Identification. The Lahu are swidden farmers and hunters of the upland regions of southwestern Yunnan. There are two main branches: the Lahuna or "Black Lahu," and the Lahuxi or "Yellow Lahu." Lahu populations are also found in Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and the Chiang Mai region of Thailand.
Location. Most of the Lahu within China proper are residents of the Lancang Lahu Autonomous County in Simao Prefecture. The remainder live in the southern parts of neighboring Lincang Prefecture and in Menghai County in Xishuangbanna. The main concentrations are in the subtropical hilly areas along the Lancang River, also known as the upper Mekong. Annual rainfall is 140 centimeters and the average temperature is 20° C. Eighty percent of the rainfall is concentrated in the rainy season between May and October.
Demography. The Lahu population within China is approximately 411,476, according to the census of 1990. About 80 percent are distributed along the west bank of the Lancang River. Less than 7 percent are classified as urban. Another 200,000 Lahu live in Southeast Asia.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Lahu languages belong to the Yi Branch of Tibeto-Burmese and are closely related to Lisu. Lahuna is the most widespread and serves as a lingua franca. In the past, carvings on wood were one way of transmitting messages. In the early twentieth century, an alphabetic script developed by Western missionaries was in use in parts of the Lahu area. After 1957, government authorities reformed this script and made it the officially recognized writing form for the Lahu language.