New Bai Words


The written language of the Bai people has been lost and the language and culture of the Bai people are now passed on orally. The younger generation born in the 80s and 90s, including myself, could not even speak any Bai language because of the environment and our Mandarin-focused education.

As an important form of cultural communication, written language is an important element for a people to pass on their culture and communicate. So I wanted to start here and experiment with creating a Bai writing system. I created a writing system by referring to the script on the tiles excavated from Nanzhao and dividing the script into consonants, vowels and tones.

Standard Characters Font Design




Left - Initial
Right - Syllable
Bottom - Tone


After developing the detailed rules for word formation, I invited 51 Bai people to participate. Among them were old people who had been speaking Bai language since childhood, as well as some young Bai speakers. I asked them to choose their favorite words and create a script corresponding to the pronunciation according to my rules. Below are the portrait of some participants and some words I collected.

I used Bai’s traditional tie-dye dye made from radix isatidis (板蓝根) to write these “new Bai words” one by one on a piece of cotton cloth. After each writing, I throw the cloth into the washing machine, wash it and dry it. Then I retrace previous words and write the next new one. I repeated this process until all the words were superimposed on the cloth after being hand-dye and washed by a modern machine over and over again.