Identity The Aling are one of many subgroups of the Yi nationality in southern China. They view themselves as a distinct people group with their own history and language. The Han Chinese call the Aling different names in different locations. In Luliang County they refer to the Aling as Gan Yi (Sweet Yi). In Shizong County they call them Gan Yi (Dry Yi) (Here a different Chinese character for Gan is used). Also, in Shizong County the Aling refer to themselves as Awu but this is not the same as the Northern or Southeasten Awu in Yunnan. In Shilin County the Aling are known as the Yiqin or Yiqing.
They speak the local dialect of Mandarin Chinese, which probably is somewhat different than the Nasu, Wusa [yig] language, and is also somewhat different than Mandain Chinese [cmn].
The majority of Aling inhabit 7 villages in Shizong County in Long Qing Township. Two of these villages, Shan Hei Ao Zi and Shao Wa Po are only Aling. The other 5 villages: Shui Dong Tian, Da Dou Wen, Xiao Dou Wen, Long Qing Village and Shan Chi Bu Ge are mixed villages, where the Aling live together with Han and perhaps another Yi subgroup. (None of the village names in Shizong County, listed in the Operation China Profile, 2000, where the Aling supposedly live are accurate). It is also reported that the Aling live in parts of Luliang, Luxi and Shilin counties.
History Very little is known about the history of the Aling. Few people have ever heard of them. They no longer wear any traditional clothing that might visually distinguish them from other groups.
Customs The Aling is one of many groups in the area who celebrate the annual Torch Festival. According to one visitor, "The first two days of the festival were fairly rough and ready, but on the third day the girls had a chance to compete against one another in the beauty contest. The scene for this event was a leveled piece of ground on a mountain slope. Early in the morning, the slope was already crowded with girls carrying their yellow oilcloth umbrellas, looking from a distance like so many yellow blossoms on the grassland. I heard that girls from counties all around had set off for this contest two or three days before, making their way across mountains and rivers. The girls gathered together, formed circles and began a dance called duoluohe. The panel of judges consisted of elderly villagers. They shuttled about amidst the dancers trying to find suitable candidates. The first criterion was that she should be a Yi girl living in the countryside. The other criteria were simple: an oval face and a tall, slim figure."
The Aling have become assimilated into the Han Chinese culture, and no longer wear their distinctive traditional dress, but now dress exactly like the Han. They have also lost their mother language and now speak the local dialect of Chinese. They mainly celebrate the same festivals as the Han, such as the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival).
Religion The Aling no longer consider themselves to be religious. Traditionally the Aling were animists, worshiping spirits in nature. They still probably practice ancestor worship, especially the elderly, during festivals and funerals.
Christianity The gospel has made no impact at all among the unreached Aling people group. They have never been focused on by missionaries or church planters. A 1922 mission report issued a challenge for workers to give their lives to reach the Yi, a challenge which still stands true today: "These aborigines are tall, strong, brave, keen, and clever, and some of them are extraordinarily anxious that missionaries should go and teach them. Whoever takes up this work needs to be courageous and to have plenty of grit. Such a one would become an uncrowned king."
A total of 5,600 ethnic Aling people live in Yunnan Province, China. The majority inhabit the villages of Yimai, Faze, Chezhai, Musheluo, Yinie, Qianjia, Shugandian, and Dashao within Shizong County. Some 2,400 Aling dwell in the Longhai Mountains of Luliang County, while just a few hundred more inhabit villages within the Guishan, Zhuqing, and Dake districts of Shilin County (formerly called Lunan County). In Shilin, the largest Aling concentration is found in Yumeidu Village of the Guishan District. (Source: Operation China, 2000)