The Dai ethnic minority, which numbers 1,158,989, is distributed throughout the Dehong Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Region and Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Region in the southern part of Yunnan Province. In the past, they were called 'Baiyue', meaning a vast living area. Therefore, they have established a close relationship with ethnic groups like the Zhuang, Dong, Shui, Bouyei and Li, who are said to be the descendants of the Dai people.
The Dai language belongs to the Zhuang-Dai branch of the Zhuang-Dong group of Sino-Tibetan languages. The written language was derived from Devanagari and differs from region to region.
The religion of the Dai people is Southern Buddhism, which was adopted in the 6th to 8th century and had a profound influence on their politics, economy, culture and arts. Religious activities are so common that most 8 to 10-year-old boys, in particular in Xishuangbanna, are sent to temples where they learn sutras for one to five years. They then leave the temple and spend their lives as secularized monks.
Thanks to the area's favorable climate, agriculture and horticulture developed very early. An abundance of rice won for Xishuangbanna the title 'barn of south Yunnan'; local tea, bamboo, and sugar cane are also of high quality. According to historical records, Pu'er Tea was presented to the emperor as tribute as early as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Now the Dai region has become an important producer of rubber.
Other resources are also abundant. There are wild apples, bananas and Chinese gooseberries, rare animals like gibbons and peacocks, and minerals like gold, silver, iron, and crystal.
The architecture of the Dai region is distinctive, known especially for the Dai-style temples, bamboo bridges and houses. The temples combine the styles of South Asian and Chinese culture and can be shaped like pavilions, thrones, bells, and so on. Bamboo houses are designed based on local conditions.
Most of the Dai villages are built near the water area and hidden in the jade green bamboo jungles. The scenery is so charming with the encircling flowing stream. The bamboo construction is distinctly style with two-storey. The up floor is for people's living- a clean, light and well - ventilated design. The down floor is for livestock and sundries without the walls. In Dehong area, the Dai people live in bungalow, the walls of which are made of bamboo or adobe, covered with couch grass. The art of painting and carving is skillful. You will not see a building, but a beautiful picture with bamboo pavilion deep in the coconut jungle, temple tower or bamboo bridges being decumbent on rivers.
Dai people love glutinous rice and hot and sour dishes.
Fragrant-bamboo-tube-rice is fine regale to serve the guests. A piece of fragrant bamboo is cut into pieces and put sticky rice in the tube, which is dipped into water for an hour; after an hour get it out, then cover it with leaves of gingeli. The semi-finished article is roasted until steam emits from inside the fragrant bamboo and the color of which turns to black and yellow. When shell off two layer of hull, the cooked fragrant-bamboo-tube-rice is ready for you with special sweet and savory. Besides, don't be afraid when you see insects on table, it is popular and welcome dish in Dai nationality.
Important Dai festivals are the Water-splashing Festival, the Door-closing Festival and the Door-opening Festival, all of which are related to Buddhism. The Water-splashing Festival is the New Year of the Dai ethnic minority. On the 24th to 26th day of the sixth month of the Dai calendar, people engage in traditional activities such as water-splashing and dragon-boating, hoping to pacify evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the coming year.
The Door-closing and Door-opening Festivals are the two longest and grandest periods--one in mid-September and the other in mid-June. People worship Buddha by sacrificing food, flowers, sutra, clothes and other wealth. They also take advantage of the holidays to preach Buddhist teachings and have a good time.
The Huajie Festival (Flower Street Festival) is held on the seventh day of the first lunar month to say farewell to the past year and to greet the new one. On that morning, men and women, old and young, wear flowery new clothes and bathe in the hot spring. Unmarried young people also sing to each other in an attempt to find their future better half.