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Common Basis and Characteristics of the Miao and Hmong Identity Zhang Xiao Director of the Institute of Culture of Minorities, Provinc...

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By November 26, 2017 ,


Common Basis and Characteristics of the Miao and Hmong Identity
Zhang Xiao
Director of the Institute of Culture of Minorities,
Provincial Academy of Social Sciences of Guizhou, Guyang, Province  of Guizhou, China

FOREWORD
by Kao-Ly Yang, Ph.D. Anthropology

The article Common Basis and Characteristics of the Miao and Hmong Identity" is definitively a very estimable piece of contribution to the Miao (Hmong) studies, enlightening the state of knowledge of the ancient history of the ethnic group.

The author, Zhang Xiao, a Miao Chinese researcher, presents important trails and brings accurate facts that she has been gathering for more than 30 years in China. These outcomes are precious to the Hmong people in the West as well as to the Western researchers seeking to assemble in depth studies in Ethnohistory, Archeology, Anthropology, Linguistics and/or Literature, etc.

This article is particularly generous, fertile, and captivating  because of its academic content and of the regard of the author who questioned her astonishing encountering with the Hmong of the United States or of France, the descent of the fraction that had left China in the 19th Century. In fact, her set of anecdotes where she described her interactions with them, unveiling the gaps between the various fractions in term of language, of culture and of mentality.

The overseas Hmong are quite close to her because of a common preoccupation regarding their identity origin and of their search of the roots of the Miao and Hmong people. At the same time,  they are paradoxically so far from one another groupes because they cannot understand each other due to language barriers.

I believe this encountering with the overseas Hmong generated her awareness of another type of gap, and has sharpened her understanding of the necessity to incorporate the fraction of the West into her researcher's framework and network of exchange.

Besides, Zhang Xiao posed a contrasted and engaged analysis of the term "Miao", which contributes to catch the historical background of the complex uses of the ethnonyms "Hmong" and "Miao".

When we met in 2003, both of us, the Miao Chinese and the Hmong French, travelers and researchers, suddenly felt sharing the same ethnic origin, and started to ask this unique question: "Do Miao and Hmong people belong to the same ethnic group when we, Miao of China and Hmong of Southeast Asia, and Hmong of the West, do not understand each other anymore? If yes, what will be the basis of our common culture and identity?" Zhang Xiao here answered the questions in highlighting the historical common origin.

I believe this paper has powerful research avenues that will lead Hmong people to self-awareness, acceptation of their unity in acknowledging their cultural diversity. This article may guide many Hmong to understand their past so that they will take better care of the future and to search for accurate knowledge of the Miao (Hmong)'s origin. There is great need: I have always observed Hmong people living with great desire to go back to China to find their origin that would suspend their thirst of defined identity and hunger of pride and of cultural distinction.

Zhang Xiao did also imply a request of cooperation between the fraction in China and the fraction in the West. Poor departed immigrants, now become flourishing men and women, the Hmong in the West seem likely the hope of prosperity for the remaining in the cradle of their origin and in Southeast Asia. In fact, in this World of globalization, Zhang Xiao has more voices in her role of Miao to advocate a brighter future for the whole community: she is the mother, the intellectual, the native researcher who must raise her voice (and her curiosity) for more cross-intra ethnic research studies, for the preservation of the Miao (Hmong) culture, history and literature, and for more understanding between the divers Miao fractions. Beyond expectation, as the history of migration of other people already shows, migration is not a synonym of shame, of misery or of death at the long term: migration may become an essential survival mean for the group. The Miao (Hmong) had been immigrants for the past four thousands years when one after another fraction started their journey progressively from Central China to the South, then to the Southeast Asia before reaching the West in 1975.

I felt lot of pleasure at the same time painful sorrow during the reading of this paper. Beyond the collective history, there are the individuals' paths where people has been left behind, separated forever from their loved ones, miserably died in unknown places.

The Miao (Hmong) Diaspora is certainly one of the most ancient Diaspora in the migration history. In spite of the four thousand years of wandering due to wars, political and religious persecutations, the Miao (Hmong) people still remember their ethnicity. Time did not dimunish their search of their origin: members still acknowledge their ethnicity and seek to preserve their cultural heritage.

I also understood that more research on the Miao (Hmong) is necessary to understand this society, which has survival lessons to share with other minorities. This ethnic group had survived wars, rebellions, starvations, persecutiions, and culture and language assimilations.

The analysis of the ancient practices of rituals strongly suggested that the Miao (Hmong) might experience ages of prosperity during periods in the Antiquity before or during the Chinese Antiquity. However, unfortunately, the evidences had vanished in the ground; only latent memory in the literature, day dreams of scholars, buried ruins or hidden remains might be henceforth the only witnesses of that fabulous past kept somewhere in the contemporary China. In this quest of the origin of the Hmong people.

Such an ethnic group needs to be studied in dept to better catch hold of the mechanisms of survival and of the reproduction of its culture, its capacities of adaptation. This text brings after all hope and enchantment: it helps me to not regret anymore my life of miserable student, my current never ended exile far from France to acquire more experience as a Hmong woman and anthropologist, and the choices of my professional life.  Alike the story "Le petit Poucet" who throws stones on the forest trail in order to find his way back home, this article helped me to find my path of researcher on Hmong culture and language that I have sometimes neglected in sight of materially surviving. I now know that my project of research belongs to a bigger framework, the one that may lead one day to find missing pieces of the ancient history of the Miao (Hmong) people. I learnt that knowing one's history is essential to overcome shame, feeling of inferiority, humiliation, to accept one's legacy --and oneself-- with pride, and to live in peace, in knowledge and in harmony with oneself and others. Maybe it is time for many of us to acknowledge that being a Hmong may offer an infinite chance to better live in this post-industrial society where our plural and pluralistic identity and cultural heritage will be incredible assets to enhance our abilities, skills and aptitudes to take the challenge of any modern enterprises.

Readers, I hope this article will increase your awareness of whom you are, of what you should do for you and for your descendents so that a part of the history of Mankind will be preserved. I really wish this paper will shake your consciousness, and not any other, but your historical consciousness, the one that preserves the people from ethnic violence, massacres and wars.

At last, I would like to express a great thank you to Zhang Xiao for the time we shared together in Fresno, California where our interesting discussions enhanced my confidence in my choices in this universe of intellectual women exiled far from home, one from France and another from China. I really appreciate her kindness and strong mentorship in shaping my awareness.

Wherever countries we may live either in the East, in the Southeast or in the West, whatever word we may use to call ourselves, either "Miao", "Hmong" (Hmoob), "Mong" (Moob), or "Méo", we all shall remember and cherish our common cultural heritage made of sub-cultures and of divers dialects, and the fragments of our history that we have kept in memory.
Whatever relationship we may maintain within the Hmong community, whatever ideology, beliefs or lifestyle we may seek to promote, however acculturated in Western cultures we may become, we all shall protect and preserve the unity of our ethnic group as a necessity to enhance our kind so that our descendants will have better opportunities to appear and voice as one unique group before the challenges of modern societies.

In this effort to preserve legacy and memories, we shall create opportunities for other native researchers to go further, to dig deeper in the Chinese soil to find -- I hope-- not only a fragment, but many archeological pieces of our vanishing past, and maybe even more, some unexpected treasures.

A huge thank you to Zhang Xiao to allow me to publish her article in English, in French and in in Chinese (in the original version),  in my website on Hmong Contemporary Issues.


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Common Basis and Characteristics of the Miao and Hmong Identity

Original Title:
All Hmong's Recognition (of) the Basis and Characteristics
Zhang Xiao

First translation from Chinese to English by Ling Cho
Edited by Kao-Ly Yang in 11/26/2003

(This text has been presented at the Conference organized by the California State University of Fresno in 1996)

As a member of the Miao People, I live in the Southeastern part of Guizhou, China. Among the three major Miao dialects, I speak the dialect from the Central part (of China). In the spring of 1989, I made my first encounter with a Hmong American; he spoke the dialect which was from the West region of China. At that time, I did not know that dialect (But I later learnt in 1992), I could not communicate with him. Through a translator, he asked me: "Since we cannot communicate, why say that we are the same race?" He also asked me a question on the nature of this identity basis. I think that my today topic is to answer this question through situations that I understand and from my research. At the same time, I want to conduct discussions with representatives about the cultural characteristics that appear during the process of formation of the ethnic group.

I. The main basis of the recognition of all Miao and Hmong identity [1]
"All Miao" that I am talking about are here the Miao people who live all over the World. But the fact of questioning and doubting Miao identity does not happen among neither Miao/Hmong people who are outside of China living in different countries (referred as "overseas Miao/Hmong") nor between Miao in the Yunnan province and the overseas Miao/Hmong. Questions and doubts only exist between the Miao/Hmong and the Miao in other provinces of China. As we all know, the Hmong mostly are migrants from Yunnan province of China to the Southeast Asian countries within the most recent few hundred years.  A part of them, in this decade, has migrated from Southeast Asia to Europe and America. In comparing the overseas Miao/Hmong and the Chinese Miao of Yunnan, the origin and kinship are very clear. The languages are also completely communicable. Therefore, the question that needs to be answered is: "Why have the overseas Miao/Hmong and the Miao of Guizhou, of Hunan and of other provinces in China been classified as the same ethnic group?" This question is like a formula of syllogism: Since A=B; in order to get A=C, it requires knowing B=C. The Miao of Yunnan are like a bridge to explain the sharing of Miao identities. We must explain why people in different areas of China belong to the same ethnic group.

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese government organized in the beginning of the 1950's some specialists to classify all the different ethnic groups or national minorities. The Miao, who are scattered throughout China, were truly acknowledged as one group at that time, and were named "The Miao People". According to the Department of Recognition of National Minorities[2], the Miao are described as "scattered" over vast areas. They form many unconnected but compact communities, in language and cultural aspects. There are both similarities and big differences. For long times, they were called by the same name by other people. And they also considered themselves as belonging to the same group. Therefore, the self-awareness as a people is obvious.

According the 1990 census in China, there were 7,398,035 Miao in China. They were mostly distributed in Guizhou with 3,686,900, in Hunan with 1,557,073, in Yunnan with 896,712, in Sichuan with 535,923, in Guanxi with 425,137, in Hubei with 200,702 and in Nanhai with 52,044.

The Miao language has three major dialects: Eastern, Central and Western dialects. In Hunan province, the Miao use the Eastern dialect. In the Southeast part of Guizhou, they use the Central dialect. The Western dialect is used in Central Guizhou, in Yunnan, in SichuanProvinces, and also the overseas Miao/Hmong who speak a Western variety. The majority of Miao people use the Western dialect. The Central dialect is second in usage while the Eastern dialect is the least used. The three major dialectal areas can be considered as the three main parts of the Miao people. Indeed within these groups, the native speakers cannot directly communicate to each other group. There are also some differences in term of cultural customs. They have been living in different areas and have had different economic situations. But then why do they perceive themselves as belonging to the same race? And why other people call them the same race too? The recognition of Miao people as being the same race must have some strong basis or foundation as discussed below.

1. History
The origin of the Miao people is still an unsolved problem. For the past five thousands years, the sequences are rather clear, partly because the Chinese historical Annals. There are also rich historical legends among Miao people's culture. Those Chinese Annals described how the ancestors of the Miao resided near the Middle low area of the Yellow River, back to four or five thousand years ago. Ci You was the Miao leader of the "Jiu Li" tribe. Later on as outcome of tribal wars, the Miao group was forced to migrate during the past five thousand years from North to South, and from East to West to form the current distribution of the Miao in China today. In the books of Chinese History, the names of "San Miao", "Jin Chu", "Jin Man", "Nan Man", "Wullin Man", "Wuxi Man", etc. were all names used to address the Miao group at different periods in History in China. The Miao people?s ancestors continued to divide into different sub-groups and to depart because of the wars. According to Yi Xi Jian's documents, in the biggest Miao village in Qiandongnan in Guizhou province, it is said that Ci You had three sons: the oldest son was Pang Ci, the second was Fu Ci and the third was Li Ci. After Ci You lost the war, the third son took some people and escaped to the North; the second son and his people were captured; only the oldest son lead his people to the South. If this legend was true, the third son Li Ci with his people blended later on into other race. Fu Ci and his men merged into the Han race. Only Pang Ci and his people who traveled to the South formed the Miao Nationality in China. This last group who crossed the Yellow River in going south then established the "Three Miao" groups. Not long later, they have conflict with the Hua Xia group. Under the congruence of the ruler of the Xia dynasty, they were forced to migrate and to divide again. I think the separation of the three branches of Miao started at that time. Due to an early separation, there were later certain differences in term of formation of language and of culture among the three major branches. But since the three groups has already gone through a long period of history and had shared the tribal name of "Miao", they did not forget that their ancestors at one time belonged to the same tribal group. Sharing the same ancient history is an important basis of the Miao people's identity. Every branch has its own recording about this prehistory and remembers it very well.

The Miao/Hmong people spoken the Western Miao dialect are the descendents of a front army team of the early tribal group who had been involving in most of the fighting with the Han Chinese. They were the main power of the oldest brother Pang Ci. Therefore, their impression of the tribal wars is especially deep and their culture has kept a rest recording toward the prehistory wars. The Ci You's legend of Western Miao mentions the war between Ci You and the Yellow dragon man and the red dragon man in a vivid description. This legend matched the Chinese historical account of the battle between Ci You and the Yellow Emperor Yan during their "fight for the central plans of the Yellow River".  In the ancient songs of the Western Miao, there are detailed descriptions of the fierce fighting between the Miao and the Xia people. The music of the Miao in the Northwest of Quian talks about the history of Miao in three major parts: The first period was the peaceful period; the second was the period of war; and the third reflects the period of decline. For the peaceful time, the music is happy and fast as it describes how the Miao ancestors lived peacefully before other people intruded them.  For the epoch of war, the music is rapid but sad. It begins with an alarm announcing the coming fighting, the drinking of bloody wine, and finally the war and the accompanying death. The decline period employs reed pipe[3], which tells about the bad news from the front line and how the people were dreadfully sad. At the end, the music plays the songs "Rooster crowed" and the "Sky is bright" which reveal the bright future of the Miao people. Played as flute music, it always begins with a stepping road song to expressing the continuous migration of the Miao people. Western Miao till now have kept a big volume of legends and of stories about the Miao people under the early leader Ci You.

Miao people speaking the Eastern dialect also have ancient songs. "Cu E Dou Huan" mentions about the difficulties of the Miao group as they lived in the South area of the lower middle part of the Yellow River and in the lower middle area of the Yang Zi River, when they were fighting against the Xia ruler. Maybe it was the survivors of Ci You's men who kept the relics of Ci You's Ban Bing city, village  of Ci You, Ci You's fountain. These relics can now be found in the village of Ci You in the Zu Lu County in Hebei Province. Next to the Ci You's fountain, there is a kind of gigantic tree called the "Ci You's Pine" that local people have bravely protected. It is still well kept nowadays.

Southeast Guizhou Miao women like to embroider their early people's legends on their clothes. The Eastern and the Western dialect Miao use embroidery and wax crayons to record the ancient times, their hometowns fields, scenery and the process of migration from the Yellow river and the Yang Zi River in their skirts. People of the Central dialect Miao have information based on their father's name; they can trace back up to two to three hundred generations of their ancestors even to the leader of Jiu Li tribe. Native speakers of all three Miao dialects address or refer to Ci You as the "Great Ancestor" and the "Great Man". Cun Nan in the Northwest of Guizhou province has the Ci You?s temple to let the local Miao people offer their respect to the ancient leader. As the maple tree has something to do with Ci You, the Cenbu Miao of Hunan province have the custom of worshipping the "Maple God". The Miao people of the Southeast  Guizhou province represent the maple tree as a god or a spirit who protects the village. In the ancient song, the "maple song", the maple trees were considered as the ancestors. A Hmong American of a certain age still keeps a secret that has to do with Ci You.

2. Culture and beliefs
Because of the separation in residence such as the blocking by whole mountains, different branches of Miao have formed some differences, which is normal. In spite of several thousand years of separation with little opportunity to correspond, some culture can be regarded as similar among all Miao and tend to unity them as one group. A main example is the reed pipe that is used by the Miao, especially the Miao of the Central and the Western dialects are the most outstanding in the handling of this instrument. The Miao reed pipe occupies a very important part in their life.

In all parts of China, no other ethnic group has clothing as rich and colorful as the Miao. In Guizhou, there are one to two hundred different types of traditional costumes.  The variety of costumes mostly has tops and folded skirts that are commonly reflected among all Miao branches. The clothing possesses a noble and elegant manner, and it represents the specialty of the ancient ethnic group. The Miao are known for their batik, their embroidery and their silverware as well as for the artistic quality and for the process of making which may reach world's best standards. Wherever in China or overseas, the Miao clothing exhibitions are highly appreciate by viewers. Miao women all over the world are excellent producers of weaved embroidery and batik and painting.

Also Miao people love singing and reveal good in using songs to tell stories. They use songs to express feelings so that the singer can be appreciated by the opposite sex. Those who cannot sing have difficult time to find a mate. Wherever they live, they have many similar cultural customs but because of the limited space here they cannot all be named. However, I want to introduce some aspects in depth that are distinctive and specific to this culture. The first aspect concerns the ancient song and the second aspect the sacrifice of cow to worship the ancestors.

Miao songs are living literature. Their values go far beyond the limited nature of literature. They are an encyclopedia of the Miao people's prehistory and early culture. These ancient songs all start from the beginning of the World. They tell how the Earth was formed, how things grew, how human beings were born and the migrations of the Miao people. All the different sub-groups have similar songs. The group of Western dialect has songs such as "Ye Zhang Du Feng Tian Di", "Kai Tian Pi Di Ge". The songs of the Central dialect, "Da Zhu Cen Tian", "Zhu Ri Zao Yue", are almost identical to the ones of the Western dialect. They all describe the smelting of metal, the construction of golden poles, of silver poles, of bronze poles and of iron poles to hold the sky up, and the use of metal to make the sun and the moon. The song of the Eastern dialect, "Kai Tian Li Di", the song of the Central Dialect "Yang Ya She Ri" and the song of the Western dialect "Yang Ya She Ri" all talk about the sky which has twelve suns and twelve moons. When they were all out at one time, they burned the Earth. Therefore, hero came out to shoot down the extra suns and moons. The songs of the Western dialect Miao "Gun Zhi Ye Lao Wong Dong Qian", "Ah Miao Qian Dao Gui Yang Dit Fang", "Shi Er Zhi Di Jia Qian Dao Pu Nuo", the songs of the Central dialect "Suo He Xi Qian" and the song of Eastern dialect "Bu Zu Ran Qian", etc. all describe the migrations of the different Miao branches. These ancient songs constitute cultural accumulations from earlier generations who transmitted them to succeeding generations. They reflect the history and folk legends of the Miao from the primitive society until the eleventh year of the Emperor Yong Zhan of the Qing dynasty.

The sacrifice of cow was called "Gu She Ji". It consists of sacrificing cow to the ancestors. Different units within the clan held the ceremonies. It appeared as if this ritual was to worship drums. But in fact, it was to worship ancestors whose spirits were resting within the drums. These drums were sheltered and kept in mountains caves. These ceremonies happened every thirteen years but they lasted four following years every time. The program of activities of the first year included receiving the spirits of the Earth dragon, choosing the drum master, buying the sacrificial cow, receiving the grand offspring drum, awakening the ancestor drum, and chopping the drum tree. The activities of the second year constitute of receiving the drums of the ancestor and the beginning of the cow sacrifice. The activities of the third year involved worshipping the cow sacrifice drums. The fourth year had pig sacrifice, bringing the ancestors drums to visit each other, and finally the sending of the ancestor drums back to the drum mountain. In this period, there were numerous activities and rituals which can be stated. But I only choose to introduce a few here.

1. Recite history: the elder recited the historical past. They first stated the original living places of the ancestors in the past and explained the reasons why they migrated to the West. Then they enumerated the different clan branches or lineages and listed "who was born from whom".
2.Choose the drum master: nine people were altogether needed as drum masters. Each drum master had to be served by the succeeding drum master. In addition, each of the numerical drum masters had specific function. The first drum master represented the first ancestors of the group, the second the leader of the clan, the third, and the offspring. This third drum master was also in charge of reading the ancestors worshipping documents. The fourth drum master incarnated the king who would protect all the people. The fifth drum master was in charge of the reed pipe music[4]. The eight-drum master was in charge of the bowls of the clan.
3.Shang Den: The wives of the first five drum masters wore complete formal costumes and stopped over the long stool that symbolized the bed. The representative of the other clans stood beside the long stool, using a gourd with wine inside (symbolizing the male reproductive organ) that he made forward movements which continuously sprayed wine on the skirts of the five wives -- representing sex.
4.The holding bowl: the ninth drum master of the previous "Cu She Ji" used the right hand with palm up to hold the bowl up right, which represented the unity and harmony of the clan and their ancestors, as the current number two to number five drum masters also using their right hands placed their hands with palm up underneath and in support of the holding bowl. With the drum masters' sin hands touching one another, the current first drum master then placed his right hand in support of the other drum masters to hold the bowl. Everyone was silent and serious. The priest then sang songs praising the clans. From this example about the drum ceremony, one can tell the depth and richness of the culture from the Miao people. The reproduction worship was one of the ancestors' worshipping cults; it expressed the thirst for life of human beings. The self-education of the race needed to be done through some big activities at the same times allowing people to understand where the inner gathering power of the Miao people came about. To hold such ceremonies, it required various conditions such as a sufficient number of people, economic prosperity and environmental safety. Are there any similar activities in other areas? I have conducted one survey. I found many Miao areas had worshipping activities of cow sacrifice for ancestors. However, they differed in degree: the Miao native speakers of the Eastern dialect have "Zui Nio", the Miao of Northwest Guizhou have "Da Lao Nio", and the Miao of Yunnan have "Cu Lin". Also, in a Western dialect Miao ancient song, there is a written description such as

"From now men raise animals
Every thirteen years one cycle
About to kill pigs and slaughter goats
Offering the wine again".

I conclude in ancient society, all Miao might have a similar activity or ceremony, but because of all separation and hard living later on, they may have lost the ability to continue this activity. Drum ceremonies are still held in simpler method in an area of Southeast  Guizhou. But as the old generation passed away, no people know to conduct these ceremonies. This is a part of historical heritage of the Miao people. They need to preserve as fast as possible, we need to investigate, organize notes, takes pictures, and make recordings; but it is a pity that so far this has not gotten enough attention by the people. I have not been able to do this further.  Besides, there are ceremonies like "Ji Long" (worship of the dragon) and "Xao Zai" (Cleaning of the village), which were common activities among Miao people.

As to the Miao beliefs, it goes without saying that the Miao all over the world believe in spirits, ghosts and ancestors worship. There are Miao shamans in every country where there are Miao people. I personally saw shaman activity in Yunnan and have seen slides of shamans from overseas Miao. In this comparison, it seems that the Guizhou shamans and the overseas Miao are about the same. The conception and the practice of the Miao religious beliefs are very similar.

3. Mentality and the Language
There are many similarities here in the Hmong mentality such as hard working during times of hardship, honesty, hospitality and peace loving etc. If one had to select one word to describe the Miao, then that word would be honest. Whenever they were, they appeared more honest than the people around them. It was also the cause of the suffering endured by the Miao. When one examines the history of the Miao during the various wars, many times they lost the war not only because of the military situation but also often because of the trust that Miao people have toward others who lied and deceived them. The Miao ancestors were brave and fierce warriors. However, they fell because of a lack of military strategies. Their honesty allowed them to easily adjust to different environments by getting along with others. But it also hindered them from stepping forward faster. Their honesty made them very loyal to their own people. The Miao are recognized as one of the hardest groups to assimilate because they have a very strong identity of themselves as Miao. I have often heard people tell me anecdotes like this one: if a Miao family is put into a village  of Zhuang people; after a few generations, this family will still speak Miao language and still dress like a Miao.  Before China's liberation, the National Party had tried to force the minority women to change their costumes. These efforts were strongly boycotted by Miao women so that the movement seeking to change costumes was discontinued. It is hard to describe the Miao mentality in a few words. For the Miao people who perceived themselves as Miao, mentality is one of the most powerful bases for being recognized as a Miao.

The Miao language has three major dialects, seven (7) sub-dialects, and eighteen (18) varieties. In my hometown separated from another village by two field paths, the languages spoken by the two villages have already demonstrated changes. These changes and the variety explain the reason for the difficulty of communication among the different branches of the Miao caused by long periods of separation. In spite of the big differences in languages, the three main Miao dialects still have about fifteen percent (15%) commonality. In spring 1992, I went to a Miao village in Yunnan where I have been staying for forty days. During this brief time, I was able to learn the basis of the Western Miao dialect. In this experience, I deeply understood that if I was not Miao and if Miao language was not my maternal language, I would not be able to understand or speak the Western Miao dialect. I also discovered that many words used in different varieties of Miao dialects are actually the same. But as the sounds have slightly changed into the current pronunciation, people are not able to understand them. And these similar words are often basic words.  This observation makes people infer that the various contemporary Miao dialects might have been the same in the ancient time. In the Western Miao dialect, there is a song called "the origin of addressing parents", it said that long ago, men and women had different social roles. Women stayed at home and cared the Elderly and children while men went out to hunting and gathering food. If the men left home for too long, women at home loudly cried so that they were called "cry". As for men, they might have suffered from wounds so that they might die or, they might have been seduced by other women, the wives tried to hide the husbands so that men were called "hide". In Northeast Yunnan province, the Western Miao dialect has undergone a change in tones for the words "cry" (Nied) [5] to "mom" (Nief) and "hide" (vaik) to "father" (vaib). In my village, the pronunciations for "cry" and "hide" have the same sounds as the ones found in this poem. Until now, some villages still address "mother" with a similar sound to "cry". According to the Elderly, long time ago, the way to addressing "father" was indeed close to the sound/tone "hide".  This song in the Western dialect was sung in the former Miao language. The translator used lot of energy to record these old songs. In my village, the old songs also used many antique words so that it was different from the spoken language now. All these observations lead me to suppose that the old language might be completely different from each dialect. In addition, the old language might be completely different from the modern language. Yet, this old language might be the common language that unified our Miao ancestors.

Through the understanding of Miao history and culture, I feel that among the various branches of Miao groups, the differences are superficial in term of culture. The similarity is reflected in the heart and the core of the Miao culture. The cultural differences were later added on. The Miao starting point is traced way back to the Ci You's era when this ethnic group formed an agricultural society. It was the strongest tribe at that time. Many aspects of their culture developed then slowed down even stopped. Therefore, much of Miao current culture could be attributed to the ancient culture. This ancient culture has become the main basis for the recognition of the Miao people as an independent and fragmented group. Here is the reason why Miao people think of themselves as a group.

Here I need to talk about why the people in China are called "Miao", and why Miao people may accept this name because I have encountered too many overseas Hmong who asked this question. Some have even used sharp tone in their questions such as ?Why call the Hmong people "Miao"?, "Does "Miao" mean "Miaozi"? or "Can it be changed into "Hmong"? According to Miao history, the Miao people called themselves with a name that sounds close to the sound of "Miao". "Miao" might be a self-addressing sound, which corresponds to the Chinese word "Miao". The name of "Miao" has a long history that everybody knows, and was generally accepted by the Miao people. Therefore, the Miao people were named "Miao Zu". In the old songs of Western Miao, the Miao called themselves "A hmaud"[6] in ancient times. According to linguists, in the ancient time, "Miao" and "A hmaud" would have the same pronunciation. Now the Miao call themselves "Hmong" and also use "Miao" since both derive from the tone changes of "A hmaud". "Miao" was in fact the way the Miao people addressed themselves using sounds of Chinese characters in ancient time. It was used back to the era of "San Miao".

"Miao" in Chinese characters combines radical "grass" with "rice field", which means the seedling of cereal crops. Some scholars said that this information indicates that the Miao were farming people. It does not matter what use "Miao" was as a name of tribe; it did not mean to lower the dignity of this group. Some outsiders have used "Miao Zi" to scold Miao people, making the word "Miao" a sub name for foolishness and ignorance. But this negative connotation was added later on to "Miao". Back to the ancient society when Ci You was the leader, the ancestral tribe "Jiu Li" was the strongest one. Even experiencing defeats, this tribe would still rise and become strong again, which explains why ruler in ancient China, always classified the Miao as barbarians and tried to suppress and the same time conquer them. The expression of "Miao Zi" came from stereotype and insult.

After 1949 with the establishment of the New China, the government promoted the policy if equality among all races. The status of Miao people was thus raised. The term "Miao" as an insulting term has vanished with the end of persecution of the Miao people. The new laws allow the term "Miao" as a self-addressing term to return to its original purpose and intent. Now there are still people using the term of "Miao Zi" to push down people but it has nothing to do with the identity of the ethnic group. The expression of "Miao Zi" in the contemporary China has nothing to do with demeaning or insulting Miao people. The overseas Miao or Hmong people migrated to other countries during the Ming Qing dynasty, especially during the "White Red War". In the rebellious war against Qing, the feudal rulers greatly suppressed and slaughtered the Miao in Yunnan province who were forced to move out of China. During this time, the Miao people were particularly humiliated by using expressions such as "Miao Zi" to insult the Miao people. Finally, the term "Miao" has remained in Miao vivid memory an insulting term, which caused the feeling of aversion toward this term.  Such a situation is understandable. But I would to take this opportunity to inform all of the overseas Miao people that the time of humiliation is long gone. Please, let's trust the term of "Miao Zu" as an original term of reference to our ethnic group.


II. The main basis of all Hmong characteristics
The Miao history is full of many disasters and difficulties; the situation now is far from economic stability. Therefore, we need to recognize one another sub-groups so that we can depend on each other, spiritually, and help each other. As the Miao group has been spread over the world for hundred of years, the Miao people have to base their standing point on the "tribal origin". Overseas Hmong recognize the Miao in Yunnan as close relatives and share the status of "home races", while they recognize the sub-groups in Guizhou and Hunan as people descending from common ancestors thus sharing "races origins". A Miao from the Wu family in Yunnan told me that one of their early ancestors had two wives. Therefore, there were two branches: one from the first wife, and the other from the second wife. Wu San Gui was a later ancestor. He married a woman from the Luo clan. When she took her children back to her clan, members of the Wu family could not marry members of Luo clan. Similar to the Yang clan, members cannot eat the pig heart. They know the reason and the basis of this custom. Every generation of the Lee/Ly family has to recite the names of their ancestors, tracing in that way the migration path traveled by ancestors, and following the rules and guidelines in the worshipping cults to their ancestors. After the liberation of China, the Lee/Ly family was able to trace their way back to China by following the recorded documents of these routes and their family tree.

For the Miao in China, one can find whether in one village there are members of one clan only or in several villages, there are members of one clan either. There is also migration back from other areas when the economic situation of the village improved and the standard of living went up. Many Miao people found new interest in finding their family roots. Many tribes are mending the tribal history. In 1994, my father organized and held in our village a gathering meeting of the Zhang families. Representatives from other areas all came to join us and compiled the family tree and history from different branches into books. Upon the closeness of blood ties, the lineage should have no problem in working to compile clan history. However, it will be difficult for members of different clans who are not as close. Among the overseas Hmong and the Miao from Guizhou and Hunan, which represent the different branches of Miao group, they will trace or base their connection on race. The overseas Hmong strongly believe that their origins are in China. Whenever they have gotten a chance to visit China, they have shown an eager desire wanting to know more about their own past. Also, they have shown a deep devotion to their people. In 1994, when Hunan province sponsored the International Miao Conference, and Elderly Hmong American requested to talk to someone who knew about the Miao history back to more than five thousands years ago. An American young man asked me to help him to find a book on the "Miao simplified History". In June 1995, we formed a group to investigate the original residence and the old battlefields of the Miao people; we invited an American Hmong and a Chinese Miao. When they reached the tomb of Ci You, they knelt down for long times. A French Hmong, after arriving in Guizhou, asked me to take him to pay respect to his ancestors. I took him to a Miao village. He then kowtowed and offered incense, and in the end, he took some dirt back to France.

The Chinese Miao also have show the same loyalty and spirit towards those who desire to seek their roots. No matter what area they live in, when the Elders die, the people will read to the soul of the dead from the "Book of Guiding Road"[7] or "the song of Burning Handkerchief". The Miao of Yunnan province had been migrating very far from the cradle: thus when an Elders' body is buried, the head is pointed in the direction of the Eastern hometown. The old songs existing among all ethnic branches constitute all historical records of the past in the Miao groups. In my village, at one time, during the ritual of cow sacrifice, the worshipping ceremony, when was recited description of the hardships of the ancestors in the past, participants were continuously sighing aloud, even the cow seemed shedding tears.

There are many intellectual Chinese Miao who are working hard in researching their history. The major activities are now carried on as part of the historical education. Because of bias in history in perceiving the victors as rulers and the defeated as bandits, Miao ancestor Ci You's representation was distorted in historical interpretation. Now, many scholars and amateurs of Miao history are studying and trying to restore Ci You to a more righteous image.

The Miao, especially the ones from overseas, have the same purpose upon basic recognition as the same ethnic group. So long, as our roots are analyzed as the same, then we belong to the same group. But the origin of the race still needs to have further research and discovery. We need to know more about our past. There was a recent excavation that may provide some more clues on the ancient history. A report from Southeast China stated: a recent archeological finding solved a "puzzle of thousand years" has proved through investigation that ocean immersion was a cause of the departure of Ci You and of his tribe to Northbound, which lead to create the most developed culture known as the Liang Zhu culture. This report provided some directions to research:

1. Liang Zhu culture was created by Ci You's tribe;
2. Before migration to the North; Ci You's tribe resided in the South;
3. The geographical origin of the Miao group might be in the Southeast part of China.

Regarding this question, I will carry on the actual site to investigate more when I will be able to do.


[1] Fei Xiao Tong, 1980, Questions About Tribal Recognition in China sociology, Vol. 1
[2] Fei Xiao Tong, 1980, Op. Cit.
[3] The reed pipe is said ?qeej? in the dialect of overseas Hmong (Note of the translator)
[4] In this article, the functions of the sixth and the seventh drum masters are not described
[5] Miao people in Diandong Be in the Northeast of Yunnan used these words "cry" (Nied), "mom" (Nief), "hide" (vaik) and "father" (vaib).
[6]"A hmaud" is a foreign use of Miao in the Northeast of Yunnan province. The sub Miao dialect spelled it "Ad Hmaod".
[7]In the Western dialect, it is called "Qhuab ke" (Note of the translator)

(archive story from: Kao-Ly Yang, Ph.D. Anthropology)

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