The Bai, Pai or Baip (Bai: Baipho, /pɛ̰˦˨xo̰˦/ (白和); Chinese: 白族; pinyin: Báizú; Wade–Giles: Pai-tsu; endonym pronounced [pɛ̀tsī]), are an East Asian ethnic group native to China. They constitute one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by China. They numbered 1,933,510 as of 2010.
The Bai people hold the colour white in high esteem and call themselves "Baipzix" (pɛ˦˨ tsi˧, Baizi, 白子), "Bai'ho" (pɛ˦˨ xo˦, Baihuo, 白伙), "Bai yinl" (pɛ˦˨ ji˨˩, Baini, 白尼) or "Miep jiax". Bai people literally means 'white people' in Chinese. In 1956, the Chinese authorities named them the Bai nationality according to their preference.
Historically, the Bai had also been called Minjia (民家) by the Chinese from the 14th century to 1949.
The origin of the name Bai is not clear, but most scholars believe that it has a strong connection to the first state Bai people built in roughly the 3rd century AD. This state, called Baizi Guo (白子國, State of Bai), was not documented in Chinese orthodox history but was frequently mentioned in the oral history of Yunnan Province. It was believed to be built by the first king, Longyouna (龍佑那), who was given the family name "Zhang" (張) by Zhuge Liang, the chancellor of the state of Shu Han (221–263 CE). Zhuge Liang conquered the Dali region at that time and picked up Longyouna and assisted him in building the State of Bai. The State of Bai was located in present-day Midu County, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province.
Bai people live mostly in the provinces of Yunnan (Dali area), and in neighboring Guizhou (Bijie area) and Hunan (Sangzhi area) provinces. Of the 2 million Bai people, eighty percent live in concentrated communities in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province.
The origin of Bai was heavily debated over roughly the past century. Ironically those debates were of the groups of people who were assimilated into Bai, rather than the issue per se. According to archaeological excavations around the Lake Erhai, Bai people were originated in the lake area. The earliest human site was discovered in the early 20th century, which was called the paleolithic Malong relics of Mt. Cangshan (苍山马龙遗址), dated circa 4000 bp. The late sites include Haimenkou of Jianchuan (剑川海门口, 3000 bp), Baiyangcun of Binchuan (宾川白羊村, 3500 bp), and Dabona of Xiangyun(祥云大波那, 2350 bp).
The Bai are mentioned in Tang Dynasty texts as the 'Bo (or Bai) People'. If the Bo transcription is correct then it would mean the earliest mention of the Bai was in the third century BCE in a text called Lushi Chunqi (Spring and Autumn Annals of Master Lu Buwei). It was then mentioned again in Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian in the first century BCE.
The Bai made up one of the tribes who helped establish the Nanzhao Kingdom (649-902). The Dali Kingdom (937-1253) was founded by a Bai named Duan Siping whose family had played major roles in the Nanzhao Kingdom. It's likely that the Bai were one of the elite ethnic groups that ruled and composed the population of the two kingdoms. After the collapse of the Dali kingdom by the Mongols, the Bai never again enjoyed full political independence.
An estimated 1,240,000 (as of 2003) of the Bai speak the Bai language in all its varieties. The origins of the language have been obscured by intensive Chinese influence of an extended period. Different scholars have proposed that it is an early offshoot or sister language of Chinese, or a separate group (though usually still within the Sino-Tibetan family).
The Bai call themselves Baizi, Baini, or Baihuo. They have 60 other names, including the Han term Minjia (for the Bai in Dali). In the Tang and Song Dynasty, Bai was written using Chinese characters in a manner similar to the way in which the Man'yōgana (万叶假名) were used to write Japanese. A Latin-based writing system was developed in 1957.
Although most Bai people adhere to a form of Buddhism that traces its history back to the Nanzhao Kingdom, they also have a native religion of Benzhuism: the worship of ngel zex (本主; běnzhǔ), local gods and ancestors. Ngel zex could be any heroes in history, the prince of the Nanzhao regime, a hero of folklore or even a tiger (for instance, Laojun Jingdi 老君景帝 is a tiger).
Most Bai people don't belong to any religion. There are minorities practicing Taoism and Christianity. George Clarke, arrived in 1881, was the first Protestant missionary to Bai population. The recent estimation of Bai Christian population is 50,000.
There are a few villages in Yunnan where residents are Muslims, but speak Bai as their first language. These people are officially classified by Chinese authorities as belonging to the Hui nationality and call themselves Bai Hui ("Bai-speaking Muslims"). They usually say that their ancestors were Hui people, who came to Yunnan as followers of the Mongolian army in the 14th century.
The Bai diet typically comprises sharp, cold and spicy flavours. Cured ham or fish with rice and are common dishes; for some groups based in mountain areas corn is a staple food.
The Bai tea ceremony, San Dao Cha 三道茶 (Three Course Tea), is most popular among the Bai in the Dali area and is a common sight at festivals and marriages. It is both a cultural ceremony and method of honouring a guest. The ceremony is often described in Mandarin as, 'Yiku, ertian, sanhuiwei' 一苦二甜三回味 (First is bitter, Second is sweet, Third brings reflection (aftertaste)).
The first tea course starts with baking the tea leaves in a clay pot over a small flame, shaking the leaves often whilst they bake. When they turn slightly brown and give off a distinct fragrance, heated water is added to the pot. The water should immediately begin bubbling. When the bubbling ceases a small amount of bitterly fragrant, concentrated tea remains. Due to the sound the hot water makes when it enters the clay pot the first course tea was, in previous times, also known as Lei Xiang Cha 雷响茶 (Sound of Thunder Tea).
The second course is sweet tea. Pieces of walnut kernel and roasted rushan (乳扇, lit. milk fan), a dried cheese specific to the Dali region, are put into a tea cup with brown sugar and other ingredients. Boiling water is added and the tea is then offered to the guest. This tea is sweet without being oily, so the guest can easily drink it.
The third tea is made by mixing honey, Sichuan pepper, slices of ginger and cassia together in a china cup with hot Cangshan Xue green tea. The product is a tea that is sweet, coarse and spicy all at once. This Dali specialty has a noticeable aftertaste, which meant it was known as Hui Wei Cha 回味茶 (Reflection Tea).
The 18 procedures of the tea ceremony are governed by strict etiquette, which follows the principles of etiquette, honesty and beauty. As such, the tea ceremony is considered by some to perfectly embody the hospitable Bai people's current customs.
The Bai people, as their name would suggest, favor white clothes and decorations. Women generally wear white dresses, sleeveless jackets of red, blue or black color, embroidered belts, loose trousers, embroidered shoes of white cloth, and jewelry made of gold or silver. Women in Dali traditionally wear a white coat trimmed with a black or purple collar, loose blue trousers; embroidered shoes, silver bracelets and earrings. Unmarried women wear a single pigtail on the top of the head, while married women roll their hair. The men wear white jackets, black-collared coats, and dark loose shorts. Their headwear and costume reflect the Bai symbols: the snow, the moon, the flower, and the wind.
The modern Bai are famous for their tie dyes and use them for wall hangings, table decorations, clothing, etc.
Many Bai women style their hair in a long braid wrapped in a headcloth. This style is called "the phoenix bows its head".
The grandest festival of the Bai people is the Third Month Fair, held annually at the foot of Mount Cangshan in Dali between the fifteenth and the twentieth day of the third lunar month. Originally it was religious activity to rally and pay homage, but it gradually evolved into a fair including performances of traditional sports and dance, as well as the trade of merchandise from different regions.
Another important festival is the Torch Festival, held on the 25th day of the sixth lunar month to wish health and a good harvest. On that evening, the countryside is decorated with banners with auspicious words written upon them. Villagers then light torches in front of their gates and walk around the fields while holding yet more torches in order to catch pests.
The Bai have a traditional form of theater called Chuichuiqiang. However, this local tradition is endangered just as traditional Bai culture is in general.
Most Bai are agriculturalists. They cultivate many crops like rice, wheat, rapeseed, sugar, millet, cotton, cane, corn, and tobacco. However, some Bai also engage in fishing and selling local handicrafts to tourists.
Bai fishermen have trained cormorants to fish since the 9th century. Decreases in water quality and the high costs of cormorant training have resulted in recent disuse of the practice, though cormorant fishing is still done by local fishers today for tourists.
The Bai architecture is characterized by three buildings forming a U and a fourth wall as a screen. The middle has a courtyard. The houses are usually built out of brick and wood, and the main room is in the middle (opposite the screen wall). The screen wall is built with brick and stone. The house is painted in white with black tile paintings depicting animals and other natural images. The detailing usually is made of clay sculpture, woodcarving, colored drawing, stone inscription, marble screens and dark brink. It produces a very striking and elegant effect.
Dali is well known for its marble. The name for marble is 'Dali marble' in Chinese. It is used in modern architecture by the Bai.