The Yi people (own name in the Liangshan dialect: ꆈꌠ, official transcription: Nuosu, IPA: [nɔ̄sū]; Chinese: 彝族; pinyin: Yìzú; the older name "Lolo" or "Luoluo" is now considered derogatory in China, though used officially in Vietnam as Lô Lô and in Thailand as Lolo) are a modern ethnic group in China, Vietnam, and Thailand. Numbering 8 million, they are the seventh largest of the 55 minor ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. They live primarily in rural areas of Sichuan, Yunnan href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yunnan">Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi, usually in mountainous regions. There are 3300 Lô Lô peoples (1999 statistics) living in Hà Giang, Cao Bằng and Lào Cai provinces in northeastern Vietnam.
The Chinese government has grouped the Nisu, Nasu, Sani, Axi, Lolopo, Pu, and scores of other peoples speaking more than six completely distinct languages with dozens of dialects into a single group called the Yi. Because of this, a Yi from one area may not be able to communicate with a Yi from another area; and may or may not even agree that they both are Yi. Most Yi are farmers; herders of cattle, sheep and goats; and nomadic hunters. Only about one third of the Yi are literate. Most have no written language.
The Yi are animists, with elements of Daoism, shamanism and fetishism. Shamans/medicine men are known as “bimo.” Bimo officiate at births, funerals and weddings. They are often seen along the street consulting ancient scripts. As animists, Yi worship the spirits of ancestors, hills, trees, rocks, water, earth, sky, wind, and forests. Magic plays a major role in daily life through healing, exorcism, asking for rain, cursing enemies, blessing, divination and analysis of one's relationship with the spirits. They believe dragons protect villages against bad spirits, and demons cause diseases. After someone dies they sacrifice a pig or sheep at the doorway to maintain relationship with the deceased spirit.
The Nuosu religion (from the Nuosu or Nasu group in the Yi minority) distinguishes two sorts of shamans: the « bi-mox » and the “su-nyit”. Bi-mox are the most revered and maybe also important agents in the Nuosu religion, to the point that sometimes the Nuosu religion is also called “bimox religion”. When one can becomes a bimox by patrilineal descent after a time of apprenticeship, one becomes a su-nyit by election or after having been “elected”. Both can perform rituals. But only bimox can perform rituals linked to death. Bimox are said to be literate too. In order to preserve this heritage and promote tourism, the local government helped construct a museum to house ancient artifacts.
In Yunnan, some of the Yi have been influenced by Buddhism through the Han culture. The Yi believe in numerous evil spirits. They believe that spirits cause illness, poor harvests and other misfortunes and inhabit all material things. The Yi also believe in multiple souls. At death, one soul remains to watch the grave while the other is eventually reincarnated into some living form.
In the beginning of the 20th century, some Yi people in China converted to Christianity, after the arrival of medical missionaries such as Alfred James Broomhall of the China Inland Mission. According to missionary organization OMF International, the exact number of Yi Christians is not known. In 1991 it was reported that there were as many as 150,000 Yi Christians in Yunnan Province, especially in Luquan County where there are more than 20 churches.
Of the over 8 million Yi people, over 4.5 million live in Yunnan Province, 2.5 million live in southern Sichuan Province, and 1 million live in the northwest corner of Guizhou Province. Nearly all the Yi live in mountainous areas, often carving out their existence on the sides of steep mountain slopes far from the cities of China.
The altitudinal differences of the Yi areas directly affect their climate and precipitation. Their striking differences have given rise to the old saying that "the weather is different a few miles away" in the Yi area. This is the primary reason why the Yis in various areas are so different from one another in the ways they make a living.
Legend has it that the Yi are descended from the ancient Qiang people of today's Western China, who are also said to be the ancestors of the Tibetan, Naxi and Qiang peoples. They migrated from Southeastern Tibet through Sichuan and into Yunnan Province, where their largest populations can be found today.
They practice a form of animism, led by a shaman priest known as the Bimaw. They still retain a few ancient religious texts written in their unique pictographic script. Their religion also contains many elements of Daoism and Buddhism.
Many of the Yi in northwestern Yunnan practiced a complicated form of slavery. People were split into the nuohuo or Black Yi (nobles) and qunuo or White Yi (commoners). White Yi and other ethnic groups were held as slaves, but the higher slaves were allowed to farm their own land, hold their own slaves and eventually buy their freedom.
The Yi language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman Language Group of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family, and the Yis speak six dialects. Many Yis in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi know the Han (standard Chinese or Mandarin) language. The Yis used to have a syllabic script called the old Yi language, which was formed in the 13th century. It is estimated that the extant old Yi script has about 10,000 words, of which 1,000 are words of everyday use. A number of works of history, literature and medicine as well as genealogies of the ruling families written in the old Yi script are still seen in most Yi areas. Many stone tablets and steles carved in the old Yi script remain intact. Since the old Yi language is not consistent in word form and pronunciation, it was reformed after liberation for use in books and newspapers.