Naxi - Orientation

Identification. The Naxi are one of China's fifty-six officially recognized "nationalities." "Naxi" (Nah-shee), meaning "people of the black," is the name most Naxi use for themselves. Prior to 1949, they were most commonly termed "Moso" or "Moso Man," the traditional Chinese labels for the Naxi. The chief exception to this is in the work of Joseph Rock, an American botanist-cumethnographer who published widely on "Na-khi" history and religion. Reference searches should include all of these names.

Location. The great majority of Naxi live in a fairly small area in northwestern Yunnan Province, in Lijiang, Weixi, Zhongdian, and Ninglang counties (26° to 28° N and 97° to 99° E). Scattered Naxi settlements are also found in neighboring Sichuan Province. The area is rugged and mountainous, with major peaks reaching over 5,500 meters. Habitation extends between 1,800 and 3,300 meters, the lowest elevations being associated with the deep sinuous gorge of the Golden Sand River (the major tributary to the Yangtze), the region's most prominent geographical feature.

Demography. In 1990 the Naxi population numbered approximately 278,000, of whom more than 60 percent lived in Lijiang County.

Linguistic Affiliation. Naxi belongs to the Tibeto-Burman Branch of the Sino-Tibetan Language Family. Chinese linguists divide Naxi speakers into two dialect groups—a western dialect spoken in the Lijiang area and an eastern dialect centered in the Yongning region of Ninglang County. As the area also includes numerous speakers of the related Yi, Lisu, Pumi, and Tibetan languages, bi- or trilingualism in these languages is fairly common among the Naxi. In addition, many Naxi, especially men, also speak Mandarin (Chinese).

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