The Sources of Ethnic Pride and Social Stability Among the Nuosu (Yi) of Southwest China

Part of the Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation book series (STHE, volume 7)


This article discusses the Nuosu (Yi), a mountain-dwelling ethnic minority people living in southwest China. Despite being seen by the ethnic majority Han Chinese as a poor minority, the Nuosu have great pride in themselves and they directly connect this pride to their life in the high mountains. They provide a fascinating case study of how a people who seem socially and geographically disenfranchised preserve a sense of ethnic dignity and social stability. The article describes the caste system of the Nuosu and analyzes the role it plays in preserving their sense of ethnic superiority. Their society is divided into two castes, the upper status “Black Yi,” about 7 % of the population, and the lower status “White Yi,” about 93 % of the population. These castes are forbidden to intermarry. Parents threaten to commit suicide if their children ever consider intermarriage with someone of the other caste, and clans threaten to expel or kill any violators. Despite the severe punishments with which caste is maintained, caste barriers are not performed in daily symbolic contexts, such as those familiar to many readers—Jim Crow in the American South or South African apartheid. Thus the dynamics found in the latter societies, especially in their schools, do not hold for the Nuosu. Nuosu youth do not feel that they lose their identity or pride by attending Han Chinese-run schools. The Nuosu stand out among disenfranchised peoples, and mountain peoples, for the strength of their identity in the face of social and environmental adversity.


Caste System American Race Autonomous Prefecture Indian Caste Exogamous Marriage 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyDowling CollegeOakdaleUSA

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