Lijiang is home to eleven ethnic groups, including well-known peoples such as the Naxi of Lijiang Old Town, and the matriarchal Mosuo of Lugu Lake, but in the course of researching our new book we also encountered several more obscure communities. One of the most intriguing was the Taliu, a minority branch of the Yi people whose population is estimated only four thousand and five hundred people. According to records, the Tailiu have mainly lived around Chenghai and other places in Yongsheng County in southwestern Yunnan.

The four most important Taliu family names were Cheng, Hai, Lan and Wang, which is a remnant of their worship of the ancient Taliu totem Chenghai Lang’e. In the middle Ming dynasty period, the Gao Tusi clan decided to organise local nomadic tribespeople into three hundred and sixty ‘hu’ military units. A garrison was founded at today’s Yingpan Village in Liude County, and these people were the forebears of today’s Taliu ethnic group. Tombstone records show that the Taliu arrived in the mountains of Yunshan no later than the middle of the Ming Dynasty.

One intriguing Taliu tradition is the ritual of ‘the seven passes’: when a girl is of age she is given her own chamber which seven men are allowed to visit on consecutive nights to court her. After the week, the girl will decide which of her suitors she wants to be with.

The best place to learn more about the Taliu is at Yingpan Village, thirty kilometres from Yongsheng County Town in Lijiang city. The Taliu related sites here include a large tomb group, a castle and a temple.