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Nanjian History

History of the Yi

The Yi have a long history. They share a common ancestry with the Bai, Naxi, Lahu and Lisu and appeared around present-day Kunming around the 2nd century B.C. In the A.D. 8th century, the ancestor of the Yi and Bai ethnic groups founded the Kingdom of Nanzhao in Yunnan Province.

 

 The Yi have traditionally occupied important trade routes used to carry tea and gems northward from Yunnan and Southeast Asia and horses and knives southward from northern China and Central Asia. They have had a lot of contact with groups in their region the Miao, Lisu, Hui, Hani, Dai and Zhuang---and the Han Chinese.

 

 The Yi once evoked fear over much of southwest China. In 1874, a Hui Muslim named Du Wenxiu united the Bai, Naxi, Yi and Dai in a rebellion against the Qing dynasty. The rebellion was brutally put down in 1892. Missionaries arrived when the Burma Road was constructed nearby in 1937-38.

 

 The Yi kept slaves until the late 1950s. There were two kinds of slaves---those that lived in the house and those that lived outside. Being an outside slave was preferable to being an inside one. Many of the slaves were captured Han Chinese. The Yi were also heavily involved for a while in the opium trade.

 

 

Early Yi History

 The ancestors of Yi people, known as Kunming people, had close relations with the Shiqiang people. Historical records written in the Han and the old Yi languages show that the ancestors of the Yi, Bai, Naxi, Lahu and Lisu ethnic groups were closely related with ancient Di and Qiang people in west China. In the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the early Christian era, the activities of the ancient Yis centered around the areas of Dianchi in Yunnan and Qiongdou in Sichuan. After the 3rd century, the ancient Yis extended their activities from the Anning River valley, the Jinsha River, the Dianchi Lake and the Ailao Mountains to northeastern Yunnan, southern Yunnan, northwestern Guizhou and northwestern Guangxi.

 

 In the Eastern Han (25-220), Wei (220-265) and Jin (265-420) dynasties, inhabitants in these areas came to be known as "Yi," the character for which meant "barbarian." After the Jin Dynasty, the Yis of the clan named Cuan became rulers of the Dianchi area, northeastern Yunnan and the Honghe (Red) River area. Later those places were called "Cuan areas" which fell into the east and west parts. The inhabitants there belonged to tribes speaking the Yi language. 

 

 In the Tang and Song dynasties, the Yis living in "East Cuan" were called "Wumans." In different historical periods, "Cuan" changed from the surname of a clan to the name of a place, and further to the name of a tribe. In the Yuan and Ming dynasties, "Cuan" was often used to refer to the Yis. After the Yuan Dynasty, part of "Cuan" acquired the name "Luoluo" (Ngolok), which probably originated from "Luluman," one of the seven "Wuman" tribes in the Tang Dynasty. From that time on, most Yis called themselves "Luoluo," although many different appellations existed. This name lasted from the Ming and Qing dynasties till liberation.


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