Yao people

This article is about the Yao ethnic group in Asia. For the Yao people of Africa, see Yao people (East Africa).
"Mien" redirects here. For other uses, see Mien (disambiguation).
Yao people

A Yao woman, Tiantouzhai, Longji Terraces, China, November 2010
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Mienic languages, Bunu, Pa-Hng, Lakkja, Mandarin Chinese, Shaozhou Tuhua, Vietnamese
Predominantly Yao folk religion, minority Buddhism

The Yao people (its majority branch is also known as Mien; simplified Chinese: 瑶族; traditional Chinese: 瑤族; pinyin: Yáo zú; Vietnamese: người Dao) is a government classification for various minorities in China and Vietnam. They are one of the 55 officially recognised ethnic minorities in China and reside in the mountainous terrain of the southwest and south. They also form one of the 54 ethnic groups officially recognised by Vietnam. In the last census in 2000, they numbered 2,637,421 in China and roughly 470,000 in Vietnam.

Yao people
Chinese 瑶族


Early history

The origins of the Yao can be traced back 2000 years starting in Hunan. The Yao and Hmong were among the rebels during the Miao Rebellions against the Ming dynasty. As the Han Chinese expanded into South China, the Yao retreated into the highlands between Hunan and Guizhou to the north and Guangdong and Guangxi to the south, and stretching into eastern Yunnan.[1] Around 1890, the Guangdong government started taking action against Yao in northwestern Guangdong.[2]

The first Chinese exonym for "Yao people" was the graphic pejorative yao (犭"dog radical" and yao 䍃 phonetic) "jackal", which twentieth-century language reforms changed twice; first with the invented character yao (亻"human radical") "the Yao", and then with yao (玉 "jade radical") "precious jade; green jasper".

Laotian Civil War

During the Laotian Civil War, Yao tribes of Laos had a good relationship with U.S. forces and were dubbed to be an "efficient friendly force". They fought in favour of government against the communists.[3] This relationship caused the new communist Laotian government to target Yao tribal groups for revenge once the war was over. This triggered further immigration into Thailand, where the tribes would be put into camps along the Thailand-Laos border.

Immigration to the United States

After obtaining refugee status from the Thai government and with the help of the United Nations, many Yao people were able to obtain sponsorship into the United States (although many remain in Thailand). Most of the Yao who have immigrated to the United States have settled along the Western part of the U.S., mainly in Central and Northern California such as Visalia, Fresno, Oakland, Oroville, Redding, Richmond, Sacramento, but also in parts of Oregon like Portland, Salem, and Beaverton as well as the state of Washington in Seattle and Renton. See Mien American for those identified as Mien.

Culture, society, and economy

The back of a child in China in a Yao costume
A red Yao woman in Vietnam

Yao society is traditionally patrilineal, with sons inheriting from their fathers. Marriage between first cousins is common. The Yao follow patrilocal residence.[4]

The Yao people have been farmers for over a thousand years, mostly rice cultivation through plowing, although a few practice slash-and-burn agriculture. Where the Yao live nearby forested regions, they also engage in hunting.[4]

During the Southern Song (1127–127), an imperial Chinese observer, Zhou Qufei, described the Yao as wearing distinctive fine blue clothing produced using indigo.[5]

The Yao celebrate their Pan Wang (King Pan) festival annually on the sixteenth day of the tenth lunar month. The festival celebrates the mythical original story of the Yao people, and has evolved "into a happy holiday for the Yao to celebrate a good harvest and worship their ancestors."[6]


Main article: Yao folk religion

Daoism has historically been important to the Yao.[7] Jinag Yingliang, in a 1948 study, argued that Yao religion was characterized by (1) a process of Han Chinese-influenced Daoisation (Chinese: 道教化; pinyin: Dàojiào huà); (2) the endurance of pre-Daoist folk religion; and (3) some Buddhist beliefs.

The description of Yao region is similar to the definition of Chinese folk religion as described by Arthur Wolf and Steve Sangren.[8] Scholar Zhang Youjun takes issue with claims of "strong Buddhist influence" on the Yao, arguing that "although Yao ritual texts contain Buddhist expression, the Yao do not believe in Buddhism at all. They are resolutely Taoist."[8]

Groups and languages

A Yao stilt house in Vietnam

There are several distinct groups within the Yao nationality, and they speak several different languages, The Iu Mien comprise 70% of the Yao population.

In addition to China, Yao also live in northern Vietnam (where they are called Dao), northern Laos, and Myanmar. There are around 60,000 Yao in northern Thailand, where they are one of the six main hill tribes. The lowland-living Lanten of Laos, who speak Kim Mun, and the highland-living Iu Mien of Laos are two different Yao groups. There are also many Iu Mien Americans, mainly refugees from the highlands of Laos. The Iu Mien do not call themselves "Yao". Not all "Yao" are Iu Mien. A group of 61,000 people on Hainan speak the Yao language Kim Mun; 139,000 speakers of Kim Mun live in other parts of China (Yunnan and Guangxi), and 174,500 live in Laos and Vietnam.[9]

The Bunu call themselves Nuox [no˩˧], Buod nuox [po˦˧no˩˧], Dungb nuox [tuŋ˧no˩˧], or their official name Yaof zuf [ʑau˨˩su˨˩]. Only 258,000 of the 439,000 people categorised as Bunu in the 1982 census speak Bunu; 100,000 speak the Tai–Kadai Zhuang languages, and 181,000 speak Chinese and the Tai–Kadai Bouyei language.

Mao (2004)

Mao Zongwu (2004:7-8)[10] gives a detailed list of various Yao endonyms (i.e., self-designated names) and the Chinese names of various groups and clans associated with them. Endonyms are written in the International Phonetic Alphabet with numerical Chao tones.

Plains Yao

Groups considered to be "Plains Yao" (Pingdi Yao 平地瑶) include:[11]


Tim Doling (2010:82-83) lists the following Yao (spelled Dao in the Vietnamese alphabet) subgroups in northern Vietnam.[15]

According to Doling (2010), only Kim Mun, Kim Mien, and Lô Gang may be found outside Vietnam.

Nguyen (2004:14-15, 128) lists Đại Bản, Tiểu Bản, Khố Bạch, and Làn Tiẻn as the 4 primary subdivisions of ethnic Yao in Vietnam.[18]


In China, Yao peoples are distributed primarily in the provinces Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan. Ethnic groups derived from the Yao of China are found in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.


The Yao of Guizhou are found in the following locations (Guizhou Province Almanac 贵州志 2002).[19]

The Yao of Guizhou have various autonyms, such as:[19]


Map of Hunan with administrative divisions (outlined) and local Chinese dialects (colored) (Some Yao people in Hunan also speak local Chinese dialects.)

Some subgroups of ethnic Yao in Hunan include:[20]

The Hunan Province Gazetteer (1997) gives the following autonyms for various peoples classified by the Chinese government as Yao.

Tan Xiaoping (2012)[25] also gives the following autonyms for Yao subgroups of Jiangyong County.

The Yao of Shaoyang Prefecture are found in the following locations (Shaoyang Prefecture Gazetteer 1997). Population statistics are from 1990.

The Shaoyang Prefecture Gazetteer (1997) reports that the Yao of Shaoyang Prefecture, Hunan speak the following languages.

The following population statistics of ethnic Yao in Hunan are from the 1990 Chinese census, as given in the Hunan Province Gazetteer (1997).

Population of
ethnic Yao in Hunan
County Population (1990)
Jianghua 210,944
Jiangyong 62,647
Dao 26,771
Ningyuan 16,361
Lanshan 16,123
Shuangpai 7,206
Xintian 6,295
Qiyang 3,209
Chenxi 26,132
Xupu 13,989
Qianyang 3,264
Huaihua 2,066
Tongdao 1,657
Xinning 12,756
Dongkou 8,473
Longhui 6,151
Chenzhou 5,872
Yizhang 4,145
Zixing 3,999
Guiyang 2,323
Changning 1,085
Total 460,667


By county

County-level distribution of the Yao 2000 census

(Only includes counties or county-equivalents containing >1% of county population.)

County/City Yao % Yao Total
Hu'nan province1.11704,56463,274,173
Dongkou county1,5511,639752,581
Xinning county2,5914,438557,120
Chenzhou city1,6370,5134,324,812
Beihu district1,253,921314,477
Rucheng county15,4552,955342,861
Zixing city1,224,284351,581
Yongzhou city9,57513,8315,367,106
Shuangpai county4,907,916161,510
Dao county5,9236,938624,199
Jiangyong county62,39147,164235,893
Ningyuan county2,1615,943738,259
Lanshan county5,2917,608332937
Xintian county1,826,541358831
Jihua Yao autonomous county61,87270,889437835
Huaihua city1,5571,9524639738
Zhongfang county1,333,147236675
Chenxi county6,7732,405478708
Xupu county3,1825,398798983
Hongjiang city1,477,137485061
Guangdong province0,24202,66785225007
Shaoguan city1,1331,0422735433
Shixing county2,004,115205684
Ruyuan Yao autonomous county10,7519,121177894
Longmen county2,516,726267949
Qingyuan city3,0596,0433146713
Lianshan Zhuang Yao autonomous county14,3314,19599070
Liannan Yao autonomous county52,2969,968133814
Lianzhou city1,315,366409360
Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region3,361,471,94643854538
Xincheng district1,305,560426346
Chengbei district1,505,901392726
Shijiao district1,152,949256730
Guilin city8,15375,9024614670
Xiufeng district1,632,050125924
Diecai district1,722,312134401
Xiangshan district1,423,527249135
Qixing district1,764,003227278
Lingui county3,5314,957424182
Lingchuan county3,2010,169318036
Quanzhou county4,2927,984652963
Xing'an county2,358,317353920
Yongfu county3,488,202235368
Guanyang county7,7717,971231288
Longshenggezu autonomous county17,5628,237160796
Ziyuan county3,195,014156946
Pingle county14,0855,553394575
Lipu county7,4825,893346169
Gongcheng Yao autonomous county58,60158,937271216
Wuzhou city1,1532,0212796087
Mengshan county12,0222,587187918
Fangchenggang city4,6334,074735952
Gangkou district1,371,462106403
Fangcheng district6,5920,840316111
Shangsi county4,228,666205307
Dongxing city2,873,106108131
Guigang city1,8671,0633827945
Pingnan county6,2966,3911055782
Nanning prefecture1,4368,9754839536
Shanglin county6,5024,697379986
Mashan county8,4833,873399439
Liuzhou prefecture3,57125,8393522322
Heshan city1,872,452131,249
Luzhai county2,018,424418665
Laibin county1,2510,475839790
Rong'an county1,885,313283029
Sanjiang Dong autonomous county3,8811,798304,149
Rongshui Miao autonomous county6,4827,560425,608
Jinxiu Yao autonomous county37,4550,532134,934
Xincheng county2,057,051343,556
Hezhou prefecture12,49241,8221,936,849
Hezhou city4,8441,130850,023
Zhaoping county4,4615,746353,298
Zhongshan county8,7540241460021
Fuchuan Yao autonomous county52,91144,705273,507
Baise prefecture3,82127,3513,332,096
Baise city3,2911,211340,483
Tiandong county4,6316,674360,123
Pingguo county4,1616,344392,800
Debao county1,845,085276,335
Napo county2,744,661170,158
Lingyun county21,0536,954175,573
Leye county1,972,857144,816
Tianlin county11,6427,559236,799
Xilin county3,544,934139,282
Hechi prefecture9,93349,8193,523,693
Hechi city2,317,355318,348
Yizhou city5,5430,436549,434
Luocheng Mulao autonomous county1,213,903322,116
Huanjiang Maonan autonomous county5,3617,807332,067
Nandan county9,1829,284318,844
Tian'e county2,443,461141,649
Fengshan county7,7112,714164,807
Donglan county4,2910,581246,715
Bama Yao autonomous county17,2437,706218,724
Du'an Yao autonomous county21,66117,609543,019
Dahua Yao autonomous county21,4678,963367,970
Guizhou province0,1344,39235,247,695
Liping county1,105,046458,533
Rongjiang county1,705,101300,369
Congjiang county2,046,158301,513
Majiang county3,356,807203,481
Libo county3,455,915171,366
Yunnan province0,45190,61042,360,089
Honghe Hani Yi autonomous prefecture1,8676,9474,130,463
Yuanyang county2,187,922362,950
Jinping Miao Yao Dai autonomous county12,0037,937316,171
Lvchun county3,466,968201,256
Hekou Yao autonomous county22,1021,09795,451
Wenshan Zhuang Miao autonomous prefecture2,5081,7743,268,553
Malipo county7,0618,926267,986
Guangnan county2,1615,781730,376
Funing county10,3539,646382,913
Jingdong Yi autonomous county1,154,063352,089
Jiangcheng Hani Yi autonomous county3,943,946100,243
Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture1,8818,679993,397
Mengla county6,7715,944235,657

Written languages

After the Eleventh Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (in session from 1977 to 1982), the Guangxi Nationality Institute and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences together created a new Yao writing system which was unified with the research results of the Yao-American scholar Yuēsè Hòu (Traditional Chinese: 約瑟·候/Simplified Chinese: 约瑟·候). The writing system was finalized at a one-day conference in 1984 in Ruyan County, Guangdong, which included Chinese professors Pan Chengqian (盤承乾/盘承乾), Deng Fanggui (鄧方貴/邓方贵), Liu Baoyuan (劉保元/刘保元), Su Defu (蘇德富/苏德富) and Yauz Mengh Borngh; Chinese government officials; Mien Americans Sengfo Chao (Zhao Fuming), Kao Chiem Chao (Zhao Youcai), and Chua Meng Chao; David T. Lee.

American linguist Herbert C. Purnell developed a curriculum and workshop presentations on language learning in East and Southeast Asia, as well as Yao Seng Deng from Thailand. The US delegation took the new writing system to the Iu Mien community in the United States where it was adopted with a vote of 78 to 7 by a conference of Mien American community leaders. This writing system based on the Latin alphabet was designed to be pan-dialectal; it distinguishes 30 syllable initials, 121 syllable finals and eight tones.

For an example of how the unified alphabet is used to write Iu Mien, a common Yao language, see Iu Mien language.

There is a separate written standard for Bunu, since it is from the Hmong/Miao side, rather than the Mien/Yao side, of the Miao–Yao language family.

Some people think that a variety of Yao is, or was, written in Nüshu, an indigenous script in Southern part of Hunan Province in China. But this connection between Yao language and Nüshu is disputed, because Nüshu more likely recorded local Chinese dialect which might be also known by Yao people in Hunan.

Officially illiteracy and semi-literacy among the Yao in China still stood at 40.6% in 2002.[26]

See also

References and sources

  1. Wiens, Herold Jacob (1967). Han Chinese expansion in South China. Shoe String Press. p. 276.
  2. The Chinese times, Volume 4. TIENTSIN: THE TIENTSIN PRINTING CO. 1890. p. 24.
  3. Independent Lens . DEATH OF A SHAMAN . The Mien | PBS
  4. 1 2 "Yao" in Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China (ed. James Stuart Olson: Greenwood Press, 1998), p. 374.
  5. Sean Marsh, Imperial China and Its Southern Neighbours ( eds. Victor H. Mair & Liam Kelley: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2015), p. 96.
  6. Liming Wei, Chinese Festivals (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 106-07.
  7. Deborah A. Sommer, "Taoism and the Arts" in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts (ed. Frank Burch Brown: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 384.
  8. 1 2 Litzinger, Ralph A. (2000). Other Chinas: The Yao and the Politics of National Belonging. Duke University Press. pp. 289–90. ISBN 0-8223-2549-7.
  9. Info re the Yao people
  10. 毛宗武 / Mao Zongwu. 2004. 瑤族勉语方言研究 / Yao zu Mian yu fang yan yan jiu [A Study of Mien Dialects]. Beijing: 民族出版社 / Min zu chu ban she.
  11. http://yaozu.baike.com/article-71838.html
  12. Chen, Qiguang [陈其光] (2013). Miao and Yao language [苗瑶语文]. Beijing: China Minzu University Press.
  13. http://www.ynszxc.gov.cn/villagePage/vIndex.aspx?departmentid=217095
  14. http://www.ynszxc.gov.cn/villagePage/vIndex.aspx?departmentid=217070
  15. Doling, Tim. 2010. Mountains and Ethnic Minorities: North West Việt Nam. Thế Giới Publishers.
  16. Chảo Văn Lâm. 2013. Thơ ca hôn lễ: người Dao Đỏ ở Lào Cai. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản văn hóa thông tin.
  17. 1 2 Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng. 2013. Lễ cưới người Dao Nga Hoàng. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản văn hóa thông tin.
  18. PGS. TS. Nguyễn Khắc Tụng, TS. Nguyễn Anh Cường. 2004. Trang phục cổ truyền của người Dao ở Việt Nam. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản khoa học xã hội [viện khoa học xã hội Việt Nam].
  19. 1 2 Guizhou Province Gazetteer: Ethnic Gazetteer [贵州省志. 民族志] (2002). Guiyang: Guizhou Ethnic Publishing House [貴州民族出版社].
  20. 湖南瑶族社会历史调查 (2009)
  21. Lei Biying; Zheng Linguang [雷碧英; 郑林光; 新宁县民族宗教事务局; 新宁县黄金瑶族乡中心学校]. 2012. Badong Yao language [八峒瑶语]. Xinning: Xinning County Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau [新宁县民族宗教事务局].
  22. 新宁县瑶族乡濒危方言峒话调查
  23. 湖南新宁瑶族“峒话”音系
  24. 新宁县瑶族乡峒话的语音系统
  25. Tan Xiaoping [谭晓平]. 2012. Language contact and evolution: the Mien language of the Yao people of Jiangyong County, southern Hunan [语言接触与语言演变: 湘南瑶族江永勉语个案研究. Wuhan: Central China Normal University Press [华中师范大学出版社]. ISBN 978-7-5622-5409-6


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