Hlai people

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Li (or Hlai)
Total population
1.3 million (estimated)
Regions with significant populations
Hainan and islands in the South China Sea
Hlai languages, Jiamao, Hainanese, and Mandarin
Animism, Theravada Buddhism[citation needed]
Related ethnic groups
other Tai-Kadai peoples and populations from mainland southern China[1]

The Li (; pinyin: Lí) or Hlai are an ethnic group, the vast majority of whom live off the southern coast of mainland China on Hainan Island,[2] where they are the largest minority ethnic group. Divided into the five branches of the Qi, Ha, Run, Sai and Meifu,[3] the Li have their own distinctive culture and customs.


They refer to themselves as the Hlai people, but they are sometimes colloquially known as "Sai" or "Say", and during the Sui Dynasty they were known by the name Liliao. The Li form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China.

Origin and history[edit]

The Li are believed to be descendants of the ancient Yue tribes of China and Vietnam, who settled on the island thousands of years ago. DNA analysis carried out amongst the modern Li population indicate a close relationship with populations in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi.[1]

During the Japanese occupation of Hainan (1939–1945), the Li suffered heavily. 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.[3] Hainan Li-Miao Autonomous Prefecture was created in 1952 (abolished in 1988).

Language and culture[edit]

The Li speak the Hlai languages, a member of the Kra–Dai language family,[4] but most can understand or speak Hainanese and Standard Chinese.

The Li play a traditional wind instrument called kǒuxiāo (口箫),[5] and another called lìlāluó (利拉罗).


  1. ^ a b "Tracing the legacy of the early Hainan Islanders - a perspective from mitochondrial DNA". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 15 February 2011. Retrieved February 18, 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 Dec 20, 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. ^ a b "Chinese Nationalities (Li Minority)". Retrieved February 18, 2011. 
  4. ^ Norquest, Peter K. 2007. A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-12-08. Retrieved 2007-12-03.