Miao people

The Miao is an ethnic group belonging to South China, and is recognized by the government of China as one of the 56 official ethnic groups. Miao is a Chinese term and does not reflect the self-designations of the component groups of people, which include (with some variant spellings) Hmong, Hmu, Xong (Qo-Xiong), and A-Hmao.

Hmongb / Hmub / Xongb / ab Hmaob
m̥oŋ˦˧ / m̥ʰu˧ / ɕoŋ˧˥ / a˥˧m̥ao˥˧
Headdress of the Long-horn Miao—one of the small branches of Miao living in the 12 villages near Zhijin County, Guizhou
Total population
11–12 million
Regions with significant populations
 China9,426,007 (2010)
 Vietnam1,068,189 (2009)
 Laos595,028 (2015)
 United States247,595 (2010)[1]
 Thailand151,080 (2002)
Hmongic languages, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Tai-Kadai languages (Lao and Thai), French
Miao folk religion. Minorities: Taoism, Atheism, Irreligion, Christianity, Buddhism
Miao people

The Chinese government has grouped these people and other non-Miao peoples together as one group, whose members may not necessarily be either linguistically or culturally related, though the majority are members of Miao-Yao language family, which includes the Hmong, Hmub, Xong and A-Hmao and the majority do share cultural similarities. Many Miao groups cannot communicate with each other in their native tongues and have different histories and cultures. Many groups designated as Miao by the PRC do not even agree that they belong to the ethnic group, though some Miao groups, such as the Hmong do agree with the collective grouping as a single ethnic group – Miao.

The Miao live primarily in southern China's mountains, in the provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan. Some sub-groups of the Miao, most notably the Hmong people, have migrated out of China into Southeast Asia (Burma (Myanmar), northern Vietnam, Laos and Thailand). Following the communist takeover of Laos in 1975, a large group of Hmong refugees resettled in several Western nations, mainly in the United States, France, and Australia.

Nomenclature: Miao or Hmong

The term "Miao" gained official status in 1949 as a minzu (ethnic group) 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 the national government, including establishing autonomous administrative divisions and allocating the seats for representatives in provincial and national government.[3]

Historically, the term "Miao" had been applied inconsistently to a variety of non-Han peoples. Early Chinese-based names use various transcriptions: Miao, Miao-tse, Miao-tsze, Meau, Meo, mo, Miao-tseu etc. In Southeast Asian contexts, words derived from the Chinese "Miao" took on a sense which was perceived as derogatory by the subgroups living in that region. The term re-appeared in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), by which time it had taken on the connotation of "barbarian." Being a variation of Nanman, it was used to refer to the indigenous people in southern China who had not been assimilated into Han culture. During this time, references to Unfamiliar (生 Sheng) and Familiar (熟 Shu) Miao appear, referring to the level of assimilation and political cooperation of the two groups, making them easier to classify. Not until the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) do more finely grained distinctions appear in writing. Even then, discerning which ethnic groups are included in various classifications can be complex. There has been a historical tendency by the Hmong, who resisted assimilation and political cooperation, to group all Miao peoples together under the term Hmong because of the potential derogatory use of the term Miao. In modern China, however, the term continues to be used regarding the Miao people there.[4]

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

  • Ghao Xong/Qo Xiong; Xong; Red Miao; Qo Xiong Miao: west Hunan
  • Gha Ne/Ka Nao; Hmub; Black Miao; Mhub Miao: southeast Guizhou
  • A-Hmao; Big Flowery Miao: west Guizhou and northeast Yunnan
  • Gha-Mu; Hmong, Mong; White Miao, Green/Blue Miao, Small Flowery Miao; south and east Yunnan, south Sichuan and west Guizhou


According to the 2000 census, the number of Miao in China was estimated to be about 9.6 million. Outside of China, members of the Miao sub-group or nations of the Hmong live in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Burma due to outward migrations starting in the 18th century. As a result of recent migrations in the aftermath of the Indochina and Vietnam Wars from 1949–75, many Hmong people now live in the United States, French Guiana, France and Australia. Altogether, there are approximately 10 million speakers in the Miao language family. 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–Mien (Miao–Yao) language family.

A large population of the Hmong have emigrated to the northern mountainous reaches of Southeast Asia including Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma. However, many continue to live in far Southwest China mostly in the provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi, and to a very limited extent in Guizhou.

Note: The Miao areas of Sichuan province became part of the newly created Chongqing Municipality in 1997.

Most Miao currently live in China. 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 Guizhou in 1990. The Guizhou Miao and those in the following six provinces make up over 98% of all Chinese Miao:

In the above provinces, there are 6 Miao autonomous prefectures (shared officially with one other ethnic minority):

There are in addition 23 Miao autonomous counties:

  • Hunan:Mayang (麻阳 : Máyáng), Jingzhou (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) (including Hmong)
  • Hainan Province: Qiong (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 to move to larger cities like Guangzhou and Beijing. There are 789,000 Hmong spread throughout northern Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and on other continents. 174,000 live in Thailand, where they are one of the six main hill tribes.


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: Chīyóu) were defeated at the Battle of Zhuolu (涿鹿; Zhuōlù, a defunct prefecture on the border of present provinces of Hebei and Liaoning) by the military coalition of Huang Di (黃帝; Huángdì) and Yan Di, leaders of the Huaxia (華夏; Huáxià) tribe as the two tribes struggled for supremacy of the Yellow River valley.

Archaeological discoveries

According to André-Georges Haudricourt and David Strecker's claims based on limited secondary data, the Miao were among the first people to settle in present-day China.[6] They claim that the Han borrowed a lot of words from the Miao in regard to rice farming. This indicated that the Miao were among the first rice farmers in China. In addition, some have connected the Miao to the Daxi Culture (5,300 – 6,000 years ago) in the middle Yangtze River region.[7] The Daxi Culture has been credited with being amongst the first cultivators of rice in the Far East by Western scholars. However, in 2006 rice cultivation was found to have existed in the Shandong province even earlier than the Daxi Culture.[8] Though the Yuezhuang culture has cultivated rice, it is more of collected wild rice and not actual cultivated and domesticated rice like that of the Daxi.

A western study mention that the Miao (especially the Miao-Hunan) have some DNA from the Northeast people of China, but has origins in southern china. Recent DNA samples of Miao males contradict this theory. The White Hmong have 25% C, 8% D, & 6% N(Tat)[9] yet they have the least contact with the Han population.


In 2002, the Chu language has been identified as perhaps having influence from Tai–Kam and Miao–Yao languages by researchers at University of Massachusetts Amherst.[10]

Qin and Han dynasties

The term Miao was first used by the Han Chinese in pre-Qin times (in other words, before 221 BC) for designating non-Han Chinese groups in the south. It was often used in combination: "nanmiao", "miaomin", "youmiao" and "sanmiao" (三苗; Sānmiáo)

Ming and Qing dynasties

During the Ming and Qing dynasties (13681911) 'miao' and 'man' were both used, the second possibly to designate the Yao (; Yáo) people. The Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties could neither fully assimilate nor control the indigenous people.

During the Miao Rebellions, when Miao tribes rebelled, Ming troops, including Han Chinese, Hui people, crushed the rebels, killing thousands of them.[11][12] Mass castrations of Miao boys also took place.[13]

During the Qing Dynasty the Miao fought three wars against the empire.[14] In 1735 in the southeastern province of Guizhou, the Miao rose up against the government's forced assimilation. Eight counties involving 1,224 villages fought until 1738 when the revolt ended. According to Xiangtan University Professor Wu half the Miao population were affected by the war.

The second war (1795–1806) involved the provinces of Guizhou and Hunan. Shi Sanbao and Shi Liudeng led this second revolt. Again, it ended in failure, but it took 11 years to quell the uprising.[15]

The greatest of the three wars occurred from 1854 to 1873. Zhang Xiu-mei led this revolt in Guizhou until his capture and death in Changsha, Hunan. This revolt affected over one million people and all the neighbouring provinces. By the time the war ended Professor Wu said only 30 percent of the Miao were left in their home regions. This defeat led to the Hmong people migrating out of China.

During Qing times, more military garrisons were established in southwest China. Han Chinese soldiers moved into the Taijiang region of Guizhou, married Miao women, and the children were brought up as Miao.[16][17] In spite of rebellion against the Han, Hmong leaders made allies with Han merchants.[18]

Politically and militarily, the Miao continued to be a stone in the shoe of the Chinese empire. The imperial government had to rely on political means to ensnare Hmong people, they created multiple competing positions of substantial prestige for Miao people to participate and assimilate into the Qing government system. During the Ming and Qing times, the official position of Kiatong was created in Indochina. The Miao would employ the use of the Kiatong government structure until the 1900s when they entered into French colonial politics in Indochina.

20th century

During the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Miao played an important role in its birth when they helped Mao Zedong to escape the Kuomintang in the Long March with supplies and guides through their territory.

In Vietnam, a powerful Hmong named Vuong Chinh Duc, dubbed the king of the Hmong, aided Ho Chi Minh's nationalist move against the French, and thus secured the Hmong's position in Vietnam.[19] During the Vietnam War, Miao fought on both sides, the Hmong in Laos primarily for the US, across the border in Vietnam for the North-Vietnam coalition, the Chinese-Miao for the Communists. However, after the war the Vietnamese were very aggressive towards the Hmong who suffered many years of reprisals and genocide. Most Hmong in Thailand also supported a brief Communist uprising during the war.

Han Chinese origins of the Miao clans

Some of the origins of the Hmong and Miao clan names are a result of the marriage of Hmong women to Han Chinese men,[20][21] with distinct Han Chinese-descended clans and lineages practicing Han Chinese burial customs.[22] These clans were called "Han Chinese Hmong" ("Hmong Sua") in Sichuan, and were instructed in military tactics by fugitive Han Chinese rebels.[23] Such Chinese "surname groups" are comparable to the patrilineal Hmong clans and also practice exogamy.[24][25][26][27][28]

Han Chinese male soldiers who fought against the Miao rebellions during the Qing and Ming dynasties were known to have married with non-Han women such as the Miao because Han women were less desireable.[29][30][31] The Wang clan, founded among the Hmong in Gongxian county of Sichuan's Yibin district, is one such clan and can trace its origins to several such marriages around the time of the Ming dynasty suppression of the Ah rebels.[32] Nicholas Tapp wrote that, according to The Story of the Ha Kings in the village, one such Han ancestor was Wang Wu.[33] It is also noted that the Wang typically sided with the Chinese, being what Tapp calls "cooked" as opposed to the "raw" peoples who rebelled against the Chinese.[34][32]

Hmong women who married Han Chinese men founded a new Xem clan among Northern Thailand's Hmong. Fifty years later in Chiangmai two of their Hmong boy descendants were Catholics.[35] A Hmong woman and Han Chinese man married and founded northern Thailand's Lau2, or Lauj, clan, [35], with another Han Chinese man of the family name Deng founding another Hmong clan. Some scholars believe this lends further credence to the idea that some or all of the present day Hmong clans were formed in this way.[36]

Jiangxi Han Chinese are claimed by some as the forefathers of the southeast Guizhou Miao, and Miao children were born to the many Miao women married Han Chinese soldiers in Taijiang in Guizhou before the second half of the 19th century.[37]

Some imperially commissioned Han Chinese chieftaincies assimilated with the Miao. Those who had "gone native" became the ancestors of a part of the Miao population in Guizhou.[38]

The Hmong Tian clan in Sizhou began in the seventh century as a migrant Han Chinese clan.[39]

The origin of the Tunbao people traces back to the Ming dynasty when the Hongwu Emperor sent 300,000 Han Chinese male soldiers in 1381 to conquer Yunnan, with some of the men marrying Yao and Miao women.[40][41]

The presence of women presiding over weddings was a feature noted in "Southeast Asian" marriages, such as in 1667 when a Miao woman in Yunnan married a Chinese official.[42] Some Sinicization occurred, in Yunnan a Miao chief's daughter married a scholar in the 1600s who wrote that she could read, write, and listen in Chinese and read Chinese classics.[43]


By province

The 2000 Chinese census recorded 8,940,116 Miao in mainland China.

Provincial distribution of the Miao in mainland China
Province-level division% of mainland China's
Miao population
% of provincial total
Guizhou Province48.10%12.199%
Hunan Province21.49%3.037%
Yunnan Province11.67%2.463%
Chongqing Municipality5.62%1.647%
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region5.18%1.056%
Hubei Province2.40%0.360%
Sichuan Province1.65%0.179%
Guangdong Province1.35%0.142%
Hainan Province0.69%0.810%

By county

County-level distribution of the Miao in mainland China

(Only includes counties or county-equivalents containing >0.25% of mainland China's Miao population.)

Province-level division Prefecture-level division County-level division Miao population % of mainland China's
Miao population
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Kaili City (凯里市) 274,238 3.07%
Chongqing Municipality none Pengshui Miao and Tujia A. C. (彭水苗族土家族自治县) 273,488 3.06%
Hunan Huaihua City Mayang Miao A. C. (麻阳苗族自治县) 263,437 2.95%
Guizhou Tongren City Songtao Miao A. C. (松桃苗族自治县) 228,718 2.56%
Hunan Huaihua City Yuanling County (沅陵县) 217,613 2.43%
Hunan Xiangxi Tujia and Miao A. P. Huayuan County (花垣县) 192,138 2.15%
Hunan Xiangxi Tujia and Miao A. P. Fenghuang County (凤凰县) 185,111 2.07%
Hunan Shaoyang City Suining County (绥宁县) 184,784 2.07%
Guangxi Zhuang A. R. Liuzhou City Rongshui Miao A. C. (融水苗族自治县) 168,591 1.89%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Huangping County (黄平县) 161,211 1.8%
Guizhou Zunyi City Wuchuan Gelao and Miao A. C. (务川仡佬族苗族自治县) 157,350 1.76%
Hunan Shaoyang City Chengbu Miao A. C. (城步苗族自治县) 136,943 1.53%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Taijiang County (台江县) 135,827 1.52%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Congjiang County (从江县) 129,626 1.45%
Guizhou Liupanshui City Shuicheng County (水城县) 126,319 1.41%
Hunan Huaihua City Jingzhou Miao and Dong A. C. (靖州苗族侗族自治县) 114,641 1.28%
Guizhou Anshun City Ziyun Miao and Buyei A. C. (紫云苗族布依族自治县) 114,444 1.28%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Jianhe County (剑河县) 112,950 1.26%
Hunan Xiangxi Tujia and Miao A. P. Jishou City (吉首市) 112,856 1.26%
Guizhou Tongren City Sinan County (思南县) 112,464 1.26%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Leishan County (雷山县) 110,413 1.24%
Hunan Xiangxi Tujia and Miao A. P. Luxi County (泸溪县) 107,301 1.2%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Tianzhu County (天柱县) 106,387 1.19%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Danzhai County (丹寨县) 104,934 1.17%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Rongjiang County (榕江县) 96,503 1.08%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Huishui County (惠水县) 91,215 1.02%
Yunnan Wenshan Zhuang and Miao A. P. Guangnan County (广南县) 88,444 0.99%
Chongqing Municipality none Youyang Tujia and Miao A. C. (酉阳土家族苗族自治县) 85,182 0.95%
Guangxi Zhuang A. R. Bose City Longlin Various Nationalities A. C. (隆林各族自治县) 84,617 0.95%
Guizhou Bijie City Zhijin County (织金县) 81,029 0.91%
Yunnan Honghe Hani and Yi A. P. Jinping Miao, Yao, and Dai A. C. (金平苗族瑶族傣族自治县) 80,820 0.9%
Guizhou Anshun City Xixiu District (西秀区) 79,906 0.89%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Jinping County (锦屏县) 78,441 0.88%
Guizhou Zunyi City Daozhen Gelao and Miao A. C. (道真仡佬族苗族自治县) 76,658 0.86%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Liping County (黎平县) 75,718 0.85%
Yunnan Wenshan Zhuang and Miao A. P. Maguan County (马关县) 73,833 0.83%
Guizhou Bijie City Nayong County (纳雍县) 72,845 0.81%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Duyun City (都匀市) 71,011 0.79%
Hubei Enshi Tujia and Miao A. P. Laifeng County (来凤县) 70,679 0.79%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Majiang County (麻江县) 68,847 0.77%
Chongqing Municipality none Xiushan Tujia and Miao A. C. (秀山土家族苗族自治县) 66,895 0.75%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Shibing County (施秉县) 66,890 0.75%
Yunnan Wenshan Zhuang and Miao A. P. Qiubei County (丘北县) 66,826 0.75%
Guizhou Guiyang City Huaxi District (花溪区) 62,827 0.7%
Hunan Xiangxi Tujia and Miao A. P. Longshan County (龙山县) 61,709 0.69%
Guizhou Bijie City Qianxi County (黔西县) 60,409 0.68%
Yunnan Honghe Hani and Yi A. P. Pingbian Miao A. C. (屏边苗族自治县) 60,312 0.67%
Guizhou Bijie City Weining Yi, Hui, and Miao A. C. (威宁彝族回族苗族自治县) 60,157 0.67%
Chongqing Municipality none Qianjiang District (黔江区) 59,705 0.67%
Hunan Xiangxi Tujia and Miao A. P. Baojing County (保靖县) 57,468 0.64%
Yunnan Wenshan Zhuang and Miao A. P. Wenshan County (文山县) 57,303 0.64%
Hunan Xiangxi Tujia and Miao A. P. Guzhang County (古丈县) 54,554 0.61%
Hubei Enshi Tujia and Miao A. P. Lichuan City (利川市) 53,590 0.6%
Guizhou Qianxinan Buyei and Miao A. P. Qinglong County (晴隆县) 53,205 0.6%
Guangxi Zhuang A. R. Liuzhou City Sanjiang Dong A. C. (三江侗族自治县) 53,076 0.59%
Guizhou Bijie City Dafang County (大方县) 52,547 0.59%
Yunnan Wenshan Zhuang and Miao A. P. Yanshan County (砚山县) 51,624 0.58%
Guizhou Liupanshui City Liuzhi Special District (六枝特区) 50,833 0.57%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Changshun County (长顺县) 48,902 0.55%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Fuquan City (福泉市) 48,731 0.55%
Yunnan Honghe Hani and Yi A. P. Mengzi County (蒙自县) 48,132 0.54%
Guizhou Tongren City Bijiang District (碧江区) 47,080 0.53%
Yunnan Wenshan Zhuang and Miao A. P. Malipo County (麻栗坡县) 45,655 0.51%
Yunnan Zhaotong City Yiliang County (彝良县) 44,736 0.5%
Guizhou Anshun City Pingba County (平坝县) 44,107 0.49%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Sandu Shui A. C. (三都水族自治县) 43,464 0.49%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Guiding County (贵定县) 42,450 0.47%
Guizhou Tongren City Yinjiang Tujia and Miao A. C. (印江土家族苗族自治县) 42,431 0.47%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Longli County (龙里县) 40,096 0.45%
Guizhou Guiyang City Qingzhen City (清镇市) 39,845 0.45%
Guizhou Qianxinan Buyei and Miao A. P. Wangmo County (望谟县) 39,491 0.44%
Guizhou Bijie City Qixingguan District (七星关区) 38,508 0.43%
Hunan Xiangxi Tujia and Miao A. P. Yongshun County (永顺县) 37,676 0.42%
Guizhou Bijie City Hezhang County (赫章县) 37,128 0.42%
Yunnan Zhaotong City Weixin County (威信县) 36,293 0.41%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Sansui County (三穗县) 35,745 0.4%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Luodian County (罗甸县) 35,463 0.4%
Guizhou Anshun City Zhenning Buyei and Miao A. C. (镇宁布依族苗族自治县) 34,379 0.38%
Hubei Enshi Tujia and Miao A. P. Xuan'en County (宣恩县) 34,354 0.38%
Hunan Huaihua City Huitong County (会同县) 33,977 0.38%
Guizhou Qianxinan Buyei and Miao A. P. Anlong County (安龙县) 32,926 0.37%
Guizhou Bijie City Jinsha County (金沙县) 31,884 0.36%
Sichuan Luzhou City Xuyong County (叙永县) 30,362 0.34%
Guizhou Anshun City Puding County (普定县) 30,254 0.34%
Sichuan Yibin City Xingwen County (兴文县) 30,020 0.34%
Guizhou Anshun City Guanling Buyei and Miao A. C. (关岭布依族苗族自治县) 29,746 0.33%
Guangxi Zhuang A. R. Bose City Xilin County (西林县) 28,967 0.32%
Guangxi Zhuang A. R. Guilin City Ziyuan County (资源县) 27,827 0.31%
Hubei Enshi Tujia and Miao A. P. Xianfeng County (咸丰县) 27,668 0.31%
Guizhou Guiyang City Nanming District (南明区) 27,460 0.31%
Yunnan Zhaotong City Zhenxiong County (镇雄县) 26,963 0.3%
Yunnan Wenshan Zhuang and Miao A. P. Funing County (富宁县) 26,396 0.3%
Guangdong Dongguan City Dongguan District (东莞市辖区) 26,241 0.29%
Guizhou Tongren City Jiangkou County (江口县) 25,588 0.29%
Guizhou Liupanshui City Pan County (盘县) 25,428 0.28%
Guangxi Zhuang A. R. Guilin City Longsheng Various Nationalities A. C. (龙胜各族自治县) 24,841 0.28%
Guizhou Qianxinan Buyei and Miao A. P. Xingren County (兴仁县) 24,130 0.27%
Hunan Huaihua City Zhijiang Dong A. C. (芷江侗族自治县) 23,698 0.27%
Yunnan Honghe Hani and Yi A. P. Kaiyuan City (开远市) 23,504 0.26%
Guizhou Qianxinan Buyei and Miao A. P. Zhenfeng County (贞丰县) 23,054 0.26%
Guizhou Qiannan Buyei and Miao A. P. Pingtang County (平塘县) 22,980 0.26%
Guizhou Qiandongnan Miao and Dong A. P. Zhenyuan County (镇远县) 22,883 0.26%
Guizhou Qianxinan Buyei and Miao A. P. Pu'an County (普安县) 22,683 0.25%
Guizhou Guiyang City Wudang District (乌当区) 22,468 0.25%
Other areas of mainland China 1,246,040 13.94%

Gender roles

Women's status

Compared to the Confucian principles traditionally exercised over women in the rest of China, the Miao culture is generally less strict in categorization of women’s roles in society. Miao women exercise relatively more independence, mobility and social freedom.[44] They are known to be strong willed and politically minded. They actively contribute to their communities in social welfare, education, arts and culture, and agricultural farming.

Miao women demonstrate great skill and artistry when making traditional clothing and handicrafts. They excel at embroidering, weaving, paper-cutting, batik, and intricate jewelry casting.
From vests, coats, hats, collars and cuffs, to full skirts, and baby carriers, the patterns on their clothes are extremely complicated and colorful with clean lines. Girls of around seven will learn embroidering from mothers and sisters, and by the time they are teenagers, they are quite deft. Additionally, Miao silver jewelry is distinctive for its design, style and craftsmanship. Miao silver jewelry is completely handmade, carved with fine decorative patterns. It’s not easy to make and there is not one final masterpiece exactly the same as another. The Miao embroidery and silver jewelry are highly valued, delicate and beautiful.

Silver jewelry is a highly valuable craftwork of the Miao people. Apart from being a cultural tradition, it also symbolises the wealth of Miao women.[45] As a Miao saying goes, “decorated with no silver or embroidery, a girl is not a girl”, Miao women are occasionally defined by the amount of silver jewelry she wears or owns.[45] It is especially important to wear heavy and intricate silver headdresses and jewelry during significant occasions and festivals, notably during weddings, funerals and springtime celebration.[45] Silver jewelry is an essential element of Miao marriages, particularly to the bride.[45] Miao families would begin saving silver jewellery for the girls at an early age, wishing their daughters could marry well with the large amount of silver jewelry representing the wealth of the family.[45] Although a growing Miao population is moving from rural Miao regions to cities, the new generation respects the families' silver heritage and is willing to pass on the practice as a cultural tradition more than a showcase of family wealth.[45]

Workforce and income

Although Miao women are not strictly-governed, their social status is often seen as lower than that of men, as in most patriarchal societies. Be it in the subsistence economy or otherwise, men are the main economic force and provide the stable source of income for the family. Women are primarily involved in social welfare, domestic responsibilities, and additionally earn supplementary income.[44]

As tourism became a major economic activity to this ethnic group, Miao women gained more opportunities to join the labor force and earn an income. Women mostly take up jobs that require modern day customer service skills; for example, working as tour guides, selling craftwork and souvenirs, teaching tourists how to make flower wreaths, and even renting ethnic costumes.[44] These jobs require soft skills and hospitality and more visibility in public, but provide a low income.[44] On the contrary, Miao men take up jobs that require more physical strengths and less visibility in public, such as engineering roads, building hotels, boats and pavilions. These jobs generally provide a more stable and profitable source of income.[44]

The above example of unequal division of labor demonstrates, in spite of socioeconomic changes in China, men are still considered the financial backbone of the family.[44]

Marriage and family

While the Miao people have had their own unique culture, the Confucian ideology exerted significant influences on this ethnic group. It is expected that men are the dominant figures and breadwinners of the family, while women occupy more domestic roles(like cooking and cleaning).[44] There are strict social standards on women to be “virtuous wives and good mothers”, and to abide by “three obediences and four virtues”, which include cultural moral specifications of women’s behavior.[44]

A Miao woman also has more cultural freedom in marrying a man of her choice.[44] Nonetheless, there are strict cultural practices on marriage, one being clan exogamy. It is a taboo to marry someone within the same family clan name, even when the couple are not blood related or from the same community.[44]

In contrast to the common practice of the right of succession belonging to the firstborn son, the Miao’s inheritance descends to the youngest son.[44] The older sons leave the family and build their own residences, usually in the same province and close to the family.[44] The youngest son is responsible for living with and caring for the aging parents, even after marriage.[44] He receives a larger share of the family’s inheritence and his mother’s silver jewellery collection, which is used as bridal wealth or dowry.[44]


Miao Fish (苗鱼 miáo yǘ)

Miao fish is a special dish made by steaming or grilling fish to perfection. It has been recognized as a local featured cuisine with its vibrant flavors: the mixture of fish, fresh herbs, green peppers, ginger slices and garlic, provide people with a great eating experience.[46]

See also



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Further reading

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