Lisu ethnic group numbers 574,600 people, and most of them live
in concentrated communities in Bijiang, Fugong, Gongshan and Lushui
counties of the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern
Yunnan Province. The rest are scattered in Lijiang, Baoshan, Diqing,
Dehong, Dali, Chuxiong prefectures or counties in Yunnan Province
as well as in Xichang and Yanbian counties in Sichuan Province,
living in small communities with the Han, Bai, Yi and Naxi peoples.
The Lisu language
belongs to the Chinese-Tibetan language family. In 1957, a new
alphabetic script was created for the Lisu people.
The Lisus inhabit
a mountainous area slashed by rivers. It is flanked by Gaoligong
Mountain on the west and Biluo Mountain on the east, both over
4,000 meters above sea level. The Nujiang River and the Lancang
River flow through the area, forming two big valleys. The average
annual temperature along the river basins ranges between 17
and 26 degrees Centigrade, and the annual rainfall averages
2,500 millimeters. Main farm crops are maize, rice, wheat, buckwheat,
sorghum and beans. Cash crops include ramie, lacquer trees and
sugarcane. Many parts of the mountains are covered with dense
forests, famous for their China firs. In addition to rare animals,
the forests yield many medicinal herbs including the rhizome
of Chinese gold thread and the bulb of fritillary. The Lisu
area also has abundant mineral and water resources.
historical records and folk legend, the forbears of the Lisu
people lived along the banks of the Jinsha River and were once
ruled by "Wudeng" and "Lianglin," two powerful
tribes. After the 12th century, the Lisu people came under the
rule of the Lijiang Prefectural Administration of the Yuan Dynasty,
and in the succeeding Ming Dynasty, under the rule of the Lijiang
district magistrate with the family surname of Mu.
During the 1820s,
the Qing government sent officials to Lijiang, Yongsheng and
Huaping, areas where the Lisus lived in compact communities,
to replace Naxi and Bai hereditary chieftains. This practice
speeded up the transformation of the feudal manorial economy
to a landlord economy, and tightened up the rule of the Qing
court over Lisu and other ethnic groups. In the years preceding
and following the turn of the 20th century, large numbers of
Han, Bai and Naxi peoples moved to the Nujiang River valleys,
taking with them iron farm tools and more advanced production
techniques, giving an impetus to local production.
During the period
between the 18th and 19th century, the Lisus waged many struggles
against oppression. From 1941 to 1943, together with the Hans,
Dais and Jingpos, they heroically resisted the Japanese troops
invading western Yunnan Province and succeeded in preventing
the aggressors from crossing the Nujiang River, contributing
to the defense of China's frontier.
The social economy
in the various Lisu areas was at different levels before China's
national liberation in 1949. In Lijiang, Dali, Baoshan, Weixi,
Lanping and Xichang, areas closer to China's interior, a feudal
landlord economy was prevalent, with productivity approaching
the level in neighboring Han and Bai areas. Some medium and
small slave-owners had appeared from among the Lisus living
around the Greater and Lesser
Liangshan Mountains, taking up agriculture or part-agriculture
and part-hunting, and using ploughs in farming.
As for the Lisus living in Bijiang, Fugong, Gongshan and Lushui, the four counties
around the Nujiang River valley, their productivity was comparatively
low. They had to make up for their scanty agricultural output
by collecting fruits and wild vegetables and hunting. Their
simple production tools consisted of iron and bamboo
Slash-and-burn was practiced. The division of social labor was
not distinct, and handicrafts and commerce had not yet been
separated from agriculture. Bartering was in practice. Some
primitive markets began to appear in Bijiang and Fugong counties.
in productivity brought about changes in ownership. Prior to
1949, private ownership of land had been established in the
four counties around the Nujiang River valley, though landholding
was generally small. The rural population had split up into
classes, but the remnants of primitive public ownership and
patriarchal slavery still existed. Land ownership was in three
main forms: private ownership by individual peasants, ownership
by the clan, and public ownership by the clan or village. Among
the three, the first was dominant, while the second was a transitional
form from the primitive public ownership of land to private
ownership. Only a small portion of land was publicly owned.
As a result
of the penetration of landlord economic factors and the instability
of the small peasant economy, more and better land came under
the ownership by some clans, village chieftains or rich households.
An increasing number of poor peasants became landless. They
lived on rented land or as hired farmhands.
slavery existed in the Nujiang River area in the period between
the 16th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The
slaves were generally regarded as family members or "adopted
children." They lived, ate and worked with their masters,
and some of the slaves could buy back their freedom. The masters
could buy and sell slaves, but had no power over their lives.
The slaves were not stratified. All these reflected the characteristics
of exploitation under the early slavery system.
days, the remnant of the clan system could still be found among
the Lisus in the Nujiang River valley. There were more than
a dozen clans there, each with a different name. They included
Monkey, Snake, Sheep, Chicken, Bird, Fish, Mouse, Bee, Buckwheat,
Bamboo, Teak, Frost and Fire. The names also served as their
totems. Within each clan, except for a feeling of kinship, individual
households had little economic links with one another.