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Jinggu Culture

Jinggu Dai and Yi Autonomous County (景谷傣族彝族自治县) is an autonomous county under the jurisdiction of Pu'er Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China. The Dai ethnic minority, which numbers 1,158,989, is distributed throughout the Dai Autonomous Region and the Dehong Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in Xishuangbanna in the southern part of Yunnan Province. In the past, they were called 'Baiyue', meaning a vast living area. Therefore, they have established a close relationship with ethnic groups like the Zhuang, Dong, Shui, Bouyei and Li, who are said to be the descendants of the Dai people. Multiple minorities promote the colorful and long-standing culture of Jinggu Dai and Yi Autonomous County.


Dai Ethnic Group

The Dai (alternatively, Tai) are one of the 56 official ethnic minorities in China, whose ethnic majority are of course the Han Chinese. The Dai Ethnic Group comprises several smaller ethnic groups living mainly in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and in the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, both of which prefectures are located in the southern part of Yunnan Province, though smaller pockets of Dai live in and around the Yunnan cities of Xinping and Yuanjiang, as well as in other autonomous counties in Yunnan Province. In all there are roughly 1.2 million Dai living in China. However, the Dai of China belong to a larger family of Dai/ Tai ethnic groups that also exist in neighboring Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Present-day Dai peoples call themselves, besides Dai, which means freedom - and which is the consensus designation that the Dai have themselves chosen after their liberation by the PRC - also Daile, Daiya, Daina, and Dai Beng, as well as other local designations depending on the enclave. During the Tang (CE 618-907) and Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasties, they were often referred to as the "olden Teeth" and "blackened Teeth" peoples, as a result of the Dai tradition of blackening one's teeth by chewing betel nuts. Blackened teeth in women, especially was considered a mark of beauty, or at least of modesty, and it seems that the betel nut juice prevented cavities (it should also be mentioned that Japanese women in the 16th century followed the same practice for roughly the same reasons).


Dai Cultural Identity

The Dai enjoy a rich and colorful culture, the Bai Yue culture, whose designation today is shortened to Bai Ye to distinguish it from the original anthropological culture of the ancient Bai folk. The ancient Bai Yue culture was in the forefront of social development in many respects when the Dai first began to organize themselves into communities in China. The Dai also have their own calendar, they have books in Dai script for calculating solar and lunar eclipses, and their historical documents span a rich variety of literary works, from poetry and fables to ancient stories and legends.


The Bei Ye Culture

Bei Ye Culture is a general term for the social and cultural history of the Dai people. Bai Ye cultural artifacts and traditions include original scripture etched onto the leaves of the pattra tree (a tropical plant native to the Dai homelands), Dai scripture copied onto cotton paper, and "song" ("chanting" may be the better term) books, as well as a plethora of lesser cultural traditions that are handed down generation after generation, and thus every Dai individual is a walking preserve of Dai culture. The Bei Ye Culture became known especially for the scriptures that were etched onto the leaves of the pattra tree.

Bei Ye scriptures, as indicated, are preserved on two different media: the leaf of the patta tree and paper made of cotton. The former is called "Tanlan" in the language of the Dai, while the latter is called "Bogalesha". The Bei Ye culture has developed over time from its origins as a collection of primitive ethnic and religious practices that have been combined with the influences of neighboring cultures, primarily the Han Chinese culture, but also Indian Buddhist culture (the Dai practice a form of Buddhism that differs from the Chinese-influenced Indian Buddhism of the mainstream Han Chinese).

Though they live in separate countries, and in some cases miles apart, the Dai of China, the Lao of Laos, the Shan of Myanmar, and the Thai of Thailand all have evolved from the same ethnic origins - they all share the same Bai Ye culture particular to Southeast Asia.


The Dai Calendar

The Dai have their own calendar, which is still in use today. The Dai calendar is unusual, compared to the Han Chinese lunar calendar, in that the former incorporates elements of both the solar and the lunar calendars. Borrowing from the Han Chinese Taoist tradition, the Dai use the method of Heavenly Stems and the Terrestrial Branches to record days and years in their "hybrid" calendar (this is a reference to the Taoist sexagenary cycle, or a cyclical system of 60 combinations of the two basic cycles: the 10 Heavenly Stems and the 12 Earthly Branches). The Dai have chosen to not only employ much of the Han Chinese calendar terminology, they have also preserved the Han Chinese pronunication of this terminology.

A year is divided into twelve months in the Dai calendar, while some months are called "single" months and others are called "double" months. There are thirty days in a "single" Dai month, and twenty nine days in a "double" Dai month. A year is also composed of three seasons: the Cold Season, which runs from January to April; the Hot Season, which runs from May to August; and the Rainy Season, which runs from September to December. To further account for the irregularities of the earth's orbit, so as to make the Dai calendar fit the actual time trajectory of the earth's orbit, there are seven leap years to every span of nineteen years.

According to ancient Dai documents, there are four epochs, termed "Saha", in Dai history. The fourth epoch is the current one, or the "Zhujiang Saha", which began in the year CE 647, circa, in Western calendar terms, and was announced by a Dai religious leader by the name of Payazhula.

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