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南詔 (Chinese)
ꂷꏂꌅ (Nuosu / Northern Yi)
Kingdom of Nanzhao as of 879 AD
Kingdom of Nanzhao as of 879 AD
CapitalTaihe (also named Yangxiemie, near present day Dali)
Common languagesNuosu
• Established
• Overthrown
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Tibetan Empire
Dali Kingdom
Today part ofChina
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese南詔
Simplified Chinese南诏
Tibetan name
Vietnamese name
VietnameseNam Chiếu, Đại Lễ
Thai name
Lao name
Laoໜານເຈົ້າ, ນ່ານເຈົ້າ, ນ່ານເຈົ່າ, ໜອງແສ (/nǎːn.tɕâw, nāːn.tɕâw, nāːn.tɕāw, nɔ̌ːŋ.sɛ̌ː/)
Shan name
Shanလၢၼ်ႉၸဝ်ႈ (lâan tsāw)
Nuosu (Northern Yi) name
Nuosu (Northern Yi)ꂷꏂꌅ (mashynzy)
Extract of Nanzhao Tujuan scroll - the Nanzhao Buddhists are depicted as light skinned whereas the non-Buddhists are depicted as rebellious short brown people

Nanzhao, also spelled Nanchao or Nan Chao (literally 'Southern Zhao'[2]), was a dynastic kingdom that flourished in what is now southern China and northern Southeast Asia during the 8th and 9th centuries. It was centered on present-day Yunnan in China.


The Nanzhao Dragon on Nanzhao Folklore Island, Erhai Lake, Yunnan
Nanzhao Folklore Island
Figure of Guanyin, 9th century, Nanzhao


Nanzhao encompassed many ethnic and linguistic groups. Some historians believe that the majority of the population were of the Bai people,[3] but that the elite spoke a variant of Nuosu (also called Yi), a Tibeto-Burman language closely related to Burmese.[4] The Cuanman people came to power in Yunnan during Zhuge Liang's Southern Campaign in 225. By the fourth century they had gained control of the region, but they rebelled against the Sui dynasty in 593 and were destroyed by a retaliatory expedition in 602. The Cuan split into two groups known as the Black and White Mywa.[5] The White Mywa (Baiman) tribes, who are considered the predecessors of the Bai people, settled on the fertile land of western Yunnan around the alpine fault lake Erhai. The Black Mywa (Wuman), considered to be predecessors of the Yi people, settled in the mountainous regions of eastern Yunnan. These tribes were called Mengshe (蒙舍), Mengxi (蒙嶲), Langqiong (浪穹), Tengtan (邆賧), Shilang (施浪), and Yuexi (越析). Each tribe was known as a zhao.[6] In academia, the ethnic composition of the Nanzhao kingdom's population has been debated for a century. Chinese scholars tend to favour the theory that the rulers came from the aforementioned Bai or Yi groups, while some non-Chinese scholars subscribed to the theory that the Tai ethnic group was a major component, that later moved south into modern-day Thailand and Laos.[7]


In 649, the chieftain of the Mengshe tribe, Xinuluo (細奴邏), son of Jiadupang and grandson of Shelong, founded the Great Meng (大蒙) and took the title of Qijia Wang (奇嘉王; "Outstanding King"). He acknowledged Tang suzerainty.[8] In 652, Xinuluo absorbed the White Mywa realm of Zhang Lejinqiu, who ruled Erhai Lake and Cang Mountain. This event occurred peacefully as Zhang made way for Xinuluo of his own accord. The agreement was consecrated under an iron pillar in Dali. Thereafter the Black and White Mywa acted as warriors and ministers respectively.[6] Xinuluo was succeeded by his son, Luoshengyan, who travelled to Chang'an to make tribute to the Tang dynasty. In 704 the Tibetan Empire made the White Mywa tribes into vassals or tributaries.[5] In 713, Luoshengyan was succeeded by his son, Shengluopi, who was also on good terms with the Tang. He was succeeded by his son, Piluoge, in 733.[9]

Piluoge began expanding his realm in the early 730s. He first annexed the neighboring zhao of Mengsui, whose ruler, Zhaoyuan, was blind. Piluoge supported Zhaoyuan's son, Yuanluo, in his accession, and in turn weakened Mengsui. After Zhaoyuan was assassinated, Piluoge drove Yuanluo from Mengsui and annexed the territory. The remaining zhaos banded together against Piluoge, who thwarted them with an alliance with the Tang dynasty. Not long after 733, the Tang official Yan Zhenghui cooperated with Piluoge in a successful attack on the zhao of Shilang, and rewarded the Mengshe rulers with titles.[10]

Shige/gupi of Shilang was garrisoning the fort of Shihe, which, it will be recalled, was a little East of the present Xiaguan, at the Southern entrance to the Dali Plain. Shilang forces also occupied the fort of Shiqiao at the Southern end of the Tiancang Shan. While Yan Zhenghui and Geluofeng took Shihe and captured Shigepi, Piluoge himself struck at Shiqiao and prevented reinforcements from Shilang from interfering with what appear to have been the main operations. For having occupied Shihe, Piluoge was well placed to attack the Xier He people of the Dali Plain. Once again victory was his, though some of the conquered people managed to escape and make their way North, where they eventually came under the rule of the Jianlang Zhao at Jian Chuan, which will be mentioned in due course.[11]

— M. Blackmore

Two other zhaos also joined in the attack on Shilang: Dengtan ruled by Mieluopi and Langqiong ruled by Duoluowang. Piluoge moved to eliminate these competitors by bribing Wang Yu, the military governor of Jiannan (modern Sichuan) to convince the Tang court to support him in uniting the Six Zhaos. Piluoge then made a surprise attack on Dengtan and defeated the forces of both Mieluopi and the ruler of Shilang, Shiwangqian. The zhao of Yuexi was annexed when its ruler, Bochong, was murdered by his wife's lover, Zhangxunqiu. Zhangxunqiu was summoned by the Tang court and beaten to death. The territory of Yuexi was bestowed to Piluoge. Bochong's son, Yuzeng, fled and resisted Nanzhao's expansion for some time before he was defeated by Piluoge's son, Geluofeng, and drowned in the Changjiang. Piluoge's step-grandson grew jealous of the preeminence of his step-father, Geluofeng, and sought to create his own zhao by allying with the Tibetan Empire. His plans leaked out and he was killed.[12]

In the year 737 AD, Piluoge (皮羅閣) united the six zhaos in succession, establishing a new kingdom called Nanzhao (Southern Zhao). In 738, the Tang granted Piluoge the title of "Prince of Yunnan".[13] Piluoge set up a new capital at Taihe in 739, (the site of modern-day Taihe village, a few miles south of Dali). Located in the heart of the Erhai valley, the site was ideal: it could be easily defended against attack and it was in the midst of rich farmland.[14] Under the reign of Piluoge, the White Mywa were removed from eastern Yunnan and resettled in the west. The Black and White Mywa were separated to create a more solidified caste system of ministers and warriors.[6]


Piluoge died in 748, and was succeeded by his son Geluofeng (閣羅鳳).[14] When the Chinese prefect of Yunnan attempted to rob Nanzhao envoys in 750, Geluofeng attacked, killing the prefect and seizing nearby Tang territory. In retaliation, the Tang governor of Jiannan (modern Sichuan), Xianyu Zhongtong, attacked Nanzhao with an army of 80,000 soldiers in 751. He was defeated by Duan Jianwei (段俭魏) with heavy losses (many due to disease) at Xiaguan.[15][16] Duan Jianwei's grave is two kilometres west of Xiaguan, and the Tomb of Ten Thousand Soldiers is located in Tianbao Park. In 754, another Tang army of 100,000 soldiers, led by General Li Mi (李宓), approached the kingdom from the north, but never made it past Mu'ege. By the end of 754, Geluofeng had established an alliance with the Tibetans against the Tang that would last until 794.[15]

To counter Tang military pressure, Geluofeng resorted to soft power to play Tibet off against Tang China. He entered into alliances with Tibet, accepted a Tibetan-style title, and became a member of the Tibetan Empire in 752. Yimouxun also started out as a pro-Tibet ruler. In 779, he actively participated in a massive Tibetan onslaught on Tang China. He, however, soon changed his course of action owing to the unbearable burden of having to support Tibet in every one of its operations against Tang China. He switched his loyalty to Tang China in the early 790s.[17]

— Wang Zhenping

In 801 Nanzhao and Tang forces defeated a contingent of Tibetan and Abbasid slave soldiers.[18]

To prove himself a worthy ally of China, Yimouxun undertook initiatives to attack and seize the Tibetan stronghold in Kunming in 795. The Tibetans retaliated in 799 but were effectively frustrated by a joint Tang-Nanzhao counteraction. In 801, Nanzhao participated in another Chinese offensive against Tibet. In a concerted action, Tang and Nanzhao forces engaged the Tibetans from the east. More than 10,000 Tibetan soldiers were killed and some 6,000 captured. Seven Tibetan cities and five military garrisons fell into Nanzhao’s hands and more than one hundred fortified places were burned down. This disastrous defeat put the Tibetans on the defensive and changed the balance of military power in favor of the Tang and Nanzhao.[19]

— Wang Zhenping

During the reign of Quanlongcheng (r.809-816), the ruler behaved without constraint, and was killed by Wang Cuodian. Wang Cuodian and the next two rulers, Quanlisheng and Quanfengyou, were instrumental in the expansion of Nanzhao territory. Nanzhao expanded into Myanmar,[20] conquering the Pyu city-states in the 820s, finally eliminating them in 832.[21] In 829, they attacked Chengdu, but withdrew the following year.[22] In the 830s, they conquered the neighboring kingdoms of Kunlun to the east and Nuwang to the south.[23]

In the same year of 830, Nanzhao renewed contact with Tang. The next year, at the request of Li Deyu, Nanzhao released more than four thousand prisoners of war, including Buddhist monks, Daoist priests, and artisans, who had been captured during the Yizhou incident. Frequent visits to Chang’an by Nanzhao delegations followed and continued until the end of Emperor Wuzong’s reign in 846. During these sixteen years, Nanzhao progressed rapidly in state building. Through its students dispatched to Yizhou, Nanzhao borrowed heavily from Tang administrative practice. There was much building of public works and a great expansion of monasteries. Nanzhao also expanded its realm to the Indochina peninsula. They invaded Biaoguo (present-day Prome in Upper Burma) in 832 and brought back three thousand prisoners of war; shortly after, in 835, they subdued Michen (near the mouth of the Ayeyarwady River in lower Burma).[24]

— Wang Zhenping

In 846, Nanzhao raided the southern Tang circuit of Annan.[23] Relations with the Tang broke down after the death of Emperor Xuanzong in 859, when the Nanzhao king Shilong treated Tang envoys sent to receive his condolences with contempt, and launched raids on Bozhou and Annan.[25] Shilong also killed Wang Cuodian.[6] To recruit for his wars, Shilong ordered all men over the age 15 to join the army.[6] Anti-Tang Vietnamese allied with highland people, who appealed to Nanzhao for help, and as a result invaded the area in 860, briefly taking Đại La before being driven out by a Tang army the next year.[26][27][28] Prior to Li Hu's arrival, Nanzhao had already seized Bozhou. When Li Hu led an army to retake Bozhou, the Đỗ family gathered 30,000 men, including contingents from Nanzhao to attack the Tang.[29] When Li Hu returned, he learned the Vietnamese rebels and Nanzhao had taken control over Annan out of his hand. In December 860, Đại La fell to the rebels and Hu fled to Yongzhou.[29] In summer 861, Li Hu retook Đại La but Nanzhao forces moved around and seized Yongzhou. Hu was banished to Hainan island and was replaced by Wang Kuan.[25][29]

Shilong attacked Annan again in 863, occupying it for three years. Nanzhao invaded an army of 50,000 with the aid of the local people and besieged Annan's capital Đại La in mid-January.[30] On 20 January, the defenders led by Cai Xi killed a hundred of the besiegers. Five days later, Cai Xi captured, tortured, and killed a group of enemies known as the Puzi Man. A local official named Liang Ke was related to them, and defected as a result. On 28 January, an enemy Buddhist monk, possibly Indian, was wounded by an arrow while strutting to and fro naked outside the southern walls. On 14 February, Cai Xi shot down 200 enemies and over 30 horses using a mounted crossbow from the walls. By 28 February, most of Cai Xi's followers had perished, and he himself had been wounded several times by arrows and stones. The enemy commander, Yang Sijin, penetrated the inner city. Cai Xi tried to escape by boat, but it capsized midstream, drowning him. The 400 remaining defenders wanted to flee as well, but could not find any boats, so they chose to make a last stand at the eastern gate. Ambushing a group of enemy cavalry, they killed over 2,000 enemy troops and 300 horses before Yang sent reinforcements from the inner city. After taking Đại La, Nanzhao laid siege to Junzhou (modern Haiphong). A Nanzhao and rebel fleet of 4,000 men led by a native chieftain named Zhu Daogu (朱道古) was attacked by a local commander, who rammed their vessels and sank 30 boats, drowning them. In total, the invasion destroyed Chinese armies in Annan numbering over 150,000. Although initially welcomed by the local Vietnamese in ousting Tang control, Nanzhao turned on them, ravaging the local population and countryside. Both Chinese and Vietnamese sources note that the Vietnamese fled to the mountains to avoid destruction.[27][30] A government-in-exile for the protectorate was established in Haimen (near modern-day Hạ Long).[31] Ten thousand soldiers from Shandong and all other armies of the Tang empire were called and concentrating at Halong Bay for reconquering Annan. A supply fleet of 1,000 ships from Fujian was organized.[32]

Tang counterattack[edit]

The Tang launched a counterattack in 864 under Gao Pian, a general who had made his reputation fighting the Türks and the Tanguts in the north, with 5,000 troops and experienced initial success against Nanzhao, however political machinations at court led to Gao Pian's recall. In September 865, Gao Pian's forces surprised a Nanzhao army of 50,000 when they were collecting rice from the villages. Gao captured large quantities of rice, which he used to feed his army.[32] In the meantime, Gao had been reinforced by 7,000 men who arrived overland under the command of Wei Zhongzai.[33] In early 866, Gao Pian's 12,000 men defeated a fresh Nanzhao army and chased them back to the mountains. After his recall, he was later reinstated and completed the retaking of Đại La in fall 866, executing the enemy general, Duan Qiuqian, and beheading 30,000 of his men.[31] Gao Pian renamed Annan to Jinghai Jun (lit. Peaceful Sea Army).[34][27][35]

In 869, Shilong attacked Chengdu with the help of the Dongman tribe. The Dongman used to be an ally of the Tang during their wars against the Tibetan Empire in the 790s. Their service was rewarded by mistreatment by Yu Shizhen, the governor of Xizhou, who kidnapped Dongman tribesmen and sold them to other tribes. When the Nanzhao attacked Xizhou, the Dongman tribe opened the gates and welcomed them in.[36][37]

The battle for Chengdu was brutal and protracted. The Nanzhao soldiers used scaling ladders and battering rams to attack the city from four directions. The Tang defenders used hooks and robes to immobilize the attackers before showering them with oil and setting them on fire. The 3,000 commandos that Lu Dan had earlier handpicked were particularly brave and skillful in battle. They killed and wounded some 2,000 enemy soldiers and burned three thousand pieces of war equipment. After the frontal attacks failed, the Nanzhao troops changed their tactics. They dismantled the bamboo fences of nearby residential houses, wet them with water, and shaped them into a huge cage that could ward off stones, arrows, and fire. They then put this “bamboo tank” on logs and rolled it near the foot of the city wall. Hiding themselves in the cage, they started digging a tunnel. But the Tang soldiers also had a novel weapon waiting for them. They filled jars with human waste and threw them at the attackers. The foul smell made the cage an impossible place to hide and work. Jars filled with molten iron then fell on the cage, turning it into a giant furnace. The invaders, however, refused to give up. They escalated their operations by night attacks. In response, the Tang soldiers lit up the city wall with a thousand torches, thus effectively foiling the enemy’s plan.

Fierce battles in Chengdu had now lasted over a month. Zhixiang, the Tang envoy, believed that it was time to send a messenger to contact Shilong and let him know that peace was in the interest of both parties. He instructed Lu Dan to stop new initiatives against the enemy so that a peace talk with Nanzhao could proceed. Shilong responded positively to the Tang proposal and sent an envoy to fetch Zhixiang to Nanzhao for further negotiation. Unfortunately, a piece of misinformation derailed Zhixiang’s plan. The Tang soldiers believed that reinforcement had arrived at the suburbs of Chengdu to rescue them. They opened the city gate and dashed out to greet the relief troops. This sudden event puzzled the Nanzhao generals, who mistook it for a Tang attack and ordered a counteroffensive. Tangled fighting broke out in the morning and lasted into dusk. Nanzhao’s action also puzzled Zhixiang. He questioned Shilong’s envoy: “The Son of Heaven has decreed that Nanzhao make peace [with China], but your soldiers have just raided Chengdu. Why?” He then requested withdrawal of the Nanzhao soldiers as the prerequisite for his visit to Shilong. Zhixiang eventually canceled his visit. His subordinates convinced him that the visit would subject him to mortal danger because the “barbarians are deceitful.” This cancellation only convinced Shilong that Tang lacked sincerity in seeking peace. He resumed attacks on Chengdu but could not score a decisive victory.

The situation in Chengdu changed in favor of the defenders when Yan Qingfu, military governor of Jiannan East Circuit (Jiannan dongchuan), coordinated a rescue operation. On the eleventh day of the second month, Yan’s troops arrived at Xindu (present-day Xindu County), which was some 22 kilometers north of the besieged Chengdu. Shilong hurriedly diverted some of his forces to intercept the Tang troops, but he suffered a crushing defeat. Some two thousand Nanzhao soldiers were killed. Two days later, another Tang force arrived to inflict even greater casualties on Shilong. Five thousand soldiers were exterminated, and the rest retreated to a nearby mountain. The Tang force advanced to Tuojiang, a relay station merely 15 kilometers north of Chengdu. Now it was Shilong who anxiously sued for peace. But Zhixiang was in no hurry to make a deal with him: “You should first lift the siege and withdraw your troops.” A few days later, a Nanzhao envoy came again. He shuttled ten times between Shilong and Zhixiang in the same day, trying to work out an agreement, but to no avail. With the Tang reinforcement fast approaching Chengdu, Shilong knew that time was working against him. His soldiers intensified attacks on the city. Shilong was so desperate to complete the campaign that he risked his life and personally supervised operations on the front line. But it was too late. On the eighteenth day, the Tang rescue forces converged on Chengdu and engaged their enemy. That night, Shilong decided to abort his campaign.[38]

— Wang Zhenping

Nanzhao invaded again in 874 and reached within 70 km of Chengdu, seizing Qiongzhou, however they ultimately retreated, being unable to take the capital.

Your ancestor once served the Tibetans as a slave. The Tibetans should be your foes. Instead you have turned yourself into a Tibetan subject. How could you not even differentiate kindness from enmity? As for the hall of the former Lord of Shu, it is a treasure from the previous dynasty, not a place suitable for occupancy by you remote barbarians. [Your aggression] has angered the deities as well as the common people. Your days are numbered![39]

— Niu Cong, military governor of Chengdu, in response to the Nanzhao invasion of 873

In 875, Gao Pian was appointed by the Tang to lead defenses against Nanzhao. He ordered all the refugees in Chengdu to return home. Gao led a force of 5,000 and chased the remaining Nanzhao troops to the Dadu River where he defeated them in a decisive battle, captured their armored horses, and executed 50 tribal leaders. He proposed to the court an invasion of Nanzhao with 60,000 troops. His proposal was rejected.[40] Nanzhao forces were driven from the Bozhou region, modern Guizhou, in 877 by a local military force organized by the Yang family from Shanxi.[37] This effectively ended Nanzhao's expansionist campaigns. Shilong died in 877.[41]

From Emperor Yizong’s time [r. 860–874], the barbarians [i.e., Nanzhao] sacked Annan and Yongzhou twice, marched into Qianzhong [southern Guizhou] once, and raided Xichuan [southern Sichuan] four times. Over these fifteen years, recruiting soldiers for and transporting supplies to [troops on the frontiers] have exhausted the entire country. As the lion’s share of taxes did not reach the capital [but were diverted to the frontier troops], the [imperial] treasury and the palace storehouses were emptied. Soldiers died of tropical diseases. Poverty turned commoners into robbers and thieves. Land in central China lay waste. This is all due to the war with Nanzhao.[42]


Shilong's successor, Longshun, entered negotiations with the Tang for a marriage alliance, which was agreed to in 880. The marriage alliance never came to fruition owing to the Huang Chao rebellion. By the end of 880 the rebels had taken Luoyang and seized the Tong Pass. Longshun did not give up on the marriage however. In 883 he sent a delegation to Chengdu to fetch the Princess of Anhua. They brought with them one hundred rugs and carpets as betrothal gifts. The Nanzhao delegation was detained for two years due to a dispute in ceremony and failed to bring back the princess. In 897 Longshun was murdered by one of his own ministers. His successor, Shunhua, sent envoys to the Tang requesting restoration of friendly relations, but by this time the Tang emperor was merely a puppet figurehead of more powerful military governors. No response returned.[43]

In 902, the dynasty came to a bloody end when the chief minister, Zheng Maisi, murdered the royal family and usurped the throne, renaming it to Dachanghe (902–928). In 928, a White Mywa noble, Yang Ganzhen, aided Zhao Shanzheng in overthrowing the Zheng family, and establishing Datianxing (928–929). The new regime lasted only a year before Zhao was killed by Yang, who created Dayining (929–937). Finally Duan Siping seized power in 937 and established the Dali Kingdom.[6]


Section of Zhang Shengwen's Kingdom of Dali Buddhist Volume of Paintings. Bear-footed warriors, possibly the Luojuzi on the right.

Nanzhao had an elite vanguard unit called Luojuzi, which means tiger sons, that served as full time soldiers. They were outfitted with red helmets, leather armour, and bronze shields, but went barefoot. Their commander was called Luojuzuo.[44]


Nanzhao society was separated into two distinct castes: the administrative White Mywa living in western Yunnan, and the militaristic Black Mywa in eastern Yunnan. The rulers of Nanzhao were from the Mengshe tribe of the Black Mywa. Nanzhao modelled its government on the Tang dynasty with ministries (nine instead of six) and imperial examinations. However the official system in Nanzhao was essentially hereditary.[6]

Sources that believe Nanzhao was a Yi dominated society also traditionally hold it to be a slave society because of how central the institution was to Yi culture. The prevalence of the slave culture was so great that sometimes children were named after the quality and quantity of slaves they owned or their parents wished to own. For example: Lurbbu (many slaves), Lurda (strong slaves), Lurshy (commander of slaves), Lurnji (origin of slaves), Lurpo (slave lord), Lurha, (hundred slaves), Jjinu (lots of slaves).[45]

Language and ethnicity[edit]

Extant sources from Nanzhao and the Dali Kingdom show that the ruling elite used Chinese script.[46]

Today, most Bai people trace their ancestry to Nanzhao and the Dali Kingdom, but records from those kingdoms do not mention the Bai. The earliest references to "Bai people", or the "Bo", are from the Yuan dynasty. A Bai script using Chinese characters was mentioned during the Ming dynasty.[47] According to Stevan Harrell, while the ethnic identity of Nanzhao's ruling elite is still disputed, the subsequent Yang and Duan dynasties were both definitely Bai.[48]

In the histories of the Period of Division (311–589), as well as the Cuan kingdoms of the Sui-Tang period (581–907), are thought to have been ruled by the ancestors of today’s Yi, and at least one faction in an ongoing debate considers the Nanzhao kingdom, which ruled Yunnan and surrounding areas after 740, to have been a Yi-dominated polity.[49]

— Stevan Harrell

In Weishan Yi and Hui Autonomous County, the Yi people claim direct descent from Xinuluo, the founder of Mengshe (Nanzhao).[50]

... the ethnic identity of the Nanzhao rulers is still a matter for lively discussion (see Qi 1987), and the Yunnan origin of the Yi is disputed by those who think they came from the Northwest. With regard to the latter issue, a recent article by Chen Tianjun (1985) demonstrates even more clearly than Ma Changshou's book the power of the five-stage and Morganian historical schemes. According to Chen, the origin of the Yi goes back further, to the San Miao of classical History, who were always fighting against the Xia dynasty (C.2200-1600 B.C.E.).[51]

— Stevan Harrell


The Three Pagodas, built by King Quan Fengyou (劝丰佑) of Nanzhao
Modern symbol for Bimoism


Almost nothing is known about pre-Buddhist religion in Nanzhao. According to Yuan dynasty sources, the Bai people practiced an indigenous religion called Benzhuism that worshiped local lords and deities. Archaeological findings in Yunnan suggest that animal and human sacrifices occurred around a metal pillar with the aid of bronze drums. The use of iron pillars for rituals seems to have been retained into the Dali Kingdom. The Nanzhao tuzhuan shows offerings to heaven occurring around one.[52][53] The Bai people have female shamans and share a worship of white stones similar to the Qiang people.[54]


Bimoism is the ethnic religion of the Yi people. The religion is named after the Shaman-priests known as bimo, which means 'master of scriptures', who officiate at births, funerals, weddings and holidays. One can become bimo by patrilinial descent after a time of apprenticeship or formally acknowledging an old bimo as the teacher. A suni must be elected.Bimo are the most revered and can read Yi scripts while suni cannot. Both can perform rituals, but only bimo can perform rituals linked to death. For most cases, suni only perform some exorcism to cure diseases. Generally, suni can only be from humble civil birth while bimo can be of both aristocratic and humble families.

The Yi worshiped and deified their ancestors similar to the Chinese folk religion, and also worshiped gods of nature: fire, hills, trees, rocks, water, earth, sky, wind and forests. Bimoists also worship dragons, believed to be protectors from bad spirits that cause illness, poor harvests and other misfortunes. Bimoists believe in multiple souls. At death, one soul remains to watch the grave while the other is eventually reincarnated into some living form. After someone dies they sacrifice a pig or sheep at the doorway to maintain relationship with the deceased spirit.


Buddhism practiced in Nanzhao and the Dali Kingdom was known as Azhali, founded around 821-824 by a monk from India called Li Xian Maishun. More monks from India arrived in 825 and 828 and built a temple in Heqing.[55] In 851, an inscription in Jianchuan dedicated images to Maitreya and Amitabha.[56] The Nanzhao king Quanfengyou commissioned Chinese architects from the Tang dynasty to build the Three Pagodas.[56] The last king of Nanzhao established Buddhism as the official state religion.[57] In the Nanzahto Tushu juan, the Nanzhao Buddhist elite are depicted with light skin whereas the people who oppose Buddhism are depicted as short and dark skinned.[58]

The area had a strong connection with Tantric Buddhism, which has survived to this day[59] at Jianchuan and neighboring areas. The worship of Guanyin and Mahākāla is very different from other forms of Chinese Buddhism.[60] Nanzhao likely had strong religious connections with the Pagan Kingdom in what is today Myanmar, as well as Tibet and Bengal (see Pala Empire).[61]


Nanzhao's invasions of the Pyu city-states brought with them the Bamar people (Burmese people), who originally lived in present day Qinghai and Gansu. The Bamar would form the Pagan Kingdom in medieval Myanmar.[62][63][64]

Nanzhao Kings family tree[edit]

Family of Nanzhao
Meng Xinuluo 蒙細奴邏
Duluo 獨羅
b.617-d.674; r.649-674
Meng Luosheng 蒙邏盛
b.634-d.712; r.674-712
Meng Shengluopi 蒙盛邏皮
b.673-d.728; r.712-728
Yangé 炎阁
Meng Piluoge 蒙皮邏閣
Meng Geluofeng 蒙閣羅鳳
b.712-d.779; r.748-779
Fengjiayi 鳳迦異
Meng Yimouxun 蒙異牟尋
b.754-d.808; r.779-808
Meng Xungequan 蒙尋閣勸
b.778-d.809; r.808-809
Meng Quanlongcheng 蒙勸隆晟
b.798-d.816; r.809-816
Meng Quanli(sheng) 蒙勸利(晟)
b.802-d.823; r.816-823
Meng Quanfengyou 蒙勸豐祐
d.859; r.823-859
Meng Shilong 蒙世隆
b.844-d.877; r.859-877
Meng "Dafengmin"
Longshun 蒙大封民隆舜
d.897; r.878-897
Meng Shunhuazhen 蒙舜化貞
b.877-d.902; r.897-902


  1. ^ Stein, R. A. (1972) Tibetan Civilization, p. 63. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7 (pbk)
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Further reading[edit]