The Ethnic Mosaic of Ailaoshan

The mountain range called Ailaoshan runs along the southwest side of the Red River, from near its source in central Yunnan all the way into Vietnam. The four counties between the river and the Vietnam border—Honghe, Luchun, Yuanyang and Jinping—are famous for their ancient irrigated rice terraces that cover most of the mountain slopes. And ethnic minorities have inhabited them for over a thousand years. The Han are basically confined to the towns and cities and not even a majority in most of them.

The Lower Ailaoshan counties are part of Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture. They are home to over a dozen sub-groups of Hani and several of Yi and the women of each sub-group wear clothing distinctively their own style. But this is also the part of Yunnan with the greatest ethnic variety, both of separate nationalities and the sub-groups among them.

Hani and Yi communities exist in all four counties, but in some places other minority nationalities outnumber them. Jinping is a Yao, Miao and Dai Autonomous County and its westernmost part is a Lahu Autonomous District. The Yao and Miao have a few sub-groups in the higher areas, while sub-groups of Dai and Zhuang inhabit the lower altitudes. Enhanced by the unique landscape, the ethnic mélange of Lower Ailaoshan makes it the most colorful swath of Yunnan.

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