The Sanie are one of 120 distinct ethnolinguistic people groups who have been combined by the Chinese authorities to form the Yi nationality. Although the Han Chinese refer to this people as White Yi or White Lolo, in their own language they refer to themselves only as Sanie.
Despite their similar names, the Sanie are not the same ethnic group, nor do they speak the same language, as the Sani or Samei. Long ago they may have been related.
Sanie customs are in the process of assimilation to the pervasive Han Chinese culture. In Xishan County, the Sanie, along with the Bai and Han, celebrate the Taiyinhui or "Moon Fair" on two occasions each year. The first celebration takes place on the sixth day of first lunar month. According to Jamin Pelkey, "Most of the participants in the festival are elderly women. Burning sticks of incense, they present various food offerings to the moon, and, after having arranged nine pieces of yellow paper in three small piles they get down on their knees and bow three times."
The Taiyinhui Festival reflects the main religious beliefs of the Sanie, which are a mixture of polytheism and ancestor worship. Pelkey continues: "Following this, passages of the Taiyangjing (the Moon's Scripture) are chanted in unison. In the passages, the moon is praised for all of its qualities and personified as a tender, nocturnal messenger blessing the earth with refreshing dew. The second celebration takes place in conjunction with the mid-Autumn Festival, on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month."
There are believed to be a small number of Sanie Christians near Kunming. Before 1949 many Protestant and Catholic missionary organizations worked in Kunming City and surrounding areas. The majority of Sanie, however, have no awareness of the gospel or its life-giving message.