Population and Location of the Bai Ethnic Minority
There are approximately 185,800 people who’s nationality is Bai. This population lives primarily in the following areas: Dali, Kunming, Lijiang, Bijiang, Yuanjiang, Baoshan, Nanhua, and Anning County of Yunnan Province, Bijie of Guizhou Province, Liangshan of Sichuan Province, and Sanzhi of Hunan Province.
History of the Bai
Bai people descended from the ancient Ji population. Approximately 2,200 years ago, during the Pre-Qin Period, the Ji people lived on the Huangshui River. During the Han and Jin dynasties, the Ji people moved to the eastern portion of the Lanchang River, in Yunnan Province, as well as the northern portion of the Honghe River. During this era, the Ji people lived with the Qiang people. As concentrations of the Ji people thinned out, they slowly became known as the Bai.
The Bai used to weave a type of cloth called Tonghua 1,800 years ago. Bai people came up with their own type and style of attire during the Nanzhao Regime (737 – 902) and the Dali Kingdom (937 – 1253).
Today, Bai people wear bright clothing in coordinating colors. The fabric and embroidery used is delicate. Many pieces of Bai clothing will have a camellia flower represented on it. This flower symbolizes beauty. Often, a red scarf and a white outer layer will be worn to resemble a blooming camellia.
Many Bai people prefer the color white. This is because white signifies a high social status as well as dignity. Typically, white is seen somewhere on the clothing of a Bai person. Men often wear a white outer layer and white pants. Women tend to wear more colorful clothing than men, but white is always an element of their outfit. Most Bai females will wear a white, pink or light blue outer layer and a dark pink, purple or pink waistcoat.
If a girl is unmarried, she’ll wear her hair in a ponytail. Her hair will have a red string tied around the end of it. The string will also coil around the girl’s head. Most unmarried women will wear an embroidered apron.
The headscarf that’s worn on most Bai women’s heads is shaped liked a crescent. It represents a flower in the wind and the moon on a snowy evening. The top part of the scarf is white while the lower part of the scarf is embroidered with flowers. The tail of the scarf drapes over one shoulder and sways with the wind.
Pork is the center of the Bai diet. Several types of pork are cooked, including ham, sausage, and smoked pig liver and intestines. In the wintertime, Bai people eat beef soup that also contains radishes, shallots, and turnips. The Bai people who live close to a lake or river often have a lot of fish in their diet, and they’re adept at preparing fish in a variety of ways.
Bai people eat a lot of vegetables and pickles. Bai women are skilled at making all sorts of pickles and sauces. Common sauces include bean sauce, lobster sauce and flour sauce. The Bai people who live in Heqing and Jiangchuan tend to cook different kinds of dishes. They’ll often use pickled seaweed from the Erhai Lake in their cooking.
Most Bai people drink tea twice a day, every day. Tea is consumed in the morning and during the afternoon. Morning tea, also called “wakening tea”, is consumed immediately upon waking. The afternoon tea is called either relaxing tea or thirst satisfying tea. Some Bai people choose to add either milk or popcorn to their tea.
During the sandao tea ceremony, baked tea is served. Large tea leaves or xiaguan tea is placed into a tiny pot and baked over a charcoal fire. The pot has to be continuously shaken so that the tea leaves don’t burn. As soon as the tea makers smell the fragrant tea, boiled water is poured into the teapot. A little while later, more boiled water is added to the teapot and the tea is served.
The term “sandao” means “tea poured three times”. The host will pour the tea into each cup three times. The first time is meant for the guest to smell the aromatic tea. The second time is for the guest to taste the tea. The third pour is for the guest to drink the tea. This tea ceremony is also referred to as “thunderous tea” because of the loud sound it makes when water is added to the tea leaves.
The Bai people are extremely hospitable. All guests are received warmly and treated well. A full cup of wine is offered to guests, but guests aren’t forced to drink the wine. Instead, they can drink as much or as little as they want.
The Bai population also honors the elderly. Young Bai people always greet elderly Bai people and offer their seat, tea, and a cigarette. It’s a sign of disrespect to cross your legs when sitting in front of an elderly Bai person. The first cup of tea served during the day is given to the oldest person. The most senior Bai person also always takes the head seat at the table and starts eating first.
There are two basic types of Bai homes: the Sanfang Yizhaobi, which has a courtyard in the center, rooms on three sides of the courtyard and a wall that reflects light on the fourth side. There’s also the Sihe Wutianjing home, which is a set of four different houses, each one on the corner of a large, center courtyard.
Most Bai homes have a fireplace, and the fireplace is considered sacred. People aren’t allowed to spit on the fireplace or walk over it. It’s also taboo to sit on the threshold of a Bai home. Those who are mourning a death aren’t allowed to enter another Bai home. On Chinese New Year’s Day, people aren’t allowed to use a knife, carry water into the home or sweep the floor.
Our festival tours include some of the following Bai festivals.
The Third Month Fair: Chinese calendar: month 3, days 10 to 21 (approximately April) in Dali Ancient Town
Worship Gathering in the three temples: 23rd to 25th of the fourth lunar month inChongsheng Temple, Shengyuan Temple, and Jinkui Temple, Dali.
Folk Song Singing Festival at Shibaoshan Mountain: from the 27th of the seventh month to the third of the eighth month of the Chinese traditional calendar in Dali.
China Highlights' Minority Discovery Tours to Yunnan, almost without exception, include a chance to explore Bai people's ancient culture. Choose from these or tailor-make a tour to include time with the Bai people.
I updated this article on February 28, 2014
See all my travel articles
- Chinese Ethnic Groups
- Bai Minority
- Naxi Minority
- Dai Minority
- Miao Minority
- Dong Minority
- Zhuang Minority
- Yao Minority
- Uygur Minority
- Hui Minority
- Tibetan Minority
- Tujia Minority
- Kazak Minority
- Hani Minority
- Manchu Minority
- Mongolian Minority
- Qiang Minority
- Shui Minority
- Yi Minority