Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 3 months 2 weeks ago

So far in Phase 1, I have explained what I know about my topic, where I have learned them, and what I plan to find out about it. In Phase 2, we evaluated our sources, contacted an expert or two in our field, and collected first person contacts for our field work in Xizhou.

Background Information (from Phase 1)

History of Xizhou/Dali and Yunnan

Yunnan was officially made a province in 1276, during the Yuan dynasty.[1]Its majority ethnic group is the Han-Chinese and the Bai minority, though there are more than 50 groups in total, including Yi, Bai, Hani, Lisa, Zhuang, Hmong, Dai, and Hui.[1, 2] At the end of the Tang Dynasty, the Nanzhao tribe conquered the surrounding tribes to establish the Nanzhao Kingdom. [2] Not too long afterwards, in the year 937, the Bai overthrew the Nanzhao, established the Dali Kingdom, and set Xizhou as its capital.[2] Yunnan is also well known for its large variety of religions, including Confucianism, Buddhism, Islamism, Christianity, Benzhuism, Bimoism, and Dongbaism. [6]

Influence of Guanyin on Bai Minority

Buddhism was brought to China at around the 7th century, during the Tang Dynasty.[10] In Yunnan, minority groups split off, and each started worshipping their respective "communal god". Some picked emperors from the Tang dynasty, while others chose local heroes. And the Bai minority chose Guanyin, the goddess (or bodhisattva) of compassion and mercy. Religious life in the Bai minority usually revolved around cults to Guanyin, which includes many elements of ancestral feminine cults and rituals related to fertility and the protection of children. [10]One of the traditional festivals held that are influenced greatly by Guanyin is known as the "Third Month Fair". This celebrates the Guanyin's victory over a demon that ate people's eyes. Another festival that is often associated with the Third Month Fair is known as the Guanyin fair, when people celebrate the time Guanyin defeated the evil king Luocha.[10] Both are held to pay homage to the goddess and is a custom of the ancient people.

Well-Known Myths

Most of the legends passed down in Yunnan are about love and discipline, and the story is usually set near a river. [3, 4, 5] For example, the tale "Ashima" tells of how the son of a village's leader, Azhi, fell in love with a beautiful girl called Ashima, yet she loves another man named Ahei. In an attempt to have Ashima to himself, Azhi raised the river's waters while Ashima and Ahei were playing near it. Despite having the aim of killing Ahei in mind, Azhi accidentally drowns Ashima instead.[3] This story tells of how not to act out of jealousy, and that one's actions can have serious consequences. Another myth, "Crossing the Bridge Noodles", tells the story of a young man studying for imperial exams. He would study at the bank of a river, and his wife would bring him noodles for supper. But due to the man being so focused in his readings, he would often forget to eat until late into the night. His wife was concerned over this fact, and she started bringing the ingredients seperately over the bridge to prepare the food at the bank so the noodles would still be warm when he finishes his studies. In the end, the man passes the exams.[5] This tale tells of the power of love, and provides a backstory to one of Yunnan's signature dishes.

Traditional Celebrations

One of the most well known festivals in Yunnan is the Torch Festival, celebrated widely amongst the Yi and Bai minority groups.[7, 8The celebrations are held on June 24 or 25 on the Chinese lunar year, and lasts 3 days. There will be bonfire or a huge torch that is lit in front of one's house, and people will pray for good fortune for the year. There are also many entertainment activities during this time; bullfighting, horse racing, archery, tug-of-war, and wrestling are a few examples. Another traditional festival would be the Water-Splashing Festival.[7,8,9Held from the 14th to 16th of April, people of many minority groups gather to feast. Usually held near the banks of the Lancang River, girls would dip branches into the water and sprinkle it on others to express their best wishes for the year. On the last day of the event, people would splash each other with water from basins, buckets, and any other container.[7,8,9] The clear water is said to be able to get rid of diseases and misfortune, and the festival is held in great merriment of people wishing each other the best of luck for the year.[7]

Information from Local Contacts

Ms. Zhao (from Old Town Snacks 古镇小吃)

- Wang Fu Yun (望夫云):

Once upon a time, there was a princess, known as Princess Nan Feng (南诏阿凤公主). She fell in love with a hunter, but her father disliked her choice. So he asked sorcerer Luo Wei (罗荃)to kill the hunter and turn him into a conch shell. Nan Feng, upon discovering this news, perished from anger and grief on the peak of 苍山玉局峰 (roughly translates to "Cangshan Jade Mountain"). Upon death, her soul reincarnated into a beautiful, silver-white cloud. Legend says that when this cloud appears over the water that the conch shell is in, the cloud will suddenly grow dark, bringing raging winds in an attempt to blow the water away to reveal the shell. If Nan Feng's spirit succeeded in catching a glimpse of the shell, the skies will clear and the cloud will fade away. However, sometimes the skies will turn even worse and more clouds will gather, bringing a thunderstorm that can last for days. This is a sign that Nan Feng didn't find the shell, and has brought her anger, frustration, and grief upon the earth.

• Many versions of this story exist, altering depending on the people and place that it was told in.

• After some research, I found that this story is a myth that explains the phenomenon of the weather patterns over 苍山洱海(Cangshan Erhai).

- Jie Benzhu(接本主):

• Benzhu is the local god/ guardian of a certain village, so each village and/or minority will have a different Benzhu.

• Benzhu are all heroes and regular mortals in life, and chosen to be worshipped because of their might, legacy, or heroism

• The Benzhu of the Bai is Duan Zong Bang.

• Jie Benzhu is a festival, starting from the 11th day of the lunar new year and lasts 5 days.

• "Jie" in Chinese means to receive or welcome, so Jie Benzhu is a festival that is held to welcome their local god.

• Each day will have unique performances, rituals, and feasts.

Mr. Yang ( from Zhong Yang Ci 中央词)

- How Duan Zong Bang became the Benzhu:

Duan Zong Bang (段宗傍) is the general to the king of Nanzhao. A neighboring region, Mian Dian, was attacked by Sri Lanka, and the people of Mian Dian asked the Nanzhao kingdom to fight with them, who agreed. Here is when another character comes to play: Wan Cuo Dian, a snarky advisor to the king of Nanzhao. He had always wanted to topple the king's rule, and he saw his chance during battle. While the fights were going strong and chaos bloomed, Wan Cuo Dian seized the moment to kill the king. But that was not enough; he needed to take care of the king's son as well in order to gain the power he desired. Upon noticing the king's absence, Duan Zong Bang pieced everything together and informed the king's son to evacuate. Then, after searching for a bit, he found Wan Cuo Dian at the palace of the king. And without a moment's hesitation, he drew his sword in a flash and beheaded the traitor that was Wang Cuo Dian.

• Thanks to his heroism, the Bai chose Duan Zong Bang to be their benzhu.

Mr. Du (Antique Dealer at Ran Yi Xiang 染衣巷)

- Buys and sells antiques from hundreds of years ago.

- Has a passion for collecting items with a history.

- Guanyin (观音) and Luo Ci:

Once upon a time, there were nine dragons, and the largest of them was the Dragon King. These dragons are a part of the gods of Bai mythology. One day, there came a terrifying monster by the name of Luo Ci. He needed to eat 100 pairs of human eyes a day, and in this process killed hundreds of civilians. All the local gods, including the dragons, fled to complain to the Jade Emperor of the skies and ask for help, leaving the farmers' lands unguarded. Plants withered, and the soil refused to produce crops in their absence. The civilians were dying. Seeing this, the Jade Emperor decided to call on Guanyin. Guanyin was wise, and knew she would not win by force. So she came up with a plan. She went to a plain between two mountains and set up a feast there: fine wine, all sorts of rice, bread, and meat. Luo Ci, attracted by the smell, came to the plains to check it out. As soon as the monster was in place, Guanyin made the two mountains on either side move toward each other at an alarming pace, and trapped Luo Ci between them. Luo Ci realized his mistake and howled in anger, demanding for Guanyin to let him out. She replied: "You will be set free when the mute person learns to speak, and when the iron tree's flowers bloom." She also made him give her a piece of land as long as her scarf, and as wide as the distance a puppy can jump three times. The monster agreed to these conditions, so Guanyin laid out her scarf. It grew and grew, stretching all the way from Shang Guan (上关) to Xia Guan(下关). Then, she told a puppy to jump three times. The puppy started at Cangshan, and on the third jump, it arrived all the way at Erhai. Luo Ci reluctantly gave up the land, as he had agreed to before. With the monster gone, the dragons and gods returned, and crops started to grow again. And for Luo Ci, it is said he is still trapped between the mountains till this day, as it is not possible for iron trees to have flowers nor for a mute person to learn to speak.

• This story inspired the festival at June 6, where people celebrate the defeat of Luo Ci.

• Jiu Shen Tang (九神堂)was built to commemorate the return of the dragons.

Grandma Li (from Cheng Huang Miao城隍庙):

- Grandma Li and two other elderly women were visiting the temple to pray to the god Kui Shen (魁神)to wish for luck on one of the women's nephew on his high-school exams.

- The two other elderly women are siblings.

- Grandma Li is the one who knew all of the god's ways of eating; which were carnivores, vegetarians, and which were omnivores.

- They were cooking in a corner of the temple, using a portion of their food as offering to the gods

- Kui Shen is the god of testing, and people pray to him before exams

Ms. Li (running the stand at Cai Yun Street 彩云街)

- The Five Golden Flowers:

A Bai festival is held every year in March, with activities ranging from dancing and feasts to horse racing. In one of these festivals from a long time ago, a lady named Jinhua (translates to "golden flower") was driving to watch one of those horse races. On the way however, one of her car tires fell off. Just when things were looking dire, a young man known as A Peng stopped by on his horse and offered to help. He successfully fixed her car, and had to hurry off to catch the race in time. After an intense match, he came out as the winner. Charmed by his skills, Jinhua fell in love with A Peng. Due to their busy schedules, they agreed to meet one year later. On the planned day, A Peng could not find Jinhua. Determined, he set out to find her no matter how far he had to travel. However, "Jinhua" was a very common name at that time, so A Peng crossed paths with 4 different women named Jinhua- a steelworker, a tractor driver, a herder, and a fertilizer maker, before finding his loved one. They had a happy reunion, with the 4 other Jinhuas and their boyfriends attending their wedding at the Butterfly Spring.

• This is one of the most well known myths in Yunnan, and is also the name origins for "girl" and "boy" in the Bai Minority. Girls are known as "Jinhua", and boys are called "A Peng".

• The same applies to the other minorities: their ways of calling girls and boys are also based off of a traditional myth of their minority.

• For example, the Yi minority calls their girls "Ashima" and boys "Aheigou" due to a different story mentioned above.

Hua Long (from Linden Commons)

- The story of the Torch Festival:

Before the Nanzhao kingdom became a united kingdom, there were six different nations. Of one particular nation, the ruler Pi Lu Ge was an extremely ambitious man and dreamed of conquering and uniting all six. So he came up with a plan. On one night, he invited the other rulers to feast and honor their ancestors at Song Ming Tower (松明楼). However, another ruler's wife,  Bo Jie (柏洁夫人), was really clever and had already figured out that the feast was a trap. She warned her husband, but he could not refuse a feast that was held to honor ancestors, so he decided to go anyway. Before departure, Bo Jie gave her husband a silver bracelet to wear and let him go reluctantly. The feast did turn out to be a trap; when all the rulers were gathered at Song Ming Tower, Pi Lu Ge escaped quietly and threw a flaming torch, burning the five other rulers to death. He returned triumphant and united all the nations to become the Nanzhao Kingdom. Bo Jie, upon hearing the news, went to the tower to recover the corpse of her husband. All the corpses were a charred mess, but she could identify him thanks to the silver bracelet she gave to him before the feast. She dug out the corpse, rubbing the skin of her hands raw until they became red and bloody. After the tragedy, Pi Lu Ge insisted for Bo Jie to marry him. Of course in her heart, Bo Jie did not want to, as she still felt loyalty toward her now deceased husband. But Pi Lu Ge was powerful and wealthy, and Bo Jie could not defy him. So she told him to give her 100 days to mourn for her husband, and to give her a gown made of paper on the day of their planned marriage. Pi Lu Ge was overjoyed, and so he agreed. On that fateful day, Bo Jie and Pi Lu Ge were traveling in a horse cart by the shore of Er Hai. And as Pi Lu Ge promised, Bo Jie wore a gown made entirely of paper. It was raining lightly that night. Suddenly, Bo Jie made an unexpected leap from the cart. On instinct, Pi Lu Ge reached out to grab her, but all he got was a handful of paper. The rain had slightly wetted the paper dress, making it softer and easier to rip. This had been Bo Jie's plan all along, and she plunged into Er Hai, ending her own life.

• The Torch Festival is held to celebrate the discovery of fire and to commemorate the bravery of Bo Jie.

• People will use a certain type of flower known as 凤红花 (roughly translates to "Red Phoenix Flower") to dye their entire fingers red on the Torch Festival to imitate the blood and raw flesh of Bo Jie's hands as she dug out the corpse of her husband.

• The main feature of the festival is a tower with a flag tied to it with a rope. Underneath the rope is a bonfire, and when the fire burns the rope down, the flag will fall. It is said whoever catches the flag will have good luck.

Mr. Dong ( Security guard at Linden Commons)

- There is a legend that the wood that built Da Ci Si came out of a single well now located at the center of the temple. The wood would come out of the well as if by magic.

- Women used to be forbidden to visit the upper floors of the temple.

• There were python guards that would bite women who violated the rules.

Grandpa Zhang (owns antique shop near Si Fang Jie)

- The Butterfly Spring:

There was once a huge python that needed to eat a pair of beautiful young men or women a year. So every year, two people would be sacrificed to the snake, or it will cause disasters to the rest of the civilians. One day, a hunter named Du Cao Xue passed by the village and noticed two young ladies huddled together by themselves. He stopped and asked them what the event was, and quickly learned about the ferocious python. Furious, he went straight to the den of the snake and fought, successfully killing it with his agility and arrows. The two ladies were extremely gracious, and pestered him with questions and thanks. Du Cao Xue, flustered by the sudden attention, left quickly. The two ladies felt ashamed and confused, for they did not know what they did to irritate their savior, so they drowned themselves in the Butterfly Spring. The next day, when Du Cao Xue returned to visit the village, he could not find the two ladies that he saved. Upon searching for a bit, he found their bodies in the Butterfly Spring and quickly pieced everything together. Feeling extreme regret and sorrow, Du Cao Xue jumped into the spring as well. Then, the hunter and the two ladies' souls reincarnated into butterflies and fluttered out of the water.

• This story is an attempt to explain why every year during a certain month, groups of three butterflies would gather at the spring.

• In modern times, there are barely any butterflies left because of all the pesticide sprayed.

• The site has also been turned into a tourist attraction.

Grandma Yang (from Sha Cun)

- The Benzhu of Sha Cun is Hei Na An Min.

• He is from Chang An who invaded Dali, but instead of killing the civillians, he was really kind and helped out the people of Sha Cun.

• His brother, Bai Na An Min, is the Benzhu of the east of Erhai

• The two brothers all work under the mighty general Li Mi

A Ling (from Linden Centre)

- There is a festival called Rao San Ling where people welcome the return of the goddess A Ta.

- An important Bai god is Mi Le Fo.

- The Benzhu of an area could be an animal as well

Mr. Yang (security guard at Linden Centre)

- The Butterfly Spring used to have butterflies of every kind.

- Due to pesticide, temperature changes, and air pollution, most of them have left

- The ones that are left are usually bred by humans

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1)

1. What is the most well known legend in Xizhou?
The most well known legends are "Five Golden Flowers", "The Story of the Torch Festival", and "Wang Fu Yun".

2. How old are the oldest myths?
Generations; many are from the Qing to Tang dynasties.

3. How has the myth affected the culture of Xizhou?
It varies; many of them are about local festivals and celebrations, while others have a religious impact like the story of the Benzhu.

4. Which religion has this influenced the most?
Buddhism is the religion that is influenced the most.

5. What major creatures or gods are or were worshipped?
The largest gods are Guanyin and the Benzhu Duan Zong Bang. Some creatures include the nine dragon gods.

6. Is there a trend that occurs in these stories?
Many are about love, death, and reincarnation.

7. Which minority group did the story originate from?
Most stories I heard are from the Bai minority, as that is the minority group of Xizhou.

8. Is the story based off of an actual event that happened? Or is it just a myth?
A lot of the stories are myths, but some are actual historical events. Most people do not even know whether or not it is real.

9. How has this story been passed down?
Mostly by mouth.

10. Is anything being done to preserve these myths and keep them alive?
There are records in books, but from what the elders have told me, the youngsters of this generation do not really care about old legends anymore.


[1] "Yunnan." Britannica School, Encyclopedia Britannica, 3 Dec, 2018. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019
“Xizhou History.” Lijiang Dongba Kingdom, Yunnan Adventure Travel, 2015,
[3] “Ashima, a Folktale from the Yi People of Yunnan.” Figbash Steps Out, 23 July 2012,
[4] Jie Ling T., completed project (Alumni N) 
[5] “The Story of Yunnan's ‘Crossing the Bridge’ Noodles." WildChina, 26 Jan. 2018,
[6] "Yunnan Religions." Yunnan Travel Guide, 2018,
[7] "Yunnan Festivals" China Travel,
[8] TJQ. "Yunnan Festivals". ChinaHighlights, 9 Jan. 2019,
[9] “Festivals in Yunnan.” Wonders of Yunnan Travel, 2011,
[10] "Bai Minority: History, Religion, and Festivals." Hays, Jeffery. 2008,
11] Zhao. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 13, 2019
[12] Yang. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 14, 2019
[13] Du. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 17, 2019
[14] Li. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 18, 2019
[15] Li. Interview  conducted by Claire Z, March 19, 2019
[16] Hua, Long. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 20, 2019
[17] Dong. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 20, 2019
[18] Zhang. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 21, 2019
[19] Yang. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 25, 2019
[20] Ling. Interview conducted by Claire Z, March 26, 2019
[21] Yang. Interview Conducted by Claire Z, March 26, 2019


So many stories!

It is amazing to see how many stories are in the culture of Xizhou. When I think of my own hometown, I'm hardpressed to think of any myths that the elders have passed down. Perhaps that comes the youth of the United States as a nation. Fascinating. Keep it up, Claire!

Hello! I'm currently 14 years old, I'm born in Illinois and I've lived in China my entire life. Microcampus was a great experience, forcing me out of my comfort zone and making me try new things.