Weishan: Hometown of Yi's Singing, Dancing

July 21, 2017
By Gu Jianhao and Cai JinghuaEditor: Wei Xuanyi, Zhang Ping and Amanda Wu
Weishan: Hometown of Yi's Singing, Dancing

Weishan Ancient Town [Women of China English Monthly]


Weishan Yi and Hui Autonomous County is situated in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, in southwestern China's Yunnan Province. Weishan has a history of more than 2,000 years. It is the place where Nanzhao Kingdom (738-902), a well-known state in ancient times, originated.

Weishan Ancient Town, which dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), is a must-see scenic spot in the autonomous county. Weishan was named one of China's historical and cultural cities by the State Council in 1994. The ancient dwellings and folk customs of the Yi ethnic group have attracted tourists to Weishan.

The head of the Duan royal family, who ruled the area of Yunnan Province between the 10th century and the 14th century, organized people to construct Weishan as a town during the Yuan Dynasty. At that time, the town's gates and walls were built with soil. The locals began to rebuild and expand the town in 1390, during the reign of Emperor Hongwu (1328-1398) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The locals rebuilt the gates and walls with bricks (around 1390). The layout of the town has been preserved. Most of the ancient dwellings in the town were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). The dwellings, temples and other ancient buildings have been preserved.

In ancient times, Weishan has been the political, economic and cultural center of the western region of Yunnan Province since the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was also an important hub along the ancient Tea Horse Road (a network of caravan paths through the mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou, in southwestern China, in ancient times). Even though the town is not as prosperous as before, travelers can still enjoy leisure time in the town. Teahouses and shops that sell crafts, snacks, antiques and grass-made tools are situated along the main street. Weishan has many specialty snacks. It was named one of the hometowns of famous snacks in China by the China Cuisine Association in 2011. Every year, a snack festival is held on the eighth day of the second month of the lunar calendar. Travelers can taste various delicious specialties in different regions in the prefecture during the festival.

Nearly all of the people of the Yi ethnic group sing and dance well. Dage (which means dancing accompanied by singing) is the most popular traditional folk singing and dancing of the Yi people in Weishan. Yi people, whether men or women, the elderly or the young, are good at dage. Dage combines dancing with the flute and lusheng (a reed-pipe wind instrument), and the singing of folk songs in antiphonal style. Yi people organize the dage activity during temple fairs, weddings, funerals, traditional festivals and other important occasions. There is a common saying among the locals that every Yi family has a fireplace and the Yi people sing and dance everywhere.

According to legend, in primitive society, Yi people fought the people of the Lisu ethnic group. Yi people were defeated and they were encircled by the Lisu people on the top of a mountain. At dusk, the Yi people lit a fire. They shouted and they circled around the fire, each waving a sword or a stick. The Lisu people mistakenly believed Yi's reinforcements had arrived, and they retreated in a hurry. From then on, Yi people began to sing and dance around the fire, to commemorate the success of the war. 

In 2008, dage was added to the list of China's Intangible Cultural Heritage by the State Council. A dage art troupe, with more than 200 members, was established in Weishan in 2014. The art troupe has performed in other regions in China. The troupe has also given performances in other countries. Dage has attracted many travelers from China and abroad to Weishan.

Travelers can take a bus from Dali, capital of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, to Weishan Yi and Hui Autonomous County. It takes travelers more than 10 minutes to walk to Weishan Ancient Town, after they get off the bus.

Admission to Weishan Ancient Town is free.

Travelers can stay in family inns in Weishan.


Weishan: Hometown of Yi's Singing, Dancing

A temple in Weishan Ancient Town [Women of China English Monthly]

Weishan: Hometown of Yi's Singing, Dancing

Yi women dance. [Women of China English Monthly]

Weishan: Hometown of Yi's Singing, Dancing

Weishan Ancient Town [Women of China English Monthly]


(Source: Women of China English Monthly June 2017 Issue)

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