloth, hang big copper or silver earrings, looking very pretty and charming. The longette for the Lisus women are called Hundred Flower Longette because they are finely tailored with hundred pieces of colorful cloth.

The Lisus Women living in the area of Ninglang wear in right-front-open jacket and plain white linen longette and white pearls in ears. The Black Lisus Women of the area of Yongsheng wear right-front-open jacket and trousers instead of longette, a loincloth in the waist and small coral in ears. Women living in the area of Liming wear button-down-the-front sleeveless jacket (waistcoat) trimmed with colorful laces and colorful trousers, wrap their hair with colorful headcloth.

In the area of Tongda Country, Baihuaping County, the dresses are even more gorgeous. Women there wear right-front-open long dolman sleeve robe inter-trimmed with colorful laces in the collar, breast and cuff. The longette is made of twelve 5-inch-wide cloths of 5 colors of red, white, yellow, blue and green with 4 strains of embroidery patterns on the trouser bottoms. They wear cross-like black turban trimmed with colorful tassels, tie a self-woven color wool wide band around their waist and hang two pieces of long cloth symmetrically on both sides. They wear jade bracelets, silver earrings and hang string pearls and carry white linen bag, looking colorful and graceful. On the occasions of festival and wedding, it is dazzling to see the Lisus girls wearing beautiful-color clothes.

Costumes of Men

The Lisus men wear linen gown or jacket and long-to-knee pants. Some of them wrap their head with black headcloth and some with their long hair plaited on the back of their heads. For chieftain and some rich men, they wear a string of scarlet coral to show their honor and dignity. All adult men wear a broadsword on the left and an arrow bag on the right.

Culture and Art

Singing and dancing

Achi Mugua: Achi Mugua, which originated from Lancang River, means goats sing and dancing. It is a kind of self-entertained singing dancing featured no instruments. There is a prelude at the beginning of every episode, no lyrics but only harrumph, deep and long, sounds like the goats singing in the mountain. There are male and female teams in the singing dancing, and each team has one person to lead the chorus. They sing on everything from the ancient legends to the daily life. Sometimes they sing the songs passed down from their forefathers, sometimes they sing improvisatori songs. If the two sides were so well matched that neither could gain the upper hand, the singing dancing would last for several days and nights. Achi Mugua dancing including more than ten gestures. Both the sound and the gestures are imitation of the goat and some nomadic routines. The dancing represents the opportunistic view of the Lisus and shows their simplicity and pure love to nature.

Wa Qiqi: Wa Qiqi means step dance or foot dance. The dancing team encloses a big circle and dances in the clockwise direction. To dance this foot dance you need to stamp your foot, kick, raise your foot and twist your hip with the music. There are totally eighteen episodes in Wa Qiqi, from which you could know lots of legends on the origin and development of the Lisus.

Leaves Flute: Leaves flute is a kind of instrument which is popular among some ethic groups such as Miao, Buyi, Zhuang, Hani, Lisu etc in central south and south western China. But different ethic group choose different leaves. For instance, the Zhuangs like to choose litchi leaves and longan leaves.

QibenQiben is an ancient instrument popular in the Lisus. Its shape is a little bit like a small guitar with four strings. The strings are used to be goat gut, but now mostly are metal strings. Qiben is one of the major instruments in the Lisus.

Spring shower in the hot spring

The Lisus in the Nu River Area still keep the custom to have Hot Spring Bath in spring. When spring comes, the Lisus will pack up and stay at the place near hot springs for several days. Men take bath in the up hot spring pools and female in the down spring pools, which are far from each other. Some may prefer to take a shower in the spring for five or six times, because they believe only by this way they can get rid of diseases and improve their immune. It is also a good way for them to refresh and relax. Actually, more than one hundred ago, it was popular among the Lisus to come to the hot springs around Liuku. The Lisus singers from several miles away would also get together to sing and give performances. At this time, you will see various white camps around the hot springs, bright campfire lighted with mild sweet rice wine and delicious food around. You will enjoy lots of wonderful songs, too.

Cover the lover with river sands

It is an ancient romantic way for young men and women to show their love to each other. When the Geshi Festival comes (Geshi means new year), young men and women in Fugong will gather on the Nu River sands. Some dance, and some sing, unrestrained and freely. Girls or boys, three or five in a group walk around the sands to look after their Mr. Or Miss Right. Once they find their lovers, they will dig a hole and bury their lovers. Then their company will leave the two alone. The buried one will be soon be recovered, and then they are in love. Usually girls are very gentle and mild, but on the sands, girls are all spicy and generous. So it is really good chance for the young to find their destinations.

Festivals and ceremonies

There are lots of festivals in the Lisus, such as Kuoshi Festivals, New Rice Festivals, Swords-Pole Festivals, Torch Festivals, and Harvest Festivals.

Kuoshi Festival: Kuoshi Festival is the Spring Festival for the Lisus, which is the most ceremonious festivals for them. In the Lisus, kuo means year, shi means new, so kuoshi means New Year. Every year 20th December is the tradition Lisus Kuoshi Festivals.

Swords-pole Festivals: Swords-pole festival is the most fabulous festival in the Lisus. It is held once every year on 8th February in lunar calendar. Every year on this day, people will put on their new clothes and gather on the ground to see the performance of climbing mountains of swords and rushing into the seas of flames.


The Lisus used to live in the houses made of wood mixed with bamboo or soil. Nowadays, they also make houses by using bricks mixed with wood or concrete. In the Lisus living place you can see various houses, such as bamboo houses, wood houses, soil wall houses, stone-roof houses, three-hall-with-a-zhaobi (a screen wall-facing the gate of a house) house, quadrangle dwelling.

Baboon Houses: The local also call the baboon house thousand-feet-houses, which is named after its shape and structure. The house is built on lots of baboon pegs which are piles in earth. Usually, they build their baboon houses on the slope on the mountain. When they choose a nice place they pile scores of wood which are then covered with wooden boards and flensed by baboon. The last step for the house building is to cover the house roof with couch grass or wood board.


Origin of Nu-River Antiphonally-Musical-Dialogue singing

There is a sad but moved story about the origin of Nu-River antiphonally musical dialogue singing. Once upon a time, Lani who lived at the east riverside and Mami lived at the west riverside often met each other over Nu-river when they were working in the fields. After a long contact they fell in love with each other. However, there are neither boats nor bridges connecting the two riversides. Although they sang to each other everyday to express their love to each other, they finally died of sorrow of being separated. After they dies, villagers buried them at the place where they usually sang songs to each other.

What a miracle! The second day, there was a dragon baboon growing from these two graves. The dragon baboon grew so fast that they connected together at the top. The local people said, although Lani and Mami could not be together when they were alive, they stayed together in the form of dragon baboon when they are dead.

Legend of building chain bridge

It was said that the idea of building chain bridge came from the spider's web. A poet from the Qing Dynasty wrote when he came cross the chain bridge, people got the skill from the spiders to build this chain bridge, and got the idea from the Magpie Bridge (bridge formed by magpies which the Weaving-girl must cross in order to meet the Herd boy on the 7th evening of the 7th lunar month). Even now, the Lisus keep a very special love to the spider that taught the Lisus how to weave and build bridge. They will never kill a spider.

However, in face of such a rapid Nu River, without any mechanic help how could the Lisus forefathers take the thick heavy baboon chain to the thither?

The Lisus is a nationality good at shooting. They cut the toughest and the most tensile rock-mulberry trees and made them into a huge bow which required several people to haul. They bound a long thin silk line at the arrow tail and shoot the arrow to the thither. After the people at the thither got the thin silk lines, they dragged small ropes with the silk lines and then hauled the thick ropes with the help of the small ropes. Eventually, the first baboon chain bridge was built.

Origin of the Swords Pole Festival

There is a moved story about the origin of the Swords Pole festival among the Lisus.

Once upon a time, the Han and the Lisus were brothers born by the same mother. When grew up and got married, they planed to live individually. So the Han elder brother enclosed a piece of field by making a stone fence, while the Lisus younger brother enclosed the field with a grass rope. However, after a big mountain fire, the stone fence was still there, but the grass rope was burned. The Lisus could not recognize his own field, so he had to move into the deep mountains at the boundary and lived on hunt and planting corns. Their life was really tough; what's more, they were frequently encroached by the robbers from the foreign country. The Lisus could defend themselves. The people were plunged into an abyss of misery—living souls were in mire and fire.

At this time, the central government sent for the Minister of Military, Mr. Wangji to the frontier. With the help of the Lisus, Wangji's troop defeated the invaders and protected the country. Wangji also helped the Lisus who were separately lived in the deep mountains to live together and form villages. In addition, Wangji also taught the Lisus the advanced agriculture techniques, cattle breeding, trees planting, which made a much better life for the Lisus. Meanwhile, Wangji singled out the strong man from the Lisus and provided them with military training, made them learn how to make cannons to protect China.

Only after a few years peaceful life, an unexpected disaster happened. Treacherous court officials presented several memorials to the emperor, in which written that the Minister of the Military Wangji was gathering the crowd to have military training to betray the country. The emperor believed in the treacherous court officials' words and ordered Wangji to come back to the court to wait for punishment. On the 8th, February in the Lunar Calendar, those treacherous court officials made a banquet of welcome for Wangji and put poison into the drink. At last, Wangji died.

The bad news flew into the Lisus villages, all the Lisus, no matter the young or the old were very sad and burning with righteous indignation. They promise they would revenge their dead Wangji with the courage of climbing Swords-mountains and rushing into the fire sea. From then on, the Lisus made the 8th, February in the Lunar Calendar their own festival to memorize Wangji, which was now called Swords-Pole Festival.


The craftworks skills of the Lisus are not well developed, but they have their own feature. The women-weaved colored flax is one of the most famous craftworks, which they usually take the white twine as the longitude and the white twine as the woof. During the weaving process, they add a black line every two-fingered-wide. This women-weaved colored flax can be made into clothes, sheet, pockets etc, which are beautiful and elegant gifts for family members, friends or lovers.

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