On the Nature and Transmission
of Bimo Knowledge in Liangshan
In the mountain fastness of Liangshan, the traditional clan society, which had no centralized government, adopted a slaveholding system that persisted until 1956; the efforts of successive dynasties to control the area ended in failure. Because of the geographic barriers and the special characteristics of the slave system, foreign scholars referred to Liangshan as an independent area and to the Nuosu people as the “Independent Lolo. ”
In 1956, Liangshan began to undergo the Democratic Reforms and the slave system was abolished. Since then, there have been great changes in politics, economy, and culture, particularly during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–76), when traditional Nuosu culture and religion became targets of campaigns to “smash the Four Olds” and “root out superstition. ” Clan leaders (suyy), respected mediators (ndeggu), and priests (bimo) were scorned, and all were subjected to socialist reeducation. Clan meetings and other clan activities were forbidden, religious texts were confiscated and burned, and all kinds of ritual activity were prohibited. Nevertheless, in remote mountain villages in the core area where Nuosu are concentrated, Nuosu people preserved many aspects of their original way of life, and traditional religious beliefs and rituals continued in secret at that time.
Since the early 1980s, when minority policy turned away from promoting assimilation of Han ways, Nuosu people from the countryside and the cities have been spontaneously working toward the revitalization of traditional Nuosu culture. In the villages, the movement for cultural revitalization is characterized by the resurgence of the clans and the revival of traditional religious activities. With the redistribution of the land to households in the early 1980s and the administrative reforms of the 1990s, government power in the villages has been severely weakened. Agricultural cooperation is now un