Apart from their mother tongue, most Ersu people can speak their two neighboring languages, Mandarin and the Nuosu Yi language, fluently. Therefore, the Ersu people have three languages. In the beginning of the 1980s, two ethnic identities among the Ersu people emerged. Some of them recognize themselves as being of Tibetan nationality, while others requested to be recognized as a distinct minzu (nationality or ethnic group). The writing system used by the Ersu people played an essential role in the dispute. The Tibetan canons used by the religious practitioners of the Ersu people, Shuvuer , strengthened the Ersu people’s identification with the Tibetans, while the Shaaba hieroglyph used by another type of religious practitioners of the Ersu people, Shaaba , stressed the uniqueness of the Ersu culture. Focusing on the use of the two writing systems of the Ersu people, this paper offers an analysis of this kind of ethnic dispute which is based on “subjective identification” and “imagined communities” from the perspective of reconstructionist ethnic theory in anthropology.