The existence of the Chesu people has been mentioned in few Chinese publications and never in mission people group lists. The Chesu do not consider themselves part of the Yi nationality. The Han Chinese and other minorities in Chesu areas do not think of the Chesu as Yi either. Local people believe the "Chesu are Chesu, and Yi are Yi ... the Chesu speak the Chesu language, and the Yi speak the Yi language," as one elderly man remarked in northern Xinping County.
Originally the Chesu were part of a great Tibeto-Burman race, who were forced to migrate south to their present location under pressure from the advancing Han Chinese, beginning in the fourth century AD. The Han themselves had been forced to move south due to the disrupting influence of the wild barbarian invaders in the north. "Six or seven out of every ten gentry families joined the southward march. In many cases, entire clans including neighbors and servants left their homes and traveled hundreds of miles to establish new homes south of the Yangtze River." One writer notes the result of these massive Han migrations: "As this contact occurred, the non-Han peoples were pushed back by the Han into the mountains, usually much more barren than the fertile river valleys where they had been living."
The Chesu people living in Damidi District in Shuangbai County celebrate the annual Body-Wrinkle Dance Festival. It is held on two separate days, on the 24th day of the sixth lunar month and then on the 15th day of the seventh month. Participants dress up in panther costumes and mimic the movements of the panther. The festival remembers the time when large cats roamed the central Yunnan region, terrorizing the local inhabitants.
The Chesu offer sacrifices to animals such as panthers, bears, and tigers. They believe the spirits of these powerful animals can protect their communities from harm and disease.
The Chesu are one of the people groups most untouched by Christianity in China. Few Chesu have ever been evangelized, although in March 2000 a few Chesu came to Christ when visited by Chinese evangelists. The preachers reported the Chesu are very responsive and open, but that ministry to them is difficult because of the lack of Mandarin understood by the Chesu. They live in such remote areas that outsiders have failed in their bid to even locate the Chesu.