In China, the population of The Bai Chinese Ethnic Minority is around 130,000. 80% of them live in concentrated communities in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, southwest China. The rest are scattered in neighbouring Sichuan and Guizhou provinces respectively.
The Bai are Buddhists and worshippers of their “communal god.” Dotted with monasteries and temples, Dali has been known as a “Scented Wonderland.”
The Bai costume is usually adorned with camellia flowers because they view these flowers as a symbol of beauty. Also white is the favorite color of the Bai. They believe that white represents dignity and high social status, and this can be seen in their clothes. It is typical for unmarried girls to put their hair into one pigtail tied with a red string at its end and then coil it over their head.
The “March Fair,” which falls between March 15 and March 20 of the lunar calendar, is a grand festival of the Bai. It is celebrated every year at the foot of the Diancang Hill to the west of Dali city. It is a fair and an occasion for sporting contests and theatrical performances. People gather there to enjoy dances, horse racing, and other games. June 25th is the “Torch Festival.” On that day, torches are lit everywhere to usher in a bumper harvest and to bless the people with good health and fortune. Banners bearing words of prosperity and good luck are hung in doorways and at village entrances alongside the flaming torches. Villagers holding torches walk around in the fields to drive insects away.
The Sandao Tea Ceremony is well-known at home and abroad. There are two types of tea ceremonies.
The first serves baked tea. People put tea with large leaves or tea from a place called Xiaguan into a very small pot and bake it over a charcoal fire. They continuously shake the pot to avoid the leaves from burning. When they can smell the fragrance of the tea, they pour a little boiled water into the pot and immediately sense the aroma. After a while, they add more boiled water into the pot and then the tea is ready.
Normally, the hosts pour the tea into guests’ cups three times, pouring the tea out after each time. The first time lets the guests smell the aroma; the second time they get a little taste, and thy could start drinking the tea on the third pour. In China, the tea ceremony is called Sandao tea, meaning “tea services of three time.”
The superb architectural skill of the Bai people is represented by the three pagodas at the Chongsheng Temple in Dali. Built during the Tang Dynasty, the building is 16 stories high. The main tower is 60 meters high and still stands erect after more than 1,000 years. It bears a resemblance to the Dayan Pagoda (Wild Goose) in Xi’an, an ancient Chinese capital city in today’s Shaanxi Province. Figurines in the Shibaoshan cave in Jianchuan County are lifelike, possessing both the common features of figure creation in China and the unique features of the Bai artists. The architectural group in the Jizushan Temple, with bow-shaped crossbeams, bracket-inserted columns, and gargoyles representing people, flowers and birds created with the open carving method, shows the excellent workmanship of the Bai people. The Bais also have high attainments in lacquerware.