Naxi (a.k.a. Nakhi, Naqxi, Nasi) belongs to the Yi branch of the
Tibeto-Burman language family. About 300,000 people speak Naxi in the
Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, particularly in the Lijiang
(丽江) region. There are also Naxi people in Tibet and
possibly in Burma/Myanmar.
Naxi has been written with three different scripts:
The Naxi Dongba script (a.k.a. Tomba or dto-mba) was reputedly
invented by King Moubao Azong in the 13th century. It is used exclusively
by the Dongba (shamans/priests) as an aid to the recitation of
ritual texts during religious ceremonies and shamanistic rituals.
Use of the Naxi language and script was discouraged after the Communist
victory in 1949, and they were actively suppressed during the Cultural
Revolution in the 60s when thousands of manuscripts were destroyed.
Today there are about 60 Dongba priests who can read and write the
Dongba script. Most are over 70, though at least three are under 30.
In an effort to revive the script, the younger Dongbas frequently visit
local schools in the Lijiang region to teach classes on it.
A newspaper was published during the 1980s printed in the Dongba script
and the Latin alphabet in an attempt to increase the level of literacy
among the Naxi people in their own language. Over 30 books were also
published. There efforts were successful at first – in 1982, 200 people
could read Naxi in the Latin alphabet. By 1985, 1,700 could do so.
The Chinese government phased out Naxi language teaching in the late 80s,
but recently effort have been made to start teaching the language again.
The script is also used on road signs and shop names in Lijiang.
- Consists of about 1,400 symbols, 90% of which are pictograms, though
some are also used for their phonetic values in accordance with the
- Due to its complexity, it can take over 15 years to become proficient
in the Dongba script.
Sample of the Naxi Dongba script
The Geba script is structurally similar to Chinese and contains a mixture
of symbols derived from Chinese characters, independently invented symbols
and simplified pictographs taken from the Dongba script. Few examples
of texts in the Geba script are known, so the script is little understood.
- Written in horizontal lines running from left to right.
- The phonetic values of Geba symbols are not fixed, instead each
user (usually a dongba, or priest) tends to prefer one set of readings
over another, and symbols can have various phonetic values, or one
phonetic value can be signified by a number of different graphs.
Part of the Naxi Geba syllabary
Sample Naxi text in the Geba script
A version of the Latin alphabet based on Pinyin
was introduced to write Naxi in 1957 and revised in 1984.
Sample of Naxi in the Latin alphabet
Naqxi tei’ee jju pil gguf, Naqxi balzhee tv ceeq sie. Naqxi tei’ee
Naqxi bal, sseiweq leq gee dde bbaq leq bbaq ssi ddee ddoq nee,
Naqxi xiyuq huahuaq.
Since the Naxi people have their own script, they publish a Naxi newspaper.
The Naxi script newspaper is as beautiful as a blooming flower. Seeing
this beautiful flower, we know that the life of the Naxi people will
Naxi Script Resource Centre
The Naxi Script Copybook (PDF, 1.43MB)
edongba – software for typing the Naxi Dongba script
Naxi dongba fonts
Naxi Manuscript Collection in The Library of Congress
Information about the Naxi people
Information about and photos of Lijiang