Naxi, culture of

Naxi, culture of
A small group (with a population of over 200,000) inhabiting the mountainous border between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, the Naxi people have been strongly influenced both politically and culturally by their more powerful neighbours—the Han Chinese and Tibetans. Tibetan influence in the Naxi area can be traced back to the Tang dynasty, and Lamaism was brought to the Naxi area in the Ming dynasty. The influence of Han Chinese culture also reached a high point during the Ming dynasty, when the local powerful families began to promote Confucian learning. This led to the rise of generations of Naxi scholars who are expert in both Naxi and Chinese culture. A good example is the twentieth-century Naxi scholar Fang Guoyu, who became a nationally renowned expert on Naxi history and culture, as well as history of Yunnan and China. In the modern period, Western influence also reached the Naxi area, and there appeared Christians among the Naxi people.
External cultural influence and native tradition have coexisted peacefully with each other in the Naxi area. One of the most unique native cultural elements is the polytheistic Dongba religion.
The Dongba, which literally means shamans, have created and preserved about 20,000 scriptures written in Naxi hieroglyphs first created about a thousand years ago. Another native element of the Naxi culture is the matriarchy that still exists in some Naxi areas: descent is traced along the female line, children live with their mother, women are the centre of the family, control family property and enjoy high social status. Some of these women do not live with their husbands, while their A-zhu, or lovers, usually visit at night and return to their mother’s home in the morning.
Chao, Emily (1996). ‘Hegemony, Agency, and Representing the Past: The Invention of Dongba Culture Among the Naxi of Southwest China’. In Melissa Brown (ed.), Negotiating Ethnicities in China and Taiwan. Berkeley: University of California, 208–239.
McKhann, Charles (1995). The Naxi and the Nationalities Question’. In Steven Harrell (ed.), Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 39–62.
Mueggler, Erik (2001). The Age of Wild Ghosts: Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rees, Helen (2000). Echoes of History: Naxi Music in Modern China. Oxford University Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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