ETHNONYMS: Baiyi, Beiyi, Boyi; Bitso, La Sam, Mitro, Siam, Tai; Daija, Dailü (Taily), Daina; Han Baiyi, Han Dai, Shui Baiyi, Shui Dai
Identification. The Dai (one of China's fifty-five ethnic minorities) are valley-dwelling rice cultivators of China's southwest frontier. The name "Dai" has been used officially since 1953 to replace "Tai" or "Thai." There are three major subgroups: Dailü (who used to be called "Shui Baiyi" and "Shui Dai" by the Han, meaning "the Baiyi or Dai living near the water"); Daina (Han Baiyi or Han Dai, Chinese Baiyi or Dai); and Daija (Huayao Dai, "the Dai wearing bright-colored blouses"). Within each subgroup there are regional units such as Daide, Daipeng, Daila, Dailian, and Pudai. Neighboring groups—Lahu, Hani, Jingpo, Benglong, Wa, Bulang, and Achang—call the Dai "Bitso," "Siam," or "La Sam."
Location. The Dai live exclusively in Yunnan Province, mostly along the Yunnan-Myanmar (Burma) border. Over 55 percent of the population lives in the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture (21°10′ to 23°40′ N and 99°55′ to 101°50′ E) and the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture (23°50′ to 25°20′ N and 97°31′ to 98°43′ E); about 7 percent live in the border areas of the Lincang Prefecture. The rest are spread throughout south and southwestern Yunnan, with a very small number living in the north of the province. Most of the Dai regions are river valleys and pocket flatlands between the mountains covered with tropical or semitropical monsoon forests. With very few exceptions the people live at elevations of 500 to 1,200 meters above sea level. With the tropical and semitropical climate, the average rainfall is between 101 and 170 centimeters, the average annual temperature is 19° C, and the annual frost-free period is about 300 days. Each year in these regions is usually divided into two seasons, a dry season from November to May and a wet season from May to October, the latter receives most of a year's precipitation.
Demography. In 1990 the Dai population was 1,025,128. The Dailü and Daina are the major groups, making up 56 percent and 40 percent respectively of the total Dai population. The Daina, Daide, and Daipeng mainly live in Dehong and Lincang; the Dailü live mostly in Xishuangbanna, while the Daija are distributed in Yuanjiang and Xinping counties and the Red River valley. The Dai also have kin known as "Shan," "Tai," or "Thai" in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.
Linguistic Affiliation. Chinese scholars commonly hold that the Dai language with its dialects is a Subbranch of the Zhuang-Dong (Kam-Tai) Branch of the Sino-Tibetan Family. Some Western linguists classify it in the Thai-Austronesian Language Family. Five Dai written languages were in use before 1949: Dailü, Daina Daipeng, Jinping Dai, and Xinping Dai scripts. Those based on ancient Pali, Dailü, and Daina scripts were more popular and later formed the basis of present-day Xishuangbanna Dai and Dehong Dai writing.
History and Cultural Relations
Because the Dai are an important group in the ethnohistory of southwest China, their origin has long been a subject of debate. Chinese ethnohistorians link the ancestors of the Dai to the "Dianyue," the name both of a kingdom and of diversified local groups. It was part of Yue or Bai Yue (meaning "hundreds of Yue"), an ancient macrogroup of south China. Over the past 2,000 years, the name "Dianyue" has changed often: "Dianyue" and "Shan" (Siam) in the Han dynasty (206 b.c.-a.d. 220); "Pu," "Yue," or "Liao" in the Wei and Jin dynasties (a.d. 220-419); and "Heichi Man," "Jinchi Man," "Yingchi," "Man Qichi Man," "Xiujiao Man," "Mang Man," and "Baiyi" in the Tang dynasty (a.d. 618-905). In Heichi, Jinchi, Yingchi, and Qichi, the word chi means "teeth," while the words jin, ying, hei, and qi refer to the colors gold, silver, and black. These names seem to reflect a particular custom of the Dai, who inlay their teeth with gold or silver or blacken them by chewing betel nuts. "Baiyi" means "white clothing" the name is likely inspired by the Dai's favorite clothing color. The names "Baiyi" or "Jinchi Beiyi" were used to refer to the people before 1949.
The Dai and related groups were distributed throughout southern and southwestern China and Southeast Asia. They established powerful local kingdoms such as the Mong Mao and Kocambi (tenth to eleventh centuries) in Dehong, the Yonaga or Xienrun (twelfth century) in Xishuangbanna, and the Lanna or Babai Xifu (thirteenth to eighteenth centuries) in northern Thailand. They conquered local groups such as the Benglong (De'ang), Blang, Hani, and Lahu and later the Achang and Jingpo, and the Dai thus became the most powerful group in the area. In the fourteenth century, under Han control, China's imperial court set up the tusi system (see "Political Organization") with Dai kings and nobles as court-appointed tusi lords. Thereafter, the dynasties officially recognized Dai lordship over the other groups. The earliest contact of central China with Yunnan was recorded in the first century b.c., but mass movement of Han into the Yunnan frontiers took place several times after that: in the eighth century, during the war between the Tang dynasty and the Nanzhao Kingdom; in the thirteenth century, when the Mongols conquered the Dali State; and later, in the Yuan dynasty's wars with Burma and Babai Xifu. The largest flow of Han migrants into Yunnan occurred in the early fourteenth century, when an army of over 300,000 soldiers were sent by the Ming emperor to fight the Yuan. After the war the troops stayed on the frontiers as military colonists. As the Han marched in, the traditional Dai feudal system first became part of the tusi system and later faced constant challenge; eventually the political system of interior China replaced it. Coalition and compromise as well as contention and conflict—between the Chinese governments and the Dai tusi and between the different groups of the areas—formed the main themes of the local history as well as a legacy of the area's ethnic relations.
A typical Dai village has 40 households, but those with 80 to 100 households are not uncommon. The settlements are permanent. They are mostly located by rivers or streams. Huge banyan trees and a delicate Buddhist temple or pagoda are the signs of a Dai village all across the Yunnan frontier. Dai houses vary regionally in type of construction and settlement pattern. In Xishuangbanna, each household builds its own bamboo house in the center of a fenced garden. The house (average floor area about 10 by 10 meters) is built 2 to 3 meters above the ground, on twenty-one wooden posts in three rows. People live upstairs, leaving the downstairs without walls for domestic animals and farm tools. The purlins (rafters) are made of bamboo poles, the walls and floors of bamboo mats. The steep pitched roof is thatched. Inside, seven posts with mat walls in the center row divide the house in half lengthwise: the inner part serves as a bedroom while the outer part is a living room. A fireplace in the living room near the entrance serves as the kitchen. As a rule, the room next to the stairs is for an adolescent daughter, so that she can meet her lover conveniently, while the room on the other side is for the parents and serves as grain barn as well. Clear-cut class differences in terms of size, structure, materials, and decoration were strictly observed before 1949. Now rich families build their houses with planked floors and walls and tile roofs. In Dehong the Dai in Ruili build their houses in basically the same style as the Dailü in Xishuangbanna, while the Daina's houses are of a quite different style. Under Han influence, most Daina build their houses in quadrangles: three one-story houses (one central and two side) are on 1-meter-high raised ground around a small courtyard. The houses have wooden frames, mud-brick walls, and thatch or tile roofs; the animal pens are usually by the gate, opposite the central house. The Dai in Yuanjiang, Xinping, and other areas live in two-story mud-brick houses, in the same style as their Yi and Han neighbors.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Dai were among the earliest rice cultivators in Yunnan. As early as the seventh century, the Dai used elephants in paddy-field plowing, according to Chinese historical records. More advanced farm tools and techniques brought later by Han immigrants greatly promoted the wet-rice cultivation in Dai regions. Today the wet-rice fields account for 70 percent of the total farmland of all Dai regions. The tropical and semitropical climate, rivers, and fertile alluvial valleys form an ideal environment for wet-rice growing. Vast land resources with a small population make Dai cultivation quite extensive. Most fields produce only one crop (rice) a year, and the farmers plow their paddy fields once and harrow twice, whereas their Han neighbors grow at least two crops (rice and wheat or rapeseed) a year and have three plowings and three harrowings. Dai farmers seldom weed and never apply night soil (dung) in the fields (except some green manure in seedbeds). The output is therefore low (3,386 pounds per acre in 1984). Farmers plant wet rice first in a specially prepared seedbed where it grows for about 30 days. Meanwhile, they prepare regular fields through plowing, soaking, and harrowing. In May or June, they transplant rice seedlings to the prepared fields. After transplanting, the farmers maintain the dikes and regulate the flow of water. Harvest is in November or December; the fields remain fallow until the next spring. Water buffalo, wood plows with iron shares, wood harrows, steel knives, hoe, sickles, and wood flails have been the main tools used in farming for centuries. In recent years improved seeds, chemical fertilizer, and pesticides have been introduced. Farmers also grow dry rice in the hills with slash-and-burn methods. In addition, they often grow tea, cotton, tobacco, camphor, sisal, and coffee, as well as bananas, pineapples, shaddock, mangoes, and other tropical fruits. Sugarcane has a long history in Dai areas, and in the past decade its cultivation has rapidly increased because of government incentives. Rubber trees were introduced in the 1950s. Today tea, sugarcane, rubber, and tropical fruits are major cash crops. Fishing with poison, traps, and explosives is common, but the catch is mainly for domestic consumption.
Industrial Arts. Cotton and kapok spinning and weaving are every household's handicraft. Beautiful silk or cotton brocades made by women on the wood loom are well known all over the province. Dai silver work is equally famous. In the past, Dai kings and nobles commonly used the locally made silverware. Today, silver ornaments remain very popular among the women but all come from state-run shops. The Dai reportedly developed blacksmithing in earlier times, but now the Han and Achang make most metal tools. Rattan and bamboo works and pottery are also well-known Dai handicrafts. Rattan and bamboo furniture of Burmese style and classically elegant water jars are popular articles in the local markets.
Trade. Although Dai women are regarded as able local marketers, the Dai, as a whole, are self-sufficient farmers. There are few Dai businesspeople except those part-time peddlers and a few recently emerged small grocery owners. Most trading is between the lowlanders and highlanders through the local market, which is held every three or four days and deals in farm produce and household handicrafts. The mountain people trade firewood, timber, mushrooms, wild fruits, and so on while the Dai trade rice, rice liquor, vegetables, and bamboo and rattan utensils. The biggest trading party from the 1950s to the early 1980s was the state, through state-run shops and the cooperatives. The Dai sell their rice, rapeseed, and other farm products to these stores and buy most of the manufactured goods they need there. This is changing with the rise of the free market. The role of long-distance traders/merchants was filled by Han, Hui, and to a lesser extent Bai and Naxi. These culture groups were key in the tea trade out of Xishuangbanna.
Division of Labor. Traditionally, women do all the farming work, except plowing and harrowing, as well as household chores. Women are in full charge of marketing any household surplus.
Land Tenure. Traditionally, all land belonged to the tusi. An adult farmer could receive a piece of paddy field for cultivation from his tusi lord. In practice, all farmland fell into five categories: (1) salary fields, which the tusi assigned to his relatives as fiefs and which were tax-free but few in number; (2) official fields, which farmers received from their lords in exchange for taxes and corvée and which constituted the largest proportion of land; (3) private land, which farmers opened from wasteland with the consent of the tusi and which they usually could privately "own" for one or two years without paying tax, before the fields reverted to the tusi and were taxed; (4) public land, a very small, tax-free percentage of the land, which the lords appropriated to their villages for religious or other public use; and (5) manor land, which fell within the tusi manors and which the tusi families directly controlled and the villagers cultivated in corvée and later rented to the peasants. In the last century some changes occurred in land tenure. Official records indicate that several tusi sold paddy fields to Han landlords; mortgaging and renting of land became more common in the areas connected with the Han or near commercial centers. Nevertheless, the Dai land system remained feudal in nature until 1957, when a political campaign of "peaceful land reform" turned the tusi's land into socialist collective property, owned first by the agricultural mutual-aid groups, later by the agricultural co-op, and then by the people's commune. Since 1981, the government has adopted a new type of land tenure, the household contract-responsibility system; paddy fields are allocated by contract to each household, while dry land remains communal. Each contracted household is obliged to pay an agricultural tax (in grain) and to sell its quota of grain to the state at the state-set lower price; each household makes its own decision about resource allocation while considering the suggested plan of the local government about the types and the amount of crops to grow.
Kin Group and Descent. The Dai identify more with community than with kin group. The Dai always identify themselves with their homeland, the place where they were born, even when they live elsewhere. Except for the tusi and nobles, people historically had no lineage patronymics. In fact, the imperial court bestowed tusi surnames. As a given surname might have been granted to several tusi who had no kinship relations, it cannot be used to identify their lineages. Some common people (mostly in Dehong and other interior areas) got their surnames from schools or government workers after the 1949 Revolution. Nevertheless, the Dai distinguish mother's, father's, and wife's groups, with mother's group listed before the father's. In spite of this, however, the Dai trace descent patrilineally. Individuals now inherit their surnames from the father.
Kinship Terminology. Dai kin terms are of the Eskimo type with some regional variation. In Xishuangbanna, grandfather, maternal grandfather, and their brothers share the same term (ipu ); grandmother, maternal grandmother, and their sisters share the same term (ija). Parents' brothers share the same term with parents' brothers-in-law (polong), whereas mother's brother's wife shares the same term with father's brother's wife (mielong). Brother's and sister's children share the same term (lan ) with the children of brother-in-law and sister-in-law regardless of generation.
Marriage and Family
Marriage. Before the 1949 Revolution, class endogamy and ethnic endogamy (with the exception of some marriages with Han) were the rules. Polygyny among tusi and nobles was common. A man was supposed to take his wife from his own village community, while a girl was usually reluctant to marry out of her community. There is no restriction on marriage between cousins, nor on the marriage of persons with the same surname. Therefore, a local community is often an endogamous group. Freedom of Dai adolescents in flirtation, dating, and courtship—whose rituals include antiphonal singing of love songs and love-bag throwing—are well known and recorded in anthropological writings. Premarital sex is common; parents rarely interfere, and they encourage their daughters to have boyfriends. Marriage, however, must be arranged through a matchmaker, usually the boy's mother's brother and sister. Bride-price, the length of the bridegroom's service for the bride's family, and the grand wedding dinner are always the major issues negotiated by the matchmaker. Bride-price is high and has inflated in recent years; bride-service is at least three years, and in some cases it is as long as ten years or more.
"Wife snatching" or "wife seizing" by elopement occasionally occurs because of a high bride-price or the failure of the matchmaker's negotiation. The parents and village community will recognize such a marriage after the matchmaking and bride-price are made up. Matrilocal residence of at least three years is the norm. In Xishuangbanna, three-year matrilocal residence and at least three-year patrilocal residence are taken alternately until the couple inherits property from either side. Only then can they establish their neolocal household. Divorce is easy, and either side can initiate it. Remarriage is quite common and socially acceptable. When a wife demands a divorce, she simply goes back to her parents if the couple already have their own household, or she gives the husband a candle and sends him to the gate of the house if the couple live with the wife's parents. When the husband demands the divorce in the matrilocal residence, he may have to pay some compensation for the unfulfilled bride-service. In any case, the divorced husband has the right to ask for partial restoration of bride-price from the divorced wife's next husband.
Domestic Unit. The nuclear family made up of parents and unmarried children (and sometimes a daughter with her husband in bride-service) is the basic family form. In the areas connected to Han regions, some extended families exist. Average family size is four to five people.
Inheritance. Tusi and noble families strictly followed patrilineal primogeniture. The eldest son inherited the titles, offices, and the majority of property (mainly the land) of the tusi, while the other sons shared the remaining properties. For the common people, the family's legacy is usually divided by all sons with the eldest son inheriting the house; the unmarried daughters and matrilocal sons-in-law also have the right to inherit part of the property.
Socialization. Both the Buddhist temple and family play roles in children's socialization and enculturation. The Dai are gentle and mild in disposition; parents seldom beat their children, and the young respect their elders. A boy at the age of 8 or 9 used to spend at least two to three years, usually ten or more years, in a Buddhist temple as a monk. After receiving a Buddhist name and after having learned Dai scripts and Buddhist scriptures, the boy became an adult, resumed a secular life, and married. This custom was abolished in the Cultural Revolution but has recently reappeared. Secular public schools are set up in all Dai regions. Some tension exists between the public school system and the temple, as children prefer to go to temples to learn Dai writing.
Social Organization. Traditional Dai society was split into two classes, the aristocracy and the commoners, based on their blood origins. In each class were several strata. In Xishuangbanna, the aristocracy had three levels: the mong or sadu (the chaopianling —"the lord of the land"—and his relatives of lineal consanguinity); the wung (the chaopianling's collateral relatives); and the lulangdaopa and the chaochuang (the distant relatives of the mong and wung). Commoners were of three kinds: daimong (natives or the earliest settlers of a place); gunghengchao (people born in aristocrats' servants' families); and kachao (aristocrats' domestic slaves). Only the aristocrats were entitled to hold fiefs and/or offices, whereas the commoners were all serfs, engaging in different occupations in accordance with their status. After the 1949 Revolution, these class differences were abolished.
Political Organization. The tusi was the basic political system in the Dai regions before 1956. The term refers to the central authority's system of appointing native chieftains as local hereditary officials. The tusi polity was autonomous. The tusi had complete power over legislation, administration, and the military within his domain under the condition of obeying the orders and commands of the imperial court and providing tributes, taxes, and corvée to the court. Combined with the original feudal structure of the Dai, the tusi became not only the official government administrator in the area but also an officially recognized lord over the other local minorities. The tusi regions varied in rank and size. Before 1956, while all the tusi in Xishuangbanna were ruled by one big tusi, Dehong was divided into seven tusi regions independent from each other. Rigid hierarchy existed within the tusi organization. In Xishuangbanna, the cheli xuanweishisi, the highest tusi office in Yunnan, was the "central" government there. Headed by the chaopianling (lord of the land), the government had four major departments: the chaojinha (senate); the huailangmanwa (administration); the huailangchangwan (department of finance and taxation); and the huailangmanhong (department of census registration and justice). The region was divided into thirty-odd fiefs (mong). Headed by an enfeoffed aristocrat, chaomong, each mong had its own administration and senate. Under the mong office were—hierarchically—long, huoxi, and huoheng, the grass-roots units of the structure. In Dehong, every tusi office was headed by the zhengying tusi (the tusi with the emperor-granted seal). Below him there were tusi officials of different levels: the daiban (deputy) ; the huying (keeper of the tusi seal); and the zuguan (adult male relatives of the tusi, which were further divided into three levels: mong, zhuen, and yin). Most mong and zhuen had the posts of chaomong, the ruler of 10,000 commoners. The tusi had his administration to conduct daily affairs. For the control of the mountain peoples in his domain, the tusi had special headmen, guan or liantou, in charge of collecting taxes. In this way, the tusi built a pyramid-type structure, a true monarchical system; every tusi region was virtually an independent kingdom. The Dai tusi system lasted for over 500 years; it was the oldest tusi in China.
In 1956, the local polity was reorganized into a unified structure with the following levels: state; province or autonomous region; prefecture or autonomous zhou; xian (county); and xiang (district). The xiang (the people's commune from 1958 to 1985) is the lowest level of state authority and the basic administrative unit. A xiang includes several administrative villages, which consist of a number of natural villages. The xiang government is appointed by the xiang people's congress, which is elected from candidates recommended by the Communist party and functions under the leadership of the xiang party committee. The head of the administrative village is appointed by the xiang government, while the head of the natural village is elected by the villagers.
Social Control and Conflict. As Buddhism once dominated both the religious and the political life of the Dai, the Middle Way philosophy, the Four Noble Truths (see "Religious Beliefs"), and other Buddhist commandments have played an important role in both formal and informal social control. Teachings of the Buddha and words of the monks and elders as well as the party's instructions and government regulations are commonly cited in judgments of right and wrong and in arbitration of disputes. Village heads adjudicate most disputes with the help of the elders, and keep most cases at the local level. Only serious cases are brought to the xiang's people's court, the lowest level of the governmental justice system.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Buddhism—the Theravada (Way of the Elders) or Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) school—was the official religion of the Dai. Although Buddhism was said to have been introduced to the Dai of Yunnan as early as the seventh century, it only gained great popularity after 1569, when Dao Yin Mong, the nineteenth chaopianling of Xishuangbanna, married a daughter of the king of Burma. Since then, Buddhism was accepted by the tusi as the official religion and spread widely to all classes. With four sects (Ruen, Baizhuang, Dolie, and Zodi), Buddhism in both Xishuangbanna and Dehong argues for reaching enlightenment by following the Middle Way (avoiding the extremes of life) and the Four Noble Truths (all existence is suffering; suffering arises from desire; cessation of desire means the end of suffering; cessation of desire is achieved by controlling one's conduct, thought, and belief), and it emphasizes gaining wisdom and working out one's own salvation by renouncing the world and living the life of a monk, devoting oneself to meditation and study in a temple. Therefore, it is customary for men to spend at least some part of their lives in a temple. For the lay believers, making offerings to the Buddha, supporting the monks, and sending their sons into a temple are the ways to become enlightened and achieve salvation. In addition to Buddhism, traditional spirit belief also has its place in Dai society. The Dai believe that human beings become spirits (diula or pi ) after death and that the spirits exist everywhere; some are benevolent and helpful, while others are wicked and harmful. Rituals of worship and sacrifice provide protection and assurance to people and community.
Religious Practitioners. Formal ecclesiastical systems exist in Xishuangbanna and Dehong. In Xishuangbanna, monks are grouped into ten classes in the hierarchy: (1) the pano (small monk, the elementary class of the system) ; (2) the pa (common monk); (3) the dugang (deputy abbot of a temple); (4) the dulong (abbot of a temple); (5) the kuba (elder of the first grade) ; (6) the shami (elder of the second grade); (7) the samghaloshe (elder of the third grade); (8) the pachaoku (elder of the fourth grade); (9) the songdi (elder of the fifth grade); and (10) the songdi aghamoni (the highest elder). Dehong has a similar system with variation in grading and terminology. Those with the title of kuba or above are master monks and, as a rule, cannot resume secular life. Before 1956, the highest title holders of a tusi region were approved and granted authority over all the temples in the region by the tusi. Today the temples and monks that survived the Cultural Revolution are under the supervision of official Buddhist Associations of the county and prefecture.
Ceremonies. The main Buddhist ceremonies are Haowasa and Aowasa, Shaobaichai, Sangha, and Dan or Bai. Haowasa and Aowasa, meaning "in" and "out" of the fast period, are yearly ceremonies popular in both Xishuangbanna and Dehong. The Dai make series of Buddha offerings between the ninth and twelfth days of the month from June to October. During this period, the believers go to local temples every seventh day to offer food and flowers to the Buddha and to listen to the monks reciting scriptures; male adults have to stay three nights a week at the temples, experiencing a monk's life. On the first day and last day of the period grand celebrations are held. Through the whole period, all farm work is suspended, and no courtship, wedding, long journey, house building, promotion, or resumption of secular life by monks is allowed. Formerly, this was also the time for the tusi to appoint the village heads. Shaobaichai, meaning "Burning of White Firewood," popular only in Dehong, is held at the beginning of every spring. At this time, adolescents go into the mountains to collect firewood and then burn it by the village temple to expel the coldness and thus show the people's goodwill to Buddha. Sangha, the Water-Sprinkling Festival, is celebrated in all Dai regions at Buddhist New Year (about mid-April). On the day, people gather at the temple with fresh flowers, food, and other offerings, build small Buddhist pagodas in the yard of the temple with clean sand from the rivers, and then sit around the pagodas and listen to the monks reciting the scriptures to expiate the sins of the dead. Meanwhile, a figure of Buddha is carried into the yard. People wash the Buddha and sprinkle each other with clear water as a blessing. Now the day is officially declared a Dai national holiday and celebrated with a big rally, dragon-boat races, and fireworks. It draws large numbers of tourists. Dan (in Xishuangbanna) or Bai (in Dehong) is the Buddha-offering ceremony. The most common and pious way for the lay believers to gain salvation, the ceremony is performed on every important occasion such as a birth, marriage, death, harvest, the building of a Buddhist pagoda or a house, the upgrading of monks, etc. The ceremonies can be held either by an individual household or a community. People offer flowers, food, candles, money, and so on before the figures of Buddha, listen to the monks reciting the scriptures, and appeal to the Buddha for blessing. In Dehong, a Bai sponsor first has to go to Myanmar to buy one or more figures of the Buddha, make elegant streamers and umbrellas, hire monks to make a copy of Buddhist scripture, and put all these in a temporarily built hall at his house. Then the family invites the local abbot and monks to officiate at the ceremony, feasting all relatives and villagers. After the ceremony, all the items are sent to the local temple as offerings. All those who have made a Bai become an honorable paka, a disciple of the Buddha, and will be able to enter the Western Paradise after death. In addition to Buddhist ceremonies, there are spirit-offering rituals (linpimong ) in all Dai regions, communally held for the village's protection and well-being.
Arts. Dai literature is especially rich in poetry and folktales. In Dai, poetry (kahma ) means talking and singing. With relatively loose rhyme, rules, and forms, Dai poetry leaves much room for the zamha or haluanhong, the balladists, in their impromptu recital. Epics are an important part of Dai poetry, among which Langaxihuo, Chaoshutun and Nanmanuola (or The Peacock Princess), and Wuopin and Losang are most famous. The first is about the Dai ancestors' conquest of flood; the second and third are love stories of ancient princes and princesses. The story of the peacock princess seems to be a Dai version of an ancient Hindu drama, Manva. The Dai are well known for their gracerul peacock folk dance, which vividly imitates and displays the elegance of the peacock, the symbol of luck and happiness for the Dai. Mural painting, wood and stone carving, and sculpture are closely tied to Buddhism. Woven and embroidered wool, cotton, and silk bags and other works are famous Dai handicrafts, and they sell well in the markets.
Medicine. Medical knowledge and expertise are mainly passed on orally by the moya (medical man) from generation to generation. Traditional medicine comes from herbs, minerals, or materials from animals—ginger, chili, anise, shaddock and pine leaves, opium paste, camphor, borax, tiger bone, pilose antler (of a young stag), the gallbladder of a bear or a snake, and so on. Local epidemics and frequently occurring disorders are malaria, dysentery, cholera (now rare), and convulsions. Massage, oral or surface application of medicines, bloodletting, and heat application are common methods used in treatment and cure. The Dai have accepted modern medicine since the Revolution, but they still use traditional medicine and treatment—as well as the Buddha or spirit offerings—as supplemental cures.
Death and Afterlife. Dai belief about death is a combination of Buddhism and traditional spiritism. The people believe in samsara (all human beings are wandering from life to life through countless rebirths) and karma (people are suffering the consequences of past and present lives). Also, they believe that all humans become spirits after death. The traditional idea is actually more popular among ordinary people, whose fear and reverence of the spirits are reflected vividly at funerals. Burial (for commoners) and cremation (for Buddhist monks and tusi) are common ways to dispose of the body. The funeral ceremonies are for normal deaths only. When a person is dying, the relatives get a small bamboo tablet with two pieces of yellow cloth on it from the temple and put it on the body as a verification of belief in the Buddha so that the deceased can enter paradise. The elder of the family has to recite several verses of Buddhist scriptures to the dying person. All the villagers should stop their work and come to help, for the spirit dislikes any noise of working. All water at home should be tipped away lest the spirit come back to wash. The abbot and the monks are invited to perform rites for one day or more to release the soul from purgatory and expiate the sins of the dead. When the coffin is carried out, all family members come upstairs to drive the spirit out of the house. The spouse of the dead cuts up a pair of candles at this moment to manifest eternal separation from the dead. On the way to the cemetery, the abbot and monk go in front, holding a string tied to the coffin, as guides; behind, the relatives of the dead carry packages of cooked rice and occasionally allow the eldest son of the deceased to take some rice from the packages for the deceased. Each village has its own cemetery nearby in the woods. Adults are buried at a location separate from the sites for those who died young and those who died by accident or violence. Dead children cannot become spirits, whereas those who died through violence become evil spirits. Back from the cemetery, people burn a special kind of nut, exposing themselves to the smoke, and wash their hair with stale rice water to cleanse themselves.
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