China, as we all are acutely aware of, is a nation teeming with life–of all sorts. While we are often presented with varying viewpoints of the Chinese (sleeping dragon, communist, red china etc), it’s not too often that we get a glimpse into daily “minority” life. Here, for your viewing pleasure is one such group: the Miao.
The Miao inhabit the mountainous regions of China. Originally from the North Plain of China (now known as Mongolia), or the southwestern part of China, known as Tibet; they crossed the Yellow River, and there founded the kingdom of “San Miao” or “Vaj Peb Hmoob” in the Jiang Wei Jing Zou region.
There are about 8 to 9 million Miao with nearly 7.9 million in China with the rest are found in Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Thailand. Approximately 300,000 have immigrated to the United States. Those who relocated in the United States, France, and Australia came to look for freedom from Laotian tyranny. They are also called Hmong rather than Miao in those countries.
Though they are ethnically one people, the Miao can be divided into four main linguistic groups: far western Hmongic, Western Hmongic, Qiandong Miao, and Xiangxi Miao, and other dialects. The Miao are a people of oral tradition–expressing themselves through stories, songs and proverbs recited and memorized throughout generations. Interestingly enough, it is believed that the Miao once utilized a written language (which may be seen in the dress of many Miao women) but this has gotten lost over the centuries.
The Miao are an agricultural society with houses made of mud bricks, wood, or stone. They often consist of three stories. The third floor is used to store crops, the second floor is used as a living area for a family, and the first floor is used to house animals.
One of their unique social customs comes from the taboo of marrying anyone whose family name is the same. As only one or two clans reside in each village, there are traditional festivals where youths meet other youths from different villages. The young men will sing love songs for the special women they wish to marry. If the women reciprocate then the two spend time together under direct parental supervision.
For more on the Miao, check out the following: