The Yi of China

The Yi or Lolo people are an ethnic group in China, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Numbering 8 million, they are the seventh largest of the 55 ethnic minority groups officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China. They live primarily in rural areas of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi, usually in mountainous regions.

Most Yi are farmers; herders of cattle, sheep and goats; and nomadic hunters. 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 the climate and precipitation of these areas.

These striking differences are the basis of the old saying that “The weather is different a few miles away” in the Yi area. This is the primary reason why the Yi in various areas are so different from one another in the ways they make a living.

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 Taoism and Buddhism.