My time here in Yunnan is nearly finished so I decided to come to Lijiang to say good bye to some friends before going back to the mountains for the last few weeks.
Lijiang is a must-see for all the tourists in Yunnan (among Dali and now increasingly Shaxi). Especially Chinese tourist companies do cheap package tours here which has resulted in the place turning into a Naxi culture Disneyland. Lijiang got famous after the old town survived a massive earth quake in 1997. It was also accepted to the UNESCO World Heritage list. I visited Lijiang first time in 1999 during the winter. It was so quiet and beautiful! Now the old town is at least 3 times the size it was then and most of the Naxi minority people have sold their properties in old town to entrepreneurs from other parts of China.
Another reason for Lijiang’s popularity is it’s reputation as a matriarchal society. To quote Lonely planet ”The Naxi are descendants of Tibetan nomads and they lived until recent times in matriarchal families although the local rulers were always men. Still, it seems that women are running the show. Naxi matriarchs held their power over men through flexible love affairs. This azhu (friendship) system permitted the couple to be lovers without a marriage. Boyfriend could spend his nights at a girlfriends house but would return to his mother’s house to live and work at day time. The possible children of the couple would belong to the mother who was responsible for raising them. The father would offer support but if the relationship came to an end so did the support. The children would live with their mother and recognizing fatherhood wasn’t very important.Women would inherit all the property.”(Lonely Planet 1998: 845.)
In reality the Naxi are strictly patriarchal and patrilineal. The reason why women seem to run the show is that Naxi men leave all the work to women, be it farming or running a business. The azhu relationships are practiced by Mosuo people who live at the Lugu Lake and are counted as a part of Naxi nationality. But not even the Mosuo are matriarchal, but matrilineal. Girls inherit their mothers but both political and religious power belongs to men. And now this matriliny might work against the girls as the families prefer them to stay home instead of getting an education outside.
The third reason for Lijiang’s popularity is that most people use it as a stop over on the way to Tiger Leaping Gorge which is probably one of the most popular treks in China. Actually the gorge is located in Shangri-la but Lijiang seems to have hijacked most of the tourism. This also applies to tourists heading north to Meili Snow Mountains. Most of the tourists get their drivers and guides or the whole tours from Lijiang. And this is the reason why most of the young men of Xidang village are in Lijiang. They all want to make money from tourism by guiding or driving customers.
Yunnan’s old towns all resemble one another with their cobbled streets, canals and shops all selling the same crap. And nearly all of the buildings have been turned into guesthouses, shops or bars/restaurants. Shopping is the most popular form of entertainment.
As Lijiang is really busy especially during the high season, another old town opened up nearby, Shuhe. I visited Shuhe in 2005 and at the time it was a sleepy little village. Now it’s a copy of Lijiang, although a bit smaller and somewhat more quiet. But the difference is not big.
Both of the photos in this post are from Shuhe a few years ago. Lijiang can be beautiful also if you wake up 6 am to avoid the crowds but I can’t be bothered to do that. And the old pics from 1999 are on paper back home.
Posted in culture, Lijiang, matriarchy, Naxi, Shuhe, tradition, travel, UNESCO World Heritage site
Tagged China, culture, Lijiang, matriarchy, Naxi, Shuhe, travel, UNESCO World Heritage, Yunnan
After lunch some of the women left but some relatives stayed to help to serve the guests who started to arrive. In the main room there were 80 butterlamps burning in memory of grandfather and the younger son of the family was in charge of keeping them burning throughout the day filling them with melted butter every time one went out. The lamas had also finished the altar and started chanting prayers sometimes beating the big drum and cymbals and ringing bells.
Every guest brought gifts of eggs, noodles, alcohol, butter, barley grains, cheese and possibly meat or something else. Mom kept record of what each family gave so that they will pay back similarly when it’s their turn. Every guest got 2 bags of instant noodles. Previously this used to be youtiao (the pastries) but now everyone just uses instant noodles as the return gift.
Keeping record of gifts
All the guests were served home made noodles with pipa-meat so the big wok at the yard was kept boiling all day.
That was the first day. The second day the lamas continued their prayers in grandfathers room and the village elders came to pray in the main room. i could hear the chants of the lamas and the drums mixing with the chant of the elders.
Mantou (steamed bread) and fried vegetables with meat was served for lunch to the elders. I helped mom to serve the food and the elders thought it was very funny; a foreigner serving food to them! We had a good laugh!
Dad chopping vegetables
The three oldest ladies of the village
After lunch the lamas and the elders had a break but continued the prayers from 3 till the evening when everyone left. This was the 2 day ceremony. Good bye grandfather. We were here to remember you and we hope you found your way!
On July 5th it was one year since grandfather died. According to their belief this is when the soul returns one more time to see the loved ones one more time before it departs permanently, so a ceremony is organized to help it find it’s way. The ceremony lasts 2 days. Preparations for it started already a few days before. Dad churned milk to make fresh butter, ground fresh tsampa (barley flower) and mom made fresh yak cheese.
Mom making cheese
On July 4th people started arriving after the morning duties were done (animals fed). Mostly women relatives arrived but also a few men to help prepare food for the guests. First mountains of flour needed to be sieved.
Also two lamas arrived. They were going to pray in grandfather’s room t help him find his way. They started by hanging a big drum on a frame that father had borrowed and baking tsampa cones for the altar. I’m no expert in Tibetan Buddhism so I don’t know what these are called or what is their purpose. I’ll ask and get back to it later if anyone is interested.
The women also started baking youtiao (kind of pastry with no filling cooked in oil). Some women baked at the terrace, others twisted the sweet pastries into shape in the main room and the cooking took place at the courtyard.
Mom’s brother prepared the pipa-meat (which is salted, dried pig meat, mostly skin and fat with a little bit of meat) that was to be served with noodles to the guests.
Burning off the hair from the pipa-meat. After this it’s soaked to remove the salt, cooked and chopped.
After all the cooking was done it was time for lunch. This seemed to be women’s time together. We moved some tables to the terrace and ate warm youtiao with cold cucumber dish and, of course, lots of butter tea with yak cheese. After the women were done the men had their lunch.
To be continued….