The Lisu is one of the indigenous peoples of China who live spread over a more vast territory. The Lisu live in the southwestern end of Yunnan Province, in the valleys of Nujiang (Salween) and Langcang (Mekong) rivers, and in many provinces of the neighboring countries: India, Myanmar and Thailand.
Their total population must be near one million people.
In China 700,000
In India, in Arunachal Pradesh, 260,000
In Thailand, around 30,000
In Myanmar, more than 20,000
Lisu population in China has grown during the last years.
In year 2000 census, we have 700,000 Lisu.
In 1990 there were 575,000.
In 1982 there were 480,960.
They call themselves Lisuchang, but except for some Lisu working in the government or the cities, most of them have not the concept of a big people scattered around 4 countries, but of their local communities based in the Lisu clans.
"Communications between different Lisu communities over the centuries has been difficult, which explains their division into so many distinctive subgroups." (1)
According to the clothes they dress they are known by the non Lisu local populations as White Lisu, Black Lisu and Flowery Lisu.
Most of the Lisu live in Yunnan Province, in Nujiang and Weixi Counties. Some of them can be found in the less accessible regions of Lijiang, Dali and Baoshan Counties. There are also some Lisu living in Sichuan Province, in Muli, Yanyuan and Yanbian Counties.
They usually live in mountainous areas, with deep valleys and difficult communications. As in the hard conditions of the banks of the Nujiang and Lancang Rivers. Some of their villages are situated at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters.
Their language belongs to the Yi branch of the Tibetan-Burmese linguistic group. It is closely related with the Yi and Naxi languages.
Formerly they had two alphabets. One of them, syllabic, was developed by the missionaries. The other one, with about 500 pictographic characters, was created by themselves in the region of Weixi.
Their language has two dialects whose speakers can communicate without difficulty:
- Weixi dialect.
- Nujiang dialect.
(1) Olson, James S. An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China. Greenwood Press. 1998