/mee ow"/, n., pl. Miaos, (esp. collectively) Miao for 1.
1. Also, Meo. a member of a diverse group of seminomadic farming people of the mountains of southeastern China and adjacent areas of Laos, North Vietnam, and Thailand.
2. a Miao-Yao language spoken in parts of southern China and Southeast Asia. Also called Hmong.

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      mountain-dwelling peoples of China, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Thailand, who speak languages of the Hmong-Mien (Hmong-Mien languages) (Miao-Yao) family.

      Miao is the official Chinese term for four distinct groups of people who are only distantly related through language or culture: the Hmu people of southeast Guizhou, the Qo Xiong people of west Hunan, the A-Hmao people of Yunnan, and the Hmong people of Guizhou, Sichuan, Guangxi, and Yunnan (see China: People (China)). There are some nine million Miao in China, of whom the Hmong constitute probably one-third, according to the French scholar Jacques Lemoine, writing in the Hmong Studies Journal in 2005. The Miao are related in language and some other cultural features to the Yao; among these peoples the two groups with the closest degree of relatedness are the Hmong (Miao) and the Iu Mien (Yao).

      The customs and histories of the four Miao groups are quite different, and they speak mutually unintelligible languages. Closest linguistically to the Hmong are the A-Hmao, but the two groups still cannot understand each others' languages. Of all the Miao peoples, only the Hmong have migrated out of China.

      Agriculture is the chief means of subsistence for all the groups, who in the past practiced the shifting cultivation of rice and corn (maize), together with the opium poppy. Opium was sold in lowland markets and brought in silver, which was used as bridewealth payments. Shifting cultivation and opium production have now largely ceased, and in Thailand the Hmong have turned to the permanent field cultivation of market garden vegetables, fruit, corn, and flowers.

      Traditionally, the Miao had little political organization above the village level, and the highest position was that of village leader. In China the Miao have come under the political organization common to the whole of China; where minority populations are dense, they live in autonomous counties, townships, or prefectures, where a certain amount of self-representation is allowed.

      In religion, most Miao practice ancestor worship and believe in a wide variety of spirits. They have shamans who may exorcise malevolent spirits or recall the soul of a sick patient, and animal sacrifice is widespread (see shamanism; soul loss). However, a complete lack of religious faith is common among educated Miao in China, while significant proportions of the A-Hmao in China and the Hmong in Southeast Asia have become Christian.

      Young people are permitted to select their own mates and premarital sex is tolerated, although sexual regimes are stricter in China, as are controls on reproduction. One form of institutionalized courtship involves antiphonal singing; another is the throwing back and forth of a ball between groups of boys and girls from different villages, at the New Year. Polygyny is traditional but in practice has been limited to the well-to-do. The household is usually made up of several generations, including married sons and their families. The youngest son usually stays with the parents and inherits the house, while elder sons may move out with their own families to form new households.

Nicholas Tapp

Additional Reading
Robert D. Jenks, Insurgency and Social Disorder in Guizhou: The “Miao” Rebellion, 1854–1873 (1994). by an army historian, provides a detailed historical account of how these rebellions in China, described as “Miao,” included a whole range of local peoples indiscriminately called “Miao” by the Chinese and even included local Chinese. The situation of the Miao in China is discussed in Louisa Schein, “The Miao in Contemporary China: A Preliminary Overview,” in Glenn L. Hendricks, Bruce T. Downing, and Amos S. Deinard (eds.), The Hmong in Transition (1986).Yang Dao, Hmong at the Turning Point (1993; originally published in French, 1975), provides an introduction to Hmong culture, history, the political situation of the Hmong in Laos, and the origins of the conflict there. Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942–1992 (1993), describes the conflicts in Laos, their aftermath, and the obstacles the Hmong faced in leaving their homeland.Personal remembrances are a focus of Gayle L. Morrison, Sky Is Falling (1999), a collection of oral histories centring on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's retreat from Laos. Experiences of life during the war, in Thai refugee camps, and in the United States are recounted in the life histories presented in Lillian Faderman and Ghia Xiong, I Begin My Life All Over (1998). Additional information about the Hmong experience in the United States can be found in Nancy D. Donnelly, Changing Lives of Refugee Hmong Women (1994).Hmong emigrant communities and some of the medical issues they faced in the clash with biomedicine in the late 20th century are introduced in Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (1997).Nicholas Tapp, Sovereignty and Rebellion: The White Hmong of Northern Thailand (1989), describes a Hmong village in Thailand and the emigrants' relations with the Thai state and includes a history of the Hmong in China. Robert Cooper, Resource Scarcity and the Hmong Response: Patterns of Settlement and Economy in Transition (1984), is a neo-Marxist account of the emergence of classes that compares four upland Hmong villages in Thailand.William Robert Geddes, Migrants of the Mountains: The Cultural Ecology of the Blue Miao (Hmong Njua) of Thailand (1976), is the classic ethnography of the Hmong in Thailand, by a professor of anthropology who was employed by the United Nations to advise on the eradication of opium production in Thailand. Half the book is devoted to an account of the opium economy.Nicholas Tapp, The Hmong of China: Context, Agency, and the Imaginary (2001), is an account of a Hmong village in Sichuan province, China. These Hmong spoke Hmong like their counterparts in Southeast Asia though they were much affected by Chinese culture.Louisa Schein, Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China's Cultural Politics (2000), describes the Hmu people of China's Guizhou province who, like the Hmong, are called “Miao” by the Chinese. This work of postmodern theory describes the shifts of identity that occurred in the early 1990s when non-Hmong Miao from China met Hmong from the United States. Patricia V. Symonds, Calling in the Soul: Gender and the Cycle of Life in a Hmong Village (2004), provides a good account of the position of women and the traditional ritual life cycle in a Hmong village in Thailand.Nicholas Tapp et al. (eds.), Hmong/Miao in Asia (2004), a book of essays resulting from the 1998 International Workshop on the Hmong/Miao in Asia held in France, is the most comprehensive collection of essays by current researchers on the Hmong of Asia. It covers China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand and includes essays on history and linguistics.Nicholas Tapp and Gary Yia Lee (eds.), The Hmong of Australia: Culture and Diaspora (2004), provides a good account of the Australian Hmong, with essays on their costume, settlement, music, and linguistics.The earliest major English-language source on the Hmong is Hugo Adolf Bernatzik, Akha and Miao: Problems of Applied Ethnography in Farther India (1970; originally published in German, 1947). It compares in some detail Hmong and Akha society and culture in Thailand in the 1930s. Some of the older Christian missionary books on the Hmong and A-Hmao in China, such as Samuel Pollard, The Story of the Miao (1919), and Tight Corners in China: Missionary Among the Miao in South West China, 2nd ed. (1921); and Walter Pollard, The Life of Sam Pollard of China: An Account of the Intrepid Life of Danger, Toil & Travel of a Missionary in the Far & Little Known Interior of the Vast Chinese Empire (1928), a biography by Pollard's son, are difficult to find but make for good reading.Nicholas Tapp

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