Naxi Dongba Script and Pictographs

Grades Pre-Kindergarten, K-5 Arts & Literature, Beliefs/Religion, Society Lesson or Unit Plan
  • Naxi Dongba Script - the one and only living pictographic script in the world

  • The Dongbas meaning 'the master interpreter of scripture' - are the Naxi ritual specialists, originally decending from the Tibetan Bön religion with rituals much in line with shamanism.

  • Still they were not shamans nor true priests like the Bön monks, as they had no temples and no priesthood.

During this lesson, students will learn about the Naxi–one of China’s fifty-five ethnic minorities–as well as the Dongba religion. Students will experience Naxi culture through photographs and Dongba script. They will leave this lesson with the ability to create their own Dongba pictograph, and enhanced cultural awareness of one of China’s numerous ethnic minorities.

Title: Naxi Dongba Script and Pictographs
Author: Kendra Brown
Subject Area: Visual Arts/Social Studies
Grade Level: 3-5
Time Required: Three 40-minute sessions
Standards: NCTE standard 9: Multicultural Understanding
Input Standards: NA-VA.K-4.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
NSS-C.K-4.4 Other Nations and World Affairs
Keywords/Vocabulary: Illustration Pictograph Dongba Script
Essential Question(s):
  • What is a pictograph?
  • Who are the Naxi?
  • What is Dongba Script and why is it important?
Learning Objectives/Goals/Aims:
  • Understanding the Naxi people in relation to Chinese culture.
  • Look at Dongba script (hieroglyphics) and understand the importance it plays in the Naxi culture.
  • The students will create ‘living pictographs’ that represent images in their lives.
Introduction: The Naxi—one of China’s fifty-five ethnic minority nationalities—traditionally practiced the Dongba religion. Dongba has distinct artistic expressions, though it reflects influences from Bon, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Mongolian shamanism, and popular cults. The religion’s ritual corpus, comprising some one thousand ceremonies, is contained in manuscripts filled with Dongba script—the only living pictographic language in the world. Examples of these manuscripts, as well as funeral scrolls, altar sticks, thangka paintings, and ritual objects reveal Naxi art as it was found in Lijiang before China’s Revolution in 1949.-expert from ‘Quentin Roosevelt’s China Ancestral Realms of the Naxi.
Procedure/Pedagogical Technique/Instructional Strategy:  1. During the first session, the teacher will give a PowerPoint presentation that highlights important cultural sites such as the Impressions performance, Yulong Snow Mountain, Naxi Music performance, the Naxi Museum and Jade Water Temple.
During the presentation the teacher will point out the use of Dongba script and its relation to Chinese characters in everyday life. The teacher will also present the Rubin Museum resource from the Naxi exhibit and search for similarities with the students. ( The teacher will help the students locate the Naxi region on a map of China.

2. In the following session students will look at the Rubin resource on Dongba script:
The students will view each category and discuss how the images reflect the meaning. The teacher will cover up a few words in each section and ask the students to guess what the meaning of the pictograph is for that image. The teacher will ask the students to create new pictographs for each category or create a new section that does not exist in the resource. The teacher will provide blank note cards for the activity. The students will then place their cards under each category and share what they have created. The teacher and students will look up the words in books brought from the Naxi museum.

3. In the final session the students will work in small groups and create small posters telling a story using the Dongba script. the students may incorporate a story or poem from previous classwork. The students will use brushes brought from china. The students will add color to their narratives reflecting the style of Dongba shared during the presentation. The teacher will share the China Daily article that displays how Chinese students have studied the Naxi.

Discussion Points/ GroupInteraction:
  • The Naxi Culture through photographs.
  • Dongba script and the important part the writing plays in Naxi culture.
  • The power of images and words.
  • Did the students participate in class discussion during the photo presentation?
  • Did the students create their own Dongba pictograph and relate their work to the categories represented in the Rubin Museum resource?
  • Did the students collaborate with classmates on creating a finished narrative using Donga Script?
  • The students will share reflections about the presentation about the Naxi in class discussion.
  • The students will present their pictographs with the class.
  • The students will present their group narratives and share the story that it conveys.
Instructional Resources/ Materials:
Extending the Lesson/ Follow-up Activity:
  • Create books of Dongba script using a bookmaking stitch method.
  • Create Dongba priest hats.
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Caterogy: Grades Pre-Kindergarten, K-5 Arts & Literature, Beliefs/Religion, Society Lesson or Unit Plan


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