The Hmong of China
A Cluster of 5 Hmong Groups in China
The friendly Hmong tribes (also known as the Miao) originated in China. However, during the 1800's, many immigrated to Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. Over the years, they gradually expanded into approximately seventy to eighty separate groups, each with its own dialect, style of dress, and customs.
Today, there are about two million Hmong speakers living in China. The five Hmong groups covered in this profile are spread throughout the mountains of southern China, primarily in the central and southwestern parts of the Guizhou province. They include the Luopohe, Central Mashan, Chonganjian, Southwestern Huishui, and Western Mashan. Their language forms part of the Western branch of the Miao languages.
The Hmong have a long history of resistance to the Chinese imperial authorities and endeavor to live separately from the Han Chinese, who called them "barbarians" and "dogs." For centuries, the Chinese have attempted to subjugate the Hmong. These attempts have instilled a quest for freedom deep within the hearts of the Hmong.
What are their lives like?
The Hmong do not live with other ethnic groups, but have their own, separate villages. Divination is used to determine the site of each new settlement. This ensures that the villagers will live in harmony with the spirits that surround them. A typical settlement contains from seven to fifty households arranged in a horseshoe pattern. The villages are preferably sheltered by the forest and situated near a good water source.
Within the village, the site for each house is chosen with great care, since the location must be acceptable to the ancestral spirits. Houses are usually built directly on the ground rather than on stilts. In some parts of China, the Hmong live in houses made of adobe or stone, similar to the homes of the Chinese. Poorer families construct their houses out of pieces of split bamboo and rough matting. Each home contains at least one altar for the ancestral spirits. Houses are never built in a way that would hinder a spirit from freely entering the door and going to the altar. Every house must face downhill, and no two houses may be in direct line with each other, since this might obstruct the pathway of the spirits.
Hmong society is divided into a number of patrilineal clans, which means that the line of descent is traced through the males. These clans freely intermarry. Polygyny (having multiple wives) is permitted, although only the wealthiest men can afford to have second wives. Courtship is one of the main themes of the numerous Hmong festivals. Young couples often sing love songs to each other and exchange small gifts. Although arranged marriages are becoming more common, young people are still free to select their own mates. A newlywed couple usually lives with the groom's family until the birth of their first child. At that time, the young couple moves into their own home.
Among the five Hmong groups discussed, the most important social units are the family and the clan (extended family). Within the extended family, the oldest male has virtually unlimited authority. Some households are nuclear, while others are extended, ranging from one to twenty-five members.
The Hmong are generally small in stature, kind, hospitable, and lovable. They are well known for their songs and dances. Although they have no full-time craftsmen, they are famous for their silver work, embroidery, and intricate needlework.
What are their beliefs?
What are their needs?
The majority of the Hmong have not heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. Witness to them is difficult, however, because missionary activity in China is currently restricted. Prayer is the key to seeing them reached with the Gospel that can truly set them free!
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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