Xumi Profile

Autonym: Xumi, 旭米

Other names: Shuhi, Shixing, 史兴 

The 2,000 strong Xumi are a little-known people group tucked away in a remote corner of Muli County. Their nine village communities all belong to Shuiluo Township, and are dotted along the valley of the fast-flowing Shuiluo River. “Xumi” means ‘people of the Shu River’ in their local language(11). There they eke out a living farming rice and corn on the terraced hillsides.

The Xumi speak a Qiangic language, first “discovered” and named “Shixing” by avid researcher Sun Hongkai in the 1980s. Muli County has such an intricate mix of cultures and ethnicities that most inhabitants have to acquire tri-lingual skills at least, just in order to co-exist. The Xumi indeed share their homeland with Kham, Pumi, Naxi and Mosuo-speaking neighbors, and that in relative harmony. Common features in lifestyle, culture or religion bind them together, and yet not at the expense of undermining each other’s ethnic identity. Hence, though small in number, the mosaic nature of their homeland and the relative inaccessibility from the outside world has served to preserve the distinctive language and unique identity of the Xumi people. Only in recent years has this situation been gradually compromised by the Chinese language making inroads and by the Xumi’s increasing contact with the world beyond Muli through travel and media.