Social Organization. Traditional Dai society was split into two classes, the aristocracy and the commoners, based on their blood origins. In each class were several strata. In Xishuangbanna, the aristocracy had three levels: the mong or sadu (the chaopianling —"the lord of the land"—and his relatives of lineal consanguinity); the wung (the chaopianling's collateral relatives); and the lulangdaopa and the chaochuang (the distant relatives of the mong and wung). Commoners were of three kinds: daimong (natives or the earliest settlers of a place); gunghengchao (people born in aristocrats' servants' families); and kachao (aristocrats' domestic slaves). Only the aristocrats were entitled to hold fiefs and/or offices, whereas the commoners were all serfs, engaging in different occupations in accordance with their status. After the 1949 Revolution, these class differences were abolished.
Political Organization. The tusi was the basic political system in the Dai regions before 1956. The term refers to the central authority's system of appointing native chieftains as local hereditary officials. The tusi polity was autonomous. The tusi had complete power over legislation, administration, and the military within his domain under the condition of obeying the orders and commands of the imperial court and providing tributes, taxes, and corvée to the court. Combined with the original feudal structure of the Dai, the tusi became not only the official government administrator in the area but also an officially recognized lord over the other local minorities. The tusi regions varied in rank and size. Before 1956, while all the tusi in Xishuangbanna were ruled by one big tusi, Dehong was divided into seven tusi regions independent from each other. Rigid hierarchy existed within the tusi organization. In Xishuangbanna, the cheli xuanweishisi, the highest tusi office in Yunnan, was the "central" government there. Headed by the chaopianling (lord of the land), the government had four major departments: the chaojinha (senate); the huailangmanwa (administration); the huailangchangwan (department of finance and taxation); and the huailangmanhong (department of census registration and justice). The region was divided into thirty-odd fiefs (mong). Headed by an enfeoffed aristocrat, chaomong, each mong had its own administration and senate. Under the mong office were—hierarchically— long, huoxi, and huoheng, the grass-roots units of the structure. In Dehong, every tusi office was headed by the zhengying tusi (the tusi with the emperor-granted seal). Below him there were tusi officials of different levels: the daiban (deputy) ; the huying (keeper of the tusi seal); and the zuguan (adult male relatives of the tusi, which were further divided into three levels: mong, zhuen, and yin). Most mong and zhuen had the posts of chaomong, the ruler of 10,000 commoners. The tusi had his administration to conduct daily affairs. For the control of the mountain peoples in his domain, the tusi had special headmen, guan or liantou, in charge of collecting taxes. In this way, the tusi built a pyramid-type structure, a true monarchical system; every tusi region was virtually an independent kingdom. The Dai tusi system lasted for over 500 years; it was the oldest tusi in China.
In 1956, the local polity was reorganized into a unified structure with the following levels: state; province or autonomous region; prefecture or autonomous zhou; xian (county); and xiang (district). The xiang (the people's commune from 1958 to 1985) is the lowest level of state authority and the basic administrative unit. A xiang includes several administrative villages, which consist of a number of natural villages. The xiang government is appointed by the xiang people's congress, which is elected from candidates recommended by the Communist party and functions under the leadership of the xiang party committee. The head of the administrative village is appointed by the xiang government, while the head of the natural village is elected by the villagers.
Social Control and Conflict. As Buddhism once dominated both the religious and the political life of the Dai, the Middle Way philosophy, the Four Noble Truths (see "Religious Beliefs"), and other Buddhist commandments have played an important role in both formal and informal social control. Teachings of the Buddha and words of the monks and elders as well as the party's instructions and government regulations are commonly cited in judgments of right and wrong and in arbitration of disputes. Village heads adjudicate most disputes with the help of the elders, and keep most cases at the local level. Only serious cases are brought to the xiang's people's court, the lowest level of the governmental justice system.