Stevan Harrell
University of Washington

Xichang, despite its status as capital of the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, seems like an ordinary Chinese city. 95% of its 180,000 urban inhabitants are Han Chinese, and the streets are lined with the usual array of little stores and restaurants, interrupted every so often by a government danwei of some sort--police or broadcasting or library or education bureau. The only hints that this place might have anything to do with the 2,000,000 or so Nuosu people, a branch of the larger Yi minzu that gives the prefecture its name, are the occasional presence of young women from the hills dressed in colorful pleated skirts and appliqué jackets, or of people of either gender draped in fringed woolen capes, or vapla, along with the Nuosu-Chinese dual language signs on some of the government offices, and one very Leninist statue of a PLA-soldier, replete with eyeglasses, marching arm-in-arm with a vapla-draped fellow wearing a turban on his head, twisted in front into the characteristic "horn" of the Nuosu.
If, however, you either take one of the slower trains northward from Labbu Orro, as the Nuosu call the city, along the Cheng-Kun Railroad, or set out by bus or jeep on the two-lane, paved highway that runs the length of the Anning Valley in which the city is located, you spend only an hour and a half or so in Han farming country before the way turns northeastward into Xide county, the terrain gets hillier, and after another forty minutes or so you arrive at the County seat of Xide (or Xiddoladda), perched oddly on a hillside so that most urban traffic, including cattle and sheep, proceeds on foot. From here the road southward is unpaved through precipitous if short mountain gorges until the landscape opens out upon the plain of Mishi ("yellow leech" in Nuosu), and crosses a local river on a concrete bridge incongruously paved with red dirt.
Here you have to get out of the car and start up into the real mountains. Fields on improbably steep hillsides, interspersed with uncultivated land, draw you inexorably upward; if you stop to rest there may be unidentified but locally edible berries on the little trees that overhang the wooden fences, or there may be the mild, sweet turnips known as vopma, which you can pull up, peel with your pocket knife, and eat right there to quench your thirst, according to local customary law. After about two hours of hard hiking, as the floodplain below becomes first a speck and then a memory, you come out on a relatively level spot with fields of corn and buckwheat, surrounded on the slopes above and below by mud houses that seem to blend with the surrounding earth, no surprise since that's what they're made out of.
This is Latku, one of the three hamlets in Apu, the village of the lacquer-makers. The other two, on neighboring hillsides, are Apu proper and Shalomu (though no connection to the Lost Tribes of Israel has ever been demonstrated). Here in Apu Latku there are ten households of the Jjivot clan, which claims to have invented lacquerware, along with 3 Jjilu and 4 Apu, and nowadays all of their male clansmen make lacquer dishes. A few newcomer households of other clans do not. With my Nuosu research partners Bamo Ayi and Nuobu Huojy, I visited Laku in November, 1994, guided there by township cadres. There we watched the process of manufacture, which is recorded in my field notes from the time:

The wood for any of the larger dishes is of a special kind, called Huagao in Han or ngehni in Yi, and is cut and sold in the Mitshy market by people from Bajjolomo, which is to the east of here, and is sold by the chunk, not by weight.

They also make spoons (itchyr), but the wood for them they can cut themselves in the neighboring hills--it is shuohma (rhododendron).

When they first buy the wood, it has to dry out; they put it in an underground place where wind doesn't get to it, so that it will dry slowly. The piece we saw was coated with dirt when they first brought it out.

The dishes are turned on a lathe, called gedde [literally, craft place]. It consists of two wooden seats, for one man each, which they sit on while they operate two long wooden foot pedals that are transverse to the seats, which lie one behind the other. The pedals are connected by a belt, formerly made of leather but now made from the inner part of a tire, which turns the rotor.

The owner of the wood, who will make the dish, first hollows out a small hole (3 cm wide, one deep) in the middle of the blank, using an adze with a concave blade, about 3 cm wide and one deep, called a dzo. He then inserts the pointed end of the rotor in this hole. The rotor is called dzowo, and consists of a 6 or 7 cm. thick, 60 cm long wood cylinder, onto one end of which is hafted a conical iron blade, tapering to a point along a length of about 20 cm. This is pounded in with a wooden mallet made from a section of a pine trunk, with one side branch left as a handle.

This assemblage (rotor, point, and blank) is then inserted between the two wooden rails that form the sides of the lathe. On the end where the blank is attached, there is a metal point called a funzoddu, and the mallet is used to pound the whole thing onto that point. In previous times, there used to be a similar point on the [opposite rail]; now they use a ball-bearing attached to the opposite rail--it turns more easily that way. The space between the rails, where the assemblage fits, can be adjusted for the depth of the blank.

Then the turning begins, with the carver giving instructions to the two pedalers when to start and stop. The carver turns the blank into the desired shape with a set of 8 chisels, called iku, all hafted onto 60 or 70 cm long rough, unturned pieces of wood. The chisels vary slightly in width and shape, all of them are hook-shaped on the end of a conical, iron base... The carvers said that each slightly different one has a different use.

The carver alternates inner and outer surfaces of the dish. When the stump in the center where the rotor is pounded in is chiseled down to 1 cm. or so thick, typically it breaks off, or the similar cone on the outside breaks off. The dish is then taken off the lathe and some more of the two cones are carved away using the adze.

We watched a bowl (ordinary rice-bowl size) being made, and I estimate that the whole process probably took twenty minutes from insertion to the final chopping with the adze. People told us that they can turn up to fifteen small or ten large dishes in a full day's work.

After it is turned, the dish still has to dry for a few days before it can be painted. The black is painted on first over the entire surface, usually excepting the bottom [of any of the large, pedestal-bottomed dishes] as the base coat. Then it dries for a day, and the yellow is painted on, then it dries for another day, and they paint on the red.

They didn't have any blanks ready to paint when we were there, but one man demonstrated for us by painting over some of the red and yellow designs on a large bowl that was already painted.

For the villagers of Apu, lacquerware is primarily a money-making enterprise. They buy both raw wood and sometimes turned or carved, but unpainted blanks, from inhabitants of the still heavily-wooded township of Bajjolomo, to the east of Mishi; the Bajjolomo people bring it by trail to a place just over the hill from Mishi town, where the Apu people buy it from them surreptitiously (though all the cadres know they are doing it) in order to avoid market taxes. They also buy the red and yellow paint; nowadays they send orders by mail as far as Guangdong. They keep a large number of both finished dishes and black ones without design around their houses, and use them to eat out of every day. But most of their product they carry down the path to the Mishi market, which meets every Sunday, and sell them to other local marketers, or they sell them in Apu to visitors from neighboring villages or occasionally from across the ocean. An industrious lacquer making family can add two or three thousand yuan to its yearly income, which makes a huge difference in a township where the per capita income in 1993 was below the national poverty line of 500 yuan.

While we were in Apu, I bought two complete sets of Jjivot lacquerware, including large and small cheti, or long-stemmed rice dishes; shepi, or short-stemmed meat dishes; kuzzur, or soup tureens; and assorted itchyr (pronounced as in "itchyr vegetables or you won't get any dessert"), or long-handled soup spoons. In the past, village craftspeople also produced elaborate drinking vessels with sipping straws, as well as liquor cups with eagle-foot bases. I also purchased part of a set of tools, including the rotor, the adze, and several chisels.

Everyone agrees that the Jjivot clan has been making and exchanging lacquerware for hundreds of years, and has lived in Apu for nine generations. Nevertheless, when we visited Apu in 1994, it was the first time that I had seen the hand-turned lacquerware produced in a village. The products of the Jjivot industry may have had a wider distribution in the years before the "Democratic Reforms" of 1956, but now they seem confined to a few local townships in Xide, and perhaps across the county line in Zhaojue. The rest of the lacquerware one sees, and it is now ubiquitous in Xichang and common in Panzhihua and other cities in the region, as well as in the towns and villages of Liangshan, has been produced in factories, marketed as a retail commodity, and celebrated by local intellectuals and government officials as a manifestation of the revived ethnic identity of the Nuosu and of the Yi as a whole. The remainder of the paper treats the transformation of the lacquerware of Apu and a few other places into an industrial product, a commercial commodity, and an ethnic marker.

Transformation 1: Factory Production

The end of the 1970s was, for the Nuosu people as for so many inhabitants of rural China, the end of a collectivist experiment gone very sour. Despite their very different cultural background and social and legal system, they too had been organized into collectives of various sizes, beginning in the late 1950s as soon as the old "slave system" of production was abolished. In addition to the famine of the "three hard years" from 1960-62 and Red Guard depredations in the late 60s, things suffered by all Chinese citizens, Liangshan endured a local guerilla war in 1957-59, begun by disgruntled elites who felt that the reforms of the 1950s, while inevitable, had not been conducted with enough respect for local people and practices. Another famine came in 1974, and around the same time there was a still-dimly understood "caste war" in Zhaojue and neighboring counties, for which the government blamed (inevitably) the upper-caste side, and put down with considerable violence. But to hear Nuosu cadres and intellectuals tell it, the worst thing that happened in the Maoist years was a systematic attempt to root out their culture. The written language, taught in the schools in the 1950s, was not offered during those Dark Ages; children fortunate enough to go to school had to learn all their lessons in Chinese. The spiritual practices of the bimo (priests) and sunyi (shamans) were strictly proscribed, and their practitioners condemned and punished as purveyors of feudal superstition. Although it was impossible to root out Nuosu-style clothing altogether, such displays of ethnicity were discouraged as well. And even lacquerware was condemned as a wasteful luxury good of the exploiting classes. Ethnicity in Maoist China was itself a phenomenon of feudal (or in Liangshan's unique case, slave) society, something that would eventually die out with the transition to communism, and in the meantime was actively discouraged.

Though the repression of native cultures everywhere in China was wide-ranging and overbearing, it did not extend to the exclusion of minorities from local positions of power altogether. In the 1950s, the Party and government had made an active attempt to recruit both reform-minded members of elite families and representatives of the formerly exploited classes. Schools for ethnic cadres were begun in Liangshan even before the overthrow of the old property system in 1956, and the increased availability of education during the first decade of Communist rule naturally gave opportunities for mobility to many children who were too young to enter government service directly. Many of these people were targets during the anti-Rightist campaign and the Cultural Revolution, but others were not, and some even joined radical factions in the late 1960s. As a result, by the time the radical heritage of the years since 1958 began to be debated in Mao's last years, and then systematically moderated and finally renounced after his death, there were a considerable number of minority cadres and educators in place, and they were worried. They thought that, unless a space was created in the educational and cultural system for aspects of Nuosu culture to be revived and to flourish again, it was quite possible that the Nuosu would become like the Yi in Yunnan, halfway sinified already, and that the Yi as a people with their own culture and traditions would be assimilated altogether. As a result, they began a series of moves to revive ethnic culture in the increasingly tolerant era from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s.

In Liangshan, cultural revival had many elements. Most important was the systematization and popularization of the written language, which had been used in pre-PRC times primarily by priests and a few other members of the traditional elite. Work on the script was begun in 1975 and officially approved in 1980, and a series of textbooks for elementary schools, begun in an experimental way in 1978, was in use in special classes as early as 1979, and approved for general education in all subjects beginning in 1984. At the same time, the local cultural authorities began to promote a kind of self-consciously folkloristic revival of many Nuosu cultural elements. These included, all through the 80s and 90s, standardized line dancing (complete with a ubiquitous boom-box tape in case the flutist is tired or there is none available), machine sewn skirts and other items of traditional clothing available in state stores, an international Torch Festival celebration in Xichang in 1993, complete with wrestling, dance and music shows, and a beauty contest; and even, in cooperation with Yunnan Yi intellectuals, a successful attempt at reevaluation of the bimo from "practitioners of feudal superstition" to "ethnic intellectuals" ײ.

Lacquerware was another element of Nuosu "traditional culture" suitable to be part of this ethnic revival, and because the more liberal ethnic policies were part of the broader policy of "reform and liberalization" , which included the move to what was first called a "commodity economy" Ð悺, and then finally a "market economy," 悺, they needed to be produced not just for ethnic display, but for profit. The only way to do this was in factories.

According to Mr. Lan Qingjia, a Han Chinese who is head of the Zhaojue County Lacquerware Factory, his plant was the first one to move lacquer production out of the villages and into mechanized production, and he did it way before the Reform and liberalization. He says that he came to Zhaojue, or Hxoggurjjuojjo, a county that is 95% Nuosu but has a sizable Han population in its county seat, because it was once the prefectural seat of Liangshan, as a small boy in the 50s, and began a furniture factory with a couple of partners in 1967. They produced some functional dishes along with their chairs and tables, but in 1975 they were officially recognized as a factory, and began to collect lacquerware in the surrounding villages, some of which was made in Bilur district in Zhaojue, and some of which came from further afield.
By now the Zhaojue factory is one of two in Liangshan that is turning out "modernized" Nuosu lacquerware in great quantities. There are 44 workers at the plant--12 turners, 20 painters, and 12 miscellaneous personnel. Only two of the workers are Nuosu; Mr. Lan says there used to be more but that they don't like factory discipline. They produce about 100,000 pieces a year, with sales of about ¥600,000, on which they turned a profit of about ¥40,000 in 1997.

Back in Xide county, the factory got a later start: according to Li Rongxiang, a Yunnanese Yi scholar, the impetus came from Liu Yaohan, the doyen of Yi studies in Yunnan, who visited Apu (I think) in 1981 and told the county cadres of Xide that the time was right to start a factory, which was begun the following year. Jjivot Vutqie, a renowned painter from Apu, was hired as vice-director and chief designer, and they began to produce wares based on the traditions of Apu using, as one of the production supervisors said, "a couple of 1930s-vintage lathes" and a small corps of painters who still decorate the machine-turned dishes by hand. The Xide factory in 1994 had 34 direct production workers, all but two of them Nuosu. Their wares, like those from the Zhaojue plant, are sold in retail outlets all over Liangshan, and increasingly in regional and national cities.

The factory wares, however, do not look quite like those that come from Apu, Bilur, and other villages that have produced lacquerware by traditional methods. In the first place, the machine lathes and modern tools enable the production of smoother blanks, so the factory wares do not have the rough, "folksy" texture of the village-made pieces. Secondly, there is a gloss applied over the red and yellow lacquer designs on the factory pieces, so they look shiny or polished rather than dull or matte like the village wares. And the factories, for no known reason, have adopted a yellow color that is more lemon than ochre, making the overall three-color scheme look much brighter than the village pieces.
But more than the refinements of color and texture, the factories have broadened the scope of Nuosu lacquerware far beyond the tureens, spoons, serving dishes, and drinking vessels of the village manufacturers. A partial list of wares produced by the Zhaojue factory includes dinner plates; chopsticks; teacups with covers, such as used in Northwest China or in Japan; large long-stemmed beer goblets; three styles of candy dishes, some with tripods and some with single-stemmed bases; six-inch wide ߐ†, or go-piece containers with lids; covered, Japanese-style rice bowls; little low round containers that could hold paper clips or perhaps red seal gunk ; lazy-Susan type serving trays; rectangular serving trays; round and oval table tops; round and rectangular stools; lacquered ceramic vases and liquor bottles; and Nousu-style drinking vessels, previously made either round or in the shape of a dove, but now fashioned as a stereotypically Chinese figurine of a water buffalo with a little boy riding on top. It may be significant here that in Nuosu symbology, oxen represent Nuosu; yaks, Tibetans; and water buffalo symbolize the Han.
The Xide factory produces perhaps a slightly less magnificent array of styles, but it still makes shot glasses, beer mugs, plates, chopsticks, and tabletops, and Vutqie, the designer from Apu, is uniformly praised in the small literature on the topic for his innovative designs, particularly lacquer boxes filled with dining and drinking kits that are suitable for travelers or as gifts. In 1992, however, Vutqie felt that the artistic changes had gone too far--he liked the new forms, but he thought the gloss was getting too shiny and the yellow was getting too bright, so he rounded up some capital and started his own factory, also in Xide city; which in 1994 when we visited had 12 workers. Rumors in 1998 were that he had failed as a businessman, but I have not been back to Xide to interview him again.

Transformation 2: Commodity retailing

As mentioned above, even the village lacquermakers of Apu and its sister communities in Zhaojue and elsewhere have been drawn into the market economy in the 1980s and 90s. The Apu people sell in the Mishi market, and also supply customers directly. But the great volume of modernized wares produced in the Xide and Zhaojue factories are marketed two ways: in an old, socialist manner to government offices and cadres, who use them to entertain visitors or as official gifts when they are going to other parts of China or even abroad, and more importantly in a new, capitalist manner in the department stores and small retail outlets of Liangshan's growing commercial economy.
That they do so is rather remarkable. If, together (including Vutqie's private factory), they produce a quarter million pieces of tableware and other lacquered things per year, who is selling them and who is buying them? A visit to any urban Nuosu household, in Xichang or one of the county seats, would provide the first clue. In the provincial urban apartment of the 1990s, there are both low and high glass-doored veneer display cabinets in the living room. These, typically, will have not the everyday dishes, but the special ones brought out for company, and in Nuosu apartments these will invariably include lacquerware. Since, as educated Yi everywhere will tell you, theirs is a "liquor culture," in contrast to the "tea culture" of the Han, one of the first things that will come out when you visit their homes is a bottle of Chinese and a suitable number of little red-yellow-black cups. If you stay for dinner, and especially if they do the Nuosu thing and literally go whole hog (or whole sheep), then chances are boiled chunks of the sacrificed critter will appear on the table in lacquered shepi, perhaps to be washed down with liquor from those little glasses or beer from the long stemmed mugs. People who eat stewed or stir-fried Chinese food en famille, using chopsticks, bowls, and large-bowled spoons will haul out the lacquerware and the whole piglet on special occasions or when they want to impress guests.
Similarly, a fancy meal at the Liangshan Hotel in Xichang will also include the display of Nuosu cultural artifacts, including lacquerware. There will be plenty of Chinese food, but there will also be chunks of pork or mutton, and the liquor will be served in those little cups, probably by waitresses in modernized versions of the hundred-pleated skirt and embroidered headdress, who will lead you in singing contemporary Nousu drinking songs, such as the ubiquitous "Sumu Diviwo," or "Guests from Afar."
It is clearly very important to Nuosu elites, particularly cadres, that ethnicity can be such an object of consumption in today's commodified world. They bought the things, of course, either at department stores, most of whose personnel, like most people in the retail trade in Liangshan, are Han, or perhaps at private stores whose owners might be either Han or Nuosu. But in today's Liangshan, it is not so important whom you buy from (after all, the manager and 42 of the 44 employees at the Zhaojue factory are Hans), but that the objects themselves carry Nuosu identity, no matter who designs them, manufactures them, ships them, or sells them. It is the internal or external display of ngo Nuosu symu bburlu ‘, our Nuosu culture, that is important, and the commodity economy is simply one way, not only to procure the necessary cultural articles, but also to demonstrate that we Nuosu are also part of the reform and liberalization, and that Nuosu culture will endure into the urban, the industrial, the socialist age.
And, appropriately enough, it is not just the relatively large factories that are getting in on the act. People are starting up small productive enterprises in other areas. On a 1998 visit to Meigu, or Limumoggu, the county at the very heart of Nuosuland where over 98% of the population is Nuosu, and 15% of the adult men are bimo or studying to become bimo, we found two such enterprises. We visited one cadre family in the county town that produces lacquerware in a much simpler set of designs than those in Zhaojue or Xide, but they are good quality and would look nice on anyone's dining table. And in the bustling periodic market at Niuniuba, where slaves were auctioned even in the 1940s and now the streets are lined with vendors selling truckloads of cheap clothing and factory-reject tennis shoes, young men sold appallingly sloppily painted bowls and spoons, with paint drips visible inside and out, for two or three kuai apiece. I did not see anyone buying these, but they must have believed that there would be customers.
It is unlikely that there would be any Han customers in Niuniuba, but at the factories and stores in county towns, and even more so in Xichang and Panzhihua, there are. And in fact, unlike Nuosu-style clothing, whose use is an unequivocal marker of ethnicity (even, in some sense, when I as an adopted member of the Hielie clan put on my vapla to give talks at Berkeley), Han people do use Nuosu lacquerware. Not because it signifies anything for them, but because it's pretty--a shepi is a nice dish to serve apples or pears, and a bowl is a bowl is a bowl, no matter whether it is made of ceramics with blue flower designs or whether it is made of wood with red-black-yellow paintings. So the Zhaojue factory sells to Han as well as Yi cadres, and even to officials of provincial bureaux whose work has little if any special connection to Liangshan.
So lacquerware as a commodity, which takes on exchange value over and above its use value because of its symbolic associations, has different associations for different people. For domestic and foreign tourists, it is a sign of having been somewhere exotic and brought something back, a little bit of Liangshan to display in their homes and offices. For local Han, it is a sign of the multiethnic character of the region, perhaps, but mainly it is just a curiosity or a nice element in the interior decoration that has become increasingly important for China's urban elites in the 90s. For Nuosu, though, it is something more; commodity or not, it is a small but visible part of their revived ethnic identity, and of course that increases its value as a commodity. To understand just how this happens, we must back away from the commodity value of the lacquerware and look at its symbolic significance.

Transformation 3: Ethnic Narratives

I am not the first scholar to write about Nousu lacquerware. There are materials in Japanese, which would perhaps provide fodder for an interesting analysis of comparative national styles in ethnological description, but would tell us little about the symbolic significance of the articles. For this, we need to turn to analysis written and published since the beginning of the Reform and Liberalization in China. By analyzing four accounts written at different times by different authors, I hope to illustrate how these "ethnic objects" take on different meanings in different arenas of scholarly discussion, and how their meanings change as the terms of conversation about ethnicity in China have evolved since the early 1980s.
Lacquerware as naturvölkisches adaptation. The first account, entitled simply , was written by Song Xuan and Liu Yu, and published in the Journal of the Central Nationalities Institute in 1982, on the basis of a visit to Mishi, which presumably means to the lacquer village of Apu, though the article does not say so (Song and Liu 1982). I do not know who Song Xuan is, but Liu Yu is the youngest daughter of Liu Yaohan, the Yunnanese Yi ethnologist who has been instrumental in the revisionist history that ascribes most of the early inventions of Chinese civilization to the Yi rather than the Han. Song and Liu's analysis is a model of scientific Marxist field research and ethnological analysis, typical of the time in the late 70s and early 80s when ethnology was still in the earliest stages of its post-Cultural Revolution revival, when safe publication meant objective description of facts and fitting them into the theoretical framework of Morgan-Engels evolutionism. They begin with a catalogue of the materials--wood, leather, lacquer--and the tools used in turning and painting. They then list the types of lacquered objects, including not just dinnerware but also tack and armor, and the styles of painting, along with the names of some of the designs painted on the objects.
They then go on to describe, in very naturalistic fashion, the supposed process of invention of lacquered wooden vessels--the people lived in the forest, so there was lots of wood around, and they learned to shape vessels out of it, but it rotted and decayed, until they discovered that certain resins from the lacquer tree would harden and preserve the wood. They then discovered that it was easier to paint decorations on such protectively-lacquered objects. But because Liangshan was stuck in the slave mode of production for so long, technologies invented many centuries ago continued to the present day. This account is reinforced by references to traditional Chinese historiography, which records that peoples of the Southwest had lathes as early as the Yuan dynasty, and that lathes were known in Liangshan as early as the Zhengde period of the Ming (1506-1522). This historical analysis, the authors tell us, allows us to understand the development of human technology as manifested in Southwest China.
This article is typical of the ethnology of that period, which combines the empirical facts recorded in Sinocentric historiography with the framework of understanding of events provided by Marxist-materialist evolutionism. Nuosu in this analysis become a kind of Naturvolk, working under strong environmental imperatives to survive in their forest environment, but stuck at a particular stage in the historical march of modes of production, so their technology has remained backward and visible to the objectifying lens of scientific ethnology.

Lacquerware as family tradition in socialist China. The next account was written, or dictated perhaps, by Jjivot Vutqie himself, in 1987 at the time when he had been nominated for the honorific title of ˆҺ۠, something like Sichuan Provincial Ethnic Folk Arts and Crafts Master. In his petition, Vutqie tells his own story and that of the lacquer makers of the Jjivot clan: wooden vessels have been in use for over 1000 years, and in his clan for 16 generations from the founder of the Jjivot to himself. These utensils, he says, are used to entertain important guests, but also in everyday life, and in the old society having many of them was a measure of high social status.
Vutqie, he says, learned from his father at a very young age, and by the time he was 12 he had mastered every aspect of the process from selecting wood to painting. He pursued this craft in the village, but when the Cultural Revolution came, ethnic arts such as Nuosu lacquerware were criticized as feudal holdovers, and it was no longer safe to manufacture them. But after the Cultural Revolution was over, and the Party once again began to pursue its more enlightened nationalities policy, the craft was modernized, and Vutqie was called to the factory as the vice-director in charge of artistic design. At this time, they got rid of the backward custom of masters only teaching disciples within their own clans, and he began to train students of several different clans at the factory.
Vutqie also writes about his artistic insights: he learned many patterns--sun, moon, cow's eye, clouds, etc.--from his father's and his grandfather's generation, but he has also built upon the traditional patterns to invent many new ones of his own, which reflect »ҿՏزΊҵաŠ, or "the pervading rural atmosphere and ethnic color of the Yi people's life and labor." He has, he informs us, also invented several new kinds of lacquerware objects. He mentions that the wares have been sold all over the country, and even in Hong Kong, Japan, and West Germany. If he can be named a provincial master, he says, he will not be proud, but will continue to develop, promote, and disseminate the art of Yi lacquerware.
In this petition, Vutqie talks like the good ethnic citizen of the PRC. He has moved with his people from the old, slave-society forms where arts were familial and private, to the new socialist arrangements where things are produced in factories and skills are open to anyone with the ability to learn them. He suffered appropriately during the Cultural Revolution, but since it has been over, he has played his assigned part in developing the economy and in developing Yi culture as part of the great mosaic of China's nationalities. If given the honor of being named a craft master, he will continue to play his part. He mentions, of course, the clan history of the art, and the patrilineal mode of its transmission. But this was in the old days; now we are building the new China, of which Yi lacquerware is a small part.
In 1989, Vutqie was indeed named a provincial craft master, and around the same time he also became a deputy to the county , or Political Consultative Conference.

Lacquerware as clan tradition. Vutqie, in a relatively powerless position in the still ethnically sensitive late 80s, keeps a low profile in his petition. His cousin Jjivot Munyot, who in 1994 was vice-magistrate of Xide County, had wider ambitions for his clan and his ethnic group when he wrote his account of ºȼ, or "The Jjivot artisan clan of the Liangshan Yi," in 1991 (find source--is it Vurryr's journal?). In this article, he is going to be Nuosu about things, and begins with the Jjivot genealogy. Like many quho (commoner) genealogists, he traces the Jjivot back to a nuoho (aristocratic) origin, stating that they were originally the offspring of a 26th generation descendant of the founder of the aristocratic Luoho clan. This first Jjivot ancestor was the elder of two brothers, who were asked by a relative to choose from a pair of proffered brides. He chose the prettier one, who turned out to be from a commoner clan, while his younger brother, wiser to choose the girl of good ancestry rather than good looks, became an ndegu, or master of mediation and litigation.
The elder brother had six sons by his commoner bride, but the five eldest were all killed by snakebite when they went hunting in the forest, sparing only the youngest who was an infant at the time and too young to go on the hunt. This fortunate boy had three sons, the middle one of whom was Jjivot, the eponymous ancestor of the now solidly commoner clan, which at present has about 7,000 members spread over several counties in Liangshan.
According to Munyot's account, the founders of the Jjivot lived in a place called Le'elaiga around 1616, a date he arrives at by multiplying the number of generations to his own (15) by a figure of 25 years per generation before 1991. Jieshy, the son of JJivot, was an extremely clever man, and he went to Han areas to bring back steel tools such as axes, adzes, and planes, and used them to make the first wooden household implements, such as buckets, scoops, spoons, etc. For the local bimo he also made ritual paraphernalia, such as a wooden fan with carved hounds chasing game, which is used to chase away evil spirits. Because of this, a clever artisan held a position even higher than a bimo, as illustrated by the Nuosu saying bi la ge a dep, "when an priest comes, an artisan does not have to stand up."
Three generations later, the Jjivot clan moved to the foot of Vajimu mountain, in present-day Xide, where they made three important advances in the art of utensil construction: they invented or adapted the lathe, they discovered by accident the preservative value of raw lacquer, and they refined the art of selecting certain woods, such as rhododendron, fir, and walnut, which were less likely to crack than other kinds of wood.
In another three generations, around 1766, some members of the clan moved to their present home at Apu, where they have remained until now. Abi, a man of the first generation at Apu made further advances, such as better techniques of curing the wood before turning, the discovery of red and yellow vegetable dyes that could be used to paint patterns on what had previously been plain black lacquer. In the next generation, Jibbu invented the paintbrush of goatsbeard hairs, which he made in sizes ranging from 3-80 strands according to the width of the line he wished to paint.
Luobbo of the 8th generation (1900-1978) was the first to train young boys of his clan systematically in the arts of painting; when he died there were 38 disciples among the mourners at his funeral. Of his sons, Lalur, who died in 1988, was the best painter, and his funeral was attended by 50 direct disciples and over 100 followers. His only son was Vutqie.
The rest of Munyot's story is the same as his cousin Vutqie's: after the dark days of the Cultural Revolution there was the new nationalities policy, the factory, the modernization, the commercial sales in China and overseas, etc. Vutqie's son is now learning, and we hope that this budding flower of ethnic art will ծʼծ: bloom across all the ancestral country, bloom across the whole world.
Munyot's account is extraordinary in its ethnic and clan promotionalism, particularly its clan bias; though it is written with some attention to the slogans of China's development in the period of Reform and Liberalization (the narrative of the bad Cultural Revolution and the good Reform period, the wish for the boy to become famous all over the "ancestral country"), it is a thoroughly and unmistakably Nuosu centered and even Jjivot-centered document, in several ways.
First, it tells the past as genealogy, with only a hint at history. Munyot is presumably drawing on the oral tradition of the Jjivot when he recites the history of clan migration and of the steps in the development of the art of lacquer; it follows a Nuosu pattern of narrating the past, which is dependent on the kin-grid of generations and marriages, rather than the temporal grid of years and reign periods as found in Chinese historiography. My guess is that the account is probably quite accurate, at least from the period after the founding of the Jjivot 16 generations ago to the present day. But it is clearly a different mode of talking about past time than would be employed by a historian, whether Chinese or Western.
Secondly, it focuses on the accomplishments of individuals, rather than the kind of environmental determinism we see in the Marxist account of Song Xuan and Liu Yu. In their account, the Nuosu are a Naturvolk, living a kind of mechanically determined life in the forest according to the laws of environment and history. Lacquerware is the result of happy coincidence. But in Munyot's account, each innovation is attributed to the skill and/or intelligence of a particular member of the Jjivot clan. In a sense, this is more like traditional dynastic history, with its evaluation of place and blame, than it is like the modern Marxist, deterministic version, but its strict genealogical structure gives it a Nuosu flavor as well.
Finally, the account is an unashamed propaganda piece for the Jjivot clan. Munyot never refers to "Yi lacquerware" but always to the full and awkward phrase, ºȟՄ, or "the traditional craft of wooden lacquerware of the Jjivot Nuosu of Liangshan." The stuff is never mentioned without the clan name in it, and the clan is given exclusive credit for inventing and developing every process involved in its manufacture. Even the Zhaojue factory, says Munyot, was founded with Vutqie as an advisor, which seems unlikely from the Zhaojue manager's account, though that manager told me he had met Vutqie on occasion. And most strikingly, we have the saying bi la ge a dep, "when an priest comes, an artisan does not have to stand up." As far as I know, this is a perfectly good saying, indicating that ge, or artisan, is a respected status in Nuosu local society, which is certainly true. But it doesn't mean that, as Munyot says, an artisan's status is higher than that of a priest. There is a parallel saying recited by bimo clans, nzy la bi a dep, or when a nzymo, or a local ruler enthroned by the Chinese emperor, comes, a priest doesn't have to get up. This is explained as meaning not that a bimo is higher than an nzymo, but simply that a ruler should respect a priest and not compel him to abase himself before political power. Bi la ge a dep has the same sort of meaning--an artisan, too, is a person of respect. But since the Jjivot are an artisan clan, not a priestly one, Munyot tries to make it seem that the artisanal status is higher than the priestly one.
Jjivot Munyot thus constructs lacquerware in a way that we might consider close to ethnic chauvinism, while throwing in a pitch for his own clan at the same time. From his position of local power as a vice-magistrate, he wants the world to know about the importance of this ethnic art, even in the New China, and about the importance of his own clan in promoting it.

Lacquer as a minzu craft. In an article entitled ¥Մ, or "Traditional Liangshan Yi lacquer crafts in the process of development," Li Rongxiang repeats much of Jjivot Munyot's account of the development of the craft, but he changes the narrative from clan genealogy to that of the development of a minzu. He relates the story as divided into two periods: the period of household craft production Հ, and the period of factory enterprise, 悲. The former period is divided into the time of sprouts, in which the wooded environment led to the invention of wooden tools, and the Jjivot, living in E'leleiga, made crude everyday objects, then the period after the move to Apu, when the various processes of lacquermaking were developed one after another. Then the second period began in 1980, when the process was taken out of the context of kin network and village, and put into the modern context of wage labor and the factory, and the objects themselves expanded from a few traditional types to an expanding repertory of modern household things and tasteful gifts.
In Li Rongxiang's account, however, the Nuosu have simply become the Yi minzu, one of the many minzu of China that are progressing together toward modernity and prosperity. The article celebrates the achievements of the Nuosu artisans, and the Jjivot clan in particular, but it does so in a Chinese way, not in a Nuosu way. It contains elements of the Marxist ethnological theory of invention as adaptation, with less emphasis on the skill and courage of the individual innovators. It leaves out all reference to the religious practitioners or to the relative status of craft and religious specialists. And most striking of all there is no genealogy. Members of the Jjivot clan are mentioned as individual innovators of various forms and processes, but there is no recitation of the line, no connection to the aristocratic Luoho, and no incorporation of the Jjivot into the proper name for the lacquerware itself, which here is just called "Traditional Liangshan Yi Lacquerware."

The Minzufication of Lacquerware
The move, whether it is really a temporal one or simply one of social positioning, from Jjivot Munyot's particularistic, partisan, genealogical account to Li Rongxiang's ethnically centered account illustrates graphically the process that Almaz Han, in an awkward but graphic neologism, has called "minzufication" (Khan 1999). This is not a matter of moving from a Nuosu perspective to a Han one: both writers are Yi, though Li Rongxiang comes from Yunnan, not Liangshan. Nor does it involve moving from a Liangshan-centered to a Beijing-centered view; both writers locate the impetus for every innovation including the building of the first factory, with Yi people of one sort or another, almost exclusively Nousu of the Jjivot clan. Nor does mean moving from a social to a state perspective. Though both writers are state employees, the position of Jjivot Munyot as vice-magistrate of Xide is more exclusively statish than that of Li Rongxiang as a researcher in a social sciences academy. And finally, this is not a move from a stance of resistance to a stance of hegemony. If anything, it is vice-magistrate Munyot who spouts the slogans about the ancestral land of China and the young bud of Yi manhood who will flower all over the world.
The shift is rather from a kin perspective to a minzu perspective. The Jjivot, in Munyot's account, are the descendants of the foolish scion of the 26th generation of Luoho, of the lucky boy who was to small to enter the snake-infested woods, of the brilliant Jieshy who could make anything with his hands, of the artistic line of
Libbu, Luobbo, and Vutqie. Like the young men who shoot off their militia rifles and shout the glories of their clan at Nuosu funerals, like the wise elders of aristocratic clans who can recite 60 or eighty generations of rhythmic ancestral names, like the strangers meeting on a path who ask each other's clan names before anything else, Munyot is making his case genealogically. Li, on the other hand, is thinking in terms of minzu, like the state cadres who classify people according to linguistic and cultural criteria, like the Mongol intellectuals and popular songwriters who sing the praises of Chinggis Khan as the father of an ethnic group, and thus open him up to the broader claim, that he is a hero of China (Khan 1995).
The Yi in Li's account, and in those of many other scholars, Yi and Han alike, who write about them, are a group held together not by kinship but by culture and history. The Nuosu are not the descendants of Gguho and Qoni, which is they way they were traditionally defined, but rather that branch of the Yi that speaks the northern dialect and lives in Liangshan. Both perspectives are in a sense Nuosu-centric or Yi-centric, praising artistic tradition as a part of the cultural tradition. But Munyot sees the Jjivot from the inside, the way they have long viewed themselves, and tries to fit them into the mosaic of Chinese nationalities because of their artistic contributions. Li Rongxiang, on the other hand, takes the scientific perspective of the development of minzu and applies it to the Nuosu of Liangshan. His treatment fits into the national narrative comfortably, whereas Munyot's doesn't fit at all, even though he is a loyal state cadre and fills his article with Chinese nationalistic catch phrases. The "minzufication" of the Nuosu has not yet extended much beyond textbooks and other state discourses.
There are other ways, however, in which Nuosu lacquerware has become a thoroughly minzu thing. In Ninglang Yi Autonomous County in Yunnan, just across the provincial border from Liangshan, there was a gala celebration in 1997 of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Autonomous County. Speeches, Nuosu-language banners, public dance and song performances all graced the streets of the small city nestled in the mountains, and a county museum opened its doors for the first time. On the top of the museum is a giant kuzzur, or soup tureen, painted in the "cow's eye" pattern beloved of the Apu artisans (Goodman 1998). Lacquerware has joined the constellation of those things that, in the national discourse about minzu and multiplicity, signify Yi.
And Lan Qingjia, the Han director of the Zhaojue lacquer factory, has great ambitions. He wants to expand and upgrade his business. He showed us, for example, some pieces that illustrated the progress of lacquerware made in his factory. The first generation objects, he said, were rough-turned pieces not really different from those produced in the village, and had only a very local market. The -second generation, as we have seen, featured a greatly expanded repertory, a glossy sheen, and a brighter yellow, and they sell all over Liangshan and beyond. The third generation look like high-quality artistic lacquer from Japan (though perhaps not quite up to the Burma standard). These will take awhile to produce in larger quantities, and will require upgrading of the skills of the labor force. But they will mean that Yi lacquerware will have reached a world standard. It will no longer be a folk craft, but a fine art with a folk background. If the third-generation lacquer succeeds, said Mr. Lan, then there ought to be a world commercial market for other Yi craft items, such as textiles and clothing. And he is hoping to start producing Yi furniture, though he was vague about what that might be.
It strikes me that when people of outside ethnicity start producing ethnic arts for a world market, the process of minzufying the art will be as complete as it will ever get. A Han entrepreneur, Han employees, a Japanese standard, a world market, nothing is Nuosu except the inspiration. The whole conception of the process and the product have been taken out of the hands of the Nuosu, who still define themselves genealogically, and put into the machine of global capitalism, which consumes ethnicity like it consumes anything else. But Mr. Lan's vision is only one, and not necessarily the most prevalent. For many, many Nuosu lacquerware, commodified or not, is still an important ethnic marker. And the young Jjivot men back in Apu are still, I think, primarily trying to make money.


Bamo Ayi

1994 ʡȭ (Research on Ancestral Spirit Beliefs of the Yi). Chengdu: Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe.

2000 "On the Education of the Bimo." In Stevan Harrell, ed., Yi Society and Culture. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Goodman, Jim
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Han, Almaz
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Harrell, Stevan
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Harrell, Stevan, and Bamo Ayi
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Jjivot Munyot
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Khan, Almaz
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Ma Erzi
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Pan Wenchao
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Zhong Takun, ed.
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