YAO ETHNIC GROUP
(Guangxi, Guangdong, Guizhou and Yunnan in southern China, northern Thailand, northern Laos and Vietnam)
The Yao are a fairly large minority. They live primarily in mountainous southern China, but they are also found in northern Thailand (where they are known as the Mian) and northern Laos and Vietnam (where they are known as the Man). About 70 percent of those in China live in Guangxi with most of the remainder live across the border in Hunan, Guangdong, Guizhou, Jiangxi and Yunnan.
The Yao call themselves Mien, Mian and Iu Mien, which means “people.” Yao is a Chinese expression that means “dog” or ‘savage.” They are also known as the Byau Min, Kim Mun, Pai Yao and Yao Min. The Yao live in "small communities scattered across big areas". They have traditionally lived in the mountains ad engaged in farming and forestry and have been involved in the opium trade and are regarded as one of most advanced hill tribes. Among the Yao there are many differences in language, social organization, customs, practices, religious beliefs and clothing. Because of this the Yao are called a variety of names by other groups and among the Yao themselves dozens of names are used. In terms of population the Yao rank 12th among China’s 56 ethnic groups. [Sources: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]
Compared with other nationalities, they have two unique features: they are widely scatted and they have many names. Historically, the Yaos have had at least 30 names based on their ways on where they lived, their lifestyles, and dresses and adornments. In China the Yao are found mainly in 1) Jinxiu, Bama, Dahua, Du'an, Fuchuan and Gongcheng counties of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; 2) Jianghua, Ningyuan, Lanshan and Xinning counties of Hunan Province; 3) Jinping, Hekou, Funing and Malipo counties of Yunnan Province; 4) Liannan, Ruyuan and Lianshan counties of Guangdong Province; and 4) Rongjiang and Congjiang counties of Guizhou Province.
The Yao have long history. As early as the Northern and Southern Dynasties, the name "Moyao"—thought to a name used for the Yao’s ancient ancestors— appeared in historical records. Most Yao languages belong to the Miao-Yao language branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. Some of them belong to the Zhuang-Dong language branch and Dong-Shui branch. Significant differences exist among different dialects and some of them even cannot communicate.
Farming is the main occupation of the Yao people. They mainly grow on rice and corn. Sticky rice is their staple food. Yao houses are usually made of wood or bamboo. Some of them are also built with bricks and earth, with distinctive roofs. Often they are built on high mountains. Yao people celebrate many festivals, such as the Panwang Festival, the Spring Festival, Danu Festival, Zhongyuan Festival and Shewang Festival. Yao religious life has been heavily influenced by Taoism. They believe in Taoism and the ancient religions. Yao people have a variety of cultural and artistic activities, including their own music, dances and handicrafts. Different Yao groups have different customs and identify themselves as such by wearing different clothing.
There are approximately five million Yao living in various regions of southern Asia today. A 2010 census counted 2.8 million of them in China. Another 40,000 or so live in Thailand. Yao population in China: 0.2098 percent of the total population; 2,796,003 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 2,638,878 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 2,134,013 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. About 70 per cent of them live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the rest in Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou and Jiangxi provinces. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia. China.org]
Source: “Fifty Years Investigation in the Yao Mountains in Lemoine and Chiao Chien” by Fei Xiaotong, The Yao of South China-Recent International Studies. Pangu. Paris, 1991.
Sources on Individual Ethnic Minorities in China: (click the ethnic group you want) Ethnic China (very good site with good academic articles) ethnic-china.com ; Cultural China (site with nice photos) cultural-china.com ; China Travel chinatravel.com ; Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; OMF international (a Christian group) omf.org ; People’s Daily (government source) peopledaily.com.cn ; Ethnic Publishing House (government source)e56.com.cn ; Paul Noll site` paulnoll.com ; China Highlights (on some groups) China Highlights
Sources on Ethnic Minorities in China: Book on Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ; Chinese Government Law on Minorities china.org.cn ; Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Minority Travel: China Trekking (click under Minority Towns) China Trekking ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Interactive Map nytimes.com ; Ethnic Groups in China (Chinese government site) chinaethnicgroups.com
Links in this Website: MINORITIES IN CHINA--- Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES IN SOUTHERN CHINA--- HISTORY, RELIGION Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES IN SOUTHERN CHINA---LIFE AND CULTURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES IN SOUTHERN CHINA---AGRICULTURE, GOVERNMENT Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES GROUPS IN SOUTHERN CHINA---ACHANG TO HAKKA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES GROUPS IN SOUTHERN CHINA--JING TO PUMI Factsanddetails.com/China ; MINORITIES GROUPS IN SOUTHERN CHINA---SHE TO ZUANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; DAI MINORITY Factsanddetails.com/China ; HANI MINORITY Factsanddetails.com/China ; MIAO MINORITY: HISTORY, RELIGION, MEN WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/China ; MIAO MINORITY: SOCIETY, CULTURE, FARMING Factsanddetails.com/China ; YI MINORITY Factsanddetails.com/China
There are a number of Yao branches. Some studies detail more than 30 different ones. The Big cultural and linguistic differences between Yao branches can be quite large. Among the major branches are the Chashan Yao, Baigu Yao and Hongtou Yao. But, in contrast to some of the other big minorities of China, such as the Yi or the Miao, whose identity is continually debated inside and outside the minority, nobody seems to deny the existence of the Yao as a kind of homogeneous minority. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]
The Yao language is divided into four main dialects: 1) Mian: the main dialect of the Yao, spoken by more than 700,000 people in south China and Southeast Asia; 2) Jinmen, spoken by 100,000 people, who live mainly in Yunnan and Guangxi provinces, and Vietnam, Laos and Thailand; 3) Biaomin, spoken in northern Guangxi province; and 4) Yaomin, with 50,000 speakers, who inhabit Liannan Yao Autonomous district in Guangdong province. \*\
Linguistic analysis of these four dialects provides clues to origin, history and migrations of the Yao people, including that they originated more than 2,000 years ago. Studies of the Yao in Dayaoshan (Big mountain of the Yao), in Guangxi province, where the group has lived in compact communities for a long time, shows surprising diversity. In the 2,300 square kilometers of Dayaoshan, the Yao call themselves five different names: 1) Chashan Yao or Lajia. 2) Hualan Yao or Jiongnai; 3) Ao Yao or Aobiao; 4) Pan Yao or Mian; and 5) Shanzi Yao or Jindimen. All wear different traditional dresses. \*\
These five ethnic groups speak three different languages: 1) Mian, 2) Bunu and 3) Lajia. Mian languages belong to the Miao-Yao family, Yao branch; Bunu language belongs to Miao-Yao family, Miao branch; Lajia language belongs to Zhuang-dong family, Dong-Shui branch. Chasan Yao, Hualan Yao and Ao Yao live up in the mountain and have traditionally been settled farmers. Pan Yao and Shanzi Yao practiced slash and burn agriculture until recently, moving their villages every several years. They were known as Shanzi Yao or Gaoshan Yao (Yao Crossing the Mountains), implying that they have no land nor fixed settlements. \*\
On these differences Fei Xiaotong wrote: "Considering the fact of their different languages these five Yao groups with different self-denominations probably had different origins. In other words they are probably not of the same ethnic stock." Moreover "These Yao groups who entered Da Yaoshan at different times and by different routes did not mix with each other." Fei Xiaotong concludes that over a period of four to five hundred years, groups speaking different languages successively entered the Yao mountains, and, due to their common interests, united to protect the mountainous area. The Han people therefore referred to them all indiscriminately as Yao and this is how the present Yao community into existence despite the fact they speak different languages, wear different costumes and have different customs and habits." Even so, most people who have contact with the Yao, including the Yao themselves, consider the diverse Yao groups to be Yao. Some have argued that this situation came into existence so the Yao could avoid paying Chinese taxes and avert providing corvee service. \*\
Scattered Yao Branches
Fei Xiaotong, one of the first anthropologists to study the Yao in detail, wrote: "The Yaos characteristically lived in small, widely-scattered communities. The Yaos of Guangxi were spread over 60 or more counties, their numbers in each county varying from a hundred thousand or more to only a few thousand or a few hundred. Their villages were usually separated by several mountains. Even in the Dayao Mountains, walking from one village to another not infrequently took me a whole day when I first visited the region." "Living so widely dispersed; the Yaos differed markedly among themselves in language, social structure, customs, habits, religion, and even dress. These differences formed the basis of the various names by which they were known." [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]
1) Mien (Youmien): Most Yao belong to this branch. Usually Mien is synonym of Yao and the Mien language means the Yao language. In China they live in many counties of Guangxi, Guangdong, Yunnan and Hunan provinces. But there are no Mien communities in Guizhou. Most of the Yao of Southeast Asia are also Mien. Their population was is 523,709 in 2000 in China. In Southeast Asia there are about 400,000 of them. 2) The Bunu live mainly in several counties in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Funing County in Yunnan province. They have some myths differences from other Yao, such as the cult to Miluotou as the mother goddess. In 2000 their population was about 490,853. 3) The Bingduoyou (Dainaijiang) live in Guangxi (Gongcheng and Fuchuan counties) and Hunan provinces (Jianghua County). In 2000 their population was about 287,920. 4) The Jinmen live in the southeast of Yunnan Province (Wenshan and Honghe Prefectures) and the southwest of Guangxi province. In 2000 their population was about 210,714.
5) The Nunu inhabit Linyun, Bama, Tianlin, Fengshan and Donglang counties in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Prefecture. In 2000 their population was about 102,038. 6) The Zaomin live in Guangdong (Lianshan and Yangshan counties) and Hunan (Yizhang County). In 2000 their population was about 95,036. 6) The Younian numbered about 56,851 in 2000. 7) The Biaomei numbers 52,799 in 2000. 7) The Naogelao or Baonuo live in Guangxi (Hechi, Nandan and Tian'e counties) and Lipo County of Guizhou. One of its branches is the Dounu, known outside their communities as Baiku Yao or White Pants Yao. The total population of the Naogelao is 52,655. That of the Dounu, considered as a branch of them, is about 30,000. 8) The Bunuo numbered 35,829 in 2000. The Baheng numbered 33,157 in 2000.
9) The Biaoman live in Mengshan, Lipo, Pingle and Zhaoping Counties in Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 27,513. 10) The Gugangyou live in Luocheng County of Guangxi Province and Lanshan and Jianhua counties of Hunan Province. In 2000 their population was about 26,244. 11) the Lajia, also known as Chashan Yao, are one of the five Yao branches living in Yaoshan, Jinxiu County, Guangxi Province. Their language and culture has attracted the attention of many ethnologists. There are several books about them. In 2000 their population was about 17.091. 12) The Jiaogongmian live in Gongcheng County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 16,036. 13) The Wunao live in several counties of Hunan Province. In 2000 their population was about 12,719. 14) The Younuo live in Longsheng County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 9,331. 14) The Shimen live in Gongcheng County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 7,622
15) The Tuyou live in Hexian County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 7,174. 16) The Youjia live in Guanyang County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 6,433. 17) The Gandimen live in Jinxiu and other counties of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 5,570. 18) The Aobiao live in Jinxiu County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 3,943. 19) The Numao live in Lipo County of Guizhou Province. In 2000 their population was about 3,665. 20) The Nao live in Jinxiu County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 2,626. 21) The Beidongnuo live in Lipo County of Guizhou Province. In 2000 their population was about 779. 22) The Zhudun Youmien live in Fangcheng County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 511. The Shanjie live in Fangcheng County of Guangxi Province. In 2000 their population was about 479.
Among more than 60 names the Yao call themselves are Iu Mien, Mian, Youmian, Dongbenyou, Tuyou, Gugangyou, Bingduoyou, Bunu, Nuhao, Men, Jinmen, Min, Biaomin etc. Of the more than 390 names used by others are Panyao, Panguyao, Bunuyao, Red Yao, White Yao, White Trousers Yao and Tea Plantation Yao. The name "Yao" was officially adopted after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
Iu Mien is a name used to describe both the largest Yao branch or all yao. In Yao, the word “mien” means “people.” In China and Thailand, the Iu Mien are called Yao, and in Laos and Vietnam, they are called Man. Man is an ancient Chinese word, meaning “barbarian”. It was applied to peoples the Han Chinese encountered but were unable to assimilate when they expanded southward over last 1000 years or so. In both Chinese and Lao, “Man” may also refer to peoples other than Iu Mien. Yao, which derived from the 'Iu' in Iu Mien, first appears as a name for the group in an account of the Man “barbarians” living along the Hunan-Guizhou border written about a 1,000 years ago. [Source:Qian Jia Dong journal angelfire.com/ca6/tomswebpage/QianJiaDong +++]
Originated from the "savage Changsha and Wuling tribes", the Yao ancestors lived around Changsha and Wuling counties, which are today's river valley areas along Xiangjiang River, Zijiang River, Yuan River and the Dongting Lake. They later moved southward to such areas as Guangxi, Guangdong, Guizhou and Yunan and thus the inhabiting feature of "small communities scatter across big areas" came into being. As a result, their life styles, cultural activities and even names began to diverge. ~
Yao self-names include "Mian", "Youmian", "Men", "Jinmen", "Shimen", "Min", "Biaomin", "Bunu" and "Bunuo". Among the names used are number that originated from totem and ancestor worshipping, like "Panyao", "Panwang Yao", "Pangu Yao","Bunu Yao", "Tangwang Yao", "Shangong Yao" and "Monkey Yao. Some come from the color of their costumes and adornments, like "Red Yao", "White Yao", "Flowery Clothes Yao", "White Trouser Yao", "Black Yao", "Cyan Yao" and "Cyan Trousers Yao". Some come from the features of their topknots, like "Ban Yao", "Dingban Yao", "Jian Yao", "Horn Yao" and "Bamboo Hat Yao". Some refer to their hairdos, like "Beifa Yao", "Bun Hair Yao", "Comb Yao" and "Painted Hair Yao". ~
Some Yao names from the terrain of the places they live like "High Mountain Yao", "Remote Mountain Yao", "Halfway Hill Yao", "Cave Yao" and "Level Land Yao”. Others come from the places where they live, like "Daozhou Yao", "Changning Yao", "Jinxiu Yao", "Qidu Yao", "Lianshan Yao" and "Shuangping Yao". Some come from the way they make a living, like "Slashing Yao", "Hillside-Opening Yao", "Mountain-Crossing Yao", "Leek Yao" and "Tea Plantation Yao". These names provide some hints in conducting research concerning the Yao's historical and cultural features. ~
Yao in Chinese
characters The Yao consider China their homeland. They were described in Chinese historical records in 2500 B.C. According to legend the Yao were founded by a dog who saved the life of the daughter of a Chinese emperor and thus was rewarded with her hand in marriage. The Yao have fair skin and Mongolian features, and it is believed they have the same ancestors as the Chinese. Because of their Chinese origins, the Yao consider themselves to be culturally superior to other hill tribes.
The name "Yao" began to be used in the 8th century, to denominate a group peoples who were relatively accommodating to Han Chinese invaders and rewarded with the right to not pay corvee (forces, unpaid labor). The first references to the Yao was with term “Mo Yao” in the Sui Dynasty. According to some scholars "Mo Yao" means "Exempted from corvee". According to the Book of the Later Han Dynasty (25-220), the ancestors of the Yaos "liked five-colored clothes." Later historical records said that the Yaos were "barefoot and colorfully dressed."[Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]
Historically, the Yao people had close relations with the Miao ethnic group, both of whom are thought to have originated from the Wuling People in Qin and Han Dynasties. Around the Sui Dynasty (560 A.D.- 618 A.D.) , the Yao and Miao nationalities living in today's Hunan and Hubei Provinces diverged into two different ethnic groups. Over time the Yao migrated southward and reached Vietnam perhaps by the 11th century. The ancestors of the Yao people in today's Yunnan Province moved from of Guangxi, Guangdong and Guizhou Provinces to Wenshan area during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Later some of them moved to the Honghe River Basin, Mojiang and Mengla areas. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Yao relations with China have been marked by conflict. Between 1910 and 1950 approximately 20,000 Yao escaped the turmoil in southern China, particularly during World War II, by emigrating to Thailand.
Origins and Early History of the Yao
Some scholars believe the Yao belong to a group of peoples called the Shan Yue, who inhabited a mountainous area south of the Yangtze river in present-day Zhejiang Province before the unification of China for Qinshihuang emperor in 221 B.C. Other scholars believe they descended from the Wuximan People who lived in the southwest of today’s Hunan Province about 2000 years ago. Yet others say the Yao’s ancestors migrated to that region from areas near the Pacific Coast and or that the Yao people did not originate in one particular region, but a variety of locations. There is some agreement that the Yao people were originally connected and related to the Jingman, ChangshaWuling People, both of whom lived in today’s Hunan Province. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
When China was unified under Emperor Qinshihuang in 221 B.C., a policy was adopted of banishing criminals to the minority inhabited border areas . As a result, a lot of Han people from the central parts of China were sent to today's Changsha and Wuling regions, where the ancestors of the Yao lived. These Han people brought advanced technologies to the region, which promoted development. During both the Western Han (202 BC --- 25 AD) and Eastern Han Dynasty (25AD---220AD), the minority people in Wuling area had to pay high taxes to the government and sometimes revolted against the government in the Eastern Han Dynasty. \=/
At the end of the Han dynasty in the A.D. 3rd century China split into three independent kingdoms. Political instability in the north caused a large migration of Chinese people to the Yangtze River basin. This caused the people living in this area to move to the relatively wild and uncharted south, where various tribal peoples were already living. This started a process of colonization of indigenous lands by the Han Chinese that continues to this day. Some indigenous peoples mixed with the recently-arrived Chinese, assimilating into the Han Chinese masses. Others, such as the Yao, maintained their independence. However, they were forced to abandon their most fertile lands, and migrate further south and into the mountains to agriculturally less productive areas. It has been proposed that different branches of the Yao began differentiate themselves in these years: and separated from another they developed the distinctions that characterizes them today. The Yao were described as the Moyao in Chinese sources historical records. \*\
Panhu: the Founder of the Yao
The Yao consider Panhu— a mythical figure at the center of their most important myths— to be their ancestor and the founder of the Yao people. According to legend Panhu was a dragon-dog who defeated the great enemy King Gao. After performing several heroic feats he is rewarded with the hand of the younger daughter of King Ping. After they were married they bore six boys and six girls, whose intermarriage gave birth the Yao people. Many scholars think that Panhu was a real person— a mythified local hero. Some think that Panhu lived in time of King Ping, of the Western Zhou dynasty (8th century B.C.). Others think he lived later, maybe in the first years of the A.D. 1st century.
Panhu, also called Panwang and Pangu, was a dragon-like dog and a totem to the Yao people. Many Yao people believe that Panhu is their first ancestor. They worship him and offer sacrifice to him and honor him in the Panwang Festival. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
According to Yao legend, centuries ago when Emperor Ku, or King Gaoxin, was in power, his wife suffered from a terrible ear disease for a considerable length of time. She fully recovered after a golden worm was picked out of her ear. Shortly afterwards the golden worm, which was kept under a gourd, grew into a dragon-like dog. The “hu” in Panhu refers to a kind of gourd. Cute and smart, Panhu was adored by Emperor Ku and other officials. Later a rebellion broke out led by a powerful foreign chief. Emperor Ku posted a reward, saying any who brought him the chopped-off head of the chief would granted the hand of his daughter in marriage. Since no officer had the courage to suppress the rebellion, Panhu went all by himself. Taking advantage of the chief's hangover, Panhu bit his head off and sent the head to Emperor Ku, who fulfilled his promise and Panhu married his daughter. ~
After staying in a golden bell for six days, Panhu turned into a human being. After the marriage Emperor Ku gave Panhu the title of "King of Shibao Palace" in Nanjing. Panhu also received the name of "Panwang"("wang" means king). However Panhu showed no interest in wealth and rank and moved together with his wife to Zhongnanshan, where they went hunting and cultivated land and had many children. Later Emperor Ku gave each of Panhu’s twelve children—six boys and six girls—a surname, which became the earliest surnames of Yao people. Once when he was hunting, Panwang was hit by a goat and fell down the cliff and died. His children and grandchildren increased in number and the Yao ethnic group came into being. ~
Even after his death, Panwang continued to bless and protects his offsprings. Legend has it that one year Yao villages were stricken by severe droughts. As a result, all the villagers with the twelve surnames had to leave their native land to flee the calamity. Things went from bad to worse when they were hit by a storm while traveling by boat. At this moment they were helpless and could do nothing but prey to their first ancestor for protection, hoping that he would carry them safely in shore. This wish was realized and they arrived safely in shore on the 16th day of the 10th lunar month, which happened to be Panwang's birthday. Yao people celebrated their survival and vowed to honor Panwang by offering sacrifices to him. This became a ritual that is still practiced today during the Panwang Festival. ~
Qianjiadong: Birthplace of the Yao
A place called Qianjiadong is regarded as the birthplace of the Yao. According to legend, the ancestor of the Yaos, Panwang, (Panhu) was reproached by his men when he became the Han emperor's son-in-law. He and his wife were sent to the isolated Qianjiadong by the emperor. In the middle of the place lay a piece of flat land, surrounded by hills. It was linked with the outside world only by a cavernous tunnel. Panwang and his wife and their descendants lived and multiplied there generation after generation. [Source: Wei Liming, china.org ^^]
The Yao lived and worked in peace and contentment in Qianjiadong. They lived, grew, and multiplied there for many generations. Qianjiadong's surroundings were towering mountains, steep rocks, and rugged ridges, green forests, densed grass, trees, and waterfalls. Through the cavern suddenly lies broad farmland with rich soils, the land dwelled by more than a thousand households of Yaos. These ancient people lived their prosperous lives as farmers, and enjoying their freedoms in a wonderland. [Source: Qian Jia Dong journal angelfire.com/ca6/tomswebpage/QianJiaDong , Translated by Tommy Phan +++]
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), someone from the local government entered Qianjiadong through the tunnel and found people there well-clad and well-fed. The local government began to collect the land tax by force. Troops were dispatched to the site to collect funds by force. The Yaos were outraged, overwhelmed, and disturbed by the military officials. Many Yaos were hung to their deaths; buildings were destroyed, and set on fire. Their ancient narrow drums, antiques, arts, household valuable items were all destroyed, or set on fire. Many Yaos feared that there maybe more slaughtering from the government, so the elders blew the ox horn to call together all the 12 clans of Yaos, and warned them that Qianjiadong is about to end its history; that every bird has its own destiny, every beast has its own path, and that everyone must run for his or her life. ^^ +++
The Yaos left their homeland. Before leaving, 12 tribes of the Yao ethnic group cut an ox horn into 12 parts. Every tribal chief received one part. They swore before the bronze statue of Panwang that after 500 years, Yao people, wherever they were, would return to the homeland, put together the horn and rebuild the holy land. As you can imagine this tragedy deeply tainted the hearts of all Yaos. It also had tainted the history itself. It became forever difficult for many Yaos to restrain such pain. More than 500 years had past, many Yaos still cross mountains and wade in deep waters, not fearing of danger, or hardship. Until recently, modern Yaos still searching for this haunted place called Qianjiadong.
Gong Zhebing, a professor of philosophy at Wuhan University, is credited with discovering Qianjiadong as well as uncovering Nushu, a writing used only by a small number of women. Yao elders whom Gong contacted in his investigation, referring to the family tree or the story which has passed down on lips, all claimed that their roots were in Qianjiadong.
In order to find Qianjiadong, Gong and his colleagues went deep into the mountains of Hunan, Guangdong and Guangxi, where the Yaos live. Using clues from the topographical features described in the “The Travel of Qianjiadong,” an oral epic handed down through many generations of Yao, they covered more than 1,000 kilometers and finally at Dupang Ridge, at the juncture of Guangxi and Hunan, found a cavern whose topographical features conform to that of Qianjiadong. They walked into the cavern and suddenly emerged into farmland surrounded by hills. ^^
In 1986, a group of professors, scholars, and history experts gathered together from all over the mainland, Beijing, Hubei, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan. Everyone's main focus was on Qianjiadong at the time, it was under a different name Dayuan. The scholars came up with great ideas and obtained many identical evidences to the Hunan government demanding that a far away village named Dayuan must change its name to Qianjiadong. Eventually, Hunan government was convinced and had approved the change back to its original name Qianjiadong. [Source: Qian Jia Dong journal angelfire.com/ca6/tomswebpage/QianJiaDong , +++]
On the search for Qianjiadong. Qian Jia Dong wrote: “My father (Pan, Futong) once told the Chinese government officials in Beijing (during his trip to China in 1989) that the Yaos came from a place called "Qianjiadong" - with that information the Chinese government officials began conducting researches on the Yao people. In 1992 during the World Wide Iu Mien Leaders Meeting, which took place in France. Lee, Weun Fong (from the USA) was there, he saw some photos of Pan, Futong and the Cave 'Qianjiadong' written in Chinese carved on the rock above the Cave Entrance. Lee, Weun Fong recognized that a person in the photo was my father, so he asked one gentleman pointing at the photos, "Who is that man and where is he from?" The man (researcher) answered, "this is Pan, Futong, a Yao from the USA, he was the one who told us about the Qianjiadong and we've found that cave." said the researcher. Since then, all 12 parts of an ox horn that once cut (to represent the 12 tribes) had been returned. Therefore, a tall monument of a huge 'Ox Horn' was built in Qianjiadong to preserve and to commemorate such discovery, which was completed in 1992.
The Qianjiadong site has been explored somewhat by archeologists. After hundreds of years, Qianjiadong was still intact and largely undisturbed. Archeologist have unearthed many ancient swords, metal torches, old bricks, and grindstones, offering evidence that the Qianjiadong story was true. Today it is a tourist attraction known for it rich natural resources, four huge lands, nine sources of rivers, maple trees, beautiful white ridges and many rare wonderful wild birds.
Yao in the Tang Dynasty
In the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618 — 907), the Yao people mainly lived in the provinces of Hunan, Guangxi and Guangdong, and at that time were called Moyao ethnic group. The Moyao people were mostly farmers. It is said the Chinese introduced them to iron tools, and this greatly helped improved their agriculture and crafts, although some of tribes continued to reside in forest. Over the centuries contacts with the Chinese increased. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]
Two papers presented in the First International Congress of Yao Studies dealt with the origin and meaning of the "King Ping's Charter", a Tang Dynasty document that granted the Yao free pass across the mountains of the 15 southern provinces of China and an imperial statement that exempt them from the corvee services. Research has indicated the document was issued in the reign of the Emperor Tang Taizong, a time of peaceful development and a policy of low taxes and good treatment to the frontier minorities. \*\
During this time the Yao inhabited the middle course of the Yangtze River, living mainly of fishing, hunting and a primitive agriculture. King Ping’s charters gave the Yao a free passe in all the mountain ranges of south China, provinces of which the Tang emperors had little real control. This has led some scholars to conclude that charter really meant the Yao were expelled from the rich lands they inhabited, possibly to make way for Chinese migrants, more able to develop the rice agriculture. As a kind of compensation for leave these lands, they were granted free pass through the mountain ranges and given exemptions, clearly specifying that no government authority was allowed to exact on them any toll or tax on places were the traveler usually pay, as well as exemption of corvee. \*\
Many King Ping's Charter were reissued during the Song Dynasty when the Yao continued their southward migrations. This was also seen a evidence that the migrations were the result of the Han Chinese migratory pressures. The ensuing interactions between the Yao and other ethnic groups Miao helps explain the great linguistic diversity of the Yao, with some groups speaking languages belonging to the Miao sub- branch of the Miao-Yao family, and other even languages related with the Kam-Thai family. The process of ethnic fusion is guessed in some chronicles of the Ming dynasty. During this dynasty the pressure on the Yao and other minorities of South China was stronger than ever, with the result of bloody wars in territory over a period of 200 years. Mountain peoples with the same interest may have fought together against the Chinese.
Yao in Imperial China
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the ancestors of the Yao people inhabited many locations throughout China: from today's Shou County of Anhui Province in the east to Shang County of Shanxi Province in the west, Wuling area until the eastern part of today's Henan Province, and the Northwest region of today's Anhui Province. During this time, there was relatively high amount pf communication and interaction between the Yao and Han people. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
During the Song dynasty, the Yao were integrated in a marginal way into the administration of the Chinese state by the establishment of the Tuguan system. The tuguan were the local (tu) leaders who governed (guan) the Yao on behalf of the emperor. The Tuguan system brought benefits for the leaders who saw their leadership recognized by the powerful emperor, and for the Chinese who gained suzerainty and access to trade routes in Yao lands. But the for common people it is said the tuguan system was a setback because they were forced to do more work and services for their "tuguan" lords. Many Yao communities didn't accept the system and moved away from the Chinese to isolated areas, where they kept to themselves, living a simple economic life based on agriculture, until the second half of 20th century. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]
Despite the isolation of many Yao groups their existence was not always peaceful. Even when they lived in remote mountains their history is full of rebellions and resistance against the Chinese. Among the most important rebellions are: A) the 1327 rebellion that affected the whole Guangxi province and part of Hunan; B) the 1371 rebellion, the biggest of the Yao uprising; and C) the 1403 rebellion: when the Yao people rebelled in Guiyang and Hunan.. The 1371 rebellion began in Guangxi in 1371 in response to the "migration to the tropics" of the Chinese peoples, and the exploitation of tropical woods promoted during the Ming dynasty. It lasted more than 100 years.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), one story goes, imperial Chinese officials came to the Yao ethnic group to collect taxes. They were greatly welcomed by the Yao people and treated so well many of them didn’t return home. Their leader mistakenly believed that they had been killed by the Yao people and sent troops to Yao areas and slaughtered the local people. As a result the Yao people were forced to vacate their land and migrate to different places. Before they departed and went separate ways, they divided an ox horn into twelve parts; one part was kept by each of the twelve families. They vowed all of them would return to their homeland one thousand years later. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
During the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, the Yao ethnic groups were distributed in a variety of places in the provinces of Guangxi, Guangdong, southwest Hunan, Yunnan, and some mountainous areas in Guizhou. As they lived in many different places under different circumstances, their development differed very much from place to place. In some places their economies rivaled those of the Han; however, in the remote mountainous areas, Yao people lived off hunting and gathering and didn’t even practice agriculture. \=/
Later History of the Yao
"Early Qing sources guessed that of the total population of Guangxi, "half were Zhuang, 30 percent Yao, and 20 percent Han. Ming sources indicate that 80-90 percent of the population of Guilin prefecture was Yao, and 70-80 percent of Liuzhou too was Yao. By the 1940s, Han Chinese constituted about 60 percent of the population of Guangxi." "In the western half of the province the early Ming administrative system recognized some 49 "ji mi" or "loosely controlled," administrative districts (zhou), which were governed by hereditary tribal chiefs who nominally reported to the nearest Chinese military post and were liable for paying taxes." [Source: “Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (Studies in Environment and History)” by Marks, Robert, P.E, and Worster, Donald (Editor), and Crosby, Alfred W (Editor), Cambridge University Press, 2006]
In the 19th century, corruption and exploitation by Qing officials provoked numerous rebellions that although not as violent or widely extended as those of the Miao were indicative of poor relations between minorities and the Qing government throughout China. After the defeat of China in the First Opium War, the Yao become more and more impoverished. Numerous revolts and rebellions occurred in a number of places. They didn't cease until the establishment of the Republic of China, Noteworthy revolts occurred in 1926, 1929, 1933 and 1934.
After the foundation of the People’s Republic China in 1949 the Yao has begun to enjoy autonomy in the regions that they inhabit. This was supposed to lead to improvements in their daily life. This has been true to some extent. But distinctive elements of their culture and religion suffered from Red Guards attacks during the Cultural Revolution. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution the Yao have seen a resurgence of their culture and traditions, which as has exploited to some degree by the tourism industry in some places.
Slash-and-burn cultivation is still practiced by the Yao and other minorities that have little land resources. Gu Yanwu, a scholar in the Qing Dynasty, once wrote in his "The Strategic Economic Advantages of Districts and States of the Empire" that "Yao people slash and burn one mountain; after it is used up they move to another mountain." Employing slash-and-burn cultivation, farmers have to move to clear other areas after the nutrients in the soils have been used up.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
The ancient Yao people lived in the fertile Dongting Lake and Boyang lake areas. Because of pressures from the Han Chinese, they were forced to move southward, from the plain areas to the hills and ultimately ended up in the desolate and uninhibited mountains and forests, where infertile soil forced them to clear the mountains by burning them and practice extensive cultivation, yielding only a slight harvest. After a period of time, nutrients in the the soils were consumed and in order to survive they had to move again and clear new lands. ~
This unstable cultivation style, coupled with frequent migration, resulted in the wide distribution of Yao people. Historically, the slash-and-burn cultivation and migration were often practiced by family units that had blood relationship. It was rare for single household to migrate alone, generally a whole village or even several villages migrated together from place to place. These groupings sometimes moved only in a short distance, to the next mountains; Other times they traveled longer distances, even crossing several counties.
According to the Chinese government: “After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, various policies and measures based on ethnic group equality and unity have been put into place by the communist party and central government to help the Yao people improve production efficiency and living standard. The Yao people, who have been moving for hundreds of years, finally settle down and begin to live a happy life.” ~
Yao Migration into Southeast Asia
Historically, Yao people mainly moved southwest. They first moved to Guangxi and Guangdong and then further southwest to Guizhou and Yunnan. Today most of Yao people in Yunnan can be traced back to Guangdong and Guangxi origins. Some of Yao people in Mengla, Xishuangbanna moved to the northern mountainous areas in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. ~
Major movements of Yao further south, outside of China into Southeast Asia, probably began during the 19th century, stimulated by the expansion of the opium trade and the Manchu (Uing) government’s reprisals against hill peoples in the aftermath of the Taiping, the Panthay, and other rebellions which wracked southern China in that period. [Source: Qian Jia Dong journal angelfire.com/ca6/tomswebpage/QianJiaDong +++]
From Laos, some Yao entered Nan and what is now Phayao Province of Thailand in the late 19th century, and greater numbers arrived after World War II. Settling primarily in Chiang Rai. In Thailand today, the population is about 30,000 and settlements are located in Nan, Lampang, Phitsanulok, Chiang Mai, and Kamphaeng Phet, with the largest concentrations in the Mae Chan District of Chiang Rai and the Chiang Kham District of Phayao. +++
Chinese Take on Yao Social History
According to the Chinese government: “Called the "savage Wuling tribes" some 2,000 years ago, the Yao ancestors lived around Changsha, capital of today's Hunan Province. Two or three centuries later, they were renamed the "Moyao." One of China's foremost ancient poets, Du Fu (712-770), once wrote: "The Moyaos shoot wild geese; with bows made from mulberry trees." As time went on, historical accounts about the Yaos increased, showing growing ties between the Yao and the Han people. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), agriculture and handicrafts developed considerably in the Yao areas, such that forged iron knives, indigo-dyed cloth and crossbow weaving machines became reputed Yao products. At that time, the Yaos in Hunan were raising cattle and using iron farm tools on fields rented from Han landlords. During the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), farm cattle and iron tools spread among the Yaos in Guangxi and Guangdong, who developed paddy fields and planted different kinds of crops on hillsides. They dug ditches and built troughs to draw water from springs for daily use and irrigation. Sideline occupations such as hunting, collecting medical herbs, making charcoal and weaving were pursued side by side with agriculture. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
“Before the founding of the People's Republic, the Yao economy could be divided into three types: 1) The first and most common type, with agriculture as the base and forestry and other sideline occupations affiliated, was concentrated in places blessed with fine natural conditions and the greatest influence of the Hans. Here farming methods and social relations very much resembled those of the Han and Zhuang ethnic groups. 2) The second type was centered on forestry, with agriculture as a sideline. A few landlords monopolized all the forests and hillside fields, while the foresters and farmers had to pay taxes and rents no matter whether they went ploughing, hunting or fishing, built their houses, buried their dead, collected wild fruits and herbs, drank from mountain streams or even walked on the mountains. When the poor opened up wasteland, for instance, they had to plant saplings between their crops. As soon as the saplings grew into trees, they were paid to the landlords as rent. These exactions caused many Yaos to be continually wandering from place to place. 3) The third type, engaged in by a tiny percentage of the Yao population, was the primitive "slash-and-burn" cultivation. Although most land was owned by Han and Zhuang landlords, the Yao farmers had some of their own. In such cases, the land belonged to ancient communes, each formed by less than 20 families descended from the same ancestor. The families in a commune worked together and shared the products equally. *|*
“The Yaos practiced an interesting form of primitive cooperation called "singing-while-digging." This can still be seen in Guangxi today. At times of spring ploughing, 20 to 30 households work together for one household after another until all their fields are ploughed and sown. While the group is working, a young man stands out in the fields, beating a drum and leading the singing. Everyone sings after him. *|*
“For nearly 1,000 years before this century, most Yaos were ruled by hereditary headmen. The headmen obeyed the central government, which was always dominated by the Han or other large ethnic groups. After the Kuomintang took power early in this century, it pursued a system similar to the previous one, which meant rule through puppet Yao headmen and "divide and rule." These policies incited endless conflicts among the Yaos and caused them a great deal of hardship. It was not until the birth of New China that the Yaos realized equality with other ethnic groups as well as among themselves. *|*
“The Yaos have an age-old revolutionary tradition. As early as the Han Dynasty, they fought feudal imperial oppression. During the Tang and Song dynasties, they waged more rebellions against their Han rulers. Still later, in the 15 years from 1316 to 1331, they launched more than 40 uprisings. The largest revolt lasted for a century from 1371. The frightened Ming (1368-1644) emperors had to send three huge armies to conquer the rebels. The famous Taiping Rebellion, led by Hong Xiuquan in the 1850s against the Qing (1644-1911) feudal bureaucrats, received effective support from the Yaos. Many Yao people joined the Taiping army and were known for their bravery. The Yaos played an active role in China's new democratic revolution which finally led to the founding of the People's Republic. The Yao Autonomous County of Bama in Guangxi today used to be the base area of the 7th Red Army commanded by Deng Xiaoping in the 1930s.” *|*
Yao Areas and Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County
The Yao are scattered over 136 counties in southern China: 60 counties in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, over 30 counties in Hunan province, 15 counties in Yunnan province, 11 counties in Guangdong province, over 20 counties in Guizhou province and parts of Jiangxi province. They usually live together with many other nationalities, including Han, Zhuang, Miao and Dong. The distributing feature of "small communities scatter across big areas" is very prominent. Except for some small parts that live in the hills and river valleys, most of them are scattered in high mountains, such as Wuling Mountain, Shiwan Mountain, Duyang Mountain, Xuefeng Mountain, Luoxiao Mountain, Liuxiao Mountain and Ailou Mountain. Hence the saying goes "there is no mountains in Nanling Mountains that Yao do not inhabit."
In China, most Yaos live in beautiful, mountain valleys, between 1000 and 2000 meters, in humid, subtropical areas, densely covered with pines, firs, Chinese firs, Chinese cinnamons, tung oil trees, bamboos and tea bushes. The thickly forested Jianghua Yao Autonomous County in Hunan is renowned as the "home of Chinese firs." The places inhabited by the Yaos also abound in indigo, edible funguses, bamboo shoots, sweet grass, mushrooms, honey, dye yam, jute and medical herbs. The forests are home to wild animals such as boars, bears, monkeys, muntjacs and masked civets.
Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County—a typical place where the Yao live in China—was established in 1952 with the name of Dayaoshan (Big Mountain of the Yao) Autonomous Zone, but in 1966 the name was changed to Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County. It is a mountainous county with rugged lands and a climate hot and wet. It has an area of 2,517 square kilometers and a population (2004) of 150,000. [Source: Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\]
Located in the central part of Guangxi, Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County is one of the places where the Yao are most heavily concentrated. Largely isolated from the outside world until the 1930s, Jinxiu County, was formerly inhabited by five different kinds of Yao: 1) Chashan Yao, 2) Ao Yao, 3) Hualan or Flowery Yao, 4) Pan Yao and 5) Shanzi Yao. The first three branches were considered the owners of the lands, because they arrived first in the area. They traditionally lived in settled villages and enjoyed a kind of economical stability. The other two branches arrived later, living as tenants of the land of the first three groups as nomads that never allowed them to become settled or accumulate many material goods. \*\
Before the beginning of the policy of assimilate ethnic minorities, most of the people in Jinxiu were Yao (18,000 of a total population of 26,000). The discovery of some Tang dynasty coins in the forest of Jinxiu made scholars think that the first wave of Yao arrived about 1,000 years ago. Their live changed forever in the 1940s, when Kuomintang government tried to enforce direct rule over the Yao. They abolished the "Tablet system" that has regulated Yao society in the past, and set up a garrison and a "Bureau for the Establishment of Order."
After the victory of the Red Army over the nationalist government in 1949, some of Kuomintang soldiers resisted for some months in the remote mountains here. In 1952, the first Communist Party reforms in Jinxiu began. In 1954, land reform was carried out. Most of the nomads that suffered the most under the old system were resettled in the low lands. After that the Yao from Jinxiu were slowly integrated in the political life of China, and were affected by political movement that affected all of China.
The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution brought devastating economic policies to Yao lands. Some of their oldest forests were destroyed and agricultural lands were impoverished. In recent years, some of old forest areas have been revitalized and the Dayaoshan Mountains were designated a national natural reserve by the State Council. The 25 rivers that flow through these lands supply water to than 2 million people in the lowlands.
According to the Chinese government: “Democratic reforms were carried out after 1949 according to the different characteristics of the three types of Yao economy. The reforms abolished the feudal exploitation system and enhanced the progress of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and other forms of production. Meanwhile, autonomous localities were gradually formed for the Yaos. In August 1951, when a central government delegation visited Guangxi, it helped the local government set up Longsheng Autonomous County, the first one for the Yaos. From 1952 to 1963, eight Yao autonomous counties appeared, and over 200 autonomous townships covered smaller Yao communities. The policy of regional autonomy enabled the Yaos to be their own masters, ending the history of discrimination and starting an era of national equality and unity. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
“Local autonomous governments have made successful efforts to improve the people's lives. The Yao Autonomous County of Duan in Guangxi is a fine example. There the Yaos live in karst valleys. The soil is stony, erosive and dry. An old saying went that "the mountains start burning after three fine days; the valleys get flooded after a heavy rain." Now the saying is nothing more than history, as the government has helped remove the jeopardy of droughts and floods by building tunnels, dams and reservoirs. Before 1949, the Yao area only had a few handicraft workshops. But now, there are many medium- and small-sized power plants and factories making farm machines, processing timber, and making chemicals and cement. *|*
“In the early 1950s, few Yao people had any education, but today, schools can be found in all villages. Almost every child of school age gets elementary and secondary education. Some elite students go on to colleges. In the old days, the Yaos never knew such a thing as a hospital. As a result, pestilence haunted the region. Now, government-trained Yao doctors and nurses work in hospitals or clinics in every Yao county, township and village. Epidemics such as smallpox and cholera have been eliminated. With the people's health well protected, the Yao population has doubled since the founding of the People's Republic.” *|*
Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015