Yunnan is noted for a very high level of ethnic diversity. It has the highest number of ethnic groups among the provinces and autonomous regions in China. Among the country’s 56 recognised ethnic groups, twenty-five are found in Yunnan. Some 38% of the province’s population are members of minorities, including the Yi, Bai, Hani, Tai, Dai, Miao, Lisu, Hui, Lahu, Va, Nakhi, Yao, Tibetan, Jingpo, Blang, Pumi, Nu, Achang, Jinuo, Mongolian, Derung, Manchu, Sui, and Buyei.
Ethnic groups are widely distributed in the province. Some twenty-five minorities live in compact communities, each of which has a population of more than five thousand. Ten ethnic minorities living in border areas and river valleys include the Hui, Manchu, Bai, Naxi, Mongolian, Zhuang, Dai, Achang, Buyei and Shui, with a combined population of 4.5 million; those in low mountainous areas are the Hani, Yao, Lahu, Va, Jingpo, Blang and Jino, with a combined population of 5 million; and those in high mountainous areas are Miao, Lisu, Tibetan, Pumi and Drung, with a total population of four million. They live in mingling with the Han people mainly in 152 towns, affiliated to 29 counties and eight prefectures.
Attire and Adornment of Yi Women
The highlight of the Yi people’s attire is the cross-stitch embroidery. Almost every Yi woman is an excellent embroider, and the mastery of embroidery has been an important indicator of the handiness and dexterity of the Yi women. There are about a dozen techniques in the Yi embroidery and the embroiders usually employed more than one techniques on one single piece based on paper-cut patterns, thus creating spectacular embroidery pieces.
The time-honored Yi embroidery serves as a carrier of inheritance by the Yi people of their ancestor’s culture.
As an epitome of the traditional culture of the Yi ethnic minority, the Yi embroidery with various patterns, exquisite embellishments, ingenious techniques have evolved into an indispensable component in the Yi people’s attire and adornment.
The Yi embroidery, usually based on a paper-cut foundation, boasts almost a dozen techniques. One single pattern on a Yi embroidery piece often employs more than one technique, thus looking spectacular.
Featuring various models and rich palettes, the attire and adornment of the Yi people is the epitome of the ethnic group’s aesthetics and traditional culture. However, the garments and embellishments are conspicuously different from branch to branch due to the large number of sporadically-located sub-groups of the Yi ethnic minority. They can be roughly categorized into six styles geographically, southeast of Yunnan, west of Yunnan, Chuxiong, Liangshan, Wumengshan and Honghe, with each further composed of various sub-styles.
Attire and Adornment of Hani People
The Hani ethnic minority group lives on growing paddies on terrace fields in mountainous regions. Their unique living environment has led to the distinctive, colorful clothing and embellishments of the Hani people.
With more than 100 models in total, the Hani traditional garments are known for great varieties and rich colors. But out of all these colors, black is what the Hani people adore the most and see as an auspicious color that blesses them. That’s why black is the main tone of the Hani apparel.
The adornments on the Hani garments, such as the embroidered patterns, not only reflect the ethnic group’s living environment, but also record and commemorate the heroic behaviors of their ancestors. The garments of various branches of the Hani people are recognizable as they have the same embroidery motifs, embellishments and color palettes.
Attire and Adornment of Bulang Ethnic Group
People of the Bulang ethnic minority group knew how to knit, weave and dye in as early as the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279 AD). Since the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912 AD), both men and women of the Bulang group have been wearing chignons. The Bulang women would usually put on a colorful short blouse to go with a long black skirt, with their shins surrounded by multiple vine circles. They also love to wear bamboo hats, and adorn themselves with big ring-shaped earrings in silver or copper, copper bracelets, blue or green bead string necklaces hanging to the navel and embellished with colorful mineral beads and shells.
Attire and Adornment of Wa Women
People of the Wa ethnic minority group values red and black. So they love to wear black clothes with red embellishment, and still keep the dressing features of ancient mountainous groups. The Wa women are usually adorned with distinctive accessories, the most eye-catching one of which is the about 3 cm-wide silver hair loop that arranges the long hair. They also like to wear big ring-shaped earrings, wide bracelets, narrow vine circles, reflecting the outgoing, unrestrained characters of the Wa people.
Attire and Adornment of Nakhi Ethnic Group
Sheepskin capes are an important trademark of Nakhi women’s attire in Lijiang, Yunnan. They are usually cut out of an entire piece of black sheepskin, with two square corners in the upper and two round ones in the lower. Seven round cloth patches are arranged in a line in the center of the cape, from the center of each hang two sheepskin tapes. Such a design, symbolizing the seven stars of the Big Dipper, is commonly known as “getting up by starlight and not getting off work until the moon rises”, a testimony to the busy farming life of the diligent Nakhi women.
Attire and Adornment of Lisu Ethnic Group
The attire and adornment of the Lisu people looks elegant, decorous and charming. This ethnic group is further categorized into White Lisu, Black Lisu and Colorful Lisu based on the different color preferences for their apparel by women in various areas. The Lisu women love to adorn themselves with necklaces made of agate, silver, or shells carved with simple horizontal and vertical lines or pierces.
Attire of De’ang Women in Luxi, Yunnan
The attire and adornment of the De’ang ethnic group is uniquely distinctive. Women of Red De’ang and Flowery De’ang, two branches of the group, would usually shave their heads and then wrap with black cotton cloth, adorned with big earrings and silver necklaces. They like to wear short blue or black blouses with a vertical placket, flanked by two red stripes, and the lower bottom embellished with small pompons in red, green and yellow. Women from various branches of the De’ang ethnic group can be differentiated by the color of the horizontal stripes on their skirts.
Attire and Adornment of Jino Women in Jinghong, Yunnan
The attire and adornment of Jino people is of distinctive characteristics, simple and quaint in general. People of Jino ethnic minority like to wear garments made of homespun cotton cloth decorated with blue, red and black stripes. The patterns of the sun and moon commonly seen in the Jino attire and adornment originate in the ethnic group’s worship of the sun, and have development into cultural symbols epitomizing the evolution of the Jino people’s aesthetics.
Attire and Adornment of Jingpo Ethnic Group
The Jingpo women love to wear black blouses with a vertical placket, paired with barrel skirts in red and black, which hang to their shin wraps. When grand occasions come, they would attach many silver plates to the front, back and shoulders of their blouses, and adorn themselves with silver earrings longer than fingers, one or two pairs of silver bracelets with carved motifs, and seven silver neck rings, a silver chain or a string of silver bells. The more accessories a Jingpo woman wears on a grand occasion, she would be thought of more able and wealthier. Some Jingpo women would choose to wear vine circles covered with red and black paint around the waist. And the more vine circles a woman wears, the more beautiful she would be considered.