Li People
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Li People
Li (or Hlai)
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Hainan, Guangdong and islands in the South China Sea
Hlai languages, Jiamao, Hainanese, and Mandarin
Animism, Theravada Buddhism[]
Related ethnic groups
other Tai-Kadai peoples and populations from mainland southern China[1]
Li people
Literal meaning[phonetic]
Alternative Chinese name
Literal meaningLi Ethnicity

The Li, Lizu, or Hlai are a Kra-Dai speaking ethnic group, one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. The vast majority live off the southern coast of China on Hainan Island,[2] where they are the largest minority ethnic group. Divided into the five branches of the Qi (Gei), Ha, Run (Zwn), Sai (Tai, Jiamao), and Meifu (Moifau),[3] the Li have their own distinctive culture and customs.

Traditional weaving methods of the Li on Hainan Island, China. The worker uses her feet to stretch the handloom.


Li is the Chinese transcription of their native name, which is "Hlai". They are sometimes also known as the "Sai" or "Say". During China's Sui Dynasty, they were known by the name Liliao.


The Li are believed to be descendants of the Rau people, Kra-Dai speaking tribes of ancient China, who settled on the island thousands of years ago.[4]DNA analysis carried out amongst the modern Li population indicate a close relationship with populations in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi[1], most of them have Y-DNA O1a and O1b.

During the Japanese invasion of Hainan (1939–1945), the Li suffered extremely heavily due to their communist resistance activities especially in the western Hainan. Li villages were frequently targeted for extermination and rape by Nationalist and Japanese soldiers. In four towns alone, the Japanese slaughtered more than 10,000 Li people.[5] In another incident, Nationalist forces massacred over 7,000 Li in a village. Nationalist officers had 9,000 Li and 3,000 Miao executed after tricking them to the war fronts during a fake conscription campaign. Japanese also killed 2,180 Miao civilians in Baisha and Baoting counties.[6] Tens of thousands of Li were also killed in Japanese labour camps, as unlike Chinese civilians they and the Tanka were not evacuated by Chinese Nationalists to safety zones.

They are held in high esteem by the Beijing government because they fought on the side of the CPC against Chinese Nationalist rule during the Chinese Civil War. Hainan Li-Miao Autonomous Prefecture was created in 1952 (abolished in 1988). Ironically, the Li continued suffering far greater deaths than the rest of ethnic groups on the island as they were specifically subjected to violent and intensive collectivastion campaigns implemented on the Li by communists authorities that lead to widespread starvation deaths among the Li.[7]


The Li speak the Hlai languages, a member of the Kra-Dai language family,[8] but most can understand or speak Hainanese and Standard Chinese. The language spoken natively by the Sai (also known as Tai or Jiamao) subgroup has been noted for its dissimilarity to the dialects or languages spoken by the other subgroups of the Li.


Among the Li, the women have a custom of tattooing their arms and backs after a certain age is reached. The Li play a traditional wind instrument called k?uxi?o (),[9] and another called lìl?luó (). The Li people were considered to be barbaric and primitive and were among the lower classes in Hainan. The Li in Wenchang assimilated into the local population and pretended to be Hainanese while most of the Li population was exterminated in most other parts of Hainan only a small portion of the Li survived and fled to the mountains where they still maintain a Li identity.

Notable people


  1. ^ a b Peng, Min-Sheng; He, Jun-Dong; Liu, Hai-Xin; Zhang, Ya-Ping (15 February 2011). "Tracing the legacy of the early Hainan Islanders - a perspective from mitochondrial DNA". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 11: 46. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-46. PMC 3048540. PMID 21324107. Retrieved 2011.
  2. ^ Original from Indiana University Viscount James Bryce Bryce (1904). Hans Ferdinand Helmolt (ed.). The World's History: Oceania, Eastern Asia and the Indian Ocean. Volume 2 of The World's History: A Survey of Man's Record. LONDON: William Heinemann. p. 60. Retrieved 2011. extended as far as the Han River, and the Man lived on the central and upper Yangtsze, chiefly on the right bank. But the number of the tribes that had not then been subdued must have been much greater; even at the present day, more than two thousand six hundred years later, tribes of original inhabitants in complete or partial independence are constantly found in the southern and western provinces of the empire. That such tribes as the Li (Limin or Limu, probably descendants of the Miaotsze to whom Kublai Khan [Shi Tsu] is said to have assigned a part of Formosa in 1292) should have held their ground in the interior of Formosa and Hainan is the less remarkable, in view of the fact that even at the present day whole tribes of original inhabitants have been able to maintain their independence in the provinces on the mainland, where the Chinese supremacy has endured for hundreds or thousands of years. The Miaotsze are divided into sung (savage) and shuh (domesticated) according to the amount of Chinese civilization which they have acquired, and live to the number of fully eighty different tribes in Kwangtung, Kwangsi, Hunan, Yunnan, and Kweichau. They are supposed to be relations of the Siamese and Burmese, and possibly the Hakkas belong to the same race; these foreigners are said to have immigrated into the two Kwangs apparently at the time of the Mongol dynasty of Kiangsu or Shantung, in 1205-1368. It was not until 1730 that the Miaotsze in Yunnan and Kweichau were subjected to the Chinese supremacy, whereas in Kwangsi independent tribes still maintain their existence. The Yao or Yau yin, also said to be members of the Miaotsze, lived in Kwangsi until the twelfth century and then migrated to the peninsula of Liauchau, where they still continue a half-independent existence; in 1832 they began a revolt which was only suppressed with difficulty. The other great group of original inhabitants which has maintained itself within the country is that of the Lolo in Szechwan and Yunnan, who are thought to be related to the Kakyes, Shans, and Burmese; they are also divided into tribes which have made a nominal submission to the Chinese and tribes which decline to allow the Chinese a passage through their mountains, whence they make raids upon the surrounding districts.
  3. ^ "Chinese Nationalities (Li Minority)". Retrieved 2011.
  4. ^ "Li | Asian people". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved .
  5. ^ "Zhonghua min guo shi lu: Min guo yuan--san shi ba nian (1912.1.1.-1949.9.30)". 1998. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  6. ^ (China), (1989). "Journal of South Central College for Nationalities: Philosophy and social sciences". Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. ^ Review of Hong Kong Chinese Press~quote=Since the Communist occupation of the island, however, famines have been regular in these national minority areas on the island. They are a result of the blood-sucking policy of the Communist taxation system. The grain--short peasants in The grain--short peasants in the Li and Miao autonomous areas on Hainan are living mainly on wild vegetation. As a result of malnutrition, many of them are many of them are afflicted with malaria and dysentery. The death rate is said to be very high.
  8. ^ Norquest, Peter K. 2007. A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-12-08. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

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