Yao people: Wikis


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Total population
Regions with significant populations

Miao-Yao languages, Kradai languages, Chinese, Vietnamese


Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity

A Yao stilt house in Vietnam

The Yao nationality (Traditional Chinese: 瑤族, Simplified Chinese: 瑶族, Pinyin: Yáo zú; Vietnamese: người Dao) is a government classification for various minorities in China. They form one of the 55 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China, where they reside in the mountainous terrain of the southwest and south. They also form one of the 54 ethnic groups officially recognized by Vietnam. In the last census, they numbered 2,637,421 in China, and roughly 470,000 in Vietnam.



Early history

Origins of the Yao can be traced back 2000 years ago starting in South China.


From the 15th to 19th century, the Yao migrated into Thailand, Vietnam and the highlands of Laos. The migration was agitated by the opium trade and as the result of revolts in Southern China during this period.

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.”[1] This relationship caused the 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, mostly in impoverished upland settlements in Northern Thailand). Most of the Yao who have immigrated to the United States have settled along the Western part of the U.S., mainly in Northern California such as Oakland, Oroville, Sacramento, but also in parts of Oregon and the state of Washington. See Mien American for those identified as Mien.


Yao people of Yuanyang county in Yunnan, China

The typical houses of the Yao are rectangular and they have structures made of wood and bamboo. Normally it has three rooms: a room and two dormitories in the lateral side. Each one of these rooms has a small oven to cook.

The men and the women cover their heads with a black or red scarf. Some women substitute this scarf by a turban that can adopt different forms.

The traditional suit of the women is of bright colors. They also decorate their shirts with decorations made out of silver.

In Vietnam, Yao people celebrate many exciting and meaningful festivals such as Nhơn chung lỉnh (literally: Red rice, Green rice"), Nhiang chằm đao (literally: Jumping Festival)...


The Yao have a religion based on medieval Chinese Taoism, although many have converted to Buddhism and some to Christianity. Though some people has converted onto other religions, many still remained practicing their traditions.


Marriage is traditionally arranged by go-betweens who represent the boy's family to the girl's parents at the age of 12. If the union is acceptable, a bride-price is negotiated, typically ranging from three to ten silver bars, worth about US$100 each, a partial artifact from the opium trade. The wedding takes place in two installments, first at the bride's house, followed by a procession to the groom's house where a second ceremony occurs.

Groups and languages

There are several distinct groups within the Yao nationality, and they speak several different languages, from different language families:

  • Miao-Yao languages
    • The Mien speak Mienic languages (Chinese: Miǎnyǔ, Traditional Chinese: 勉語, Simplified Chinese: 勉语) , including:
      • Mian-Jin languages
        • Iu Mien, 818,685 speakers (383,000 in China, 350,000 in Vietnam, 40,000 in Thailand, 20,250 in Laos, 70,000 in the United States) [1]
        • Kim Mun (also known as Lanten), more than 300,000 Yao people [2]
        • Biao Mon, 20,000 speakers [3]
      • Dzao Min, 60,000 speakers [4]
      • Biao-Jiao Mien, 43,000 speakers [5]
    • Miao or Hmong languages
      • Bunu, 258,000 speakers [6]
      • Wunai Bunu, 18,442 speakers.[7]
      • Younuo Bunu, 9,716 speakers [8]
      • Jiongnai Bunu, 1,078 speakers also known as the 'Flowery Blue Yao' [9]
      • Some linguists group the above languages - with a total of more than 287,000 speakers - together as dialects of a single Bunu language (Bùnǔyǔ 布努语).
  • Kradai languages
    • Lakkia (Lājiāyǔ 拉珈語/拉珈语), 12,000 speakers[10]
  • Chinese
    • about 500,000 Yao speak Chinese dialects

In addition to China, populations of Yao also live in Northern Vietnam (where they are called Dao), Northern Laos, and Burma. 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 Yao living in the United States, mainly refugees from the highlands of Laos who speak the Iu Mien language. The Iu Mien do not call themselves "Yao". Not all "Yao" are Iu Mien.

A group of 61,000 people on the island of Hainan speak the Yao language Kim Mun, but see themselves as Miao (Hmong), and they are also officially categorized as Miao by the Chinese Government. 139,000 speakers of Kim Mun live in other parts of China (Yunnan and Guangxi), and 174,500 live in Laos and Vietnam.[11]

The Bunu call themselves Nuox [no13], Buod nuox [po43 no13], Dungb nuox [tuŋ33 no13] or according to their official name Yaof zuf [ʑau21 su21]. Only 258,000 of the 439,000 people categorised as Bunu in the 1982 census speak Bunu; 100,000 speak Zhuang, and 181,000 speak Chinese and Bouyei.

Written languages

After the Eleventh Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, 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. LeeUnited States Linguist Herbert C. Purnell, who developed a curriculum and workshop presentations on language learning in East and Southeast Asia; and 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.[12] 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 languages family.

Officially illiteracy and semi-literacy among the Yao in China still stands at 40.6%, as of 2002.[13]

References and sources

  • Máo Zōngwǔ 毛宗武: Yáozú Miǎnyǔ fāngyán yánjiū 瑶族勉语方言研究 (Studies in Mien dialects of the Miao nationality; Běijīng 北京, Mínzú chūbǎnshè 民族出版社 2004), ISBN 7-105-06669-5.
  • Méng Cháojí 蒙朝吉: Hàn-Yáo cídiǎn - Bùnǔyǔ 汉瑶词典——布努语 (Chinese-Yao Dictionary - Bunu; Chéngdū 成都, Sìchuān mínzú chūbǎnshè 四川民族出版社 1996), ISBN 7-5409-1745-8.
  • Barker, Judith C., and Saechao, Kaochoy. "A Household Survey of Older Iu-Mien Refugees in Rural California." Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 12.2 (1997): 121-143.
  • Barker, Judith C. & Saechao, Kaochoy. (2000). A demographic survey of Iu-Mien in West Coast States of the U.S., 1993. Journal of Immigrant Health, 2:1, 31-42.


External links

See also



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