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ETHNONYMS: Bai Miao (White), Cowrie Shell Miao, Hei Miao (Black), Hmong, Hua Miao (Flowery), Hung Miao (Red), Magpie Miao, Qing Miao (Blue/Green)


Identification. The various Miao groups are for the most part an unstratified agricultural people found in the uplands of several provinces of China and related to the Hmong of Southeast Asia. They are distinguished by language, dress, historical traditions, and cultural practice from neighboring ethnic groups and the dominant Han Chinese. They are not culturally homogeneous and the differences between local Miao cultures are often as great as between Miao and non-Miao neighbors. The term "Miao" is Chinese, and means "weeds" or "sprouts." Chinese minority policies since the 1950s treat these diverse groups as a single nationality and associate them with the San Miao Kingdom of central China mentioned in histories of the Han dynasty (200 b.c.-a.d. 200).

Location. About half of China's Miao are located in Guizhou Province. Another 34 percent are evenly divided between Yunnan Province and western Hunan Province. The remainder are mainly found in Sichuan and Guangxi, with a small number in Guangdong and Hainan. Some of the latter may have been resettled there during the Qing dynasty. The wide dispersion makes it difficult to generalize about ecological settings. Miao settlements are found anywhere from a few hundred meters above sea level to elevations of 1,400 meters or more. The largest number are uplands people, often living at elevations over 1,200 meters and located at some distance from urban centers or the lowlands and river valleys where the Han are concentrated. Often, these upland villages and hamlets are interspersed with those of other minorities such as Yao, Dong, Zhuang, Yi, Hui, and Bouyei. Most live in the fourteen autonomous prefectures and counties designated as Miao or part-Miao. Among the largest of these are the Qiandongnan Miao-Dong Autonomous Prefecture and Qiannan Bouyei-Miao Autonomous Prefecture established in Guizhou in 1956, the Wenshan Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan established in 1958, and the Chengbu Miao Autonomous County in Hunan organized in 1956. In addition, there are Miao present in at least ten other autonomous units where they are a minority among the minorities. Some Miao villages are within minzuxiang (minority townships), in areas that have a high concentration of minority peoples but not autonomous status, as is the case in Zhaotong Prefecture in northeastern Yunnan.

Demography. The 1990 census reports a population of 7,398,677 Miao. This is an increase of almost 47 percent over the 1982 census figure of 5,036,377. Some of the growth is due to natural increase (as of 1990 the Miao were not limited to one or two children) and some to the recognition of additional population as Miao and better census procedures.

Linguistic Affiliation. According to Chinese language classification, the Miao languages belong to the Miao-Yao Branch of Sino-Tibetan. Officially, these languages are termed fangyin (dialects) although they are not mutually intelligible. There are at least three main languages, further divisible into distinct and separate sublanguages or dialects of varying degrees of closeness. The Miao languages are tonal. Xiangxi, spoken in western Hunan by close to one million speakers, is associated with the Red Miao. It is comprised of two sublanguages. The larger of the two has been taken as standard and given a romanization for school texts and other local publications. The Qiandong language of central and eastern Guizhou is associated with the Black Miao. It has three major subdivisions. The most widespread of the three has well over a million speakers, and is taken as the official standard. The others, with a half million speakers each, are regarded as dialects and, as of this writing, have no official recognition. The Chuanqiandian languages are spoken by White, Flowery, and Blue Miao. There are at least seven major subdivisions, each further divided into a number of local dialects. At present only Chuanqiandianci (White Miao) and Diandongbei (Hua Miao) are officially recognized. Both of these formerly used a phonetic script, introduced by missionaries at the turn of the century. The script has been supplanted by a government-introduced romanization. In addition there are some eight additional fangyin, with several thousand speakers each, which do not fit into any of the major categories. Most of the Miao in Hainan are Yao speakers, and some Miao elsewhere speak only Dong or Chinese.

History and Cultural Relations

Chinese scholarship links the present-day Miao to tribal confederations that moved southward some 2,000 years ago from the plain between the Yellow River and the Yangtze toward the Dongting Lake area. These became the San Miao mentioned in Han dynasty texts. Over the next thousand years, between the Han and the Song dynasties, these presumed ancestors of the Miao continued to migrate westward and southward, under pressure from expanding Han populations and the imperial armies. Chinese texts and Miao oral history establish that over those years the ancestors settled in western Hunan and Guizhou, with some moving south into Guangxi or west along the Wu River to southeastern Sichuan and into Yunnan. The period was marked by a number of uprisings and battles between Miao and the Han or local indigenous groups, recalled in the oral histories of local groups. Though the term "Miao" was sometimes used in Tang and Song histories, the more usual term was "Man," meaning "barbarians." Migration continued through the Yuan, Ming, and early Qing, with some groups moving into mainland Southeast Asia. The retreat from Han control brought some into territories controlled by the Yi in northeast Yunnan/northwest Guizhou. The various migrations can also be seen as "vertical" migrations into the undeveloped hillside and mountain areas that were of lesser interest to Han. Depending on the terrain, the settled farming cited in Miao historical myths gave way to shifting slash-and-burn agriculture, facilitated by the introduction of the Irish potato and maize in the sixteenth century, and the adoption of high-altitude/cool-weather crops like barley, buckwheat, and oats. Farming was supplemented by forest hunting, fishing, gathering, and pastoralism. During the Qing, uprisings and military encounters escalated. There were major disturbances in western Hunan (1795-1806) and a continuous series of rebellions in Guizhou (18541872). Chinese policies toward the Miao shifted among assimilation, containment in "stockaded villages," dispersal, removal, and extermination. The frequent threat of "Miao rebellion" caused considerable anxiety to the state; in actuality, many of these uprisings included Bouyei, Dong, Hui, and other ethnic groups, including Han settlers and demobilized soldiers. At issue were heavy taxation, rising landlordism, rivalries over local resources, and official corruption. One of the last Miao uprisings occurred in 1936 in western Hunan in opposition to Guomindang (Republican) continuation of the tuntian system, which forced the peasants to open up new lands and grow crops for the state.

From Song on, in periods of relative peace, government control was exercised through the tusi system of indirect rule by appointed native headmen who collected taxes, organized corvée, and kept the peace. Miao filled this role in Hunan and eastern Guizhou, but farther west the rulers were often drawn from a hereditary Yi nobility, a system that lasted into the twentieth century. In Guizhou, some tusi claimed Han ancestry, but were probably drawn from the ranks of assimilated Bouyei, Dong, and Miao. Government documents refer to the "Sheng Miao" (raw Miao), meaning those living in areas beyond government control and not paying taxes or labor service to the state. In the sixteenth century, in the more pacified areas, the implementation of the policy of gaitu guiliu began the replacement of native rulers with regular civilian and military officials, a few of whom were drawn from assimilated minority families. Land became a commodity, creating both landlords and some freeholding peasants in the areas affected. In the Yunnan-Guizhou border area, the tusi system continued and Miao purchase of land and participation in local markets was restricted by law until the Republican period (1911-1949).

Throughout the Republican period, the government favored a policy of assimilation for the Miao and strongly discouraged expressions of ethnicity. Southwestern China came under Communist government control by 1951, and Miao participated in land reform, collectivization, and the various national political campaigns. In the autonomous areas created beginning in 1952, the Miao were encouraged to revive and elaborate their costumes, music, and dance, while shedding "superstitious" or "harmful" customs. Some new technology and scientific knowledge was introduced, along with modern medicine and schooling. The Miao suffered considerably during the Cultural Revolution years, when expressions of ethnicity were again discouraged, but since 1979 the Miao have been promoted in the media and the government has encouraged tourism to the Miao areas of eastern and central Guizhou.


At higher elevations, as on the plateau straddling Guizhou and Yunnan, settlements are rarely larger than twenty households. An average village in central Guizhou might have 35 or 40 households, while in Qiandongnan villages of 80 to 130 families are common, and a few settlements have close to 1,000 households. Villages are compact, with some cleared space in front of the houses, and footpaths. In some areas houses are of wood, raised off the ground, and with an additional sleeping and storage loft under a thatched or tiled roof. Elsewhere they are single-story buildings made of tamped earth or stone depending on local conditions. Windows are a recent introduction. Animals are now kept in outbuildings; in the past they were sheltered under the raised house or kept inside. Many settlements are marked by a grove of trees, where religious ceremonies are held.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Economic strategies vary. The Hua Miao were shifting-swidden agriculturalists, growing buckwheat, oats, corn, potatoes, and hemp, and using a simple wooden hand plow or hoe. Sheep and goats were fed on nearby pasture land. Additionally the Hua Miao hunted with crossbow and poisoned arrows and gathered foodstuffs in the forests. In parts of Guizhou, the Miao more closely resembled their Han neighbors in their economic strategies as well as in their technology (the bullock-drawn plow, harrowing, use of animal and human wastes as fertilizer). The Cowrie Shell Miao in central Guizhou were settled farmers growing rice in flooded fields, and also raising millet, wheat, beans, vegetables, and tobacco. Their livestock was limited to barnyard pigs and poultry, with hunting and gathering playing a very minor role. Some of the Black Miao in southeast Guizhou combine intensive irrigated terrace farming of rice with dry-field upland cropping.

Industrial Arts. Women continue to spin and weave cotton, hemp, ramie, and wool for home use, and to produce garments with elaborate batik and embroidered designs that vary by area and dialect and serve as subethnic markers. Complex silver necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and headdresses are a well-developed craft specialty for men and again are closely associated with ethnicity. They are not usually sold outside the local Miao community. Carpenters, basket makers and blacksmiths can be found among some Miao groups.

Trade. No Miao communities are self-sufficient. All depend on the market for pottery, salt, processed foods, and various daily necessities. In Guizhou there is great demand for silver for making jewelry. What the Miao have to sell varies greatly by area. The Hua Miao market wool, hides, sheep and goats, wild game, firewood, and a variety of forest products. The Cowrie Shell Miao market agricultural produce, poultry and pigs, bamboo shoots, and homecrafted grass raincoats and sandals. Different areas have their specialties, such as cattle, horses, bamboo baskets, and herbal medicines. Before 1949, some Miao sold opium, but more often poppy growing and production of raw opium was the required rent for cropland and the profits went to the landlord and middlemen. Very few Miao were full-time merchants or traders.

Division of Labor. Both sexes engage in agriculture, care of livestock, and fishing, and men contribute some labor to domestic chores like cooking, gathering firewood, and child care. Men are expected to do the heaviest work, including plowing. Women sometimes participated on short hunting trips, but trips of several days or several weeks were undertaken by groups of men; hunting trips are now illegal. Labor exchange and cooperation between households was common even before collectivization.

Land Tenure. Prior to the 1950s land reform, some Miao were smallholders. Many, if not most, were tenants on lands owned by Han, Yi, Hui, and others. Few were true landlords, and most who rented out land were likely to work part of their holdings themselves with family labor. All land is now owned by the state, including undeveloped mountain and forest lands, thus limiting any expansion beyond lands officially assigned to an individual or village. In the process, pastoralism and forest hunting/gathering have been reduced. Before land reform, some Miao areas followed the practice of lineage or hamlet ownership of mountain and hillside lands even where some private holdings existed. People could open new lands for farming and settlement, share village pastures, or hunt away from their home area.


Generally, Miao have been pressured to take Chinese surnames, which are transmitted patrilineally. Descent is said to be patrilineal, and in some places the Han patrilineage form has been adopted. However, matrilineal kin are important in some areas. In practice, there is strong evidence that the system is bilateral. No serious comparative study of kin terms and lineage organization is yet available, and some of the writings on the subject suggest Miao politeness in telling Han investigators what they want to hear.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages generally require parental consent but are based on mutual attraction and choice. In the past, many communities had "youth houses" where unmarried young people could gather. Groups of young men traveled around to court girls in other villages. In the absence of parental consent, elopement was an alternative. Festivals and trips to periodic markets still provide an opportunity for young people to meet, engage in antiphonal singing and dancing, and establish new friendships. Since the 1950s, travel restrictions and state disapproval of premarital sexual behavior has increased the parental role in marriage arrangement. Marriages are monogamous. Marriage outside the dialect or language group is rare. Divorce and remarriages are permitted. Postmarital residence is usually in the man's home village but only the youngest son lives with his parents after his marriage, and in instances where there are no sons a family may bring in a son-in-law or an aged widow or widower might join her married daughter's household. In some areas, there is delayed transfer of the bride until after the birth of her first child, or the practice of starting out with residence with the bride's family.

Domestic Unit. The two-generation nuclear family is statistically the most common. Relations between spouses, and between parents and children, are more egalitarian than among the Han. Economic, social, and ritual ties are retained with natal kin. Visiting kinsfolk are welcome guests, and may come for extended visits.

Inheritance. At marriage, sons and daughters receive property and assistance in building a new house. Marriage portions previously included livestock as well as household goods, tools, jewelry, and cloth. The youngest son and his descendants inherit the parental house and remaining wealth. A couple without sons will live with a daughter, who stands as heir.

Socialization. Both parents are involved in child rearing. Verbal skills and work skills are valued. Children are expected to assist with work tasks from an early age. Some tasks, such as gathering firewood or caring for livestock, are not gender-linked, and both sexes are encouraged to take responsibility and act independantly. Mothers teach their daughters to spin and weave and to do batik and embroidery, and sons learn hunting skills from their fathers. Since the 1950s, most boys and some girls attend primary school. Relatively few continue on to middle school since this usually involves boarding schools far from their home communities.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Given the long period of Chinese rule, it is not possible to reconstruct precontact organization, though some areas still retain older lineage and clan names. Owing to dispersion, population decimation, and frequent migration, the multisurname settlement seems to be the most common. Villages do not seem to have been formally linked by any kind of tribal organization. There was little class differentiation in the villages, and no formal political structure. Respected knowledgeable elders, heads of family groups, and religious experts of both genders served as informal leaders. Among the more Sinicized, landlords and those who had some literacy in Chinese exercised power in the Community. Under the present system, those who are members of the Communist party stand as the official leaders of the community.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Religious beliefs and activities vary by locale and subethnic identity. The situation is further complicated by partial adoption of elements of folk Daoism and Buddhism, or by conversion to Christianity (as among segments of the White and Flowery Miao). Traditional religious beliefs concern powerful suprahuman forces associated with sacred groves, stones, caves, and other natural phenomena, as well as with bridges and wells. Other protective spirits guard the household and hamlet. The latter are sometimes thought of as dragons. It is believed that at death, the soul divides into three parts, one of which returns to protect the household as an ancestral spirit. There is also concern with evil spirits and with ghosts of those who died bad deaths and who may cause illness and misfortune. Religious beliefs are supported by a complex series of sung or chanted poetic myths, which treat the creation of the universe, the doings of divine beings and culture heroes, and early Miao history.

Religious Practitioners. Most religious ritual is performed or guided by various part-time specialists who act as priests, diviners, or shamans for the local community or for kin groups. Most of them are males. They engage in ordinary work, and only the most important religious activities require them to don special items of dress and decoration to mark them from others. There are no written texts for learning the chants, songs, dances, and rituals: they are memorized. If called by a family, specialists receive a small payment (often in foodstuffs) for their assistance. Shamans play a key role at funerals and postburial rites. They are also involved in analysis and healing of illness: some are skilled in herbal medicine as well as ritual procedures. Shamans also provide explanations of the possible causes of misfortune and can provide protective amulets. Ceremonies on behalf of the village community or a gathering of kin from several villages are conducted by skilled male elders who function as priests, following ritual procedures, administering the necessary animal and food sacrifices, and chanting the songs and myths without going into trance or communicating directly with the supernaturals and spirits. Some ceremonies are led by the male head of household on behalf of his immediate family.

Ceremonies. The calendrical year holds a number of set ceremonies that vary from group to group in content, purpose, and timing. For example, some groups now celebrate the lunar New Year along with their Han neighbors, whereas others celebrate the year's start in the tenth lunar month, following the harvest, and mark it with bullfights and cattle sacrifices. Others mark the New Year with cockfights or sacrifice of pigs and chickens, or intervillage assemblages enlivened by antiphonal singing, dancing, and the playing of the lusheng. Among the important festivals found in many (not all) Miao communities are the Dragon Boat Festival, which is synchronic with the Han festivities to a large extent, and the Mountain Flower festivals, which were an important institution for bringing together marriageable young people from different hamlets. The Drum Society festivals are held by dispersed kin groups to honor their ancestors every seven, ten, or twelve years, and are not strictly tied to the calendar. Most festivals involve the lavish offering of animal sacrifices, and for this reason the state has discouraged them.

Arts. The Miao are well known for the complexity, sophistication, and variety of their weaving, embroidery, and brocade and batik work, though little of it is commodified. Their elaborate silver jewelry is also famous. There is a rich heritage of oral literature (myths, history, tales, and songs). The ability to play the lusheng or other instruments and to sing and improvise songs is highly prized. Generally the Miao do not have graphic arts: the absence of god figures or painting of supernatural beings is a deliberate internal marker that differentiates them from Han and some neighboring groups.

Medicine. Aside from the shaman's extensive knowledge, ordinary persons also have some knowledge of plants and other materials that have healing properties. The Chinese invert this by claiming that Miao women engage in magical poisoning (gu), but all evidence suggests this is a Han myth rather than Miao practice. Divination and exorcism of ghosts and evil spirits are also a part of healing.

Death and Afterlife. The human soul is comprised of three parts. After death, one resides at the grave; another must be led safely through the journey to the other world where it rejoins the ancestors, and the third must be led safely back home where it serves as a protective ancestral spirit to the living. Thus, burial and postmortuary rituals require the skills and knowledge of a shaman to lead the mourners in ritual and perform the necessary sequence of ceremonies.


Bai Ziran, ed. (1988). A Happy People: The Miaos. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

Fan Yumei, et al., eds. (1987). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu fengqinglu (Customs of China's national minorities). Chengdu: Sichuan Nationalities Press.

Mickey, Margaret P. (1947). The Cowrie Shell Miao of Kweichow. Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 32, no. 1. Cambridge, Mass.

National Minorities Commission, Guizhou Provincial Editorial Group, ed. (1986-1987). Miaozu shehui lishi diaocha (Research on the society and history of the Miao). 3 vols. Guiyang: Guizhou Peoples Press.

National Minorities Commission, Yunnan Provincial Editorial Group, and Li Zhaolun, eds. (1982). Yunnan Miaozu Yaozu shehui lishi diaocha (Research on the society and history of the Yunnan Miao and Yao). Kunming: Yunnan Nationalities Press.

Schein, Louisa (1989). "The Dynamics of Cultural Revival among the Miao in Guizhou." In Ethnicity and Ethnic Groups in China, edited by Chiao Chien and Nicholas Tapp. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.

Wu Xinfu (1990). "Lun Miaozu lishishang de sici de da qianxi" (On the four great migrations in Miao history). Minzu Yanjiu 6:103-111.


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LOCATION: China (also Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea, Thailand, Myanmar and about 1 million migrants to the West)

POPULATION: 7 million


RELIGION: Shamanism; ancestor worship; Roman Catholicism; Protestantism


The Miao have a very long history. Their legends claim that they lived along the Yellow River and Yangtze River valleys as early as 5,000 years ago. Later they migrated to the forests and mountains of southwest China. There they mostly lived in Guizhou Province. Military attacks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries forced them into the nearby provinces of Guangxi, Hunan, Hubei, and Yunnan. Some Miao even migrated across the Chinese border into Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea, Thailand, and Burma (Myanmar).

From their earliest days, the Miao practiced primitive farming using slash-and-burn methods. Families never lived in the same house more than five years. As the soil in one area became depleted, they would move away. The Miao became known for always being on the move. However, most of the Miao have settled down since the middle of the twentieth century.


The Miao live in over 700 cities and counties in the seven provinces of south China. They number over seven million, based on the 1990 census. They are widely scattered and live in very small settlements. The Wuling and Miaoling mountain range in Guangxi Autonomous Region is home to nearly one-third of China's Miao people. An old Miao saying goes: "Birds nest in trees, fish swim in rivers, Miao live in mountains."


Miao is a Sino-Tibetan language of the Miao-Yao family. It is similar to the Thai language, and it has three dialects. Today, it is written using the Chinese pinyin system, which is based on the Western alphabet. Language is an important way to recognize the many different Miao groups.


Miao myths describe the creation of the world, the birth of the Miao people, and their battles and migrations. A typical Miao creation myth is the ancient "Maple Song": White Maple was an immortal tree that gave birth to Butterfly Mama. She married a water bubble and then laid twelve eggs. The treetop changed into a big bird that hatched the eggs over a period of twelve years. When the eggs hatched, they gave birth to a thunder god, a dragon, a buffalo, a tiger, an elephant, a snake, a centipede, a boy called Jiangyang, and his sister. So Butterfly Mama was the mother of God, animals, and human beings


The Miao believe that a supernatural power in everything around them decides their fate. They also believe that everything that moves or grows has its own spirit. They worship the sun, moon, lightning, thunder, fire, rivers, caverns, large trees, huge stones, and some animals. They also believe the spirits of the dead become ghosts that may haunt their families and animals, make them sick, or even kill them. Shamans (healers) allow people to communicate with ghosts. The Miao also worship their ancestors. Since the nineteenth century, many Miao have become Roman Catholics and Protestants.


There are dozens of Miao festivals. Among the most important are those honoring ancestors. Other holidays celebrate the end of the busy farming and hunting season. Chiguzhang is a ritual held every thirteen years. A buffalo is killed and offered as a sacrifice in honor of the Miao ancestors. The Miao New Year is a joyful holiday. The Spring Festival occurs between January 21 and February 20 on the Western calendar. It is now a major holiday for all of China's nationalities. There are songs, dances, horse races, and music.


To the Miao, a sturdy stone stands for a strong child. When a child is three years old, parents will take gifts to a huge stone. Bowing down, they will burn joss sticks (incense) and pray for blessings and protection. This rite is repeated three times a year. If the child is not healthy, the parents go to a large tree or cavern instead.

Miao boys and girls may date from the age of thirteen or fourteen. In some districts, girls may begin dating at twelve.

The Miao bury their dead underground. A shaman (healer) sings mournful songs. He leads the soul of the dead person back to the family, blesses the children, and tells the dead person how to join his or her ancestors.


The Miao are a very generous people. They always keep their house open for guests and greet them with wine and song. Guests are greeted outdoors. Then they are invited to drink, eat, and sing.

The Miao have a group dating custom called youfang (yaomalang), tianyue, zuoyue, or caiyueliang. Boys and girls meet and fall in love by singing and dancing. Group dating is held on many occasions, such as the Sisters' Feast Festival in February or March. For about three days, the girls of a village are courted by young men. The parents prepare meals that their daughters offer to the boys. Each girl offers food to the boy of her choice, who sings for his meal.


The Miao live in houses one or two stories high. The back of the house is built on the mountain slope and the front rests on stilts. The roof is made of straw. Grain is stored in the ceiling. The first floor of the house is for the livestock and poultry. There are three to five rooms in the living quarters. Sons and daughters live separately and infants live with their parents. Furniture includes a bed, cupboard, table, and stool, all made of wood. There are big bamboo baskets for storing food and clay pots for water and wine. The living conditions of the Miao in urban areas are like those of their neighbors of other ethnic groups.


The Miao are monogamous (they marry one person). The family consists of parents and their children. Property is passed down to men, but women have the most power in the family. Young people may choose who they will marry by dating and falling in love. For the first three years of marriage, the bride goes back to live with her own family. She lives with her husband only during holidays and at certain other times. If she gets pregnant, she moves to her husband's house sooner. The Miao, like China's other national minorities, are not governed by China's policy of one child per family.


The many Miao branches have their own costumes. These costumes and their hair-styles are the best way to tell one branch of Miao from another. Brilliant embroidery and silver ornaments are distinctive national features, as is the accordion-pleated women's skirt.


The Miao's main food is rice. Other foods are yams, millet, corn, wheat, buckwheat, and sorghum. All of them are cooked in a rice steamer. Sticky rice is eaten on holidays. The Miao like hot pepper, and all their food is spicy. They also like sour flavorings. Their diet is mainly vegetables. However, they also eat poultry, eggs, beef, veal, pork, frogs, fish, snails, eels, snakes, crabs, and shrimp. Wine is made at home with rice.


All children can have a formal education. Some parents, however, do not believe in educating girls. Many girls drop out of school when they are teenagers. As many as 95 percent of Miao women cannot read or write.


Song and dance are an important part of Miao life. There are many special songs, including love songs, funeral songs, and wedding songs. The Miao also sing as part of the group dating custom.

The dances of the Miao culture express both grief and joy. Sometimes the dancer also blows on a reed pipe.


The Miao are subsistence farmers (they grow food only to feed their families). Rice is their main crop. They also grow corn, yams, millet, sorghum, beans, wheat, buckwheat, fruit, cotton, tobacco, peanuts, sun-flowers, and other crops. They grow a large number of hot peppers.

In the past, weeding was thought to be a woman's job and plowing was left to men. Today, women plow and do other farm work.


The Miao like horse races, which are often held on holidays. Teenagers love basketball, table tennis, and Chinese chess. The dragon boat regatta is a traditional 1.2-mile (2-kilo-meter) race. The members of a team usually come from the same village. Other popular sports are kicking the shuttlecock and Chinese shadowboxing (wushu).


In rural areas people enjoy dining together, chatting, and visiting relatives. Married women like to visit their parents' homes. At festivals, weddings, and funerals, the Miao sometimes dance and sing for several days and nights. Movies, television, videos, libraries, and cultural centers also provide recreation.


Embroidery, wax printing, brocade, and paper-cutting are four famous crafts of the Miao. Craftspeople also create silver ornaments.


The Miao face the problems of poverty and isolation. Many Miao young people migrate from their villages to cities and coastal areas. When they return, they can bring new knowledge and skills back to their home-towns. However, their absence removes talents and skills needed in the present.


Heberer, Thomas. China and Its National Minorities: Autonomy or Assimilation? Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1989.

Ma Yin, ed. China's Minority Nationalities. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1989.

Miller, Lucien, ed. South of the Clouds: Tales from Yunnan. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994.


Embassy of the People's Republic of China, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. China. [Online] Available, 1998.

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