Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Most Lisu practice swidden agriculture. In the northern areas of their settlement maize, mountain rice, barley, and millet are grown; buckwheat is also cultivated at the higher elevations, and irrigated rice on valley terraces. In Myanmar and Thailand, rice is grown at lower elevations, and maize and opium at higher elevations, either together or in separate fields. Chinese mustard, chard, beans, yams, sweet potatoes, melons, gourds, cucumbers, sunflowers, potatoes, sesame, chilies, and tobacco may be interspersed with maize. Swidden-rice fields must be shifted every two or three years; opium and maize fields are more permanent because they are intercropped and more thoroughly weeded. In former times, cotton and hemp were grown, but today most Lisu buy cloth and women sew clothing. Through government stations ( nikhom ), Border Patrol Police, and extension workers, the Thai government has persuaded a few Lisu to switch from opium to irrigated-rice agriculture, tea cultivation, or fruit or vegetable crops (peaches, potatoes). Lisu men take great pride in their ponies, which are usually the only form of nonhuman transport. Pigs and chickens are the major source of protein and are important in religious ceremonies. Every household keeps a pig or scrawny guard dogs, making it prudent for visitors to arm themselves with a sturdy staff before entering a village. Some own a few cows, oxen, buffalo, goats, sheep, or ducks. The Lisu produce and consume large amounts of liquor made from rice, maize, and millet; many in Thailand chew betel leaves and areca nuts; a few chew miang (fermented tea leaves) or smoke opium; all drink tea. Men and boys hunt with crossbows, slingshots, firearms, or traps for birds, jungle fowl, barking deer, wild pigs, Himalayan bears, and rhesus macaques. Children and women catch very small fish with hooks and lines, by using commercial or plant poisons, or by diverting a stream and scooping up fish from the dry bed with small nets. They collect honey, bamboo shoots, pine nuts, berries, wild citrus, wild apples, wild mangoes, wild ginger, wild yams, mushrooms, birds' eggs, grasshoppers, and flying ants; wild orchids, parrots, and parakeets are sold to lowlanders; banana stalks, banana inflorescence, and weeds are fed to pigs. Collecting of bamboo, wood, and grasses provides raw materials for housing, fire, baskets, and making rice mortars and other tools.
Industrial Arts. All Lisu make tools from bamboo and wood (baskets, barrels for making liquor, pony saddles, winnow fans, threshing and sleeping mats). Part-time blacksmiths work iron into knives, axes, hoes, dibble blades, sickles, opium blades, opium scrapers, and horseshoes. Parttime silversmiths make jewelry from coins obtained from lowlanders. Women spin and weave cotton and hemp cloth. Even in areas exposed to great outside influence and trade, the shoulder bag is still woven using a backstrap loom, and the distinctive Lisu "tails" worn behind by women and in front by men are still laboriously hand sewn by women.
Trade. Trade is primarily with Chinese merchants, in markets, village or lowland stores, or with peddlers and caravanners. In Myanmar and Thailand, opium is the major source of income, and in recent years has allowed Lisu to buy silver coins, salt, tea, foods, cooking utensils, clothes, watches, flashlights, kerosene for lanterns, and a wide variety of other consumer goods. Trade with other Lisu or other highland ethnic groups is minimal.
Division of Labor. Every Lisu is first and foremost an agriculturalist; what little division of labor exists is the result of differences in sex, age, or special abilities. Women make clothes and share agricultural labor (except heavy clearing of forest), food preparation, and child care. Children help care for younger siblings, feed livestock, gather firewood and pine chips (for torches), wash clothes, tend fires, wash dishes, and sweep the house.
Land Tenure. Individual households have access to land based on usufruct rights. Contact with lowlanders has caused some Lisu to register land; in Thailand, land is occasionally sold. There is no recognized village territory, the fields of several villages sometimes being interspersed. Lisu in China went through the commune phase, but today most land there is once again worked by independent households.