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The Dai people (Kam Mueang: ᩱᨴᩭ; Thai: ไท; Shan: တႆး [tai˥˩]; Tai Nüa: ᥖᥭᥰ, [tai˥], Chinese: ; pinyin: Dǎizú) are one of several ethnic groups living in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture (both in southern Yunnan, China), but by extension, the term can apply to groups in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar when Dai is used to mean specifically Tai Yai, Lue, Chinese Shan, Tai Dam, Tai Khao or even Tai in general. For other names, please see the table below.

Dai peoples
Dai minority in China.JPG
Dai minority in China
Total population
c. 8 million
Regions with significant populations
Tai Lü, Tai Nüa, Tai Dam, Mandarin Chinese, Lao, Thai
Theravada Buddhism and Dai folk religion [2]

Name ambiguityEdit

The Dai people form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China, and are closely related to the Lao and Thai people who form a majority in Laos and Thailand. Originally, the Tai, or Dai, lived closely together in modern Yunnan Province until political chaos and wars in the north at the end of the Tang and Song Dynasty and various nomadic peoples prompted some to move further south into modern Laos then Thailand. As with many other officially recognized ethnic groups in China (See Gaoshan and Yao), the term Dai at least within Chinese usage is an umbrella term and as such has no equivalent in Tai languages who have only more general terms for 'Tai peoples in general' (e.g., Tai Lue: tai˥˩, but this term refers to all Dai people, not including Zhuang) and 'Tai people in China' (e.g., Thai: ชาวไทในจีน'), both of which include the Zhuang for example which is not the case in the Chinese; and more specific terms, as shown in the table below. Therefore[dubious ] the word Dai, like with the aforementioned Yao, is a Han-Chinese cultural concept which has now been adopted by other languages such as English, French and German (see respective Wikipedias). As a solution in the Thai language, however, as in English, the term Tai Lue can be used to mean Dai, despite referring to other groups as in the table below. This is because the two main groups actually bear the same name, both meaning 'Northern Tai' (lue and nüa are cognate).

Although they are officially recognized as a single people by the Chinese state, these Tai people form several distinct cultural and linguistic groups. The two main languages of the Dai are Dai Lü (Sibsongbanna Dai) and Dai Nüa (Daihong Dai); two other written languages used by the Dai are Tày Pong and Tai Dam. They all are Tai languages, a group of related languages that includes Thai, Lao, and Zhuang, and part of the Tai–Kadai language family. Various dialects of the Tai/Dai language family are spoken from Assam, India to Taiwan and Shanxi Province, China. The Dai people follow their traditional religion as well as Theravada Buddhism, and maintain similar customs and festivals (such as Songkran) to the other Tai-speaking peoples and more broadly, in regards to some cultural aspects, to the unrelated dominant ethnic groups of Myanmar, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. They are among the few natives groups in China who nominally practice the Theravada school of Buddhism. The term of Tai in China is also used sometimes to shows that the majority of peoples who subsumed under "Dai" nationality are mainly speakers of Thais languages (i.e. Southwestern Tai languages)

Tai groups and namesEdit

Chinese Pinyin Tai Lü Tai Nüa Thai Conventional Area(s)
(Xīshuāngbǎnnà Dǎi)
tai˥˩ lɯː˩ ไทลื้อ Tai Lü, Tai Lue, Lue Sipsongpanna Tai Autonomous Prefecture, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam
(Déhóng Dǎi)
tai˥˩ nəː˥ tai
ไทเหนือ, ไทใต้คง, ไทใหญ่ Tai Nüa, Northern Tai, Upper Tai, Chinese Shan, Tai Yai Dehong (德宏); Burma
傣擔 Dǎidān tai˥˩ dam˥ ไทดำ, ลาวโซ่ง, ไททรงดำ, Tai Dam, Black Tai, Tai Lam, Lao Song Dam*, Tai Muan, Tai Tan, Black Do, Jinping Dai, Tai Den, Tai Do, Tai Noir, Thai Den Jinping (金平), Laos, Thailand
傣繃 Dǎibēng tai˥˩pɔːŋ˥ ไทเบง, ไทมาว, ไทใหญ่ Tay Pong Ruili (瑞丽), Gengma (耿马),
along the Mekong
傣端 Dǎiduān tai˥˩doːn˥ ไทขาว White Tai, Tày Dón, Tai Khao, Tai Kao, Tai Don, Dai Kao, White Dai, Red Tai, Tai Blanc, Tai Kaw, Tày Lai, Thai Trang Jinping (金平)
傣雅 Dǎiyǎ tai˥˩jaː˧˥ ไทหย่า Tai Ya, Tai Cung, Cung, Ya Xinping (新平), Yuanjiang (元江)
傣友 Dǎiyǒu tai˥˩jiu˩ ไทโยว Yuanyang (元阳),
along the Red River
* lit. "Lao [wearing] black trousers"


Peoples classified as Dai in China speak the following Southwestern Tai languages.

Yunnan (1998:150)[3] lists 4 major Tai language varieties.


The original areas of the Tai Lue included both sides of the Mekong River in the Sipsongpanna. According to the Tai Lue, there were five city-states on the east bank and six on the west, which with Jinghong formed twelve rice field divisions with all twelve having another 32 small provinces. These were:

On the west bank - Rung, Ha, Sae, Lu, Ong, Luang, Hun, Phan, Chiang Choeng, Hai, Chiang Lo and Mang; On the east bank - La, Bang, Hing, Pang, La, Wang, Phong, Yuan, Bang and Chiang Thong (present-day Luang Prabang). (These names are transcribed according to their Thai Language pronunciations not their Tai Lue(Dai) pronunciations. If transcribed according to their Tai Lue pronunciations they would be as follows: Hung, Ha, Sae, Lu, Ong, Long, Hun, Pan, Cheng Choeng, Hai, Cheng Lo, Mang, La, Bang, Hing, Pang, La, Wang, Pong, Yon, Bang and Cheng Tong)

Some portions of these Tai Lue either voluntarily moved or were forcibly herded from these city-states around one to two hundred years ago, arriving in countries of present-day Burma, Laos and Thailand.

Diet customEdit

The staple food of dai nationality is rice. Dehong area eat japonica rice, Xishuangbanna and other places love to eat glutinous rice.[citation needed]

Bamboo rice is a famous snack of Dai nationality. It is made by putting glutinous rice in a fragrant bamboo tube, soaking with water for 15 minutes and baking with fire.[citation needed]

Pineapple purple rice has unique characteristics, its flavor is sweet and delicious, and has the effect of replenishing blood and moistening lungs.[citation needed]

Raw, fresh, sour,and spicy are the characteristics of dai cuisine. Dai people believe that eating sour heart can make eyes bright, help digestion, and also help relieve heat and heat. Sweet can remove fatigue. Spicy can increase appetite. Acid is the most delicious flavor in Dai cuisine, and all dishes and snacks are mainly sour, such as sour bamboo shoots, sour pork.[citation needed]

Tai Lue in ThailandEdit

Wat Rong Ngae is a Thai Lue temple in Pua District, Nan Province

In Thailand there are Tai Lue in many provinces of the upper regions of Northern Thailand; these provinces are:


The festivals of the Dai people are mostly related to religious activities. The main festivals include door closing festival, door opening festival and water splashing festival.

The closing festival is fixed on September 15 in the Dai calendar (the middle of July in the Gregorian calendar). The opening door festival, the time fixed in the Dai calendar on December 15 (the middle of October in the Gregorian calendar). In the two festivals on the same day, all of people will go to the Buddhist temple to hold ritual activities. People will offer foods, flowers and coins to the Buddha. The three months between the closing door festival and the opening door festival are the "close" time of the year, the most religious time of the year.

The water-sprinkling festival is a traditional festival of the Dai people, meaning the New Year of June. The time is in the late June or early July of the Dai calendar (the middle of April in the Gregorian calendar). Held about 10 days after the Qingming festival, it symbolizes "the most beautiful day". The holiday usually lasts three days. In the early morning of the festival, the people of the Dai village went to the Buddhist temple to clean the figure of Buddha. After the ceremony of the Buddhist temple, the young men and women pour water on each other. Then groups of people marched around, sprinkling pedestrians as a blessing. These represent blessings.



  1. ^ "Ethnic Groups". Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  2. ^ Haimei Shen. Risk Society, the Predicaments of Folk Religion and Experience of Modernity: The Guardian Spirits in the Mandi Dailue Ethnic Society of Xishuangbanna. China: An International Journal, Vol. 11, No. 2
  3. ^ Yunnan Gazetteer Commission [云南省地方志编纂委员会] (ed). 1998. Yunnan Provincial Gazetteer, Vol. 59: Minority Languages Orthographies Gazetteer [云南省志. 卷五十九, 少数民族语言文字志]. Kunming: Yunnan People's Press [云南人民出版社].

Works cited

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