The Li ethnic group, with a population of 1.11 million (as of 1999), mainly resides in Hainan Province, China's second largest island next only to Taiwan.
The Lis have no written script. Their spoken language belongs to the Zhuang-Dong Austronesian of the Chinese-Tibetan Phylum. But many of them now speak the Chinese language. A new Romanized script was created for the Li ethnic group in 1957 with the help of the central government, but most Lis still use the Chinese characters.
The Li ethnic group consists of five branches: the Qi, Ha, Run, Sai and Meifu. Their ancestors can be traced back to the Luoyue people -- a branch of the ancient Baiyue tribe who once lived in southern China. Before the Qin and Han periods (221BC-220AD), ancestors of Li ethnic group immigrated into Hainan Island from Guangxi and Guangdong provinces. In the Song Dynasty (960-1129), "Li was formally used to address them in historical documents. Having inhabited Hainan for over 3,000 years, they were believed to be the earliest settlers of Hainan.
The Li nationality lives mainly on agriculture. Situated in subtropical zone with fertile land and abundant rainfall, the Li area is a tropical paradise for agriculture. The area is also the country's major producer of tropical crops such as rubber, palm oil, coconut, areca, sisal hemp, lemon grass, cocoa, coffee, cashews, pineapples, mangoes and bananas.
The Li people have the earliest weaving technology in Chinese history. Li women are skilled in spinning and weaving and are especially adept at weaving silk cotton. The brocade they make has a long reputation for its magnificence and exquisite workmanship. In the 5th century, Li textile technology reached a considerably high level. In the early Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Huang Daopo, an expert in ancient textiles, learnt advanced textile skills from the Li people. She returned to her native home in Wunijing (today's Shanghai) to teach textile technology, thereby pushing forward the development of China's traditional textile industry.
Most Lis worship ancestors, earth gods and spirits, and a small number have turned to Christianity. Their traditional festivals include the Spring Festival and the March 3rd Festival. The March 3rd Festival, as a festival of ancestor worship, is the most important of all.
Traditionally, the Li people lived in boat-shaped and pyramid-shaped thatched cottages. The roofs of the pyramid-shaped cottage are supported with tree trunks and the walls are made of knotted bamboo strips coated with mud. Today, many Li people living near towns and cities build light and spacious houses with tiled roofs.
The Li people are good at singing and dancing, and Bamboo Dance is the most famous.