Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Miao are one of 56 non-Han Chinese people officially recognized by the government as minority nationalities. 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. Most Miao live in isolated, swidden-farming communities, widely dispersed in the more remote mountain valleys and hillsides of southern China. Miao communities are also found outside China in Northern Thailand, Laos, Northern Vietnam, and since the 1970s, in North America, France and Australia. See also the North American Hmong Collection in eHRAF World Cultures.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --East Asia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

In addition to this culture summary, the Miao Collection (AE05) consists of ten documents, three of which are translations from the Chinese. The documents provide a variety of historical, economic and cultural information, circa 1920 - 2000. All but two of the documents were based on fieldwork with different Miao communities during the late 1930s and early 1940s at a time when many Miao farmers actively participated first in the liberation struggle against Japanese occupation and later on during the "Long March" with the victorious Red Army.

The earliest and most basic sources in the collection are the works of David C. Graham which, together, provide a wide variety of cultural information including language, mythology, subsistence, dwellings, family life, kinship, village government, arts, religion and ceremonials (Graham 1937, no. 8; Graham, 1937 no. 9; Graham 1957, no. 10). Graham's focus on the Miao of southern Szechwan is complimented by Rui who provides a brief description of a sub group called Magpai Miao (Rui 1960. no. 15).

Four documents focus on different Miao groups living in Kweichow, Hunan and Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. Ch'en (1942, no. 6) and Wu and others (1942, no.12) describe various Miao groups in Kweichow. Margaret P. Mickey provides a general ethnography of the Cowrie Shell Miao who also live in Kweichow (Mickey 1947, no. 4). Ling and Ruey (1947, no. 2) provide a broad range of ethnographic data on the Miao in Hunan province.

The remaining two documents in the collection focus on recent history of the Miao, mostly in Yunnan (Diamond 1993, no. 14) and Guizhou (Schein 2000, no. 13). Based on ethnographic data collected in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the Chinese government gradually opened rural communities to Western researchers and travelers, these works discuss the manifold ways in which the cultures and identities of the Miao (and other minority ethnic groups) have been constructed and deployed since the 1949 and especially in the context of China's post-Mao economic reforms.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document. HRAF has also several documents on Miao communities in other parts of China and elsewhere outside China. See the microfiche collections for further information: Southwest China (AF16) and Central China Collection (AF14), Indo-China Collection (AM01), and Burma Collection (AP01). See also the eHRAF North American Hmong Collection (NO09).

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Chai - Miao settlements - use "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)" with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Chiao-tzu - divination using Chiao characters written on Bamboo splints - use "REVELATION AND DIVINATION (787)" with "MAGIC (789)" and "WRITING (212)"

Fangyin - dialects - use "LINGUISTIC IDENTIFICATION (197)" with "INTER - ETHNIC RELATIONS (629)"

Gaitu guiliu - policy of accelerating the assimilation of minorities to the dominant Han culture by replacing hereditary native rulers with regular civilian and military officials recruited from assimilated minority elites - use "CONSTITUTION (642)" with "RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT (654)" and/or "LOCAL OFFICIALS (624)"

Gu - magical poisoning - use "MAGIC (789)"

Hsien - district - use "DISTRICTS (634)" with "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)"

Kuei - spirits (devil, ancestral spirit, god) - use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)" or "ANIMISM (774)"

Lao-shih - sorcerer-priest - use "SORCERY (754)"

Minzu - minority nationality - use "ETHNIC STRATIFICATION (563)" with "CULTURAL IDENTITY AND PRIDE (186)"

Minzuxiang - minority townships - use "TOWNS (632)" with "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)"

Tuntian - land policy of China's Republican government in 1930s which forced the peasants to open up new lands and grow crops for the state - use "REAL PROPERTY (423)" with "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)"

Tusi - system of indirect rule aimed at controlling ethnic minorities by appointing native headmen who would collect taxes, organize corvée, and provide security - use "CONSTITUTION (642)" with "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)" and/or "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)"

This culture summary is based on the article, "Miao" by Norma Diamond, in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 6, Russia and Eurasia/China, Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994. Teferi Abate Adem wrote the synopsis and indexing notes in July 2007. HRAF is grateful to Norma Diamond for her bibliographic suggestions.

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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