China's Miao Minority - Introduction

 

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The Miao people are one of China's 56 ethnic groups, and according to the 2010 population census, there are almost 9 million Miao people in China, mostly scattered in China's southern provinces of Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Hubei, Hainan, Guangxi, and the Chongqing Municipality. 

According to ancient Chinese records, the history of the Miao people can be traced back more than 5,000 years. The ancestors of today's Miao minority were the Chiyou tribe, a primitive society located on China's Central Plains, and historical annals reference the Miao several times, reporting migrations from the Yellow River region to Hunan, Guizhou and Yunnan Provinces.

Today, the Miao have their own language which is often spoken in the home, but most of them also speak Mandarin Chinese. Agriculture is the main activity of the Miao people, and not surprisingly, rice, corn, wheat and cotton are grown as their staple crops. Miao homes and villages are often found in the highlands, and because of the prominence of farming, villages are surrounded by large and small plots of green farmland.  

Miao culture uses a different calendar than other cultures. Their calendar is based on the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, from the lunar calendar, but the Miao have different names for of the two months on the Chinese calendar. These two months are called Dongyue (动月) and Pianyue (偏月), both of which are 30 day months, along with the following five months: Februrary, April, June, August and October. The remaining five months of the year each have 31 days, as one would expect. 

 

Culturally, Miao people enjoy folk music and are particularly fond of "lusheng dancing," which is a combination of play the lusheng (a reed instrument resembling a bassoon) and swaying and dancing around to the music. Miao are also known for their fine craftsmanship and traditional handicrafts, in things like cross-stitch work, embroidery, brocades, batik and ornament-making, some of which have even earned international recognition. 

Most Miao people worship nature and revere the spirits of their ancestors, erecting totems to pay homage to both, though a few Miao have come to believe in Christianity. At the tops of Miao totems sits Panhu (盘瓠; pán hú), a kind of divine dog deemed by Miao people as their earliest ancestor. In traditional Miao society, many people believed in the existence of ghosts and spirits, leading to the widespread embrace of animistic practices and witchcraft. To the Miao of those days, things that defied explanation were considered to be incarnations or manifestations of the divine, leading them to prostrate themselves in worship and present meat and wine as sacrificial offerings.

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