MIAO IN GUIZHOU IN THE 1900s
Samuel R. Clarke wrote in “Among the Tribes of South-west China” in 1911: “Till recent times the Miao, while actually subject to China, were ruled by their own hereditary chiefs. This system is now passing away, if it has not already ceased to exist. We have heard of Miao chiefs still exercising hereditary authority at the present time, but we have not met them or been, so far as we know, in their districts. The men now responsible for their districts and fellow-tribesmen to the Imperial magistrates are appointed by those magistrates. These men are called Tuan or headmen, just as the same sort of men are called by the same name among the Chinese. These are something like Justices of the Peace in England, having authority in their own jurisdiction to settle minor disputes, while all serious cases are tried by the Chinese magistrate. These headmen are also responsible for the collection of the land tax. Among the Miao they are generally very ignorant men, not able to read and write. Thus it appears that the Miao are ruled much in the same way as the Chinese who have in villages and hamlets. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911). Clarke served as a missionary in China for 33 years, 20 of those in Guizhou]
It must be remembered that some of these Miao tribes have been widely separated in time and space, so that what may truly be said of some of them may not be true of all... As far as we are able to judge, the Miao are not difficult to govern. They are not turbulent people, and if let alone or justly treated would never cause any trouble. But they do assert themselves sometimes even now, when the extortion of Yamen [local imperial Chinese administration] tax-gatherers drives them to desperation.” In 1907 “when Mr. and Mrs. B. Curtis Waters were travelling from Tushan to Guiyang, they put up at an inn in the prefectural city of Tuyiin. Suddenly about two thousand Heh Miao marched into the city armed with swords, spears, and guns. They called out to the shopkeepers and people in the street not to be afraid, they would not rob or injure them, all they wanted was the Prefect, and him they were going to kill. They rushed into the Prefect's Yamen, and wounded one of the secretaries whom they mistook for the Prefect, and the Prefect had time to escape. That revolt was provoked by the Yamen taxcollectors, who, under the pretext of founding schools, squeezed the Miao unmercifully. The District or County magistrate, whose Yamen was within the city, reasoned with them and persuaded them to go away. They returned to their homes, and later on the affair was settled by the nominal punishment of some of the Miao and a more just collection of the education rate.
To help the reader to understand the conditions under which the people of Guizhou, Chinese and non-Chinese, live outside the cities and towns, it should be mentioned that in most parts of the province there are local bands of robbers, dacoits they would be called in Burma, who prey upon travellers and upon the people who live in little villages and hamlets. As the population varies all over the province, some of these bands are composed of Chinese, some of Miao, and some of Chinese and Miao.
In the late 1900s when we were at Panghai, two days south-west of Chenyiian, the Panghai robbers, while prowling not far from Pingtsai, fifteen miles lower down the river, kidnapped a Miao girl who was sister, or something else, to one of the Pingtsai band of robbers. The Pingtsai robbers resented this and threatened to come to Panghai and attack the Panghai band. Thereupon there was a great sharpening of swords and spears in Panghai market-place and much tall talk. The Pingtsai men, however, did not come, and we never heard how the affair was settled. Both these bands were made up of Chinese and Miao. Not infrequently Yamen runners and soldiers are connected with these bands and go out with them on their marauding expeditions. Some of the local gentry and Justices of the Peace, too, are often in league with them and share the plunder.
See Separate Articles MIAO MINORITY: HISTORY, GROUPS, RELIGION factsanddetails.com; MIAO MINORITY: SOCIETY, LIFE, MARRIAGE AND FARMING factsanddetails.com MIAO CULTURE, MUSIC AND CLOTHES factsanddetails.com ; MIAO AND DONG AREAS OF GUIZHOU PROVINCE factsanddetails.com GUIZHOU PROVINCE, THE GUIYANG AREA AND THE ETHNIC GROUPS THAT LIVE THERE factsanddetails.com ; HMONG MINORITY: HISTORY, RELIGION AND GROUPS factsanddetails.com; HMONG LIFE, SOCIETY, CULTURE, FARMING factsanddetails.com; HMONG IN AMERICA factsanddetails.com; HMONG, THE VIETNAM WAR, LAOS AND THAILAND factsanddetails.com
Miao Languages in the 1900s
Samuel R. Clarke wrote in “Among the Tribes of South-west China”:“The various dialects spoken by the Miao! tribes differ considerably, so much so that a Heh Miao from the south-east cannot understand anything of the dialect spoken by a Heh Miao of the west. If, however, the vocabularies of these two most dissimilar dialects are compared, it is easily seen that they are both variations of a common speech. Naturally these variations are most marked in cases where the tribes are most widely separated geographically. But the differences of dialect in tribes which are only thirty or forty miles apart are sometimes very great. In some of these cases it is very often the commonest words which show the greatest changes: for instance, the pronouns, the negatives, and such common words as the verbs ''to be “and “to have.'' This striking difference of speech among people who must at one time have spoken the same language suggests that they have not only been separated geographically, but have also been apart for long periods of time. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
The Miao have no written language. This is a very remarkable fact if we bear in mind that the Chinese have cultivated literature for nearly four thousand years, while the Miao have been their neighbours, and some of them near neighbours, for all this length of time. The two races, though often contending, have not always been in arms one against another; there has always been some, and generally a good deal of intercourse between them. Their average intelligence is not equal to that of the Chinese, but some of them are equal to the average Chinese. They are not by any means savages or wild people, and they have unquestionably learned many things from the Chinese, and yet they never learned from them the art of writing their own language.
The Miao language, like the Chinese, is syllabic, unencumbered with conjugations or other inflexions, and it would be very easy to represent Miao words by Chinese characters which are not phonetic but ideographic. At the present time there are schools in the Miao villages where Chinese literature is taught. Probably from earliest times there have been some Miao, as there are now, who could read and write Chinese, and yet not one of them, as far as we know, ever attempted to put down their own words in writing. If such an attempt was ever made, it evidently met with no acceptance among the tribesmen, who remain to-day as illiterate as their ancestors in the days of Yao and Shuen.
When we opened a school at Panghai some years ago, and offered to teach the scholars to write their own language in the Roman script, the parents would not consent, but wished their children to learn to read and write Chinese. Their way of looking at the matter is not hard to understand. What writing they have to do must be done for them in Chinese. Any Miao who can read and write passably may easily make his hving among his neighbours by doing their reading and writing for them. All proclamations and official notifications, all pleas and counter-pleas in law cases have to be written in Chinese. When a Miao headman receives a dispatch from the magistrate, he has to find some one to read it for him and write his reply. All their contracts, mortgages, and deeds of sale or rental are written in Chinese, and not one in a hundred of them when he buys a piece of land is able to read the deed of sale when it is written.
A man once explained to me how it happens that they have no written language. He said that many years ago the Miao were living in the neighbourhood of the Chinese, and the Chinese were too crafty for them, so they determined to move westward and live by themselves. At that time they knew a few characters, but evidently knew very little else. After travelling for many days they came to a vast sheet of water, and, having no boats, were unable to proceed. As some of them stood perplexed at the edge of the water, they noticed some water-spiders moving about on the surface of it, and they said one to another, “If these little things can walk on the water, why cannot we? “ Thereupon they tried to walk on the surface of the water, which nearly cost them their lives. Before they managed to get back again on the bank, they swallowed a great deal of water, and with the water they swallowed all the characters they knew, and have been without characters ever since! This may be regarded as an historical romance with a basis of fact. They did move west away from the Chinese, and the sheet of water was doubtless the Tungting Lake. But are we to gather from it that there was a time when they had some characters, but have since forgotten them?
Different Miao Groups in the 1900s
Clarke wrote in “Among the Tribes of South-west China”: “The Chinese say there are seventy tribes of Miao, but one Chinese work makes that number include every sort of non-Chinese people, and is therefore misleading. As far as our observation goes, the Chinese who live in those regions make no mistake about the different races, and call them by their proper Chinese names. Many of the Miao men, as already mentioned, dress much the same as the Chinese peasants, but the women of all the tribes wear a costume peculiar to themselves, and it is from these differences that the Chinese name them. Thus, the women of the Heh or “Black Miao” wear a dark chocolate-coloured embroidered costume: the men of that tribe also often wear calico of a dark-brown or chocolate colour. For this reason the Chinese call them Black Miao . The Ya-chio, or ''Magpie Miao,'' are so called because the dark-blue and white costume of their women suggests the magpie. There are the Hua or “Parti-coloured Miao," the Peh or ''White Miao,'' and so on. Some few of them, however, are otherwise named, as the Sa, or “Shrimp Miao," because they catch and sell fresh-water shrimps. There are also the Shui-hsi-Miao, “ West of the water Miao," the water here referred to doubtless being the river flowing between Anshun and Tating.[Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
The most numerous and most important of these tribes are the Heh Miao in the southeast and the Hua Miao in the west and northwest. In some parts the Hua Miao are called the Ta-hua-Miao. Here Ta means “great” and that adjective is probably used because there are so many of them and because they extend over so large a district. Some of the Miao are also found in the province of Yunnan, and some in the province of Hunan. But who is to decide what constitutes a tribe, and hence how many tribes there are? The Hua Miao of Anshun, both men and women, dress quite differently from the Ta-hua-Miao of Weining, but their l anguage is much the same, and they are evidently the same tribe. The Heh Miao of Singyifu in the south-west are manifestly the same in dress and appearance as the Heh Miao of the south-east, though so widely separated geographically. Those of Singyifu moved, or were moved, from the south-east to where they are now, since the time when the great Miao and Muslim rebellions nearly depopulated the south-west of Guizhou. The Yach'io Miao of Tating district speak almost the same dialect as the Peh Miao of Kao-san, about forty miles to the north-east of them. In Hwangping Chow there is a small tribe called the Keh-teo Miao hving among the Heh Miao, but quite different from them in dress and appearance, being shorter and coarser looking than the Heh Miao. They speak also a dialect more like that of the Hua Miao of the west than that of the Heh Miao among whom they dwell. Probably they were where they are now before the Heh Miao moved into that region. For our part we think it a waste of time to try and count how many tribes of Miao there are. Any one who could speak three or four of their jy dialects would in all probability understand and ' be understood by them all.
The Heh Miao call themselves mp'eo or de mp'eo. De is merely a personal prefix. This word or sound mpo also means embroidery . The Heh Miao women, and the women of most of the other Miao tribes, wear a good deal of embroidery in their costume. The amount of embroidery on the clothing of a Heh Miao young woman is astonishing. It takes them years to do the embroidery on the jacket and skirt in which they hope to be married, and one of the commonest sights in a Heh Miao village is a group of young girls, sitting round the door of one of the houses, laughing and chatting and doing their embroidery. When the costumes are finished, they are worn on gala days before they are married and on festive occasions for years afterwards. I have asked my teacher and others if they call themselves mp'eo because of the embroidery their women wear, but none of them wac-able to say why they call themselves by that name.
Shui-hsi Miao at Ten-ten. One day he saw a group of men dressed in strange garments, the like of which he had never seen before, but he recognised them as Miao. Some of them had their hair plaited into two queues, one on each side of their head, and others had their hair twisted and done up in front of the head, like the horn of a unicorn. They were very dirty: some of them carried stout crossbows with short stocks, and all were returning from a boar hunt. Mr. Adam inquired from the Miao around who the men were, and learned they belonged to the Tahua Miao tribe, or “Great Flowery Miao," and that their original home was nine days' journey north-west of Anshun.
The Hung-feo or Red-top Miao are sometimes also called the Siao-hua or Small Flowery Miao, because there are not many of them, and they are closely allied to the Hua Miao. There are thus three sorts of Hua Miao — the Great Flowery Miao, the Flowery Miao, and the Small Flowery Miao. These are really all one tribe, and their dialects are very much the same. If our readers are ever confused among so many names for these tribes, it is only what might be expected, as we who have and labour among them are often puzzled ourselves.
Of all the Miao in Guizhou, the Heh or Black Miao are the most intelligent and the most self-reliant. Most of them own the land they cultivate, many of them are well-to-do, and in many respects they seem nearly equal, if not quite equal, to the Chinese peasantry around them. We have observed, however, that the artisans among them are neither so skilful nor so trustworthy as those among the Chinese. The Heh Miao not only bring their cattle and produce to market, but many of them engage in trade and open stalls on the market-place. Some of them buy pigs, rice, and other local products, and carry them foi sale in their own boats to Hungkiang in Hunan. On the river that flows from Kaili to Kienyang Hun, fifteen miles above Hungkiang, all the boatmen appear to be Miao. Elsewhere, however, the Miao seem to be poorer and inferior to the Chinese and Bouyei. In Weining district they are most of them the tenants of the Yi.
Origin of Different Miao Groups in the 1900s
Clarke wrote: “The Ya-chio Miao of Tatung, who live about one hundred miles distant from the nearest Heh Miao, call themselves mp'u, which is the same word and means “ embroidery “also with them. They also were not able to tell me why they are so named. The Hua Miao call themselves hmung. The Shui-hsi Miao and Peh Miao also call themselves hmung, and some of the other Miao call themselves hmao. Now all these words mp'il, mp'eo, hmao, hmung are doubtless the same word, but whether hmao and hmung also mean embroidery or not in those dialects we are not at present able to say. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
As these people have no literature, they can say very little that is trustworthy about their own origin and history. The Heh Miao say they came from Guangxi province, and that is where the Chinese place the San Miao in the “ Book of History." The Heh Miao, we have every reason to think, were the last to move into Guizhou. Some of them are to be found in Hunan, which Hes between Guangxi and Guizhou, and we beHeve traces of their language are to be found in some of the local dialects of Guangxi. The Hua Miao say they have always lived where, or very near to where, they are now. However, when the Gelao are mentioned, they readily admit that the Gelao were in the district before them. Probably the Hua Miao were the first of the Miao tribes to move into those regions, it may be two thousand or more years ago.
The Ya-chio Miao say their old home was in Northern Vietnam, and that they came to Guizhou by way of Sichuan and Yunnan. This is absurd, and we only put it on record because they insisted that it was so. They also say that when they die their souls return to their ancestors in Northern Vietnam. There can be no doubt these various tribes originally came from farther east, though at vastly different periods, some of them two thousand years ago, and the Heh Miao last of all within the last five hundred years. It may be, however, and is indeed very probable, that some of them moved about in different directions before they settled down where we find them now. Northern Vietnam, which the Ya-chio Miao pronounce as the Chinese do Tung-chin, may be one of the old capitals of China called “The Eastern Metropolis”
Problems Among the Miao in the 1900s
Clarke wrote: “Drink is, we believe in most cases the cause of their poverty and degradation. The love of whisky, which they make for themselves, is a prevailing vice among them all, men and women. Festivals, marriages, funerals, and sacrificial observances in reference to the dead, are all occasions for the reckless consumption of whisky. Chinese women at feasts sometimes drink more whisky than is good for them, but they have the good sense even then to stay indoors till the effects of it have passed away. We cannot remember that we ever saw an intoxicated Chinese woman. But Miao women glory in their shame, and are not infrequently seen hilariously, helplessly drunk, parading, or trying to parade, along the village street. Some of these drinking bouts, on the occasion of a marriage or funeral, go on for three days and nights, and the sounds of drunken songs and revelry are heard all over the village. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
Morally most of them are below, and some of them immeasurably below, the Chinese. We know most about the Heh Miao and the Hua Miao, and these probably are the two extremes — the Heh Miao the best, and the Hua Miao and Ta-hua Miao of the west and north-west the worst, of all the Miao tribes. We have lived much among the Heh Miao, and believe there are plenty of decent women among them. But there are no decent women among the Ta-hua Miao, or there were none until the missionaries went among them. The Ta-hua Miao of Weining district and around Chaotung were, and in some cases are still, so bad that they could hardly be worse. This is describing their moral condition in very few words, but these are quite enough. The less said on this topic the better, and so we leave it.
The vice of opium smoking is not so prevalent among them as it is among the Chinese, but many of them grow, and some of them smoke, opium. During our own experience among them for fifteen years we have noticed the habit becoming more and more prevalent. In villages where fifteen years ago only one or two smoked surreptitiously, there are now houses where many of them go and smoke openly. In the elevated regions of the west, where opium cannot be grown, the habit is almost unknown, but elsewhere it is spreading among them.
Disputes Among the Miao in the 1900s
Clarke wrote: Among the Miao nearly all the disputes arise on account of their land or their women. They recognise the marriage relation, but do not observe it as strictly as the Chinese. Miao women have more Uberty and are more unconventional than Chinese women, and consequently many of their marriages are the result of mutual liking. Not infrequently, however, a girl is practically sold for money to a husband chosen by the parents, and in these cases the result is often disastrous. The young woman will probably run away from her husband's home and continue to meet her lover. If pressure is brought to bear upon her from her parents or parents-in-law, as it generally is, she may return to her husband's home, make herself thoroughly disagreeable, and run away again in a short time. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
After this has happened repeatedly, the husband in despair tries all he can to find out who is the lover. When he finds this out, he sends an invitation to the lover and to his wife's people to come before the elders of the district and talk over his grievance. Sometimes these discussions last for days. The husband pretends to want his wife back, but as a matter of fact he has had quite enough of her, and really desires to have the money he paid for her returned to him. The wife's father pretends to be very angry, says his daughter was not well treated, that notwithstanding the hard work she had to do and the little food she got, she is willing to return, but her husband has never come to his home to fetch her. Note, it is the custom for a husband to make a present to his wife's father on such an occasion.
Many angry words are spoken by the three parties concerned, and after everybody has added his or her word to the discussion, the case may be ended by the elders suggesting that the lover should repay the husband the cost of his wife and marry her himself, and that the husband should take the money and go elsewhere for a wife. If, however, the lover's influence is strong, the elders may decide that the girl go back to her husband, knowing that she will do nothing of the sort, or will not stay with him if she does go back. The case is thus only postponed for another time. We have assisted at some of the discussions of these matrimonial cases and know how hard they are to settle. These daughter-in-law cases are not often brought before the Chinese magistrate, except when they have led to fighting, and, as sometimes happens, to serious wounds and homicide.
In the west and north-west of the province, when the Miao are the tenants of the Yi landholders, all disputes about the land are settled by the landlord, and their matrimonial disputes are settled among themselves, so there is very little litigation among them in the Chinese courts.
Miao Litigation in the 1900s
Clarke wrote: “The Miao are, we have many reasons to think, more litigious than the Chinese, constantly going ''to have the law'' on some one, or some one going “ to have the law “on them. In many cases the affair is brought before the local headman, but on these occasions it is difficult to satisfy both parties, and the loser is almost certain to carry the case before the district magistrate. It is amazing to note how much of their time and money these people spend in legal proceedings, and very often fail to get justice after all. But it is a point of honour with them, and they think it due to themselves and their reputations to fight a case to the bitter end.
This love of litigation is encouraged by the secretaries and underlings in the various Yamen [local imperial Chinese administration], who depend for their having principally on the law cases, civil and criminal, brought before the magistrate. If there were no litigation these men would starve. Thus cases that have been settled, and possibly justly settled, by the headman, can always be reopened before the district magistrate, and cases settled by one magistrate can be retried by his successor. This is not from any love of justice, but for the sake of the bribes, squeezes, and fees that are to be obtained from the Utigants. The average incumbency of a district magistrate in Guizhou is not, we think, over twelve months.
Not only do the Yamen people profit by the cases brought before the magistrate, but very often underhngs, and others in league with the Yamen, foment litigation and exhort the simple country-folk to take their grievances, or reopen their cases, before the magistrate. The longer a case lasts, and the more people can be drawn into it, the more profit there is for the Yamen. Very often cases are trumped up and false accusations made, and even if the accused finally obtains a verdict in his favour, it will only be after he has been mercilessly squeezed by these harpies. Probably on account of their ignorance and the lack of men among them with literary degrees, which would give them the privilege of interviewing the magistrate, the Miao are even more squeezed than the Chinese. Yamen secretaries, however, are neither partial nor particular, but always wiUing and zealous to extort money from everybody they can lay their hands on.
Miao Religion in the 1900s
Samuel R. Clarke wrote in “Among the Tribes of South-west China”: “It is somewhat difficult for a stranger and foreigner to learn the religious beliefs of a people like the Miao. They know, or suspect, that the foreigner does not believe what they believe, and they are afraid that he may laugh at them. Even to themselves they cannot give a very satisfactory reason for much of what they believe and practise. When pressed for a reason or an explanation, they reply that their people have always said and done such things, and they are manifestly unwilling to discuss such matters. We have, however, known some of them so long, and some of them so intimately, as to justify us in venturing some opinions on this subject. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
And first let it be said that, as far as our own observation goes, the Miao have no idols and do not worship any gods. We have heard of idols among the Miao, but cannot remember ever to have seen them. They have no temples and no priests, and we never saw them engaged in any act of adoration. They are certainly not Buddhists. They practise certain rites in reference to the dead or to demons, such as a stranger might naturally suppose were acts of divine worship, but they are not acts of divine worship as the term is generally understood.
From the earliest times the Chinese have known and worshipped Shang-ti as the Supreme Being, and have also worshipped inferior local deities. Many of the Miao have been living in close touch with the Chinese for ages, and some of them, as at present, have intermixed much with the Chinese, but, as far as we know, they have not copied the Chinese in their earlier worship of Shang-ti, or in their later worship of Buddhist and Taoist idols.
Most of the Chinese now say they worship Heaven and Earth, and the Miao, when asked about their objects of worship, will sometimes say they worship Heaven and Earth. This, we think, they have learned to say from the Chinese, and learned to say recently. We have often seen the Chinese worshipping Heaven and Earth, and though we have been in and out among the Miao now for fifteen years, we never saw them worshipping Heaven and Earth or any other object. Little shrines may sometimes be seen at the entrance to their villages, but this building of shrines is said to be a recent innovation. We have frequently seen them sacrificing animals and making offerings to the dead, but we never saw them worshipping at a shrine. After years of intercourse and inquiry among them, we are of opinion that those who are not Christians do not pray to or worship any Supreme Being.
[Ancestor worship in practiced] At different periods, the Miao offer sacrifices to their ancestors. Probably all the oxen killed among them are killed as offerings to their ancestors or to demons. We were never able to buy beef among the Heh Miao, though they killed oxen two or three times a month, because they were all used as offerings to the dead or to demons, and the Miao Christians did not think it right to eat such beef. The Ya-chio Miao sacrifice to Heaven and Earth once a year. They offer an ox to Heaven and a pig to Earth. They have a big sacrifice once in thirteen years, when they sacrifice buffaloes to Heaven. On this occasion every family is expected to kill a buffalo, so sometimes several tens of buffaloes are killed in one village. They also sacrifice to their ancestors. These offerings and sacrifices to ancestors are not made from love, we imagine, so much as fear. They think if they do not offer these sacrifices, the spirits of their ancestors will come and bring calamities upon them.
Miao Sorcery, Demons and Fortunetellers in the 1900s
Samuel R. Clarke wrote in “Among the Tribes of South-west China”: “The Miao are great believers in witches and witchcraft, but they say that only one here and there can really bewitch people. Even the Chinese are afraid of Miao witches, and fear to eat food offered them by the Miao lest they should be bewitched or poisoned. Missionaries, who are not infrequently appealed to by Chinese when they fancy themselves bewitched by the Miao, mostly find them to be suffering from malaria. The Miao say that the witch throws things down on the road, sometimes only a straw, and the first person who comes along is bewitched. They may also bewitch a person's food and in this way injure him. Some time ago the whole countryside not far from Anshun was troubled by a witch. The Miao from that region came in a body to the district magistrate in Anshun city, and petitioned that the witch might be removed from that neighbourhood. The witch was arrested and banished. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
For all the peoples of Eastern Asia the world is full of immaterial powers and intelligences, even certain rocks and trees are possessed of some sort of spiritual efficacy. Among the Miao these spiritual beings are demons and always inimical to human kind. At first we were inclined to think that the Miao worshipped demons, but when again and again they denied this, and seemed unfeignedly amused at the idea of worshipping demons, we concluded that we were mistaken. The performances they go through, which seem to us like religious rites, are done to drive away or keep away the demons, and to counteract their evil influences. If a man is ill, or his cattle is sick, if he has had bad luck, or any misfortune befalls him, he attributes this to demons: and a wizard or exorcist is summoned. Their modes of procedure are various, but might generally be summed up as offerings, unintelligible mutterings, and the throwing about of rice water and knives in every direction. They also believe in the use of herbs as medicine, but when to take medicine and when to send for the exorcist is not very clear. We imagine when a man is sick he first takes medicine, and if this fails to act as it ought, he concludes there is a demon troubling him and sends for an exorcist to deal with it. In the case of ague, the Heh Miao always think it is a demon, and the sufferer goes away into the woods to hide himself and thus escape from it.
Any man who has learned the incantations and knows how things ought to be done, may be a wizard or exorcist. Their fees are not exorbitant. A quart or two of rice, and a little of anything else that may be going, pork or whisky, is all they get for their services. There are usually two or three of them in every village. The Miao say that their exorcists are the same as the Chinese tuan-kung or Taoists, and so it appears to us they are.
Sometimes a man is accused of having a demon, and this is a bad thing for the man, if it is generally believed. This does not mean that he is possessed by a devil, but that he has at his command a demon who does his will to the injury of others. We know a man who lately accused a neighbour before the Chinese magistrate for saying that he had a demon.
They also believe in soothsayers, and often when anything is lost or stolen, or if an unknown person has injured their property, they consult them. After the soothsayer has received his fee, he performs certain ceremonies, and after a longer or shorter time a demon takes possession of him. He at once begins to mutter and answer questions, without moving his lips, something after the manner of a ventriloquist. Very often the answers are correct, but not always. The Miao say it is the demon who speaks, not the man. Sometimes the soothsayer will tell a man to offer oxen in sacrifice to his deceased parents when his luck is bad. These soothsayers do not eat flesh meat. A missionary once asked one of them if he were still practising his art, whereat all the other Miao laughed, and the man replied, “Since I have begun to eat meat the demon will not come to me.''
Miao Funeral and Ideas About Death in the 1900s
Clarke wrote: “All the Miao believe in the soul and a future state. The Ya-chio Miao say that a man has three souls — one is his shadow, one is his reflection as seen in the water, and the third is his real self. Probably they learned this from the Chinese. As a rule, we think they only know and speak of one soul. They also believe in heaven, but most of them know nothing about a hell. The Hua Miao say there is a place in the earth where demons are, but do not mention it as a place to which the souls of the wicked go. They think that ordinary people, that is most people, when they die go to heaven, but that very wicked people are born again on earth in a very wretched condition. We doubt if they attach the same idea of superlative bliss to the place where the dead go as is generally associated with heaven, but we must think of it as heaven because they call it so, and speak of it as being above the sky...If any Miao now talk of hell, they have probably learnt it from the Chinese. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
Of course, beliefs and practices vary among the different tribes, and their funeral ceremonies and rites concerning the dead are not all just the same. Among the Heh Miao when a man dies they plait a mat of bamboo, six feet by two feet, upon which they lay the corpse. In dressing the dead they do not fasten the clothes in the usual way on the right side, but lay them loose on the left side. Next they invite an exorcist to drive away any evil influences that might injure the living or the dead, and to choose a day for the interment. To drive away all evil influences, he kills an ox, pig, sheep, fowl, or duck. If the deceased is a man, he kills a male animal: if a woman, a female one. The animal and any other victim used is subsequently eaten. All the relations of the family are notified, who come to console and make presents, mostly of calico, though some may give satin to cover the corpse. Sometimes the relations give the animals used in sacrifice, and sometimes money to assist in the expenses.
A suitable day having been chosen for the burial, before beginning to dig the grave, they make a hole in the middle of the plot, and having burned a small piece of flesh, they put it in the hole. This sod with the burnt meat is then cut out and placed on one side, to be finally put on the top of the grave. When the grave, which is not very deep, is dug, the empty coffin is placed in it. On the bottom of the coflin they spread five, seven, or nine layers of paper. Why this is done no one seems to know. Before the body is carried out, the exorcist “calls the road “ or “opens the road.'' The idea is that the soul of the deceased is going on a long journey, and the exorcist tells him, or her, the route. He says: “You will see the Centipede Hill: don't be afraid (there are lots of centipedes on it). When you come to the Snow Mountain, don't fear the cold. When you come to the door of heaven, an old man guards it who will not let you in. Tell him who you are and all about yourself, and he will allow you to enter.'' On entering heaven the deceased may meet father or mother, or some other relation, and live with them. If he does get into heaven he will be happy, but if he fails to enter he will have to be reborn and suffer on earth. When the exorcist has finished his directions, he wrings the neck of a fowl, and this fowl in the other world will lead the soul to the door of heaven.
The body is carried out on the bamboo mat or frame and laid in the coffin. A son of the deceased, or a younger member of the family, bewails the dead, and calls out the name or relationship three times. When the corpse is encofiined, the exorcist takes a short bamboo tube in which is some water, and splits it on the coffin, saying, “On which side this water flows, drink water on that side." This means that, on the journey to heaven, when the deceased is thirsty he is to drink water on that side of the road. Next the exorcist takes some blades of “cutting grass “ and chops them in pieces, saying, “If your brother, or sister, or other relative follows you, you must send them back." He then throws the chopper and the cut grass from the head of the grave past the foot of it. This is done to prevent any other of the family dying and following the deceased. Then the son with a mattock begins to fill in the grave: the others assist till the grave is filled in, and the earth piled over it.
When returning home, a tub or basin of water is placed on the road at the entrance of the village, in which all who have assisted at the burial wash their hands. The last person to wash smashes the tub or basin. On returning to the house they all eat a meal. On the third day after the funeral some of the family rise at cock-crow, and proceeding to the grave call upon the deceased to return. They pick up small stones and, throwing them at the grave, say, “Who is keeping our father? let him come back.'' In crossing a stream they lay a bamboo pole across it, and say that the spirit may pass over that. When daylight comes they burn incense at the grave and offer a fowl or duck and some whisky. The fowl or duck is killed at the grave, and the whisky poured out on the grave. On their return home they place the shoes of the departed near some water in a basin, with a towel, and call upon him to come and wash his face. They also offer some cooked fowl, whisky, and rice to the deceased. After these ceremonies some rice is given to all the guests, who may eat it at once or take it home with them.
The Hua Miao, when a man or woman is about to die, send for the exorcist, who first assures himself that the patient is actually dying and not merely fainting. When it appears that the sick person is really dying, the exorcist relates the story of Gloe-an and Ngo-a, the first man and woman, and the making of heaven and earth, so that the moribund may know his way about after death. The exorcist then says: ''I shall now show you the way to heaven. On the road there are many creeping things, so you must wear a pair of hemp sandals lest they bite your feet. When you get halfway up, you will see tigers with their mouths wide open waiting to devour you. Carry some hemp on your back, and when a tiger attempts to bite you, let him bite the hemp, and make your escape. When you are half-way up, the sun shines with a burning heat: take this piece of calico and cover your eyes — you will find it in your breast pocket.
"When you arrive at the gate of heaven, the door-keeper may refuse to let you in, and you must beseech him to let you pass. If he says, ‘If I open the gate will you transform yourself and be my ox? ' you must answer, ‘No! I will not/ If he says, ‘Will you be my horse? ' you must say, ‘No! I will not/ Then say to him, ‘I will transform myself and be your servant/ When you say this, he will open the door, and you must quickly pass in and go on. After walking for some time you will come to a place where there are three roads; the one to the right is for Chinese, the one to the left for Yi, and the one in the middle is the Hua Miao road, which all your forefathers have taken. If some one finely dressed comes to show you the way, it is some one come to deceive you, and not one of your ancestors. If a person wearing coarse clothes comes to lead you, follow him, he is one of your forefathers. If some one with a bad heart asks, ‘Who brought you here? ' you must say, ‘One tall and stout.' If they ask you, ‘Can you find him? ' you must say, ‘You cannot overtake him, his eyes are as big as a cup and his ears as big as a fan.' And now,”the exorcist concludes, “I have shown you the way to your ancestors and the demons (or spirits), and you must remain there for ever.''
Miao Festivals in the 1900s
Samuel R. Clarke wrote in “Among the Tribes of South-west China”: “All the Miao have musical festivals once or twice a year, now in one part of the country and now in another. If asked why they hold these festivals, they say that if they failed to do so their harvests would be bad; and yet they do not profess to understand how the harvests are influenced by this custom. If ever there was a rehgious element in their musical festivals, there does not seem to be anything rehgious about them now. As at present conducted they are fetes, attended by the people from all the countryside, at which there is not only music but also pony-running and buffalo fights. These fetes are great occasions for social intercourse among the old folk and for courting among the young. A young man once remarked to a missionary, “If I do not go to the festivals I shall never get a wife.'' Scores and hundreds of girls are to be seen there in all the glory of richly-embroidered clothes and heavy silver ornaments, and just as many young men in their finery. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
All the Miao have these festivals, but the music and pacing are not the same. Among the Hua Miao and Shui-hsi Miao, the women do not dance, but men dressed up in women's clothes, with their hair done up like women, take their place. Among the Hua Miao, all the babies born during the year are taken to these festivals, and carried about on the backs of their fathers. Many of the Miao villages around Anshun have, besides the pipes, their own band of four musicians, provided with a drum, a pair of cymbals, and two flageolets or flutes. These musicians are often invited and paid by the Chinese to play at their marriages, funerals, and other functions.
The pony-runnings at these festivals are not races, and there are no prizes given. A piece of land is selected, level or nearly level, and about one hundred and fifty yards long. Along this they gallop in a line one after another. On reaching the end of the course they turn off, and walk or trot back again to the starting-place, like boys who have made a slide on the ice. When on the course they gallop the ponies at the top of their speed. Any one on a pony can join in or leave off when he likes.
We have attended these festivals, but have never seen a buffalo fight. We have seen men urging on the buffaloes to fight with one another, but the animals either did not understand what was expected of them or they had too much sense to do anything so foolish. On one occasion we saw a buffalo, exasperated by these attempts, break away from its tormentors and tear away at full speed across the ground. It overturned a pony and its rider, but did not attempt to gore them. All the buffalo wanted was to get clear away, and as everybody there showed the utmost possible alacrity to give it plenty of room, it succeeded. We have heard, however, that buffaloes do fight sometimes at these festivals, and that now and then one gets killed in the contest. They also fight sometimes of their own accord. We once saw two combatant buffaloes with their horns locked together, and half of the village pulling at ropes attached to their hind legs. They were finally pulled apart, and neither of them seemed any the worse for the encounter.
Miao Marriage in the 1900s
Clarke wrote: “Marriage among the Miao is arranged much the same as among the Chinese, by a matchmaker or go-between: but, unUke the Chinese, the match-maker mostly comes upon the scene after the young people have shown a decided preference for one another. The young men and maidens do much of their courting quite openly at the musical festivals, and at the village fairs. [Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)]
Very often a couple or a group of young people go out for long walks together. It would be well, for obvious reasons, if there were less of that sort of thing. After living for some time among the Chinese, who are nothing if not conventional, and among whom Mrs. Grundy is well-nigh omnipotent, it is surprising and amusing to visit a Guizhou market among the Miao, and see the lads and lasses froHcking with one another on the street and around the stalls. It reminds one of a country fair at home.
But sometimes, and not infrequently, the girl's parents object to her lover, and from mercenary motives arrange a marriage without consulting the inclinations of the young people. The price paid for a wife among the Miao is usually from thirty to sixty Mexican dollars. These mercenary marriages nearly always prove a miserable failure, and lead to numerous daughter-in-law disputes. Not that those marriages which are the result of mutual liking are always happy. We imagine that many, perhaps one-half of the Miao women over thirty years of age, have been married once or twice to men who are now living, before they settled down with the man they now call their husband.
We know one girl who left her first husband because she did not like him. After her parents had repaid the money the husband's family had expended on the marriage, she married again, and now seems settled and contented with her husband and two or three children. Another woman we know was betrothed when a girl to a man who left home for awhile, and while he was away her parents married her to another. When the man to whom she had been betrothed came back and claimed her, the man who had married her gave her up, and she became the wife of the other. We know another young woman, not yet thirty, who is subject to epileptic fits, who has been married half-adozen, perhaps a dozen, times. When her new husband discovers she is subject to these fits, he sends her home again and does not want her.
After a marriage has been arranged, a day is fixed for the receiving of the bride. The kinsfolk and friends of both parties are invited, a room is cleared out — sometimes it is the cowhouse, which is really a part of the dwellinghouse — and seats put all round against the wall for the guests. The guests all make presents to the bridegroom's family — rice, or jars of whisky, and sometimes silver. These contributions to their host considerably diminish the cost of the marriage feast. The bride, who walks from her parents' home, escorted by her girl friends all dressed in their best and wearing their silver ornaments, generally arrives during the afternoon.
Among the Hua Miao, after the evening meal, the bride and one of her companions lay aside their fine clothes, and, taking a tub half full of water, wash the feet of all the guests, beginning with the men. When this is done they all settle themselves for a night of whiskydrinking and song-singing. The guests sing the virtue of their host, praising the kindly way he has received them and the rich food provided for their entertainment. Then the host, or some one on his behalf, replies also in song, belittling the host and grieving over the contemptible style in which the guests have been treated. The legends of the tribe are also chanted one after another: sometimes one voice leading and the others joining in a sort of chorus: sometimes one party singing interrogatively and another party singing responsively. The feasting, singing, and noise go on for three days and nights, at the end of which time the guests depart and the bride, with her companions, returns to her parents' home. Sometimes the bride stays more than three days at the home of her husband.
The return of the bride to her parents' home is also somewhat of a festive occasion. I shall here copy some lines from my wife's diary, which describes the return of a bride among the Heh-Miao after staying at the bridegroom's home for twelve days: —
'' Took Rosie to see a bride returning to her mother's home. A group of seven or eight young women dressed in their best, and with flags made of red and green paper, were waiting on a little hill for her arrival. After waiting a long time, we saw the bridal party approaching. First came three men, and then six men carrying three slaughtered pigs on poles. One man carried two large baskets of cotton swinging on a pole, and another man carried four jackets and four skirts in the same way. The bride wore a crown, a magnificent piece of workmanship — ribbons, birds, flowers, and filigree work, all made of silver. Around her neck she had seven silver necklets, some large and soUd looking and some very prettily worked. She had also seven or eight bracelets on each arm, and silver spangles all over that part of the jacket that was not embroidered. She also wore a richly embroidered skirt. Mrs. P'an told me the dress and silver ornaments were worth at least one hundred and thirty Mexican dollars.
When she came in sight the young women and some girls went to meet her, and she asked them to go before her to her home. When she arrived at home two women stood just inside the door, one on each side, with a pot and a small cup. I think all the guests were offered whisky, but I only saw the bride drink it. Inside were many guests assembled who were drinking. Some of the schoolgirls came in to see me during the evening, all of them smelling of whisky. The feasting, singing, and gambling went on all night and for three days. I saw some of the women quite tipsy.''
After returning to her home, the girl remains with her parents till she is sent for by her husband's family, which usually happens at sowing or reaping time, when there is much work to be done. When sent for, the bride goes to her husband's home without any fuss, takes her place in her new home, and does her share of the house and farm work. Sometimes, if the husband or husband's family are not satisfied with the bride, they do not ask her to return, in which case she gets married to another man. Among the Hua Miao it is the rule not to send for the newly married till she has had her first baby.
One "difficult custom was that of buying wives. The parents, before giving a daughter in marriage, demanded as he price of the bride a cow, a goat, a sheep, a pig, and one or two other things. Some of the young men could not pay this price, and the results were often deplorable.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Source: “Among the Tribes of South-west China” by Samuel R. Clarke (China Inland Mission, 1911)
Last Updated in October 2022