Miao Ethnic Minority

Written by Matteo Updated Jun. 18, 2021

The Miao ethnic minority group is one of the few minority nationalities that have an extensive population existing in and out of the mainland of china. Scattered worldwide, the Miao diaspora exists on five continents and many countries, including Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, France, Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States, among others. In China, they inhabit a wide range of land in south-central China, including settlements in Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi, Hubei, and Hainan Provinces. Approximately four million Miao reside in present-day Guizhou, a population that accounts for over half of the Miao in China. Census reports have the Miao situated in rural and urban environments across the prefectures and counties of Guizhou.

People often refer to Guizhou Province as “the base of the Miao nationality.” Inside Guizhou, the majority of the Miao population resides in the Southeastern Guizhou Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture. Tai County has the highest concentration of Miao ethnicity at 97% and is referred to as “the number one county of the Miao nationality.” The remaining population is distributed among less concentrated counties in the province.

In southeastern Guizhou, the Miao population accounts for over 25% of the total Miao people in China. This subgroup tends to inhabit remote mountainous areas far away from the city in tight-knit village networks. In fact, they seldom live in villages consisting of any nationality other than their own.

The Guizhou Miao nationality, representing the Miao nationality of China, can be used to illustrate the main cultural characteristics of the Miao as a whole. The language system is intricate, consisting of three wide spread dialects, numerous sub-dialects, and many localized dialects. The Miao language belongs to the Miao-Yao branch of the Chinese-Tibetan language family and consists of three main dialects: the Western Hunan dialect, the Eastern Guizhou dialect and the Sichuan-Guizhou-Yunnan dialect. The Eastern Guizhou dialect is exclusive to the Taijiang Miao nationality. In general, many Chinese and foreign ethnologists regard Guizhou as an ideal place to research the Miao nationality. However, the Taijiang region is considered to be the “brightest pearl” in regards to understanding the customs and culture of the group specifically.

For sustenance, the Miao rely heavily on agriculture and for the most part are a typical agrarian society. However, hunting also plays an important, albeit minor, role. Miao arts and crafts are beautifully colored and renowned at home and abroad. Crafts such as cross-stitch, embroidery, brocade, wax printing, paper cutting, and general adornment creation are cultural staples. Among these, Miao wax printing has over 1000 years of history, while Miao clothing incorporates hundreds of styles in varying arrays of color. Headdress is common, often using flowers to accent vibrant patterns. The Miao are generally adept singers and dancers and specialize in love songs and songs for toasting. The reed pipe is the most commonly used musical instrument during musical serenades or feasts.


The Miao have a long, storied history and it is believed that their ancestors may have been part of the Three South people (an ancient nationality) that originated from the Zong people of the Zhou Dynasty. During the Qin and Han Dynasties (from approx. 200 BCE to 200 CE), they mainly occupied Western Hunan and Eastern Guizhou Provinces and gradually moved and spread throughout the mountainous areas in Southwestern China. Through legends and stories the Miao assert their lineage stems from the ancient Jiuli people. The Miao people in Sichuan, Guizhou, and Hunan Provinces believe Chi You, an ancient mythical half bull/half giant creature and leader of the Jiuli, is their ancestor. Thousands of years ago, the Jiuli tribe was forced to retreat from the lower reaches of the Yellow River to the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze after a sound defeat at the hands of the Yellow Emperor. From this defeat and exodus the "Three Miao" were gradually formed. By the 2nd century BCE, most of the Miao's ancestors had moved on to the Xiang River basin, and into the aforementioned provinces of modern day China.


The Miao nationality pays great attention to etiquette, especially with respect to the treatment of guests. For instance, when a guest visits, the host kills a chicken or a duck to entertain and feed the guest. If the guest comes from afar or has a long journey, the host will first invite the guest to drink an alcohol called Horn spirit. When the chicken is eaten, the chicken head is presented to the senior member of the feast, while the senior himself presents the youngest with a chicken leg. Another common tradition steeped in etiquette is a chicken/duck heart sharing custom unique to the Miao. The eldest person of the family uses chopsticks to pick up the chicken/duck heart and presents it to the guest. However, the guest cannot eat the whole chicken heart. He or she must share the chicken heart with the elder that has just presented him or her with the gift. If the guest has a low alcohol tolerance or does not like eating fat meat, he or she can explain the reason to the host. While the host surely won’t look down upon a guest that requests minimal refreshments, they do regard gluttony or over-indulgence as an insult to the host.

Glutinous rice cake is a customary dessert used when Miao men and women fall in love and get married. It is also used as a sort of valentine for admirers to express their feelings. For instance, the Miao girls and boys of Hunan present glutinous rice cakes to each other in which a mandarin duck is drawn as love tokens. The host of a wedding asks bride and groom to eat glutinous rice cake in which a dragon, phoenix and Feng doll are drawn. Also, at the wedding ceremony a bride and groom must drink Jiaobei spirit together from special cups. In doing so the bride and groom cross their wrists and drink wine from their own cup.


Lusheng Festival

The Lusheng Festival is the most influential festival of the Miao minority. It is popular throughout Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces. The Lusheng Festival in Kaili, the famous tourist hub in Guizhou province, is considered to be one of the grandest celebrations of the Miao. 

Sisters' Meals festival

The Sisters' Meals festival is for the celebration of love (similar to the western Valentine’s Day). It is celebrated by the Miao people in Guizhou province, especially in Taijiang and Jianhe Counties along the banks of the Qingshui River. It is the oldest Asian Valentine’s Day. 

New Year of Miao People

According to Miao custom, the tenth lunar month is the beginning of a new year. Therefore the Miao New Year festival, the most important festival for Miao people, is usually celebrated around this time. However, the exact date varies each year and is only disclosed one or two months in advance. Regular updates can be found on our website as the festival approaches.

The celebration of the Miao New Year in Leishan, Guizhou Province is the grandest among Miao festivities. During the event, tourists can enjoy watching enchanting Miao customs come alive through various kinds of ethnic activities. These include the festival parade that features Miao girls and women in traditional Miao dress, the traditional music of the Lusheng (a kind of musical instrument made of bamboo), bullfights, horseracing, and of course, lots of singing and dancing.

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