© Lin

Powered by LOFTER

Lijiang had been a spot on the ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road linking Yunnan, Sichuan Province and Tibet. People from northern Yunnan or central China were not willing to travel further south to do business. They couldn’t easily adjust toits high elevation and they have language barrier with Tibetan people. Similarly, the Tibetans didn’t like the humid climate of southern Yunnan. Thus they preferred to trade their goods in Lijiang as well.

The Naxi people not only knew very well the people from southern Yunnan or central China, but were also quite familiar with Tibetans. They soon played a role as a bridge to connect these merchants with each other. The Tea and Horse Caravan Road’s very existence was a catalyst in helping to develop the Ancient Town of Lijiang. At the same time that the road began its formation, the Ancient Town began to take shapeas well. Dayan, the central part of the Ancient Town of Lijiang, hence became a prosperous town that merchants could stay in overnight during their travels. Meanwhile several religions like Lamaism, Buddhism and Taoism were introduced into Lijiang and integrated with the Dongba religion of the Naxi People. The Road made Lijiang an interesting mix of many religions and cultures.

"Sifangjie", Square Market, is the center ofthe Ancient Town, as well as the main business plazaof the city. The streets extend out of Square Market like a spider's web. Different from most Chinese ancient cities, the Ancient Town appeared as an irregular and a symmetrical layout without a city wall. Commercial activities had always been the daily main course in the Ancient Town of Lijiang. The streets therefore developed into varied trading areas such as Dali Street, "Jianluoguo", Kunming  Street, "Vichi" and Mongolian Street, "Ahyingcan". 

The old crowed central business sector of the town is obviously gone, but the surviving parts of Lijiang have become a popular tourist destination in China. The streets still maintain their ancient style and figures and some traditional business are still in operation. People therefore can easily feel how it was tobe in the Ancient Town when walking down the stone streets. Visitors enjoy walking down the rocky streets with such richly ornamented houses on both sides. They can also listen to senior musicians play their antique instruments. The melodies are well known as ancient Naxi music.
The Ancient Town of Lijiang was built as a trade center yet it developed to acultural city later with a rich and unique culture. Hard-working Naxi people created the city and its brilliant culture and history. They left it not only to their off spring but also to the world as a precious cultural heritage.

Square Market - the Heart of the Old Town
The Square Market was among the first structures built in the long process of construction the Old Town. The most extraordinary feature of the Square Market is its sanitation system. Whenever the square needs cleaning, a sluice at the West River will be closed in order to make the water level rise over the bank. Once the overflow reaches the square, it washes the garbage to the Central River which then carries it to the lower reaches.

The river in the AncientTown mostly comes from the Black Dragon Pool at the foot of Elephant Mountain. The water first spouts among rocks in Elephant Mountain, then gathers into Black-Dragon Poll. A stream which flows from the pool joins another creek which comes from Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Naxi people named it the Yuhe River. This river flowsin to Ancient Townand diverges into three major branches after passing the Yuhe Bridge: the WestRiver, the East River and the Central River. From these three rivers extend hundreds of small creeks that reach every structure house in town. Isn’t itamazing? These waters supply people’s lives like arteries supply blood to abody. The rivers make the Ancient Town of Lijiang a dynamic place. 

River - Arterial of the Ancient Town

The source of water in the town is a cherished eye of the city. The Naxi people have a special veneration for sources of water. Dumping trash into water is severely forbidden. The “JI SHU” sacrificial rite of the Dongba religion is hosted near a source of water. People offer sacrifices to “shu”, the deity of nature, to pray for blessings and happiness. In town, people do not wash anything in the river in the morning so as not to pollute the day’s water. This is the reason that wells and rivers in Ancient Town are so clean and clear.  

Source of Water – the Eye of the Ancient Town

People love to visit such wells in Ancient Town as the Abundant - Transparent Well on Mishi  Lane, the Shangbahe Well and the Pomegranate Wellon Iyi Street, the Three-Pit Wells on Guangbi  Lane, the Three-Pit Wells by the Baimalong Pondand the Sweet Fountain on Wenming  Lane to enjoy and taste the natural spring water.

The Three - Pit Wells, containing the water from the White-horse Dragon Poll, is composed of three wells. The upper well providesdrinking water, the middle one is used to clean vegetables and the third one isfor washing laundry. These wells are never misused by local people. People always strictly maintain the local customs and habits. 

Ancient Naxi Music

In the 1940s, Russian born Dr. Peter Goullart published his book, Forgotten Kingdom. He deeplyadmired ancient Naxi Music. He described it as a “recital of cosmic life as itwas always unfolding in its grandeur, unmarred by the discordant wails and crashes of petty human existence. It was classical and timeless. It was the music of the gods and of a place where there is serenity, eternal peace and harmony.” Ancient Naxi music inherited the royal music of the Tang and Song Dynasties, yet in addition it developed its own unique style with new variations. There was a peculiar aspect to their music that kept people’s attention, as they tried to discover how such elegant music had been preserved in Lijiang. It had always been a culture so removed from the impact of China’s influence. The Xaxi people eventually turned the old royal music into compositions that had become a central part of the cultural main stream.

Manand Nature Enjoy Brotherhood

Naxi people think of the spirits that inhabit humans and nature as brothers. In Dongba Scripture, Human and “Shu”(Nature) are siblings of the same father. Shu was in charge of all natural creation on earth. One day the jealous human violently invaded nature. They cutdown many trees, polluted the water and killed countless animals. Doing this enraged Shu. In order to take reverence upon the humans Shu released floods and disease upon the earth such that the humans got sick. The two brothers became the enemies and fought each other. It seemed that neither of them could out last the other because they caused each other such terrible harm. Humans then had nochoice but to establish the new Dongba Religion through Dingba Shiluo’s help.Dingba Shiluo determined that humans will own all the livestock and cultivatedland and houses. However, the wild animals, forests, pastures and water were tobe the domain of nature. The brothers had to promise each other that humans could use some resource of nature such as water and forests for their needs but they could never over-use natural resources. It was also agreed that nature should try to keep its own systems in balance so that it wouldn’t bring disasters upon humans. Upon this agreement, humans taught their children to be respectful of nature. Nature also tried not to bring any natural disasters upon humans. These two brothers eventually reconciled and respected their mutual promise. This is the story as it is recorded in the Dongba Script. The Naxi people have a traditional heritage of respect toward the nature environment through the lessons they learned from their ancestors. The Naxi people have learned how to live in harmony with nature. Lijiang’s natural setting is awonderful result of this synergy.

Have Natasha as your local tour consultant, translator, and companion.

Email Natasha at or WeChat Natasha at exidea