Past Socio-Economic Conditions

The increasing economic and cultural interflow between the Han and Dai peoples, as well as the migration of many Han people to the frontiers, taking with them advanced production skills and culture and science, promoted the economic development of Dai society. The feudal lord system established in the Dai areas at the end of the Yuan Dynasty and the beginning of the Ming Dynasty further promoted social production. The use of iron implements was widespread, new strains of crops were cultivated, and cotton was grown extensively. A number of fairly large commercial townships such as Cheli were established.

The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), on the whole, carried on the practice of the Yuan and Ming system in the minority areas. However, it placed the Dai areas with more advanced economy under its jurisdiction and sent officials to practice direct control. During the Kuomintang rule, a county was set up in the Dai area close to the frontier and the policy of national oppression was carried out through the county administration.

The historical conditions of the Dai communities were not the same, nor were the stages of their social development. So each had its own characteristics as to the form of land ownership, class structure and political system. Such areas as Jingdong, Xinping and Yuanjiang, where the Dais mingled with the Hans, had entered the feudal landlord economy stage earlier because the Dais absorbed the Han's more advanced tools and techniques of production. Social progress was slower in Xishuangbanna and Dehong on the border, particularly Xishuangbanna, which still retained a fairly complete feudal manorial economy.

Since the Yuan, Ming and Qing regimes practiced the system of appointing national-minority hereditary headmen, the "Cheli Official" had for generations been the highest manorial lord and ruler until liberation. All the land, forests and water belonged to him, and he subdivided his domain to be hereditarily ruled by his clan members and trusted followers. Under such a system, part of the land owned directly by the manorial lords became their private manors or served as pay for their household officials. The remaining part was allocated to the serfs and came under the common ownership of the whole village.

The manorial lords established a set of political institutions, and had their own troops, courts and prisons to facilitate their plunder and strengthen their rule.

The frontier Dai areas such as Dehong, Menglian and Gengma were nearly the same as Xishuangbanna, basically having a feudal manorial economy. However, their social economy underwent new changes. The land allocated to the peasants became more stabilized and hereditary, and land rent in kind was widely practiced. In Mangshi and Yingjiang, the landlord economy developed faster and the rich peasant economy also grew, because of the Dai people's frequent contact with the Hans.

For a long time the Dais had grown rice as their main crop, and they had developed a rather complete, intensive farming system and gained rich experience in irrigation. However, under the shackles of feudalism, yields were low. The reckless exploitation by the luxury loving ruling class and the Han landlords and merchants forced many peasants to flee their villages.