The latest in minority fashion

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
Trip End Aug 15, 2008

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fearing the temporary lack of electricity at Sim's and the snow(!) of Chengdu, I decided to take a short trip to the south of the province with Greg, a fellow long-term guest of Sim's and a fluent Mandarin speaker. This use of this was almost immediately obvious, as, on arrival in Xichang at 3 in the morning, he managed to negotiate us a free night in our chosen guest house.

Xichang is a small provincial town and really quite unexceptional, though the small, attractively decrepit old town area of ramshackle buildings, cheap baijiu shops (3.5 kuai for half a liter!) and toothless old ladies trying to show us places to drink, and general, curious yet friendly atmosphere of a town not inundated with tourists, meant that it wasn't an unpleasant place to spend a few nights. Our reason for coming here, though, wasn't Xichang itself, but the Yi minority villages of the area. Interestingly, many signs in Xichang were posted in both Chinese characters and Yi ideograms, which seemed almost mathematical in appearance. It isn't overly common to see such regard for local minorities, though there did seem to be a sizable Yi presence within the town.

The Yi are in fact the fourth largest minority in China, mostly concentrated in Yunnan province (Xichang is far in the south of Sichuan, very close to the provincial border), and are most obvious throughout the area in their black or white, tasseled cloaks. One of whom, upon sitting next to me on the bus, decided I looked comfortable and leaned quite heavily on me, crushing me up against the window for some minutes. Until relatively recently (1950's), the Yi further subdivided themselves into clans, with the Black Yi being the wealthy, aristocratic class, the White Yi a subservient caste, and two lower classes being little more than slaves, freely bought and sold. Supposedly, their traditional costume is as bright and highly embroidered as any other minority you may care to mention. Maybe it was something to do with the weather, which, although refreshingly bright and almost warm in Xichang, degenerated into a grey, Chengdu drizzle when we attempted to get out to some of the surrounding villages, but we saw little of the extravagance I had been expecting. Instead, it seems the very latest in Yi minority fashion is to wear a yellow, flowery towel wrapped around the head as a makeshift turban. There were a few elderly, probably highly respected characters in heavy jewelry or adorned with teeth and bones (shamanism is still present), but it wasn't exactly a riot of tribal splendour.

Despite promising weather on arrival, after a couple of days things began to take a turn for the worse, and many of the villages we had wished to visit were inaccessible  due to icy mountain roads, so we departed a little sooner than hoped for fear of getting trapped.
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sights on

Great photos
Enjoyed your photos, do you possibly have more? If so can you download to I live in the USA, Mississippi and am interested in the Yi people. I belong to a prayer effort here in the USA for them. I would really appreciate photos of the dress and cultural aspects of the Yi people. Thank you very much, have they been affected by the earthquake this week?

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