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The Miao ( ; ; Thai: แม้ว (Maew) or ม้ง (Mong); ) are a linguistically and culturally related group of people recognized by the government of the People's Republic of Chinamarker as one of the 55 official minority groups. Miao is a Chinese term and does not reflect the self-designations of the component sub-groups, which include (with some variant spellings) Hmong/Mong, Hmu, A Hmao, and Kho (Qho) Xiong. The Miao live primarily in southern China, in the provinces of Guizhoumarker, Hunanmarker, Yunnanmarker, Sichuanmarker, Guangxi, Hainanmarker, Guangdongmarker, and Hubeimarker. Some members of the Miao sub-groups, most notably Hmong/Mong people, have migrated out of China into Southeast Asia (northern Vietnammarker, Laosmarker, Myanmarmarker (Burma) and Thailandmarker). Following the communist takeover of Laos in 1975, a large group of Hmong/Mong refugees resettled in several Western nations (United Statesmarker, Francemarker, Australia, and elsewhere.)

Nomenclature: Miao and Hmong

The term "Miao" gained official status in 1949 as a minzu (nationality) encompassing a group of linguistically related ethnic minorities in southwest China. This was part of a larger effort to identify and classify minority groups to clarify their role in national government, including: establishing areas of autonomous government and allocating the seats for representatives in provincial and national government.

Historically, the term "Miao" had been applied inconsistently to a variety of non-Han peoples often with the connotation of "barbarian." This former meaning has not kept members of the modern nationality from self-identifying as Miao. Outside of China, "Meo", a variation of "Miao" still exists in Southeast Asia where it is often used in a highly derogatory way. Western researchers have treated the terminological problems in a non-uniform way. Early writers used Chinese-based names in various transcriptions: Miao, Miao-tse, Miao-tsze, Meau, Meo, mo, miao-tseu etc. When referring to specific sub-groups of the Miao nationality or to ethnic groups outside of China, it is preferable to use the ethnonym of the specific group, for instance: Hmong/Mong, Hmu, etc. The prominence of Hmong/Mong people in the West has led to the situation where the Miao nationality is sometimes referred to as Hmong or Mong, despite the fact that they are only one of the sub-groups contained in the classification. Following the recent increased interaction of Hmong in the West with Miao in China, it is reported that some non-Hmong Miao have even begun to identify themselves as Hmong.

Though the Miao themselves use various self-designations, the Chinese traditionally classified them according to the most characteristic colour of the women's clothes. The list below contains the self-designations, the colour designations and the main regions inhabited by the four major groups of Miao in China:


According to the 2000 census, the number of Miao in China was estimated to be about 9.6 million. Outside of China, members of Miao sub-groups live in Thailandmarker, Laosmarker, Vietnammarker and Myanmarmarker due to migrations starting in the 18th century. As a result of recent migrations in the aftermath of the Indochina and Vietnam wars between 1949 and 1975, many Hmong/Mong people now live in the United Statesmarker, French Guianamarker, Francemarker and Australia. Altogether there are approximately 8 million speakers of Miao languages. This language family, which consists of 6 languages and around 35 dialects (some of which are mutually intelligible) belongs to the Hmong/Miao branch of the Hmong/Mong-Mien language family.

Note: The Miao areas of Sichuan province became part of the newly created Chongqingmarker Municipality in 1997.
Most Miao currently live in Chinamarker. Miao population growth in China:
  • 1953: 2,510,000
  • 1964: 2,780,000
  • 1982: 5,030,000
  • 1990: 7,390,000

3,600,000 Miao, about half of the entire Chinese Miao population, were in Guizhoumarker in 1990. The Guizhou Miao and those in the following six provinces make up over 98% of all Chinese Miao:

Traditional Miao Boat used to travel down rapids for trading goods.
Traditional Miao irrigation system made entirely of wood planks (Yunan Province)

In the above provinces, there are 6 Miao autonomous prefectures (shared officially with one other ethnic minority):
  • Qiandongnan Miao and Tong Autonomous Prefecture (黔东南 : Qiándōngnán), Guizhou
  • Qiannan Buyi and Miao Autonomous Prefecture (黔南 : Qiánnán), Guizhou
  • Qianxinan Buyi abd Miao Autonomous Prefecture (黔西南 : Qiánxīnán), Guizhou
  • Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecturemarker (湘西 : Xiāngxī), Hunan
  • Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture (文山 : Wénshān), Yunnan
  • Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture (恩施 : Ēnshī), Hubei

There are in addition 23 Miao autonomous counties:
  • Hunan: Mayang (麻阳 : Máyáng), Jingzhoumarker (靖州 : Jīngzhōu), and Chengbu (城步 : Chéngbù)
  • Guizhou: Songtao (松桃 : Sōngtáo), Yingjiang (印江 : Yìnjiāng), Wuchuan (务川 : Wùchuān), Daozhen (道真 : Dǎozhēn), Zhenning (镇宁 : Zhènníng), Ziyun (紫云 : Zǐyún), Guanling (关岭 : Guānlíng), and Weining (威宁 : Wēiníng)
  • Yunnan: Pingbian (屏边 : Píngbiān), Jinping (金平 : Jīnpíng), and Luquan (禄劝 : Lùquàn)
  • ChongQing: Xiushan (秀山 : Xiùshān), Youyang (酉阳 : Yǒuyáng), Qianjiang (黔江 : Qiánjiāng), and Pengshui (彭水 : Péngshuǐ)
  • Guangxi: Rongshui (融水 : Róngshuǐ), Longsheng (龙胜 : Lóngshēng), and Longlin (隆林 : Lōnglín)
  • Hainan: Qiongmarker (琼中 : Qióngzhōng) and Baoting (保亭 : Bǎotíng)

Most Miao reside in hills or on mountains, such as
  • Wuling Mountain by the Qianxiang River (湘黔川边的武陵山 : Xiāngqián Chuān Biān Dí Wǔlíng Shān)
  • Miao Mountain (苗岭 : Miáo Líng), Qiandongnan
  • Yueliang Mountain (月亮山 : Yuèliàng Shān), Qiandongnan
  • Greater and Lesser Ma Mountain (大小麻山 : Dà Xiǎo Má Shān), Qiannan
  • Greater Miao Mountain (大苗山 : Dà Miáo Shān), Guangxi
  • Wumeng Mountain by the Tianqian River (滇黔川边的乌蒙山 : Tiánqián Chuān Biān Dí Wūmēng Shān)

Several thousands of Miao left their homeland move to larger cities like Guangzhoumarker and Beijing. There are also 2,000,000 Miao, especially in Vietnammarker, Laosmarker, Myanmarmarker, Taiwan, Cambodia and on other continents. 174,000 live in Thailandmarker, where they are one of the six main hill tribes.


Contact with the Huaxia

In Chinamarker, the first recorded Miao kingdom was called Jiuli, and its ruler or rulers, had the title Chiyou (in Chinese) or Txiv Yawg (in White Hmong) or Txiv Yawg (in Mong Leng). Chiyou means grandfather, and is a title equal to, but no less than, emperor. Chiyou's ancestors are thought to be the Liangzhu people. Jiuli was said to have jurisdiction over nine tribes and 81 clans.

History according to Chinese legend and other considerations

According to Chinese legend, the Miao who descended from the Jiuli tribe led by Chiyou (Chinese: 蚩尤 pinyin: Chīyoú) were defeated at the Battle of Zhuolu (Chinese: 涿鹿 pinyin: Zhuōlù, a defunct prefecture on the border of present provinces of Hebeimarker and Liaoningmarker) by the military coalition of Huang Di (Chinese: 黃帝 pinyin: Huángdì) and Yan Di, leaders of the Huaxia (Chinese: 華夏 pinyin: Huáxià) tribe as the two tribes struggled for supremacy of the Yellow Rivermarker valley. According to legend, the battle, said to have taken place in the 26th century BC, was fought under heavy fog. The Huaxia, who possessed the compass, was able to defeat the tribe of Chiyou. (In an alternative account, Chiyou was never defeated and has been worshiped as god. It is generally accepted that Chiyou has been worshiped by succeeding dynasties regardless of their ethnic origins. This further corroborates the possibility that the defeat was not a fact but a likely story rewritten to legitimize the Huaxia history for later Han Chinese dynasties such as Chin or Han.)

After general population movement toward south, southwest, and southeast (due in part to influx of northern and western groups such as Huaxia and Donghu), the tribe of Chiyou split into two smaller splinter tribes, the Miao and the Li (Chinese: ; pinyin: lí). The Miao continuously moving southwest and Li southeast as the Huaxia race, later known as Han Chinese, expanded southward. During the course of Chinese history, the Miao were sometimes regarded as "barbarians" by the increasingly technologically and culturally advanced Han Chinese. Some members of the Miao and Li tribes were assimilated into the Han Chinese during the Zhou Dynasty. (Recent DNA studies suggest that the movement of ethnic groups such as Miao in ancient East Asia is far more complex than this unsubstantiated "historical" accounts.)

Another version of the story says that the tribe split three ways. It is said Chiyou had 3 sons, and after the fall of Jiuli, his eldest son led some people south, his middle son led some people north, and his youngest son remained in Zhuolu and assimilated into the Huaxia culture. Those who were led to the south established the San-Miao nation. Perhaps due to this splitting into multiple groups, many Far Eastern people regard Chiyou as their ancestors , and by the same token, many question the ethnicity of Chiyou as exclusively Mong or otherwise. In some circles of thought, the Koreans also regard Chiyou as an ethnic ancestor. Furthermore, under the present ethnic unification policy of the PRC, Chiyou is now also regarded as one of China's forefathers alongside the ethnic Han ancestors , Huangdi and Yandi. The recent official attempt (mainly supported by PRC) is strongly motivated by political consideration and is generally considered troubling to other East Asian countries such as Korea, Mongolia, and Japan.

Qin and Han dynasties

The term "Miao" was first used by the Han Chinese in pre-Qin times, i.e. before 221 BC, for designating non-Han Chinese groups in the south. It was often used in the combinations "nanmiao", "miaomin", "youmiao" and "sanmiao" (三苗; pinyin: Sānmiáo). At that time the people lived in the Yangtze Rivermarker valley, but later they were forced by the antagonistic policing of the Han Chinese to move further southwards and to higher elevations. As most territories of the Six dynasty located south of the river, bringing the Miao into submission was a major concern for stability of those dynasties. With the Wu Hu ravaging areas north of the river, large scale migration of Chinese to the south accelerated the assimilation of Miao into Han Chinese.

Tang Dynasty

Thus beginning in Tang Dynasty, the Miao ceased as a major non-Han Chinese group except in the province of Yunnanmarker where six zhaos (Chinese: 詔 meaning "state") of Miao resided there. Some scholars argued that the six zhaos were groups of the Yi people. The southernmost, known as Meng-she-zhao (蒙舍詔 Méngshězhào) or Nan-zhao (南詔 ; pinyin: Nánzhào) united all six zhaos and found an independent state during early 8th century with treacherous help from Tang Dynasty. The title of the head of state was Nan-zhao Wang (南詔王; pinyin: Nánzhàowáng), meaning the King of Nanzhao. Uneasiness of the increasing threat from Tubo (today Tibet) encouraged the Chinese dynasty to establish a friendly regime neighboring both countries. Tang also deployed a military district, Jiannan Jie-Du (劍南節度; pinyin: Jiànnán Jiédǔ) located in today southern Sichuanmarker Province and bordering Nanzhao.


During the first ten peaceful years in 8th century, Nanzhao regularly paid tributes through the head of military district (Jiannan Jie-Du-Shi (劍南節度使; pinyin: Jiànnán Jiédǔshǐ)) to the Han Chinese dynasty. As the Tang Dynasty deteriorating during mid 8th century, the district was gaining more independent authority from the Tang dynastic government. They demanded more tributes from Nanzhao to develop sizable forces against the dynasty. Some district heads even intimidated the peoples of Nanzhao. The rulers of Nanzhao were Tibeto-Burman speakers, but it is possible the population included some ancestors of the present-day Hmong. A famous example was a rejected demand to spend a night with the queen, the only wife of the Nanzhao King. All intimidations and unfair tributes led to the outbreak of Nanzhao rebellion during the Tianbao era (742-756) of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang China. Before marching against the district legion, the Nanzhao King ordered a stone inscription of the reasons of rebellion. The monument remained erected and can still be seen today (location?). The Tang Dynasty could have easily defeated Nanzhao troops but struggles of power among generals of the district letting Nanzhao surge deeply into Tang's territory, almost reaching Chengdumarker, location of the district headquarters. Appointment of incompetent heads was also a factor. The most famous one was Yang Guozhong, brother of Lady Yang, the beloved concubine of the emperor. Although the rebellion was eventually squashed, the dynasty wasted precious resources which could have been used securing the northern border, ushering in the much more disastrous Anshi Rebellion.

During the later years of the Tang dynasty, Nanzhao had the upper hand on its relations with Tang and Tibet as both countries tried to ally with Nanzhao, thus isolating the enemy. Nanzhao fully exploited the situation and rose as a major power in Southeast Asia. During its zenith of power, northern parts of Vietnammarker, Laosmarker, Thailandmarker and Burmamarker, Guangxi and eastern portion of Guangdongmarker, southwestern portion of Sichuanmarker, Guizhoumarker and the whole province of Yunnanmarker were all under its control. Chengdumarker and Hanoimarker were each sacked twice. After the fall of the latter in late 9th century, Chinese dynasties never recovered the city until Ming Dynastymarker in the 15th century. Tang Dynasty gradually increased numbers of military district bordering Nanzhao and consequently the insurgences of Pang Xun was the first of the rebellions leading to the fall of Tang.

Nanzhao, under the influence of Tang for a century (8th century to 9th century), was gradually adopting the Chinese culture and at the same time disintegrated as struggles of power among various rival clans. Eventually the Duan ( ; pinyin: duàn) clan won and found the Kingdom of Dali which lasted until the submission to the Mongols. During Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty the term "nanman" ( ; pinyin: Nánmán; meaning the southern non-Chinese people) was used. However, the name "miao" to describe some of these southern people reappeared in Fan Chuo's book on the southern tribes, Manshu (862 A.D.).

Zhong Xang, Yajiaumo of Huang

Xang was the general of the Huang (Miao) during the 11th Century in Southern China during the Song Dynasty, he was the general of the Huang dynasty that led the rebellion against the Khong Ming of the Song during the Qin Xing war (1164 - 1209)

Ming and Qing dynasties

During the Mingmarker and Qingmarker dynasties (1368–1911) 'miao' and 'man' were both used, the second possibly to designate the Yao (傜 Yáo) people. The Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties could neither fully assimilate nor control the aboriginal people. As a result, the policy of "using barbarians to rule barbarians" (以夷制夷 yǐyí zhìyí) was employed. Furthermore, a counterpart wall to the Great Wall in the south was erected to protect and divide the Chinese from the 'southern barbarians'. Politically and militarily, the Hmong continued to be a stone in the shoe of the Chinese empire. The Hmong were more than a match against the Chinese since the latter's military was stretched across China defending against northern invaders. The Chinese had to fall back on political means to ensnare Hmong people, they created multiple competing positions of substantial prestige for Hmong people to participate and assimilate into the Chinese government system. During the Ming and Qing times, the official position of Kaitong was created in Indochina. The Hmong would employ the use of the Kiatong government structure until the 1900s when they entered into French colonial politics in Indochina.

See also


  1. Louisa Schein. "The Miao in contemporary China." In The Hmong in transition. Edited by Hendricks, G. L., Downing, B. T., & Deinard, A. S. Staten Island: Center for migration studies (1986): 73-85.
  2. Nicholas Tapp. "Cultural Accommodations in Southwest China: the "Han Miao" and Problems in the Ethnography of the Hmong." Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 61, 2002: 77-104.

External links


  • Enwall, Jaokim. Thai-Yunnan Project Newsletter, Number 17, June 1992, Department of Anthropology, Australian National University. (

Earlier books

  • Edkins, The Miau-tsi Tribes, (Foochow, 1870)
  • Henry, Lingnam, (London, 1886)
  • Bourne, Journey in Southwest China, (London, 1888)
  • A. H. Keaw, Man: Past and Present, (Cambridge, 1900)

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