TianZi Asia
TianZi Biodiversity Research & Development Centre

home | e-mail us | ask professional expertise

Biodiversity protection, sustainable crop production, and fair trade in China and Asia's Mekong Region
tropical rain forest flowers, exotic rare plants and herbs, products for gardening, horticulture, landscaping, health, hobby, and on wholesale

shop in our store and contribute to biodiversity protection and fair trade

go to:

Species list | Exotic plants shop | Tropical crops | Books | Puer tea | Health & aroma | Herbal medicine | Heat treatment

invest | contract grow with us | become a partner | wholesale




Ethnic minorities of Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China

a short introduction into their culture, traditional land use, and biodiversity management


Yang Zenbin, Luo Aidong, Josef Margraf
National Nature Reserve Bureau
Xishuangbanna, Yunnan


The Tale of the Golden Deer

The old folks of Xishuangbanna often say that this breathtaking and bountiful place was discovered by accident several thousand years ago by hunters chasing a golden deer. The hunters stayed and the place, said to be the present-day Xishuangbanna, abounded in grain and the population increased.

This legend with its many variations is a popular one in the prefecture. Its theme is always of a people who love their homeland and describe it as a splendid place rich in water and soil, which yields abundantly.

The Xishuangbanna Dai Nationality Autonomous Prefecture, situated in China's far southwest, embraces Jinghong, Menghai and Mengla counties of Yunnan Province, an area of 19,112.5 square kilometers. The name Xishuangbanna comes from the Dai language (it means 12,000 rice fields), describing the dominant land use system in former times. The southwest border is with Burma, while on the southeast its mountains and rivers link with those of Laos. The combined boundary length with these two countries is 966.3 kilometers.

In Xishuangbanna, the main water basin is the Lancang River (Mekong River) coming from Tibet.

Xishuangbanna is located between 21°10 and 23°40 degrees latitude, and between 99°55 and 101°50 degrees longitude. The Wuliangshan Mountains that lie to its north and part of the Nushan Mountains serve as a screen against cold north winds. To the south, the adjacent Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal from which southwest monsoons arise, and the river network and basins, none of which are high, contribute to a warm, wet climate. Temperature variations throughout the year are very small, but great within one day. Average yearly temperature is around 21, rainfall about 1,400 mm. in most places. There is no sharp division between the four seasons, only that between the dry season and the wet. The monsoons usually last from Mayethrough to October, the dry season from November to the following April. But the aridity of the latter is partly compensated by damp fogs that descend over the entire region, giving rise to the term 'dry season without drought'.

According to LAMPRECHT (1989) the forests in Xishuangbanna can be classified as Tropical Evergreen Forest (<800m above sea level), Tropical Semi-evergreen Forest (800-1200m) and Evergreen Montane Forest (>1200m). LI & WALKER (1986) classify the forests in Xishuangbanna asTropical Evergreen Forest, Tropical Semi-evergreen Forest and Subtropical Evergreen Broad-leaved Forest. Dipterocarp species with Parashorea chinensis dominate the lower elevations as they do in other southeast Asian countries, Moraceae are the key species in the Tropical Semi-evergreen Forest as in the Monsoon forests of India and Indochina, and Fagaceae are the main group at higher altitudes. All types of forests can be found within a small area due to microclimatic conditions. Beside that, temperate forests with Alnus nepalensis and Pinus Kesiya as well as Bamboo forests occur locally.

Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve consists of five small reserves, and its area is 2679 square kilometers (including Nabanhe Nature Reserve -- 261 square kilometers). It is distributed over Jinghong, Menghai, and Mengla. The forests are rather disturbed and fragmented but still important.

Unfortunately, recent scientific studies have demonstrated the devastating effect of previous government policies on land use; the tropical rainforest areas of Hainan and Xishuangbanna are now as acutely endangered as similar rainforest areas elsewhere on the planet.


Ethnic minorities

Within the nature reserve there are more than ten cultural minorities (people) living. Dai, Aini, Jinuo, Bulang, Yao, Miao, Lahu, Yi, andJingpo etc. The cultural diversity of local minorities was as rich as the bio-diversity of the rain forests here, but the richness has been reduced in recent years, mainly because of economic effects, nothing remaining untouched by the penetration of modern civilization. Even in villages which are off the beaten track, you can see posters of movie stars from both China and America decorating walls of houses.

The following chapter describes the five main minorities in Xishuangbanna.


Of all the minorities, Dai people their culture more integrated than any other in Xishuangbanna in terms of cultural distinction. The Dai language, both spoken and written contribute to their cultural integrity.


Dai is a self-adopted name, which means "freedom" or "people". It is said that as far back as the Stone Age, the ancestors of the Dai already lived in what is today Yunnan, Guangxi, Sichuan, parts of Guizhou and Laos, the North of Thailand, Burma, and India's Assam area. They later migrated southwest. Dai people were said to be the earliest ethnic group to use ploughs and to cultivate rice, and also the earliest one to come and settle in Xishuangbanna.


Dai people usually live on plains or in valleys where near by the river, the soil is more fertile, irrigation is convenient, the climate is also warmer. They grow rice, tropical plants and other cash crops, which have contributed to the higher standard of living of the Dai.


After the 10th century, Hinayana Buddhism gradually spread into the Dai regions, and by the 15th - 16th century, most Dais were already followers of Hinayana Buddhism. But at the same time, they still retained vestiges of primitive religions in that they believed in natural spirits and worshipped many gods.

Customs and Rituals

Tooth capping, tooth dyeing, and body-tattooing are Dai customs. The young people especially like to use gold and silver to cap their front teeth. Girls start to dye their teeth in their teens, mixing soot from pots and pans with Chinese herbal medicine for a dye. The Dai believe that black is beautiful as far as teeth are concerned. The tattooing customs are mainly applicable to the men, with the patterns including geometrical ones, birds and animals, flowers, and words and symbols. Girls do not admire men without tattoos.

The Dai calendar was initiated in the year A. D. 639 and the Dai New Year falls usually in April of the Western calendar. Dragon boat races take place on New Year's Eve, and New Year Day sees the well-known Water-Splashing Festival when people say their prayers at the temples, then proceed to spray water at each other, accompanied by singing and dancing. The festival moves from village to village throughout the region with people following for three days.


Of the minorities in Xishuangbanna, Dai people are the wealthiest. But most of Dai don't attach much importance to their children's education; they are more business oriented. From their conception of education about men, as long as the education he gets is enough to start a business, there is no need for further education. As for women, if they can be a good housewife, that's knowledge enough. So, in those Dai villages, which have been visited during the last year, it's rare to find girls who have finished their primary education. As the teaching language in all schools is mandarin.



Aini, Aka, Haoni, Heini, etc. are all self-appellations of the Hani of different areas. The sound and meaning are similar. Hao, Hei or He is a prefix for animals and birds, while "Ni" means human or female. So, Hani, Haoni, Heini and Heni mean human in the Hani language. Hani have no written language.


The Hani, like the Yi and Lahu, originated from the Qiang people. The Qiangs were originally herdsmen living on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, who gradually moved south. From the analysis of historical records and the Hanna's own folklore, it seems that the ancestors ofthe Hanna were already living in the Annie River districts and the marshlands east of the Along River as well as the southern banks of today's Sichuan Daddy River, in Sichuan where the Dad and Joint Rivers met by the 3rd century B. C. They later split into two groups and migrated further south. One went from western Sichuan, past Kunming to Southeast Yunnan's Liuzhao Mountain area. The other group went from Northwest Yunnan, passed flatland surrounding Dali's Erhai Lake, and pushed further south to the Ailao and Wuliang Mountain regions. They finally reached Xishuangbanna and other areas at the southern tip of Yunnan.


Aini people practice ancestor worship, believe in polytheism and primitive objects. The position of chief who conducts village-wide religious activities is hereditary, passing from father to son. The sorcerer and sorceress, called beima and nima, are handed down from teacher to apprentice. Beimas are male sorcerers who recite prayers to exorcise devils, and conduct other superstitious activities related to the dead. Nimas can be males or females, and they serve as soothsayers and witch doctors. In the past, when someone gave birth to twins, babies with abnormal numbers of fingers or toes, or those in someway handicapped, these babies were regarded as unlucky objects which would bring disasters. Christianity was introduced to the Aini population in the 1920s, and Buddhism also spread in, but both religions have had few converts and thus have exerted little influence.

Customs and Rituals

The Hani regard the tenth month of the lunar calendar as the first month, and the New Year Festival lasts 5--6 days or sometimes up to 2 weeks. In some areas, when Aini people need to choose a gravesite, they roll an egg on the ground. They dig and bury the corpse wherever the egg breaks.


Generally speaking, Aini people are very concerned about education. It does not matter how financially poor they are, they always work very hard to support their children's education. And girls have the same opportunities as boys to go to school. Aini people had no written language. The post-1949 project for an Aini phonetic script has not been popular.


Bulang is the name adopted by the Bulang who live in Yunnan Province's Xishuangbanna. The Bulang people who live in other districts call themselves Alwa, Wu, or Wenggong. Bulang people don't have their own script but some use those of the Han and Dai languages.


The Bulang were referred to as the Ailao in the historical annals of the Han Dynasty of more than 2000 years ago and were ruled by the ancestors of the Yi, Bai, Dai, and other ethnic groups, and formerly lived together with the Hani. As such, they are likely to be related by blood relationship to these ethnic groups.


The Bulang once believed in primitive religions. In the last 200 years, the Dai feudal lords sent monks to these areas who introduced Hinayana Buddhism that spread among all the people. However, their basic beliefs in their primitive religion are still strong. They believe in various gods and spirits, and also practice worship of ancestral, ethnic and family gods.

Customs and Rituals

The Bulang men of Xishuangbanna often live with the wife's family. Divorces are also liberally given in these regions. Those in Xishuangbanna do not have family names, and the daughter's given name is always followed by her mother's given name. Such customs show the vestiges of matriarchal society.

The Bulang live in bamboo two-story houses, which use wooden poles as, pillars. The roof has a double-inverse-V shape and a wooden ladder provides access to the balcony on which stand thick bamboo tubes filled with water.

The Bulang males tattoo their thighs, arms, chests, and backs with many different geometric patterns, animal and bird motifs, and the Dai script. The tattooing process employs a thin 4-inch long awl, which is heated and used to mark the skin, after which charcoal ash and gall of snake, fish, and dog are smeared on the marked section. The pricked portion is swollen and painful for 2--3 days before it heals. In the past, men who didn't spend time in a monastery or wear tattoos were not allowed to marry.


Bulang people's education level is not encouragingly high. Their poor economic situation might be the main reason that effects their educational level. In one Bulang village that has been visited, no one has finished secondary education.



"Jinuo" is a word used by the people themselves and it means "Descendants of uncle" or "ethnic group which respects the uncle" (On the mother's side). The Jinuo do not have their own script, and have depended in the past on carving wood and bamboo to record numbers and events.


In the history annals, there are sporadic mentions of the Jinuo people only after the early Qing Dynasty. Their own legend goes that they came from the north from Pu'er, Mojiang or places even further away. When the Jinuo reached the Jinuo Mountain district they first lived on mountain ridges. They used tree leaves and animal skins as clothing and led a hard life of hunting and food gathering. They later switched to dry rice farming for their livelihood.

The Jinuo were probably still a matriarchal society when they first inhabited the Jinuo Mountain district. There were two pairs of villages at the beginning, each consisting of two clans, which could intermarry. One pair later developed into more than ten smaller villages, and this constituted what is commonly called the "Former Mountain of the Jinuo Mountain" district, while the other pair grew into nine daughter villages that formed the "After Mountain" settlement.

The fact that the son's name should always be followed by that of the father, shows that three centuries ago when the first village was formed, the Jinuo had already moved from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society.


Their religion is primitive. They believe that spirits dwell in all things and practice ancestor worship.

Customs and Rituals

The people have a unique form of tooth painting with the soot from pear tree branches. The limbs are burntin a bamboo tube until the soot sticks on the iron cover plate of the tube as a shiny black paint. Tooth painting is also used to express mutual admiration and respect. When young couples gather, a girl brings the sooted plate to the young man she fancies, and asks him to perform tooth-painting. This custom, however, is not widely practiced nowadays.



Lahu is a name used by the nationality. Its original meaning in their language is 'barbecued tiger meat'. Other Lahu self-designations include Lahu Na (Black Lahu), Lahu Xi (Yellow Lahu) and Lahu Pu (White Lahu).


The Lahu trace their origin to the Qiang tribal group from Northwest China. From the 2-century B. C. to the 3-century A. D., the ancestors of the Lahu and some Qiang-speaking people populated the area south of the Jinsha River down to the Lake Erhai, in the western part of Yunnan. After the 10-century A. D., these ancestors of the Lahu migrated south on a large scale. They divided into two: the eastern route was taken by the Lahu Xi and the Lahu Pu peoples who migrated along Ailao Mountain, and settled at the area between Jindong, Pu'er and Yuanjiang. And the western route was taken by the Lahu Na, who crossed the Lancang River and reached Lincang County.

The Lahu undertook another move southwards in the 1730s. The eastern path took them along the Yuanjiang River reaching the Honghe River and Jinping County; the western route followed the Lancang River down to Lancang County and its neighboring regions. The people then settled where they are found today.


The Lahu mainly practiced primitive religion before 1949, and they had many gods. Buddhism entered during the latter part of the 17-century and became widespread. After 1921, Protestantism and Catholicism were introduced. Now a small percentage of Lahu living in some villages of Lancang and Lincang County practice Christianity.


Polygamy is not permitted by traditional custom. After marriage the male lives in the bride's home, and the family takes on the mother's name. But, most of the regions have patrilineal families, although the male still has to bring along working tools to the bride's home on the wedding night. All Lahu, men and women used to shave their heads.


Land-use pattern of native minorities of Xishuangbanna

In Xishuangbanna, since 1983, when Land Tenure Reform was implemented, the land use pattern in most cases was characterized by three major elements: community forests, rice paddy, and fallow land. The land allotted to each village differs from place to place, e.g. those people who live in the basin area got relatively small areas of fallow land; and those who live in the uplands, got more fallow land, e.g. the Aini, Lahu.

1. Community forest. The original function included watershed protection, provision of timber, fuel wood, and non-timber products. After the community forests had been divided up, due to the influence of economic development, farmers began to clear large areas of community forests, sell the wood, then replace it with rubber, sugar cane, coffee, and tea, etc.

2. Rice paddy. The agriculture of the farmers in Xishuangbanna, is usually rice-based, especially the Dai people who have a history of planting double crops of rice. Due to economic development (low price for rice, high labor input) the farmers often abandoned the second crop. Instead, after the first rice harvest, they plant watermelon, green pepper, or some other cash crops in the paddy fields, because this provides a higher income.

3. Fallow land. Most fallow land is now occupied by tea, or up-land rice inter-cropped with corn, soybean or cash crops (e.g. passionflower). Along with a rapid increase in the population during recent years, the shifting period has become shorter and shorter, and the fertility of soil became poorer and poorer.

In Xishuangbanna there are more than ten minorities living in or around the nature reserve area. They have different economic situations, different dwelling places, and educational levels; therefore, their land-use patterns and the degree of dependence on the forests differ from place to place. For example, Dai people have more rice paddy as they live mainly in the basin area, their agriculture is rice-based, they have more access to the market, compared to other minorities who live in the uplands. Because of the good economic situation of the Dai, house building is partly done using concrete and bricks. They also have a long history of planting Siamese Senna (Cassia siamea) as the source of fuel wood, so they do not depend on the forest resources for fuel wood as much as other minority groups do. What Dai people get from forests and sell on the markets are mainly non-timber products, such as mushroom, wild vegetable, and medicinal plants.

Lahu and Bulang people, who used to be hunting tribes and whose dwelling places are very remote, often high in the mountains, have a far more difficult economic situation than the Dai, Their farming systems are subsistence-oriented. They have less rice paddy and more fallow land; they usually plant soybean, peanut, and corn in their fallow land, all in very small plots. They don't know what kind of cash crops with high yields and higher economical output to plant because they have no access to information concerning this matter. Shifting cultivation is widely practiced by those people. The degree of dependence on the forest is much higher than the Dai, mostly for fuel wood (they do not plant any fuel wood), and construction material.

Aini people's land-use pattern is somewhere between Dais' and Lahus'. Their dwelling places are mostly halfway up the mountains. They don't live high up the mountain, nor in the valley. In recent years, they have had more access to the markets than Lahu and Bulang do.

As we all know shifting cultivation was not at all a problem a hundred years ago. But, due to political reasons (e.g. In the early 1950s), a huge immigration group rushed down from Hunan province and Shanghai City to Yunnan province, they started rubber plantation to support the development of border areas. This caused severe destruction of the tropical forests in Xishuangbanna. As well as the dramatic economical development in recent years, the population has grown rapidly in China, especially in rural areas. So, the agriculture and the forest in Xishuangbanna are facing a bleak future.


Various reasons led to several problems concerning forest and agriculture. They are similar to the problems in other tropical regions. Xishuangbanna today faces severe forest degradation. The following table shows this process of forest degradation. (APEL, 1994).

Table 1

This deforestation firstly affects the forest-users, especially the farmers. Their livelihood depends on forest services (e.g. to maintain soil fertility) and forest products (timber, fire wood etc). There is now a shortage of timber for house construction, game becomes rare, soil erosion develops on steep slopes. Besides these there are other reasons to protect the forests of Xishuangbanna.

In Xishuangbanna the special location of the forest makes it more vulnerable than forests in other parts of the Tropics. The tropical forest here is the most northern tropical forest in the world. It is widely assumed that this tropical forest builds up its own specific microclimate that enables tropical species to grow. Once the forest cover is removed, it will result in a drier climate, which will not allow tropical vegetation to develop again. So it is important to preserve the Tropical Forest. This situation can be compared to the Savanna / Forest Boundary in Africa or elsewhere, where a vegetation change will cause a climatic change which will again influence vegetation growth. Moreover the forest is an important watershed area for the Mekong (Lancang River) and therefore can prevent severe flooding in Laos or Thailand.

The forest in Xishuangbanna houses many plant and animal species. The biodiversity is one of the highest in China. To maintain this the forest must be protected from further destruction.

In order to preserve the forest the causes of deforestation must be analyzed and tackled.

As in other Tropical regions the current land-use systems determine the state and condition of the forest cover. Land-use patterns are influenced by different factors, including ecological, economical, social, political and educational conditions. Due to the great differences within Xishuangbanna of these factors, the causes are different from site to site. Some main causes are:

* Population Growth (also triggered by migration into Xishuangbanna)

* Overuse of forest

* Shortage of Land for agriculture

* Extensive Land-use for cash-crops (rubber plantation, sugar cane)

* Discouraging Policy for Community Forests

There are two main ways of protecting forest. Either human activity is excluded from the forest (Nature Reserves) or they are included through sustainable land-use. Both ways are important.


Protection of Natural Forests in Xishuangbanna

A special project is launched to protect the tropical forests in Xishuangbana.

The project contents the following major components:

1. To stop logging in the 10 forestry farms in Xishuangbanna since September 10, 1998.

2. To develop 3.33 million mu of forests as commonweal forest from 1998 to 2010 ( including establishing 119,800,000 mu through reforestation, 103,800,00 mu through mountain closure, and 109,700,00 mu through natural regeneration with artificial fostering. ) and establish 1.197 million mu as forest for commercial timber production.

3. To execute strict protection of the 15,730,000 mu of natural forests in the Prefecture.

4. To change the production line of a group of major forestry enterprises in Xishuangbanna and support them to channel economic diversification.

5. To reduce the fallow land of the prefecture from 3,200,000 mu in 1999 down to 2,000,000 mu by 2010; To set up or improve the agricultural facility including irrigation, paddy field, and terraced farm land for a group of mountainous villages within a period of five years.

6. To clear the state forests of the illegal settlements and reclamation in the whole prefecture.

With the implementation of these activities, by 2010 the common weal forest would take up 75% of forests in the prefecture. There would be an increase of 4,560,000 mu in the coverage of the forestland. The forest coverage of the prefecture would grow up to 74.99% from 63.68%. At the same time, the conservation of the tropical forests and bio-diversity in Xishuangbanna will be improved.


Biodiversity utilization of ethnic minorities

Owing to it's special geographic location and unique climate condition, Xishuangbanna, which only occupies 0.2% area of China, contains 4669 plant species (more than 16% of whole country's) and 2167 animal species (more than 23% of whole country's, more details in the table below). As well as the high rate of fauna and flora in Xishuangbanna, the ethnic diversity here is also outstanding. The 14 ethnic minorities all have a long history of inhabiting harmoniously with the forest, they possess rich knowledge on biodiversity utilization. Although the utilization pattern of natural resources differs from minority to minority, roles of men and women in utilizing natural resources are also distinct, the most important natural resources for them are almost same: timber and firewood. Besides timber and firewood, other natural resources like wild vegetables, wild fruit, herbal medicines, game and fish have also been used by them from generation to generation, especially when food and medicines are in short supply. It is incredible that in Jinghong market alone, we found up to 80 species of wild plants that can be used as vegetables (according to the market survey in Jinghong, Luo Aidong, unpubl.).

Table 2



Timber and firewood

All minorities are still heavily dependent on timber and firewood from natural stands. In Mengla county larger areas of Cassia siamea can be found which are planted for firewood. However, these plantations generally hardly cover the needs of the respective communities. In altitudes above 1,000m Cassia is not performing very well anymore and could probably be replaced by Alnus nepalensis (Apel, pers. Comm, 1998). Community forests are still the most important sources for firewood. Cutting of trees is predominantly done by men, whereas women and children collect smaller pieces of dead wood. In the experimental zones of the reserves people are allowed to utilize dead trees, which results in girdling of trees which are favored as firewood. Families with important firewood species comprise Myrtaceae, Guttiferae and Fagaceas. However, easy access to firewood is regarded as more important than high quality firewood. This preference is reflected in the distribution pattern of firewood trees in community forests. Good quality trees are depleted near settlements, whereas they are still common at some distance, since villagers would rather switch to lower quality trees than to transport the wood over long distances. In almost all households, open fireplaces are in use, which are furnished with fire all day. Demand of firewood for such open fireplaces is about 10 to 15kg per day. Particularly in Manggao Subreserve more and more houses are built of bricks instead of wood. The firewood requirement to produce an average-sized Dai house was said to be five handle tractors of cut wood. On the other hand, the demand for timber for construction will decrease, at least on the subsistence level.


Bamboo plays an important role, e.g. as construction material for many purposes, and is widely planted around villages and in communal forests. Planted bamboo is absent in only two of the surveyed communities, of Yao and Aini in Mengla Subreserve, these are still surrounded by forest with open patches where sufficient supply of bamboo can be obtained. Due to its relatively fast growth and the habit of planting it around villages, it belongs to the few resources, which still seem to be utilized in a sustainable way. At least 16 different species are regularly utilized for all kinds of light construction, for fences baskets, as containers, as torches, brooms and as food (Apel, 1996 and this survey, following Table)

The market value of most bamboo is not very high. However, for shoots of Indosasa hispida, 1.5 to 4 RMB are paid per piece. For larger species like Schizostachyum funghonii there is a moderate demand for production of chopsticks and furniture. Some smaller species like Indosasa singulispicula were not found to be cultivated, but are collected from the forest when the need arises (Aini, Yao). Harvesting of larger species is done by men, whereas smaller species and edible shoots are often collected by women (Dai, Aini, Yao, Kami, Lahu). Weaving of baskets was also observed to be predominantly women's work (Dai, Aini, Yao, Miao) whereas construction is commonly done by men (Dai, Yao).

Commonly used bamboo species in the 10 surveyed villages


Wild fruits and vegetables

Wild fruits and vegetables collected from the forest and also from degraded areas, fallow and wet lands, are an important food supplement for some of the minorities which still commonly gather biological resources (Miao, Kami, Yao and Aini in Mengla, Lahu). Even for the Dai and Aini with their often extensive vegetable gardens, wild species still play a role in their diet. Some species that are native in Xishuangbanna are regularly under cultivation, like for example Acacia pennata, Ficus spp., Canarium spp, or Mayodendronigneum. A few of these species are also sold in the market and are regularly offered in restaurants in Jinghong. They fetch prices between 2 and 20 RMB per kilo. Collection of wild fruits and vegetables is women' and children' work. However, men also collect, e.g. during hunting trips (Dai and Aini in Manggao, Lahu, Kami).


Herbal medicine

Dai traditional medicine alone uses about 2,000 plant species from 189 families (He Peikun, 1996). Many of these are under cultivation. Some are imported from other provinces and are important sources of income like Amomum villosum. This medicinal ginger is cultivated under closed forests of the community forest and inside the Mengla Subreserve at low altitude (Kami, Yao, and Aini). The understorey is cleared of herbs, shrubs and small trees. Since Amomum grows very densely, the natural regeneration of the forest is hampered. Harvest of Amomum seeds is predominantly done by women.

Medicinal plants collected from the forest are regarded to be more efficient than cultivated ones. This fact is highlighted by the different prices paid for example for Ginseng Panax ginseng: Prices of wild ginseng ranged from 106,000 to 352,000 US$ per kilo within China (Gaski & Johnson, 1994), whereas cultivated plants only cost 135 US$ per kilo in Jinghong pharmacies. The most commonly traded ginseng in Jinghong is Panax zingiberenses. The pharmacological and therefore economic potential of most medicinal plants of Xishuangbanna is not yet recognized.


Rattan, fibers, resins and dyes

Rattan only occurs in relatively humid lowland forest types in Xishuangbanna. Consequently most plants that are used in furniture manufacturing in Jinghong originate from Mengla County. Two types are predominantly used which are called Wai nou and Wai zuai in Dai. We were not yet able to identify the scientific names, and possibly several species have the same common name. Wai nou costs 2 to 3 RMB in Jinghong, but collectors only get a tenth. The same is true for Wai zuai that costs 1.5 to 2 RMB per kilo. In Mengla County, all visited minorities, except the Dai, and also Han Chinese north of Mengla are or were involved in rattan gathering. Stands are said to have declined seriously, and some gatherers (Yao, Miao) already given up this occupation. In Taozhiqing, only one person planted rattan on his own land. Rattan is also imported from Laos. Nearly all of this plus some originating from Xishuangbanna is further transported to Guangxi. Split rattan that can be produced in large amounts by machine is then re-exported to Xishuangbanna where a machine for processing rattan is not available.

Fibers derived from forest plants for making clothes etc. have almost no significance anymore and have been replaced by cultivated plants like Cotton and Kenaf. However, in more traditional villages, like Xingming (Yao), Naxiu (Aini) and Long tan (Miao), clothes are still dyed not only with indigo, but also with Baphicacanthus cusia, and indigenous plant in Yunnan.

The most important resin producing taxa are Pinus khasya, Canarium spp. and Cinnamomum spp. However, nobody from the surveyed villages is involved in resin gathering. In Manggao Subreserve a Bulang family was tapping pine resin during summer of 1997.


Ornamentals and souvenirs

Ornamentals collected from the forest are traditionally planted in Dai gardens and wild orchids are cultivated in pots and on the low house roofs. This custom was also adopted by Aini and Yi. Orchids collected by Lahu were also for sale in Jinghong market. The gigantic seed pods of Entada phaceoloides are sold as souvenirs. Colorful seeds are used for making ornamental chains.



Dependency on game meat as an important animal protein source varies along the watershed. People of the upper portions are usually more dependent on hunting than people of the lowlands, since income is usually lower. However, both Dai communities that have been visited are still actively involved in hunting, but more as a sort of recreational activity. For poorer villagers in the upper watersheds, game meat is still an important source of animal protein. Mammals and birds are hunted with muzzleloaders. Gunpowder is very cheap, since coal made from Bauhinia can be used which is collected in the forest. Larger mammals like tigers and bears are trapped in iron traps (Miao). Smaller mammals and ground birds are either shot with crossbows (Aini in Mengla, Kami,

Yao) or trapped or snared. Arboreal birds are sometimes caught with glue (Yao, Kami). The two bamboo rat species Rhizomys pruinosus and R. Sumatraensis are dug out from their dens. This is the only hunting activity where women are also involved. Also children sometimes participate. The latter also can be seen regularly shooting small birds with slingshots. Game species have declined sharply which has resulted in some hunters giving up this time consuming and insecure activity. Particularly Dai and other minorities which hold productive lowland fields can no longer afford to spend extensive periods of time in the forest. Even the quite active Lahu hunters complained that they get game meat only once every month on average. All minorities generally preferred food from wild resources over domesticated species. Since prey is taken indiscriminately, there are no significant differences between minorities. Animal protein from the forest is supplemented by reptiles, preferably the larger Python molurus and Varanus salvator (except Lahu), but also by tree snails Helicostyla (Kami) and insects like grasshoppers (Kami, Aini), large larvae of beetles (Kami, Yao) and 'bamboo worms' which are caterpillars of moths (all interviewed minorities). All hunting activities are prohibited in Xishuangbanna. Poaching of a Class-1-protected species, like elephant can be (and was already) punished with execution. In the first half of 1998, authorities confiscated guns on a large scale. Since game is so rare in Xishuangbanna, game meat is even smuggled from Laos and sold in the area around Shanyong.



Honey is derived from beehives that are maintained by all minorities covered in this study. Aside from the honey bee Apis mellifera, other species of the genus Apis and at least two species of stingless bees Mellipona spp. are utilized.

The same is true for the collecting of honey in the forest. At least five different species are exploited. Gathering of honey from Apis spp. is considered to be dangerous, since several nests are situated on the same tree and the bees are aggressive.

Exploitation of wild honey is usually very destructive. Smoke is used to calm down the bees which can lead to forest fires. Trees are often destroyed in the attempt to widen the hole to gain access to the nest. Gathering of honey is done exclusively by men.

In most cases, honey is gathered for subsistence purposes only, however a limited amount can also be found for sale on the market in Jinghong.


Medicine from wildlife

The Chinese government formerly bought animal products from hunters for medicinal purposes. Now, trade with animal products which are not derived from farm animals is prohibited. However, as with herbal medicine, the perception that medicine gathered from 'wild' sources is much more effective than from cultivated or farmed plants and animals is prevalent. This is also reflected in the price. One gram of bear gall extracted from a farm is about 1US$, whereas from a wild bear it is 9 to 12 US$ (Mills et al., 1995). In state-run pharmacies in Jinghong 5g of bear gall (from farms) cost 67 RMB. In a private pharmacy in Jinghong parts of Chinese pangolin Manis pentadactyla and antlers and penises of deer Cervus sp. were on exhibition. Parts of Tiger Panthera tigris turned out to be fake. Tokehs Gecho gekko are offered in the market, in state-run and private pharmacies.

According to informants parts of nationally protected species are also still for sale despite high penalties, but are not openly exhibited. Animal parts from all over the world are for sale in Jinghong pharmacies, like seal penises from the western USA or horns from Saiga antelopes Saiga tatarica from northern Asia. An illegal, but widely tolerated trade seems to exist with species from Laos and very likely also from Burma. This would be in accordance with the findings about tiger poaching in northern Burma (Rabinowitz, 1998) and general wildlife trade within Laos and across the borders (Martin, 1992; Srikosamatara et al.).


Food from freshwater

Fish and other animal food from freshwater plays an important role in the diet of all minorities. If no fishpond is owned by the respective family, it is caught from rivers and rivulets,. In some Dai, Aini and in one Miao families, children do the fishing. The most important fish families are the Cobitidae and Cyprinidae followed by the Channidae, Anguilidae and Siluridae. Tadpoles, adult frogs (mostly Rana), turtles Cyclemys dentata and Trionyx steindachneri, crabs and shrimps are also taken opportunistically. Snails and mussels are taken from stagnant water, including rice fields. The most common cultivated fish species are Tilapia Oreocromis mosambicus, Carp Carpio carpo, Catfish Clarias batrachus, and Striated snakehead Channa atriata.


Animals as pets or souvenirs

Mainly birds are kept as pets in Xishuangbanna. Preferred are munias, turtledoves and laughingthrushes. Only two mammal species have been observed being kept as pets: Rhesus macaque Macaca mulatta and one Northern tupaia Tupaia belangeri.

Butterflies are extensively traded as souvenirs, in particular in Menglun and surrounding villages. Ten assorted butterflies cost 20 RMB. The most commonly collected species belong to the family Papillionidae including the spectacular birdwings (Ornithoptera), with Achillides, Euploea and Troides being the most valued genera. Ten assorted Papillionidae cost about 35 RMB. Virtually all these butterflies are collected from the wild. There is a butterfly farm in Menglun which is not effective. It even is said to buy butterflies caught from the wild. Dai, Aini, Yao and Kami are collecting butterflies. However, mostly children are involved in this business. Adults are very rarely active in butterfly catching (Yao). The prices for one individual range between 0.10 and 0.30 RMB.

Ornamental feathers of the green peacock Pavo muticus are in high demand among tourists, since this bird plays an important role in Buddhism in Xishuangbanna. The population in Xishuangbanna is close to extinction with about 30 to 50 individuals left (Luo Aidong, unpubl.). Virtually all feathers are said to come from Burma or Laos. Some are said to originate from captive populations of the Blue Peafowl Pavo cristatus from India. One complete 'fan' of ornamental feathers costs about 100 to 120 RMB in Menglun. The amount of feathers offered for sale is so high that it must be regarded as serious drain of the population of this species in these countries. Captive populations of this species in and around Jinghong can not cover this high demand. Ivory carvings of Indian elephant Elehpas maximus are for sale in Jinghong which are said to be imported from Myanmar.


spirituality : design : water : fashion
amphibia : reptilia : butterflies : panda : takin
ecotourism : Xishuangbanna : Shangrila : Yunnan : Mekong
books : Buddhist flowers : consulting : science of ecology : medicine
bananas : ginger : herbs : orchids : trees : succulents : lianas : sacred trees
Gabrielle's traditional motive Chinese jewelry : Wu Jialin's black and white photography
rain forests : river banks of the Mekong : pools : sacred forests : sinter terraces : chili growing
AIDS/HIV : asthma : acne : herpes : hepatitis : cancer : diabetes : health tea : malaria : Puer tea : orchid tea

is the Thai internet portal for biodiversity products designed to protect endangered species in cooperation with local ethnic communities
a project of the
Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China

© 2000 - today