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History and Laws of the Nujiang Region

Who Lives There

Throughout most of their history, the inhabitants of the Nu River have seldom known a time when they have not been ruled by another culture. Nevertheless, they have managed to preserve their own uniqueness.

A summary, from their point of view:

  • Until 907 and after - Tang Dynasty emperors and local Nanzhao and Dali headmen.
  • Until 1700 - Dali State.
  • 1700 to 1850 - Tibetan headmen and Tibetan lamaseries.
  • 1850 - 1907 - British colonists, followed by American, French, German adventurers.
  • 1907 - Nu, LiZu, Tibetan, Drung revolt against French missionaries and achieve 10 years of freedom.
  • 1919 - 1945 - Invasions by the Chinese, Japanese, American, British armies at war.
  • 1945 - present - People's Republic of China.
  • 1970's - present - Capitalists such as the Japanese and Americans, whose influence has just started to take hold and may turn out to be the most destructive.


Origin of Stone Moon Mountain

© Shen Che
Lisu legend says the huge round "moon" hole called Ya ha ba was made by a divine shepherd, Adeng, who shot a hole with his bow in the mountain to draw out the sea water flooded inland by the Dragon King of the East Sea. Thus Adeng succeeded in running off with the Dragon King's daughter, Ala.

Origin of the Nu People

Nu people are divided into the upper river branch and the lower river branch with distinctive customs, and dialects so different they can not understand each other. According to legend, two young brothers were traveling along the river. Suddenly after one brother had crossed the river, a flood carried away the foot bridge. The two separated brothers, crying and waving good-by, walked off in opposite directions. Thus developed from their descendants the "Anu" of the upper river and the "NuZu" of the lower river.

Laws of the Region

China in an attempt to keep peace and harmony between herself and her small but strategically located minorities has established a system of laws applicable only to them. The two basic Chinese statutes passed by the National People's Congress are Program for Implementation of Regional Autonomy for Chinese Minorities (1952) and Law on Regional Autonomy for Minority Nationalities (1984). Under the system, each Minority, irrespective of the size of its population, but which has a concentrated enough population, may establish its own autonomous area. It is not necessary for the Minority to outnumber the Han in its political unit. These 116 areas are Regions, Prefectures, Counties or Banners, and Townships, which in toto actually cover 60% of China. Second, a Minority, too small or scattered to have even a township, has like all the others at least one deputy in the National, Provincial, and Local People's Congresses. NuJiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture was established August 23, 1954 as the Lisu Minority's only autonomous area in China. Within this Prefecture are also the only autonomous Counties of the Nu and Drung Minorities.

Chinese law states, "All ethnic minorities should have the freedom to develop their spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their traditions, customs and religious beliefs" within their autonomous areas. Of course, China prefers "reform" into conformity with communism; but a surprising amount of independence is practised, in particular in NuJiang. In general, Minorities in China have more freedom and control over their lives than American Indians do on Reservations. Officials, police, even judges in NuJiang are mostly of the Lisu and Nu minorities. Although no written language exists, their spoken languages are used in court and other legal proceedings. Finally, minorities may adapt Chinese law to their own situation, and sometimes ignore it. For instance, the national family planning "one child" policy is not enforced here, similar to other rural minority areas of China.

Tradition Law still exists in these cultures and often supersedes Chinese law in practice. Very little research has been done on Traditional Law, but in the remote areas like NuJiang this is the system by which the inhabitants settle disputes and regulate their daily lives. The NuJiang River Project is seeking funding to preserve both traditional law and minority languages of NuJiang.

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