Ancient Naxi Dongba Literature Manuscripts

Documentary heritage submitted by China and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2003.

© Lijiang Prefecture Administration, Yunnan, China
Ancient Dongba Literature

The Naxi people are the descendants of the ancient Qiang tribe, who inhabited the Huanghe and Huangshui valleys in northwest China. After constant nomadic migration, the early Naxis finally settled down in eastern and western areas along the upper reaches of the Jinsha river. Today approximately 300,000 Naxis live at the juncture of Yunnan province, Sichuan province and Tibet autonomous region.

Despite the extremely difficult environmental conditions and the lack of material wealth, the Naxi still managed to create a unique and distinctive ethnic culture.

As a consequence of this culture being handed down through religion, and of the priests of this religion being called “Dongbas”, this ancient culture acquired the name of “Dongba culture” and this religion was called “Dongba religion”. Thus, all the pictographic characters, scriptures, ritual dancing, and artworks and utensils related to this culture are prefixed by the word “Dongba”.

What is of a continual surprise to many people and which leads us to consider this culture as remarkable is the fact that the Naxi forefathers were able to create a system of writing with more than two thousand characters, using a particular pictographic script to give voice to their customs and write down their scriptures.

As a result of the impact of other powerful cultures, Dongba culture is becoming dispersed and is slowly dying out. There are only a few masters left, who can read the scriptures. The Dongba literature, except for that which is already collected and stored, is on the brink of disappearing. In addition, being written on handmade paper and bound by hand, the literature cannot withstand the natural ageing and the incessant handling. Under such circumstances, the problem of how to safeguard this rare and irreproducible heritage of mankind has become an agenda for the world.

  • Year of submission: 2003
  • Year of inscription: 2003
  • Country: China
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