Of Canons and Commodities: The Cultural Predicaments of Nuosu-Yi “Bimo Culture”

Olivia Kraef


The Nuosu are a subgroup of the so-called Yi ethnic group. Today around two million Nuosu live in Liangshan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province and translocal urban contexts, such as Chengdu and Beijing. For many centuries, the Nuosu have cultivated a belief system composed of a combination of animism and ancestor worship. Since the resurrection of religious activity across China that began in the early 1980s, this faith – represented by the three types of religious practitioners known as bimo, sunyi, and monyi – has reportedly been experiencing a comprehensive revival at folk level. For the bimo, this revival has been paralleled and increasingly overlaid by a scholarly reappraisal of Nuosu religion under premises other than religious. Bimo practice and identity have thus become subsumed under the illustrious concept of “bimo culture”. In this article, I trace the genealogy of the concept of “bimo culture” as part of a cultural canon of and for the Yi which is intended to promote development at the local level but which is also contributing to a weakening of the status of the bimo and Nuosu ritual life in Liangshan today.

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