Collection Description

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Culture Description

The Yi, formerly known as the Lolo, are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in China. They live in China's mountainous southwest region and have had a long history of cultural, economic and political interaction with Han Chinese. The Yi were primarily horticulturalists, practicing animal husbandry where possible; their diet was supplemented by gathering, hunting, and fishing. Patrilineal kin groups were territorial entities and feuding between lineages and sometimes between minor branches were common. Yi society was stratified into a land-owning nobility, land-renting commoners, and slaves. Their religion was polytheistic mixing elements of animist, Daoist and Buddhist beliefs; more recently incorporating elements of Christianity.


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Asia --East Asia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF World Cultures collection and referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

Most of the ethnographic work done on the Yi was carried out from 1939-1943. The core ethnography is found in books by the anthropologist Lin Yaohua on Yi kinship and genealogical system (Lin 1946, no. 8) and Yi society, politics, economy and religion (Lin 1947, no. 1) based on fieldwork carried out in 1943. Ma (1944, no. 3) and Lei (1949, no. 4) wrote on Yi exorcism rituals and religion in the same period. Tseng (1945, no. 6.) wrote a short ethnography on Yi culture and history based on a 1941 excursion in the region. Graham provides a very brief overview of Yi culture and society (Graham 1930, no. 7.) Feng looks at historical accounts of Yi in Chinese and Western records going back as early as 400 BC. (Feng 1938, no. 9.). The missionary Pollard, who lived in southwestern China from 1888-1915, writes about Yi material culture circa 1900 (Pollard 1921, no. 5.) Mueggler (1998, no. 10) did his fieldwork in the 1990s and writes about a past form of political organization imposed on the Yi by the Han Chinese during the Imperial and Republican periods and which is now used in Yi historical discourse to articulate an unique location and identity within contemporary Chinese society.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

Be-muh –shaman/magician– Use SHAMANS AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS ( 756) or MAGICIANS AND DIVINERS ( 791)


Houtou –lowest level official administering a group of villages– Use TOWNS ( 632)

Jierjitie –council of lineage elders– Use COMMUNITY COUNCILS ( 623) and/or LOCALIZED KIN GROUPS ( 618)

Ts’iςi –local term for “houtou” (see above)– Use TOWNS ( 632) and/or DEPENDENCIES ( 636)

Suyi –head of patrilineage– Use LOCALIZED KIN GROUPS ( 618)

Degu –community spokesperson– Use LOCAL OFFICIALS ( 624) and/or LOCALIZED KIN GROUPS ( 618)

Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

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