Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China

By Stevan Harrell | Go to book overview
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Reconstructing Yi History
from Yi Records
Wu Gu

As a scholar who was born into a Yi family and who has devoted himself heart and soul to the study of Yi history and culture for several decades, I have developed some knowledge of the comprehensive embodiments of Yi traditional culture, which we can call Yi historical records, and which include not only written documents but many other kinds of materials that can be used to document the history of this society. This essay represents some of what I have learned.


Because the Yi have a long history and remote origins, they have amassed a considerable cultural store. Already in the pre-Imperial period this attracted attention from outside scholars: the earliest relatively systematic account occurs in the “Record of the Southwestern Aborigines” (Xinan Yi liezhuan) chapter of Sima Qian's Shiji. Ever since that time, accounts of Yi history and culture, perhaps owing to the influence of Confucian thinking, have taken this as a model.

In the last hundred years, owing to the rise of ethnology a new group of scholars have undertaken field research in Yi areas in order to gather new material for the study of Yi history and culture. In their field researches they found that many records still existed in Yi areas, which prompted an effort among learned scholars in China and abroad to collect, collate, translate, and research these sources. Gradually there emerged a systematic, planned effort to open the world of Yi historical records. Later, because of the influences of the anti-Japanese war, this particular effort was halted, but during that war, because Yi areas were turned into the great rear area of the


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Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China
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