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Wuding County Culture

Black Yi and White Yi and Yi Slavery

 According to the Chinese government: “Due to complex historical reasons, the slave system of the Yis in the Liangshan Mountains lasted till 1949. Before 1949, the Yis in the Liangshan Mountain areas were stratified into four different ranks -- "Nuohuo," "Qunuo," "Ajia" and "Xiaxi." The demarcation between the masters and the slaves was insurmountable. The rank of "Nuohuo" was determined by blood lineage and remained permanent, the other ranks could never move up to the position of rulers. 

 

"Nuohuo," meaning "black Yi," was the highest rank of society. Being the slave-owning class, Nuohuo made up 7 per cent of the total population. The black Yis controlled people of the other three ranks to varying degrees, and owned 60 to 70 per cent of the arable land and a large amount of other means of production. The black Yis were born aristocrats, claiming their blood to be "noble" and "pure," and forbidding marriages with people of the other three ranks. They despised physical labour, lived by exploiting the other ranks and ruled the slaves by force. 

 

"Qunuo," meaning "white Yi," was the highest rank of the ruled and made up 50 per cent of the population. This rank was an appendage to the black Yis personally and, as subjects under the slave system, they enjoyed relative independence economically and could control "Ajia" and "Xiaxi" who were inferior to them. "Qunuo" lived within the areas governed by the black Yi slave owners, had no freedom of migration, nor could they leave the areas without the permission of their masters. They had no complete right of ownership when disposing of their own property, but were subjected to restrictions by their masters. They had to pay some fees to their masters when they wanted to sell their land. The property of a dead person who had no offspring went to his master. Though the black Yi slave owners could not kill, sell or buy Qunuo at will, they could transfer or present as a gift the power of control over Qunuo. They could even give away Qunuo as the compensation for persons they had killed and use Qunuo as stakes. So, Qunuo had no complete personality of their own, though they were not slaves. 


 "Ajia" made up one third of the population, being rigidly bound to black Yi or Qunuo slaveowners, who could freely sell, buy and kill them. "Xiaxi" was the lowest rank, accounting for 10 per cent of the population. They had no property, personal rights or freedom, and were regarded as "talking tools." They lived in damp and dark corners in their masters' houses, and at night had to curl up with domestic animal to keep warm. Supervised by masters, Xiaxi did heavy housework and farm work all the year round. They wore rags and tattered sheepskins, and lived on wild roots and leftovers. Slave owners inflicted all sorts of torture on those who were rebellious, fettered them with iron chains and wooden shackles to prevent them from escaping. Like domestic animals, Xiaxi could be freely disposed of as chattels, ordered about, insulted, beaten up, bought and sold, or killed as sacrifices to gods. 

 

“Corvee was the basic form of exploitation by the slave owners. Qunuo and Ajia must use their own cattle and tools to cultivate their masters' land. Qunuo had to perform five, six or more than 10 days of corvee each year. They could send their slaves to do it or pay a sum of money instead. Corvee performed by Ajia took up one third to one half of their total working time. They often had to neglect their own land because of cultivating the land of their masters. Besides corvee, Qunuo and Ajia had to take usurious loans imposed by their black Yi masters. 

 

“Ordered about to toil like beasts of burden, the slaves had no interest in production at all. To win freedom, slaves in the Liangshan Mountain areas resorted to measures like going slow, destroying tools, maltreating animal, burning their masters' property and even committing suicidal attacks on their masters. Though it was hard for slaves in remote mountain areas to run away, they still tried to escape at the risk of their lives. Spontaneous and sporadic rebellions staged by slaves against slave owners never ceased. Organized and collective struggle for personal rights also grew, and collective anathema often turned into small armed insurgence."


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