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The Miao are a colorful and culturally- and historically-rich ethnic minority that lives primarily in southern China, Laos, Myanmar, northern Vietnam, and Thailand. Originally from China, the Miao are animists and ancestor worshipers and have traditionally lived in villages located at 3,000 to 6,000 feet. They live mostly in Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, and Sichuan in southern China.

The Miao are known in Southeast Asia as the Hmong (pronounced mung). They are ethnically different and linguistically distinct from the Chinese and the other ethnic groups in China and Southeast Asia. Even though they have intermarried a great deal with the Chinese, they are shorter and their eyes and faces look different than those of Chinese. The Miao can be quite different from one another. The difference between Miao groups is often as pronounced as between Miaos and non-Miaos.

Hmong means "free men." Miao means :weeds” or ‘sprouts.” The Chinese used to call them man, meaning “barbarians," The Laotians, Vietnamese and Thais call them the Meo, which means essentially the same thing as Miao. Hmong and Miao subgroups---Red Miao, White Miao (Striped Miao), Cowery Shell Miao, Flowery Miao, Black Miao, Green Miao (Blue Miao)---are in most cases named of the color of the woman's dress. There are two main groups in Southeast Asia: the White Hmong and Green Hmong.

The Miao are one of the largest minorities in China. They are widely distributed over Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi and Sichuan provinces, with a small number living on Hainan Island and in Guangdong Province and in southwest Hubei Province. Most of them live in tightly-knit communities, with a few living in areas inhabited by several other ethnic groups. The main Miao settlements are in the Southeastern Guizhou Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, the Southern Guizhou Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, the Southwestern Guizhou Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, the Western Hunan Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, the Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, and the Rongshui Miao Autonomous County in Guangxi Province. The Southeastern Guizhou Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture has the highest concentration of Miao. [Source: 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 ~]

The Miao have very long history. Because they are scattered very widely, Miao in different places have quite different customs, and they go by many different names, After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, these disparate groups were given the standardized name: "Miao".

Good Websites and Sources: Hmong Home Page hmongnet.org ; Hmong Studies Internet Resource Center hmongstudies.org ; Miao photos pratyeka.org ; Miao performance video YouTube Wikipedia article Wikipedia article ; Photos marlamallett.com ; Miao in Lusheng China ; Miao Clothes China Vista ; Miao Language omniglot.com ; Miao Funeral c232osu.spaces.live.com/Blog 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 left 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 ; HANI MINORITY Factsanddetails.com/China ; JINGPO MINORITY Factsanddetails.com/China ; LAHU MINORITY Factsanddetails.com/China ; LISU MINORITY Factsanddetails.com/China ; MIAO MINORITY: SOCIETY, CULTURE, FARMING Factsanddetails.com/China

Miao Population and Miao Regions in China

Miao population in China: 0.7072 percent of the total population; 9,426,007 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 8,945,538 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 7,398,035 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. In China, about half of all Miao live in Guizhou Province. About 20 percent are in Hunan, 13 percent are in Yunnan, 7 percent are in Sichuan, 6 percent are in Guangxi and 2 percent are in Hubei. The 50,000 or so in Hainan are known as Miao but are ethnically closer Yao and Li. Many Miao live in 14 autonomous prefectures and counties set up for them.[Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

On the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau and in some remote mountainous areas, Miao villages are comprised of a few families, and are scattered on mountain slopes and plains with easy access to transport links. Much of the Miao area is hilly or mountainous, and is drained by several big rivers. The weather is mild with a generous rainfall, and the area is rich in natural resources. Major crops include paddy rice, maize, potatoes, Chinese sorghum, beans, rape, peanuts, tobacco, ramie, sugar cane, cotton, oil-tea camellia and tung tree. Hainan Island is abundant in tropical fruits. [Source: China.org china.org |]

Miao customs vary a great deal from place to place. Miao groups are divided by language and clothing. Duyun is the home of the “Chicken Feather Miao.” In China, Guizhou Province is regarded as “the base of the Miao nationality.” Inside Guizhou, the majority of the Miao population resides in the Southeastern Guizhou Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture. Tai County has the highest concentration of Miao ethnicity at 97 percent and is referred to as “the number one county of the Miao nationality.” The remaining population is distributed in less concentrated numbers in other counties in Guizhou province. In southeastern Guizhou, the Miao population accounts for over 25 percent of the total Miao people in China. This subgroup tends to inhabit remote mountainous areas far away from the cities in tight-knit village networks. There, they seldom live in villages consisting of any nationality other than their own. Chinese and foreign ethnologists regard Guizhou as the best place to research the Miao, with the Taijiang region being the “brightest pearl” in regards to understanding the customs and culture of the group. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

There are an estimated 12 million Miao worldwide.The Miao diaspora is scattered across the globe. They exist on five continents. Countries with significant populations include Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, France, Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States. There are about 300,000 in Vietnam, 200,000 in Laos, 50,000 in Thailand and few thousand live in Burma near the Chinese border.

Origins of the Miao

It is believed that the ancestors of Miao may have been part of the Three South people (an ancient nationality) that evolved from the Zong people of the Zhou Dynasty. During the Qin and Han Dynasties (approximately 200 B.C. to A.D. 200), they mainly occupied Western Hunan and Eastern Guizhou Provinces and gradually moved and spread throughout the mountainous areas in Southwestern China. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Through legends and stories the Miao assert their lineage stems from the ancient Jiuli people. The Miao people in Sichuan, Guizhou, and Hunan Provinces believe Chi You, an ancient mythical half bull-half giant creature and leader of the Jiuli, is their ancestor. Thousands of years ago, the legend goes, the Jiuli tribe was forced to retreat from the lower reaches of the Yellow River to the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze being soundly defeated by the Chinese at the hands of very ancient legendary Yellow Emperor. From this defeat and exodus the "Three Miao" were gradually formed. By the 2nd century B.C., most of the Miao's ancestors had moved on to the Xiang River basin in southern China. \=/

Early Miao History

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Some consider the Miao to be the original inhabitants of the Chinese heartland of eastern China, predating the Han Chinese. Some believe they originally came from the river valleys of what are now the Hunan and Jiangxi provinces of south-central China. Other believe they originated father north in the polar regions.

The Miao were described in ancient Chinese chronicle as a rebellious people that were banished from the central plains around 2500 B.C. They were displaced by Han Chinese invaders from the north around 2000 B.C. and have been migrating southward and western to the mountains of southern China and Southeast Asia ever since.

According to ancient historical records the Miao settled in western Hunan and eastern Guizhou during the Qin and Han dynasties over 2,000 years ago. In some cases their migrations have been as much as vertical---from the lowlands into the highlands---as horizontal across Asia. Often they ended up territories dominated by other non-Han-Chinese ethnic groups, who subjugated and even enslaved them. The Miao were often leaders in rebellions against the Chinese.

Miao in Imperial China

There are some references to the Miao in Chinese records from 1300 to 200 B.C. From that time to around A.D. 1200 they are grouped with other minorities and collectively referred to as southern barbarians (“Man”). After A.D. 1200 there are numerous reference to the Miao. Most of them are descriptions of Miao uprisings against the Chinese state.

As early as the Qin and Han dynasties 2,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Miao people lived in the western part of present-day Hunan and the eastern part of present-day Guizhou. They were referred to as the Miaos in Chinese documents of the Tang and Song period (A.D. 618-1279). [Source: China.org china.org |]

In the third century A.D., the ancestors of the Miaos went west to present-day northwest Guizhou and south Sichuan along the Wujiang River. In the fifth century, some Miao groups moved to east Sichuan and west Guizhou. In the ninth century, some were taken to Yunnan as captives. In the 16th century, some Miaos settled on Hainan Island. As a result of these large-scale migrations over many centuries the Miaos became widely dispersed. Such a wide distribution and the influence of different environments has resulted in marked differences in dialect, names and clothes. Some Miao people from different areas have great difficulty in communicating with each other. Their art and festivals also differ between areas. |

Chinese-Marxist Take on Miao History

According to the Chinese government: “Early Miao society went through a long primitive stage in which there were neither classes nor exploitation. Totem worship survived among Miao ancestors until the Jin Dynasty 1,600 years ago. By the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220), the ethnic minorities in the Wuxi area had begun farming, and had learned to weave with bark and dye with grass seeds, and trade on a barter basis had emerged. But productivity was still very low and tribal leaders and the common people remained equal in status. [Source: China.org china.org |]

“Primitive Miao society changed rapidly between the third and tenth centuries A.D. Communal clans linked by family relationships evolved into communal villages formed of different regions. Vestiges of the communal village remained in the Miao's political and economic organizations until liberation in 1949. Organizations known as Men Kuan in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), and as Zai Kuan during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), were formed between several neighboring villages. Kuan leaders were elected by its members, who met regularly. Rules and regulations were formulated by all members to protect private property and maintain order. Anyone who violated the rules would be fined, expelled from the community or even executed. All villages in the same Kuan were dutybound to support one another, or else were punished according to the relevant rule. |

“By the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Miaos had divided into different social classes. Communal leaders had authority over land, and frequent contacts with the Hans and the impact of their feudal economy gave impetus to the development of the Miao feudal-lord economy. The feudal lords began to call themselves "officials," and called serfs under their rule "field people." |

“During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), some upper class Miaos were appointed prefectural governors by the imperial court, thus providing a political guarantee for the growth of the feudal economy. Under the rule of feudal lords, the ordinary people paid their rent in the form of unpaid service. The lords had supreme authority over them, and could punish them and bring them to trial at will. If feuds broke out between lords, the "field people" had to fight the battles. |

“By this time, agriculture and handicrafts had been further developed. Grain was traded for salt between prefectures, and Xi cloth was sent as a tribute to the imperial court. High-quality iron swords, armor and crossbows came into use. By the end of the Song Dynasty, the Miaos in west Hunan had mastered the technique of iron mining and smelting. Textiles, notably batik, also flourished. Regular trade sprung up between the Miaos and Hans. |

“The Miao feudal-lord economy reached its peak and began to decline during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). A landlord economy had taken shape and was in its early stage of development. In 1502, the Ming Court began to abolish the rule of Miao feudal lords, and appointed officials who were subject to recall. During the early years of the Qing Dynasty, these measures were applied to many Miao areas, contributing a great deal to the disintegration of the feudal-lord system and the growth of a landlord economy. In west Guizhou and northwest Yunnan, however, some lords still retained their power, and the feudal-lord economy continued to exist there until the end of the Qing Dynasty.” |

Miao Rebellions in the 1700s and 1800s

The Chinese were sometimes rattled by the threats posed by the Miao. Their major concern was that their rebelliousness might influence other groups to also rebel. The uprising often began as disputes over taxes and access to resources and sometimes ended with ethnic cleansing campaigns. In times of peace the Miao were largely governed through the tusi system.

The Miao Rebellion of 1795–1806 was an anti-Qing uprising in Hunan and Guizhou provinces, during the reign of emperor Jiaqing. Ignited by tensions between local populations and Han Chinese immigrants, it was brutally suppressed and it served as a prelude to the much Miao Rebellion of 1854–73. The term "Miao" not only included descendants of today’s Miao but also other ethnic minorities. At that time “Miao” was a general term used by the Chinese to describe various aboriginal, mountain tribes of Guizhou and other south-western provinces of China. The tribes made up 40 to 60 percent of Guizhou’s population. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Han Chinese began migrating to southwest China in serious numbers beginning in 15th century. The most common method of Chinese rule in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Sichuan was through semi-independent local chieftains, called tusi, whose titles were bestowed by the Emperor, who demanding only taxes and peace in their territories. However, Han Chinese immigration was forcing the original inhabitants out of the best lands; Guizhou's territory, although sparsely populated, consists mainly of high mountains, which offer little arable land.The Chinese state "followed" the immigrants, establishing its structures, first military, then civil, and displacing semi-independent tusi with regular administration over time. This practice, called gaitu guilu, led to conflicts.

The uprising was one of the long series dating back to Ming dynasty's conquest of the area. Whenever tensions reached a critical point, the people rose in revolt. Each rebellion, bloodily put down, left simmering hatred, and problems which were rather suppressed than solved. Basic questions of misrule, official abuse, extortion, over-taxation and land-grab remained. Mass Chinese immigration put a strain on scarce resources, but officials preyed on rather than administer the population. The quality of the officialdom in Guizhou and neighbouring areas remained very low. Great uprisings took place in Ming times, and during Qing dynasty in 1735–36, 1796–1806, and last and the largest in 1854-1873. The rebellion of 1736 was met with harsh measures. After that things were was relatively calm but officials worried about unorthodox sects, whose teachings were embraced by both Han and Miao. In 1795, tensions reached a critical point and the Miao, under Shi Liudeng and Shi Sanbao, rebelled again

Hunan was the main area of fighting, with some taking place in Guizhou. The Qing dynasty sent banner troops, Green Standard battalions and mobilized local militias and self-defence units. The lands of rebellious Miao were confiscated, to punish them and to increase the power of state; this action, however, provoked further conflicts, because new Chinese landowners ruthlessly exploited their Miao tenants. On the pacified territories forts and military colonies were set up, and Miao and Chinese territories were separated by the wall with watchtowers. Still, it took eleven years to finally quell the rebellion. Military action was followed by the policy of forced assimilation: traditional dress and religious rites were forbidden and ethnic segregation policy enforced. There were also attempts at introducing Confucian education. Nevertheless, the deep causes of unrest remained unchanged and the tensions grew again, until they exploded in the largest of Miao uprisings of 1854. However, it should be noted that relatively few of Hunan Miao, "pacified" in 1795-1806, participated in the rebellions of the 1850s.

The Miao Rebellion of 1854–1873 was an uprising in Guizhou province and was one of many ethnic uprisings in China in the 19th century. The rebellion spanned the Xianfeng and Tongzhi periods of the Qing dynasty, and was eventually suppressed with military force. Estimates place the number of casualties as high as 4.9 million out of a total population of 7 million, though these figures are likely overstated. The rebellion stemmed from a variety of grievances, including long-standing ethnic tensions with Han Chinese, poor administration, grinding poverty and growing competition for arable land. The eruption of the Taiping Rebellion led the Qing government to increase taxation, and to simultaneously withdraw troops from the already restive region, thus allowing a rebellion to unfold.

Later Miao History

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The last major Miao uprising was in 1856. After that time the Chinese discouraged Miao insurrections by displaying the severed heads of rebel leaders in baskets. The Miao remain bitter and still refer to the Chinese as "sons of dogs." One Miao elder said: “If you want to know the truth about our people, go ask the bear who is hurt why he defends himself, ask the dog who is kicked why he barks, ask the deer who is chased why he charges the mountains."

In the early 19th century the Miao began migrating into Southeast Asia and Hainan Island (Chinese territory off coast of Vietnam) after they were forced off their homelands in the Chinese forests by the Chinese and pressured into assimilating and adopting the Chinese language. Later they migrated southward and settled in the mountains in Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, where they raised live stock and grew rice and other crops. [Sources: Spencer Sherman, National Geographic, October 1988; W.E. Garret, National Geographic, January 1974]

"Runnin' and dyin', runnin' and dyin' are all the Miao have ever known," one old Hmong man told National Geographic magazine. "[In China] we were slaves. To escape we made a big cloth---3,800 Hmong stood on it. A good spirit made a big wind and blew us out of China into Laos."

In the colonial period the Hmong in Southeast Asia fell under the authority of the French in Vietnam and Laos. In 1919 they staged a rebellion over an opium tax in Laos that took the French several years to put down and resulted in the Hmong getting a fair degree of autonomy. In 1959, the Thai government tried to ban opium production, The effort failed and led to a state policy of toleration of opium production.

From 1959 to 1973, the CIA trained Hmong tribesmen to fight against Communist insurgencies in Laos. Many of the first recruits were Hmong guerillas who fought under the charismatic leader Vang Pao and had worked earlier with the French. The Hmong have traditionally occupied the strategic highlands in Laos overlooking North Vietnam and have traditionally been enemies of the lowland Vietnamese. They entered the conflict against Vietnamese first as scouts for the French and later as guerrillas for the Americans.

Miao Development

Most Miao are paddy-rice and dry rice farmers. There are also involved in forestry, animal husbandry, crafts, and fishing. high. According to the Chinese government: “Miao areas differ in their scale of economic and educational development. After 1951, a number of Miao autonomous divisions were established in Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong, and Hunan. Most of these autonomous divisions have taken the form of multiethnic autonomy, as the Miaos have for a long time lived harmoniously with the Tujia, Bouyei, Dong, Zhuang, Li and Han peoples. In some Miao areas, before autonomous authorities were established, priority was given to such things as the election of delegates to the People's congress and the training and appointment of minority administrative staff. Now a large number of Miao people have been promoted to leading posts. In Northwest Guizhou Autonomous Prefecture alone, Miaos account for 68 per cent of the district and township officials. [Source: China.org china.org |]

“Before 1949, textiles, iron forging, carpentry, masonry, pottery, alkali making and oil pressing were the only industries in the area. After the birth of the People’s Republic of China, many factories and hydroelectric stations were built. Now electricity is widely used for lighting, irrigation and food processing. In mountainous areas, the Miaos have built reservoirs, dug canals and created new farmland. They have also developed a diversified economy according to local conditions. As a result, grain production as well as oil, fiber and starch crops and medicinal herbs have all flourished. This has helped to open up new sources of raw materials and supplies for industry and commerce, and improved the Miao people's living standards. |

“Sheep raising has a long history in Weining Autonomous County, Guizhou, where 265,000 hectares of grassland and trees provide an ideal grazing area. Herds have grown rapidly as a result of the introduction of improved breeds and better veterinary services. The construction of railways between Guiyang and Kunming, and between Hunan and Guizhou has boosted the development of the Miao areas along the routes. Before 1949, more than half the counties in Qiandongnan Autonomous Prefecture had no bus services. |

“Cultural, educational and public health provisions have also expanded rapidly. In 1984, there already were 23,000 teachers in Qiandongnan alone, of whom over half were of the Miao or Dong minorities. They set up schools in mountainous areas and brought education to the formerly illiterate mountain villages. Before 1949, the incidence of malaria was as high as 95 per cent in Xinchi village in Ziyun County, Guizhou Province. But since liberation, the disease has been eradicated through massive health campaigns. This is giving rise to the rapid emergence of clean, hygienic and literate Miao villages.” |

Miao Language

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Miao in
Chinese characters

The Miao language belongs to a western branch of the Miao-Yao language group of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. This group also includes such well-known languages as Hmu and Kho Xyong. Miao is a tonal language with eight tones and a complex phonology. Some linguists classify Miao-Yao languages as Sino-Tibetan languages; some don’t. Miao-Yao languages are a family of languages spoken mainly by hill tribes and ethnic groups that live in isolated areas scattered across southern China, Laos and Thailand.

There are five main Miao-Yao languages, many associated with the speaker’s clothing: Red Miao, White Miao (Striped Miao), Black Miao, Green Miao (Blue Miao) and Yao. Often the language of one group is unintelligible to members of other groups and is divided into a number of dialects. About half of all Miao speak Red Miao and Black Miao languages.

The Miao had no written language until the 1950s when the Chinese and Thais developed Thai-based and Chinese-based scripts for them. Christian missionaries gave them a Roman-based script and used it to translate the Bible. The Miao had traditionally passed on their culture orally and through the use of story clothes. The Miao believe they once had a written languages but it disappeared after their ancient books were eaten by horses while Miao warriors slept exhausted from fleeing China.

In China, three Miao dialects are spoken: 1) the Western Hunan dialect (in the east), 2) the northern Guizhou dialect (in the middle) and 3) the Sichuan-Guizhou-Yunnan dialect (in the west). Each dialect has several sub-dialects and local dialects. The Miao writing has two styles: 1) the "old Miao writing" created at the beginning of the 20th century and 2) the "new Miao writing" created after the new China was founded in 1949.

In some places, people who call themselves Miao use the languages of other ethnic groups. In Chengbu and Suining in Hunan, Longsheng and Ziyuan in Guangxi and Jinping in Guizhou, about 100,000 Miao people speak a Chinese dialect. In Sangjiang in Guangxi, over 30,000 Miaos speak the Dong language, and on Hainan Island, more than 100,000 people speak the language of the Yaos. Due to their centuries of contacts with the Hans, many Miaos can also speak Chinese. [Source: China.org china.org |]

Among the Miao in Guizhou, the language system is intricate, consisting of three wide spread dialects, numerous sub-dialects, and many localized dialects. The Eastern Guizhou dialect is exclusive to the Taijiang Miao nationality. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

The Miao have employed a naming system in which father's and son's names are linked. This system has traditionally appeared at the transition period from matrilineal clan system to patrilineal clan system.

Miao Religion

The Miao are animists, shamanists and ancestor worshipers whose beliefs have been shaped somewhat by Chinese religions, namely Taoism and Buddhism, and, more recently in the case of some groups, Christianity. Within a house there are special altars for the spirits of sickness and wealth in the bedroom, the front room, and loft and near the house post and the two hearths.

Male household leaders are usually in charge of the domestic worship of ancestor spirits and household gods. Part time specialist act as priests, diviners and shaman. They don special clothes when the preside over rites and employ chants, prayers and songs they have memorized. They are paid in food for their services. Shaman are generally called upon on cure illnesses by bringing back lost souls. They play a key role in funeral rites and are called upon to explain misfortunes and preside over rites that protect households and villages.

According to the Chinese government: “The Miaos used to believe in many gods, and some of their superstitious rituals were very expensive. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, for instance, prayers for children or for the cure of an illness were accompanied by the slaughter of two grown oxen as sacrifices. Feasts would then be held for all the relatives for three to five days. [Source: China.org china.org |]

Miao Creation Myth, See Literature.

Miao Spirits and Folk Beliefs

Miao spirits, known as tlan, are thought to live in high concentrations in places like sacred groves, caves, stones, wells and bridges. Household ancestor spirits (dab) are distinguished from spirts called up by shaman (neeb). The spirts that protect homes and villages are sometimes thought of as dragons. The Miao pantheon of gods and spirits include Saub, a beneficent deity often invoked for help; Siv Yis, the first shaman; and the two malevolent underworld kings, Ntxwj Nying and Nyuj Vaj Tuam Teem. Some Miao groups believe in a pre-eminent spirit that presides over all earth spirits; some do not. A few believe in a kind of cargo cult in which Jesus will arrive in a jeep and military fatigues and bring all kinds of wonderful things.

Folk beliefs and superstition affects almost every aspect of the Miao's daily life. If a bird flies into a person's house and roosts, for example, it means it is time to start thinking about moving. Hunters are supposed to wipe their crossbows or rifles with the blood of the animals they kill to appease trail spirits which cause sprained ankles and other injuries.

Pregnant women are not supposed to enter some houses through the front door lest they bring great misfortune. Using the backdoor is alright. Sickness is thought to result from evil spirits luring the soul from the body and can only be cured of the soul is brought back through the front door of a house. To ward off evil spirits and keep the soul in the body, the Miao, like many hill tribe people in Southeast Asia, tie cotton strings around their wrists.

In the 1970s, foreign teachers tried to teach their Miao students that a lunar eclipse were caused by the earth passing between the moon and sun. The students laughed at this implausible idea. Everybody knows, they said, that eclipses are caused when the frog spirit swallows the moon. The Miao also believe that the best way to avoid getting struck by lightning is not to avoid standing on high ground, but rather to avoid drinking milk.

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Miao Sacrifices

Animal sacrifice ceremonies are held by the Miao to help sick relatives and assure that good tlan watch over their children. During the big ceremonies a cow is sacrificed in honor of relatives who died fighting in Laos.

In the old days, 80 percent of the pigs in an average Miao village end up being consumed at spirit ceremonies. When the ceremony is over the animals are eaten (the spirits only take the souls of the pigs not the meat) The remaining 20 percent of the pigs are slaughtered at weddings, funerals and christenings. The guest of honor at a ceremony is usually given the head, which is considered a real delicacy. Proper etiquette requires the guest of honor to suck out the brain. [Source: W.E. Garret, National Geographic, January 1974]

Each year the Miao hold four major sacrifices in which a cow or buffalo is offered. All four honor the rice spirit, Yang Coi. The first sacrifice is held before the land is cleared, the second before the seeds are planted, the third when the rice is half-grown and the forth after the harvest.

The sacrifice ceremony takes two days. On the first day the sacrificial cow is lead by a shaman, a group of children and six musicians with a gong into a field. Pieces of the cow's ear are cut out and buried near the borders of the field while a shaman chants a prayer.

During the second day a huge bamboo pole is erected in the field and decorated with bamboo cut-outs of cows and people. At the base of the pole is an alter which holds offerings of rice, bananas, and eggs. After a prayer is said a cow is killed with a ceremonial ax. Village women anxiously collect the spurting blood in bamboo containers which are later placed in the house to ward off evil spirits. While everyone sits around an drinks a rice beer called room they cow is cooked---hooves, hide and all---and later it is butchered and divided equally among the villagers.

Miao Funerals

After death, the Miao believe, the soul divides into three parts: one remains in the grave, a second joins his or her ancestor in the next world and the third returns to protect the home as an ancestor spirit. The dead have traditionally been cremated by lighting branches piled on top of the body. Funerals generally last a minimum of three days and are attended by all male kin within the household of the deceased. The ceremonies are often wailing affairs with mournful songs played by reed pipes to guide the dead on his or her journey to the other world. Cattle are sacrificed and the dead are buried in a place with auspicious feng shui.

Funerals may be presided over by ritual specialists but shaman are preferred because they are more skilled in making sure the soul of the deceased is given a proper send off to the other world and doesn’t become a malevolent spirit.

On the third day after the burial the grave is renovated. On the 13th day after death a ceremony is held for the ancestral soul so it will protect the household. A final memorial service is held a year after death. Later the deceased spirts may be invoked to help cure illnesses or misfortunes. When an ancestor soul returns to its village it must collect its placenta which has been buried beneath his house. This journey is described in funeral songs in which parallels are drawn between its journey and the journey of the Miao out of China.

Miao Festivals

Many Miao groups have their own festivals and ceremonies, which vary from village to village. Many also celebrate Han Chinese holidays. Some celebrate the new year according to Han Chinese calendar Others celebrate it in the 10th lunar month following the harvest. Other important festivals include the Dragon Boat festival, the Mountain Flower festival, which are important in bring in young couples together, and Drum Society festivals, which are held only in some years to honor ancestors.

There are many Miao festivals, such as the Miao New Year, the New Product Eating Festival, the Festival of Eating Bulls' Internal Organs, the Eighth of April, the Reed-Pipe Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, Stepping Flower Hill, Singing Gathering in the Pure Brightness, Striking Drums festival, Horse Fighting festival, Slope-Climbing Festival and Eating "Sisters' Rice" Almost all types of festivals include as religion activities, farm work, commemoration, trade and socializing. Entertainment activities include singing in antiphonal style, dancing to reed pipes, horse racing, horse fighting, bullfights, cockfights, knife-pole climbing and swinging. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

Different Miao communities celebrate different festivals. Even the same festivals may fall on different dates. In southeast Guizhou and Rongshui County in Guangxi, the Miao New Year festival is celebrated on "Rabbit Day" or "Ox Day" on the lunar calendar. The festivities include beating drums, dancing to the music of a lusheng (a wind instrument), horse racing and bull-fighting. In counties near Guiyang, people dressed in their holiday best gather at the city's largest fountain on the 8th day of the forth lunar month to play lusheng and flute and sing of the legendary hero, Yanu. [Source: China.org china.org |]

In many areas, the Miaos have Dragon Boat festivals and Flower Mountain festivals (5th day of the fifth lunar month), Tasting New Rice festivals (between the sixth and seventh lunar month), Pure Brightness festivals and the Beginning of Autumn festivals. In Yunnan, "Stepping over Flower Mountains" is a popular festivity for the Miaos. Childless couples use the occasion to repeat vows to the god of fertility. They provide wine for young people, who sing and dance under a pine tree, on which hangs a bottle of wine. Young men and women may fall in love on this occasion, and this, it is hoped, will help bring children to the childless couples. |

The Lusheng Festival is popular throughout Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces. The Lusheng Festival in Kaili, the famous tourist hub in Guizhou province, is considered to be one of the grandest celebrations of the Miao. The Sisters' Meals festival is celebrated by the Miao people in Guizhou province, especially in Taijiang and Jianhe Counties along the banks of the Qingshui River. It has been called the oldest “Asian Valentine’s Day.” [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

San Yue San is three day festival celebrated on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month (usually late March, Early April) by the Li, Zhuang, Dong, Miao, Yao, She, Mulao and Geleo minorities in China's southern and central provinces. Sometimes called Venus Day, it is a time when boyfriends and girlfriends are chosen and villages celebrate the occasion with singing, dancing, archery, wrestling, playing on swings, tug of wars, pole climbing and other activities.

The Dong and Miao celebrate the first day of the festival by eating and drinking milky white wine. On the second day girls give baskets of shrimp and fish to the boys they fancy. On the third day everyone meets in the town square to participate in "drum treading" and "reed-pipe" dances. On the night of the third day girls dress up in their most beautiful tribal costumes and go upstairs in their bamboo houses to sing to the boys who are waiting downstairs. Boys then follow the girls to the gate of the bamboo houses and sing their reply. All of the minorities perform the Money Bell and Double Daggers Dance. In this dance one man holds two daggers in his hand. Another man holds a money bell. The man with the daggers tries to stab the man with the money bell, who in turn tries to run away.

Miao New Year

The Miao New Year is generally celebrated on the first four days of the tenth lunar month. It is the biggest event of the year. New clothes are put on, feasts are held, antiphonal songs are sung by courting couples, courting games are played, and ceremonies are held to honor household and ancestral spirits. Each household sacrifices domestic animals and holds a feast. Weddings are often held. Some villages stage bullfights. Other have cockfights.

The Miao New Year is main traditional festival of the Miao, but the time of celebration is different in different places. The "Guizhou Record" written by Guo Zizhang in the Ming Dynasty says:" The beginning of a new year is in the last three months in winter, and people celebrate in different months." The three months in winter refers to the tenth, eleventh and twelfth months of the Chinese lunar year. Today, Miao in most regions celebrate new year in the first month of the lunar year (late January or February), more or less the same as Han Chinese. Only Miao in the Southeastern Guizhou and part of Guangxi follow the old tradition and spend the new year in the Bull (one of the twelve symbolic animals and is called "Chou" in Chinese) day, the Hare (called "Mao" in Chinese) day, the Dragon (called "Chen" in Chinese) day during the tenth, eleventh and twelfth months of the lunar year (November through January). [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

The Miao New Year has traditionally been a harvest festival. Though the of time of celebration is different among different Miao groups, the content of the festival is generally the same among all Miao people. in different regions. In the days ahead of New Year, families do cleaning, butcher chicken and pigs, make rice cakes and rice wine and buys special things for the new year. On the New Year's Eve, families worship gods and offer sacrifices to ancestors, praying for an abundant harvest of all food crops and safety of people and domestic animals. Family members gather for a large feast, with special New Year foods. On New Year’s Day, people visit relatives and friends, wishing them a happy new year. Young people wear their best clothes and take part in all kinds of activities such as reed-pipe dancing, the beating wooden drums, bullfights, horse races and antiphonal singing (alternate singing by two choirs or singers). Miao villages are filled with sound of firecrackers and reed-pipes. ~

According to Miao custom, the tenth lunar month is the beginning of a new year. The exact date varies each year and is only disclosed one or two months in advance. The celebration of the Miao New Year in Leishan, Guizhou Province is the grandest among Miao festivities. It has become a tourist attraction as well as a gathering for Miao and otehr ethnic groups. Activities include the festival parade featuring Miao girls and women in silver-laden traditional Miao dress, the traditional music of the Lusheng (a kind of musical instrument made of bamboo), bullfights, horse racing, and much singing and dancing. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com ]

Image Sources: Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html, San Francisco Museum, Wiki Commons

Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 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 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.

Last updated June 2015

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