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so you want to know hmong, well, read these.
post Oct 18 2004, 12:05 PM
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Chinese Odyssey:
Summer Program offers Students rare opportunity to learn Hmong history in China.
By: Yuepheng L. XIONG
St. Paul. Minn.

For approximately the last six generations, an estimated 300,000 Hmong have come to call Laos home. Most Hmong know their forefathers emigrated from China but that's been the extend of their historical knowledge. Few know of such legendary figures as Chiyou, Tao Tien and Ba yue Wu. Due to limited written documentation, migration and sometimes forced assimilation, Hmong history is seemingly lost and remains relatively obscure.
But relearning and interpreting Hmong roots recently began at China's Xiangtan University in Hunan province where a handful of U.S. Hmong students attended a two-month summer program in ancient Hmong history and culture. The program included a month of intensive (6-hour days, six day weeks) classroom lectures and a month of field research to Hmong villages in southwestern China. The summer program was initiated by Xiangtan philosophy professor, An-ping Lei. According to Professor Lei, the idea was born in the United States. As a participant in the 1995 International Symposium on Hmong People, Professor Lei discovered that Hmong in the States were particularly interested in learning more about their history in China. Upon returning to China, Lei and a group of Hmong-Chinese professors and research scholars founded a summer program at Xiangtan to share what they know of Hmong history.

Five students - Txianeng Vang, Cy Thao, Cziasarh Neng Yang (all from St. Paul, Minn.), Charles L. Fang of San Diego, Calif. and I - attended this past summer's program. According to the president of Xiangtan, we were their very first foreign students.

Professor Xin-fu Wu lectured on ancient Hmong history and reminded us that although Hmong history is richly unique, it will be rather difficult, perhaps near impossible, to put together all the scattered parts into one coherent piece. He acknowledged that this enormous challenge of uncovering the Hmong people's history is the duty and priority of Hmong scholars in years to come.

Professor Tong-jiang Yang, a 33 year-old Hmong-Chinese historian and author or co-author of more than 20 titles, took us as far back as half a million years, associating Hmong origination with the Peking man (Homo erectus pekinensis) whose remains were discovered not far from Beijing in the 1920s. However, Professor Yang agreed that Hmong history beyond 5000 years remains obscure and speculative. The term 'Miao" appeared in the Chinese Classics and early historical records such as the 'Zhanguo ce' ("Intrigues of the Warring States") and the "Shiji' ("Records of the Historians). After the Han Dynasty in 220 A.D., "Miao" disappeared from historical records until the Song Dynasty (A.D. 947-1279). The reason for the mysterious disappearance remains unclear.

Scholars seem to agree that the Hmong had gone through numerous dreadful periods in history in which the term 'Miao" also underwent some changes: from "Miao" to "Miao-Man" or "Man-Miao", "Wuling Man," 'Wuxi Man," or simply "Man," and then eventually back to "Miao". Whether the ancient Miao are today's Miao is debatable among scholars.

How did the term "Miao' or 'Hmong" come into being? Although the term 'Miao" appeared in Chinese historical records, the term 'Hmong' never did. What did they call themselves back then, "Hmong or 'Miao?'. The answer to this question varied from region to region. For example, the western Hunan Hmong call themselves "Guo-xiong". Those in eastern Guizhou call themselves "Amaot" or "Mo'. And those in Yunnan and southeastern Sichuan call themselves 'Meng" or "Hmong". They may indeed have called themselves "Hmong" as many assumed, but "Miao' is probably a name given to them by the Chinese, at least in writing. In his "Insurgency and Social Disorder in Guizhou: The "Miao" Rebellion, 1854-1873," Robert Jenks wrote, "The most convincing explanation of the origin of the term 'Miao' is that it represented an effort on the part of the Chinese to recreate the sound of the word (pronounced 'Mong' or 'Mu,' as the 'H' is unaspirated) used by members of the ethnic group to refer to themselves."

Despite its obscurity one thing about Hmong history was clear to J. Mottin, the author of "History of the Hmong." "Of their pre-history only one thing is certain, that is that the Miao were in China before the Chinese, for it is the latter themselves who indicate the presence of the Miao in the land, which they, the Chinese, were gradually infiltrating, and which was to become their own country, " Mottin wrote.

Between five and six thousand years ago, the Hmong people lived in today's Hebei province, said Professors Wu and Yang. Their leader at the time was the legendary Chiyou, and his people were known as the Jiuli tribes. The ancestors of the Han Chinese, ruled by leaders Huang Di and Yan Di, lived to the northwest of the Jiuli Kingdom. As Chinese population grew, they expanded southward into Hmong territory. A major war broke out between the two sides on the northwestern part of modern-day Beijing. Professors Wu and Yang cited that according to legends and folk songs, "the Hmong won nine battles but lost on the tenth."

After their defeat, the Hmong emigrated southward into the lower reaches of the Yellow River where they re-established a new kingdom approximately four thousand years ago. The San-Miao Kingdom and its people were led by Tao Tie and Huan Tuo. Unfortunately, history repeated itself; the Han Chinese expanded, encroaching and taking over on what had become Hmong land. In the ensuing war the San-Miao Kingdom was defeated and "largely exterminated" by Yu the Great at about 2200 B. C., wrote Jenks. The Hmong then became disintegrated and lived dispersely in China's south and southwest corners. "After San-Miao," Professor Wu said, "the Hmong people could never be united again, and be strong as a nation."

After the destruction of San-Miao, the Hmong continued to migrate southward into today's Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. Much was talked about their living in the Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake areas, where the Chu Kingdom during the Eastern Zhou and Qin Dynasties encompassed. Many scholars, both Hmong and non-Hmong, argue that the state of Chu was a Hmong kingdom. If it was not Hmong, it certainly was not Chinese. Conrad Schirokauer, a published scholar of Chinese history, referred to the Chu state as a "semi-Chinese." Many researchers, including our Xiangtan professors, argue that the intact female corpse (died and buried during the Chu Kingdom and excavated from a highly elaborate tomb in 1972 in Changsa, Hunan) was Hmong because the drawings on her caskets and on the piece of silk covering her coffin are designs unique to the Hmong.

Based on the seal unearthed, this female corpse was named Xin Zhui, the wife of Li Cang who was the Marquis of Dai. Even after more than two thousand years, her body was well preserved and protected from decay by a set of four coffins carefully arranged inside one another.

Along with her body, over 1,400 cultural and funerary objects were buried inside the tomb, ranging from agricultural seeds, combs, mittens, stockings, shoes, gowns, wooden dolls, food and wine containers to zither-like stringed and reed-pipe instruments.

On top of the innermost coffin, there laid a splendid and exquisite T-shaped painting on silk. The painting details a person's three souls - one which remains to watch over the body, the second which goes in search of the ancestors and the third which just wanders. This belief in three separate souls and their duties upon death exist today. Having published a paper on this unique piece of painting, Professor Yang believes this old pictorial lends even greater evidence to the claim that the corpse and the Chu Kingdom could be Hmong. He argued that except for a few minor illustrations on the top left, the rest of the intricate illustrations coincided with legends and folk stories of the Hmong. Pointing to the wooden dolls, a tour guide of the museum mentioned that many visiting scholars argue that they are dressed in Hmong-style clothing.

Throughout history, if the Hmong people found any kind of peace, it never lasted long. They have been forced to emigrate from northeastern China into the country's southwestern corner. During the Qing Dynasty, several major wars further pushed hundreds of thousands of Hmong into Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Thailand.

The first major war during the Qing Dynasty erupted in 1735 in southeastern Guizhou province as a result of Chinese southward expansion and forced assimilation. Eight counties and 1,224 villages were said to be involved in this war. When the Hmong were suppressed in 1738, Professor Wu said 17,670 Hmong had been killed in combat, 11,130 were captured and executed and another 13,600 were forced into slavery. Half of the Hmong population were affected by the war.

The second war (1795-1806) was started in three provinces - southeast of Sichuan, east of Guizhou and west of Hunan. The Hmong were led by Ba-yue Wu, Liu-deng Shi, San-bao Shi and Tian-ban Shi. As in the past, this war was launched to resist the Chinese and the Qing government from taking over their land. The popular slogan at the time was, "Get back our fields. Drive the Han people and he Manchus out off our fields."

The last war was the biggest and longest of the three. As a result of the Taiping Rebellion, the Qing government demanded more taxes and labor from the Hmong. The Hmong, led by Xiu-mei Zhang and other leaders, revolted in southeastern Guizhou in 1854 and fought until 1873. In excess of one million people were involved in this war, which spread to cover hundreds of cities and counties. According to Professor Wu, only 30 percent of the Hmong survived the war. Seventy percent of them were either killed or ran away. Zhang, a native of Taijiang, Guizhou, was captured and taken to Changsa, Hunan where his life r ended under cruel tortures.

While a major portion of the Hmong emigrated to Southeast Asia during periods of the last two wars, hundreds of thousands of Hmong were left behind in China. According to the 1990 Chinese census, there are still 7,398,035 Hmong scattered in Chinas southwestern provinces - approximately 3,686,900 in Guizhou province; 1,557,073 in Hunan; 896,712 in Yunnan, 535,923 in Sichuan, 425,137 in Guangxi, 200,702 in Hupei, 52,044 in Hainan Island; and 43,544 in other provinces.

Because of the many years of warfare and assimilation, the Hmong in China have been divided into five main branches - Hong (Red), Hei (Black), Bai (White), Hua (Flowery) and Qing (Green) Hmong. They have also been separated linguistically into three main dialects - eastern, central and western. One group cannot understand the other two's dialects. Fortunately, all three groups pay respect to the same ancestry, the legendary Chiyou. Legends, folk tales and folk songs are similar in many ways between the three groups. All of the different groups of the Hmong - in and out of China-have continued to practice the so-called showing the way or qhuab ke in Hmong, a funeral song sung to the deceased. Qhuab ke precisely guides the deceased individuals soul from his present location to the original homeland of his ancestors, tracing backward the migration route from village to village, city to city northeast towards the Beijing area. Besides written materials, Hmong scholars have recently used qhuab ke as a major source to help them relearn and interpret Hmong history.

Although their culture and tradition are similar in many ways, a few major cultural practices are different between those in China and those outside China. Unlike the Hmong in and from Southeast Asia, those in China standardize how a person is called. According to our professors and the Hmong-Chinese community, the Hmong traditionally call each other and oneself by the given name first, followed by the family or last name. Unless one is talking to Chinese people (who go by last name followed by first name), or putting down his name on official document, he would never go by the family name first. In short, inside the Hmong-Chinese community, one is always called by the given name first. On the contrary, a minority but growing percentage of Hmong from Southeast Asia prefer to be called by their last name first,

Moreover, we also learned that the Hmong in China don't toss cloth balls during new year's celebration. Our professors concluded that the Hmong in and from Southeast Asia may have adopted this practice from the Zhuang or other nationalities in southwest China before entering Southeast Asia.

Our field research to Hmong villages in southwest China was an informative but a physically demanding one. Roads ended in the cities or nearby villages so we walked for miles crossing over mountains and valleys before reaching Hmong villages. There, we were shock to see how they managed to survive living in poverty in mountainous locales.

Experiencing only the natural spring water in Laos and filtered tap water from the kitchen sink in the United States, I could not believe how terrible their drinking water was. The water color wasn't clear but dark yellow. Young boys fished in it. Pigs and chickens are within its vicinity. People and animals take turn drinking from the same pond. That's how it is in many Hmong villages in the remote countrysides. They purify their water by placing limestone (zeb qaub in Hmong) into the bucket of water to separate the dirt from the water.

Educational opportunities are lacking in Hmong villages. For as long as it has come into existence, Hei Shan village, for example, has not produced a single junior high graduate. High school and college education are beyond their dreams. Most of these children drop out before or after fourth grade for various reasons ranging from financial inability to lack incentives.

Economically, the Hmong-Chinese remain undeveloped and backward. This is especially true for those in Yunnan province. Shortage of land for cultivation is their initial problem. Having no money to buy fertilizer to enrich the exhausted soil is another. According to village leaders, they are always hungry six months of every year. They said that if they have fertilizer, they would be in a much better condition.

The barren surroundings where most Hmong live accelerated our concern for their well-being. Most of them seem to give up on everything, even their dreams. A few have just began to develop and enrich Hmong society. A one-year-old committee of Hmong scholars and leaders was organized and is in the process of trying to erect a statue of Chiyou in Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou. If this happens, this single statue may become a symbol of national pride, identity, unity and commonality for the Hmong people, regardless of where we're all living on the surface of this world.

Copyright 1997, INK: Hmong Magazine.
INK, Vol 1, No 1, Prmier Issue, Spring 1997. Reproduced here with the kind permission from INK.

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post Oct 18 2004, 12:53 PM
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Cultural Identity In Post-Modern Society:
Reflections on What is a Hmong?
Gary Yia Lee


NOTE: Keynote address given at the 2nd International Symposium on Hmong People, 26-30 August 1995, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A. Assistance with typing this paper from my daughters, Melinda and Sheree Lee, and with travel expenses from the Hmong-Australia Society (N.S.W.) is much appreciated.
There is no easy answer to the question of what constitutes the cultural identity of a person or human group. When is someone a Hmong and what are the characteristics of such a person? How is this personal identity moulded into a shared image at the group level? Some may say that there is such a thing as a true Hmong, but many others will argue that there is no such a person today when many Hmong have been assimilated into the local cultures and languages of the majority societies in which they now live in China, Southeast Asia or in the West.


To grapple with this issue, I will take a dialectic approach which will attempt to arrive at what is considered true by eliminating differences and by synthesising common grounds or potential similarities. I will begin by looking at different concepts from a collective perspective, followed by a similar examination at the personal level focusing on what I regard as being the major characteristics of the Hmong as individuals and as a people. I will then draw my conclusion in the light of the Hmong's diaspora and the globalisation of their contacts today.

The concern to present a proper group image to themselves and to the world at large, as well as the aspiration to live up to this image seem to be persistent themes among the Hmong, wherever they live. To understand this group image, to know what makes the Hmong "Hmong", I will look at their origin and at some cultural features which distinguish them as a group from other groups. I will examine common grounds and differences to see in what ways the Hmong are similar and in what other ways they are different. Is there a common Hmong identity?

The meanings of the terms "Hmong" and "Miao"
The term "Hmong" has come to be used internationally during the last twenty years, largely through the advocacy of the Hmong in Laos and through the pioneering work of Dr. Yang Dao (6), who first suggested that the word "Hmong" means "free people". Before this period, the international literature, following Chinese usage, usually refers to the Hmong as "Miao" or "Meo". Regardless of the name they use for themselves, most Hmong are hesitant about its meaning as they simply do not know.


Leaders of a messianic movement based in the former refugee camps in Thailand believe that the term "Peb Hmoob" (Us Hmoob) derives from the word "Peb Hmoov", meaning "the Tree Fortunes". The word "peb" can mean either "us" or "three". Hmong messianic legend has it that the Hmong were once delivered from the Chinese by a set of three brothers called "Peb Hmoov" (the Three Fortunes). Previous to this, the Hmong are said to call themselves "Keeb" (Quing or Ch'ing) or "originators". Despite the linguistic similarity between "Peb Hmoob" (the way the Hmong often refer to themselves) and "Peb Hmoov", this explanation seems to have confused Hmong origin with Vietnamese history. The Vietnamese are known as the Quing people, and they were at one time delivered from Chinese domination by the Le sisters, similar to the story of the three Hmong brothers. To complicate matters further, the Hmong in Laos and Thailand have been known as "Meo", a derivative of the Chinese word "Miao". With a slight change in accent, the word "Meo" in Lao and Thai can be pronounced to mean "cat". It is most offensive for many Asians to be compared to an animal, a lower form of beings in their views. For this reason, the Hmong have taken exception to being known as "Meo". The Lao government has complied by referring to them as "Lao Sung" or "Lao of the mountain tops", a term which also includes the I-Mien or Yao people. Thai authorities have taken no official line on the issue. Outsiders in Laos and Thailand may refer to the Hmong as "Hmong" when political correctness calls for it, otherwise the Hmong continue to be called "Meo".


According to Enwall (1), the term "Miao" was used in pre-Quin China to refer to non-Chinese people of Southern China, often in combination such as "Miao Min" (the Miao people), "Yu Miao" (the Miao) and "San Miao" (the three groups of Miao). Later, during the Tang and Sung dynasties, the term "Nan Man" (Southern Barbarians) was used, and it was not until 862 A.D. that the word "Miao" appeared again in Fan Chuo's book _Manshu on the Man Tribes_. During the Ming and Quing dynasties, both the terms "Man" and "Miao" were used. The Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) finally saw the term used for the Hmong in today's China where they are now referred to as "Miao-Tseu".


The Hmong in China are today reported to readily accept being called "Miao". Enwall (1992: 2) also contends that the Hmong in China have voiced no concern about the term, and it is impossible to write "Hmong" in Chinese characters (with a nasal 'h'). Regardless of this, the reference to the Hmong as "Miao-tseu" carries shades of ambiguity since it can be defined as either "rice sprouts" or "sons of the soil". The Chinese Hmong may have raised no objection because they are not aware of the ambiguous meanings of the term, or have not been ridiculed by the use of such a name unlike their brothers and sisters in Thailand or Laos.


Among themselves, the Hmong outside China prefer to be called "Hmong" (in the White Hmong dialect) or "Mong" (in Blue Hmong or Moob Lees). Those in China use such terms to designate themselves as "Ghao Xong" in Western Hunan; "Hmub", "Gha Ne" or "Hme" for a group speaking the same dialect in Southeastern Kweichow; "A Hmao" in Northwest Kweichow and Northeast Yunnan; and "Hmong" in South Sechwan, West Kweichow and South Yunnan. These many different terms also refer to the languages spoken by the people concerned whose number is estimated at 7.5 million around the world. Of this number, Hmong speakers are the most numerous with more than 3 million people in China, Southeast Asia and in the West.


Given this diversity in their name, it is possible that the Hmong in China accept the Chinese term "Miao" for convenience and through forces of history rather than any meanings of the word. The non-Chinese aboriginals of southern China consist of many different ethno-linguistic groups. After many centuries of Chinese control, some might have adopted the name "Miao" without realising how many other groups have had it used for them. Hence, the acceptance of the name by such a large number of culturally and linguistically diverse people, many of whom cannot even communicate with each other except in Chinese. It will be interesting to see whether they will continue to use the term "Miao" or to change to "Hmong" in the near future as advocated by the Hmong in Western countries.

Mythical Origin

Anyone familiar with the Hmong knows the legend of the Great Flood and the incestuous marriage between a brother and his sister, the only two persons left on earth after the deluge. The Hmong and their many clans are said to be the result of this union (Geddes: 22-24). What is distinctive about this creation legend is that the Hmong in reality condemn incest, and the closest form of marriage between relatives is with cross-cousins. The Hmong practise strict clan exogamy or marriage outside one's own clan, and would not allow any person to break this rule.


Is the Great Flood story an attempt to hide an undesirable group image (incest) or did the Hmong really originate from this brother-sister union? Who were these two, brother and sister, and more to the point who were their ancestors? Were these ancestors not Hmong? Trying to discover the back-ground of the mythical parents of the Hmong is like asking about God's origin, a belief accepted by many but questioned by only a few.


Further regarding the origin of the Hmong, Western scholars have speculated that they come from "the far north" where today's Eskimos live. The link of the Hmong with the arctic probably stems from their stories of a land of stars and snow where they used to live, where the earth is connected to the sky and it is dark for half of the year. Such stories have been found among the Ch'uan Miao in Kweichow, Southern China (Graham).


Based on these stories, Savina suggested that the Hmong could have been the lost tribe in the Old Testament following the fall of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages. They could have wandered north from the Holy Land to the Red Sea, the Russian steppes and possibly the arctic, before migrating over the centuries down to southern China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand through Mongolia. The fact that albino people (with blond hair and blue eyes) are found among the Hmong has also been used to speculate on their Caucasian origin (Quincy: 14).


Some Hmong also claim that they have originated from Mongolia. This has most probably arisen from a misconception that there is a link in the syllable "mong" in the two names. Despite the lack of any cultural or linguistic connections with these far-flung places, many Hmong still believe that they have some remote relation with people of the far north, even when they have never met an Eskimo or a Mongol to see if they could at least communicate with each other or share some minute cultural features.

Possession of Magic Power

The belief in their mythical origin has lead the Hmong to attribute supernatural qualities to their legendary heroes and cult leaders. This gives them hope for deliverance from their mundane living conditions, or to compensate for an oppressive political situation from which they have tried to escape, as did the American Indians during their fight against European domination last century. Many Hmong believe that their mythical prophets and chieftains were charged with holy missions against their political oppressors and were endowed with extraordinary abilities.


The very first Hmong king, for instance, is said to be invulnerable, except for his armpit. After numerous attempts on his life, the Chinese could not eliminate him so they sent him a beautiful Chinese princess as tribute. She eventually fulfilled her mission of discovering his weak spot, and thus succeeded in killing him. Although followers of Hmong messianic cults cannot always agree on the details, two of the most recent Hmong kings were reported to be Tswb Tshoj (Chue Chor) and Vaj Yim Leej (Va Yee Leng). The first was said to be the son of a hog, while the second was allegedly a kungfu expert and was born with a flying sword. It is believed that whoever was to find this sword would become the next Hmong king.


The attribution of supernatural power to their leaders by some Hmong may result from a belief in magic and a common expectation that everyone with true leadership abilities should also have super-human qualities. To possess magical abilities also adds an extra dimension to a leader who can thus claim a direct link with a similar Hmong "king" or "huab tais" (huangti) in the past, thus drawing a larger number of supporters. Although these beliefs have their origin in the Hmong resistance against the Chinese in earlier times, they continue to influence Hmong resistance in other countries. Such beliefs also make some Hmong susceptible to the worship of "deformed" children as kings, and attributing to animals the ability to talk and deliver ominous messages or to predict events of catastrophic consequences.


For example, after the Pathet Lao takeover of Laos in 1975 some of the Hmong leaders who were engaged in the armed resistance against the new regime declared that they had God's protection and their followers would be immune to enemy fire. This alleged power drew together thousands of refugees, desperate to escape from Pathet Lao control (Lee: 212-215). This resistance was crushed by Vietnamese troops in 1978, but remnants of the movement continued to carry on their political struggle in Laos from refugee camps in Thailand or from their hiding places in the jungles of Laos, firmly believing in their messianic mission.

Settlement Patterns

Another common conception of the Hmong is that they are a people on the move. Every ten years or so, they are said to migrate to a different village after they have slashed and burned the forest around the old settlement for agriculture. They are not permanent settlers like wet rice farmers. This is said to have lead them to move freely across boundaries between neighbouring countries. Hence they are found in a large area from southern China to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma.


In Thailand, for instance, the Hmong are reported to have a group that "changed their localities more than any other hill people" (Young: 46). They are also seen as mountain dwellers, "highlanders", "a hill tribe", a tourist curiosity. In Laos, they are officially named "Lao Soung" or "Lao of the mountain tops". Their frequent migration and preference for mountain living have lead Geddes to describe them as "migrants of the mountains". Their isolation is also said to have made them difficult to integrate into the mainstream nation. Thus, Young states that they will not be "absorbed easily by the Thai people or other tribes. They continue to have very strong bonds of solidarity and tight clans."


Are the Hmong really a mountain tribe who migrate regularly? It is true that many Hmong of the older generation dreaded going to the lowlands, as many died from malaria and other diseases they caught during these trips. There are many tragic tales of drowning, sickness and death following visits to "chaw qis" or "the lowlands." They are also afraid to live near rivers for fear of drowning or being "swallowed by dragons." The fear of water means that few Hmong know how to swim. Does this mean that they live only in the confines of their mountains, isolated from the lowlands, the urban modern life?


In Laos and Thailand, Hmong are known to live in the lowlands, working for the government, carrying on commerce or permanent irrigated rice farming. Many of us at this conference are the product of this lowland life, for only in the lowlands could we pursue higher education. The same pattern of settlement can be said about the Hmong in China. Ling and Ruey (54-72) stated that although swidden was still prevalent in the late 1940's in Western Hunan, wet rice terraces were also found along river banks and in valleys irrigated by water wheels. In Kweichow, according to De Beauclair (50), the Miao were "expert fish breeders" and cultivated terraced fields supported by stone walls and irrigated with water from bamboo pipes. In Northwestern Kweichow, wet rice fields, fish breeding and the construction of houses on stilts (instead of the traditional earthen floor) have been adopted as a result of influences by the T'ung minority, their neighbours.


This seems to indicate that not all Hmong are migratory swidden farmers, or are adverse to living in the lowlands and along river banks. Hmong in China and Vietnam have now lived willingly amid their dominant neighbours in urban or semi- rural areas. Some do farming, others trade or work for wages. Thus, the Hmong appear to be adaptable to both lowland and highland settlement, and are not confined to living on mountain tops.

So What is A Hmong?

At the level of the individual, being "Hmong" can be attributed to such characteristics as one's birth and look, descent, given names, adherence to certain religious beliefs, and one's identification or interaction with Hmong and other people. I will now look at these factors and their significance for the Hmong.

Birth and Physical Features

Birth is not only a person's first entry into the world but also the most important mark of one's identity. In Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, Hmong births usually take place at home in order that the child's placenta -- the symbol of one's natural cloak (or "tsho tsuj tsho npuag") -- can be buried in the parents' house (a boy's placenta near the central post, a girl's near the mother's bed). It is believed that the burial of the placenta allows it to be reclaimed by its owner during the latter's journey to join ancestors in the spirit world after death.


In Western countries, where many Hmong now live, nearly all births occur in hospitals and placentas are disposed of by the hospitals. Does this mean that the Hmong born in America, France or Canada will no longer be able to journey back to their ancestors -- at least not dressed properly because they have lost their placenta? Will they be any less Hmong, alive or dead?


After giving birth, the new mother is confined to the house, sleeping near the family fireplace for a month so she can regain her strength. During this period, visitors have to take off their shoes before entering the house, otherwise the mother's lactating milk may dry up. Yet again, this belief is not widely observed among the Hmong in western countries because it is no longer convenient to do so when many houses do not have a central fire place. As well, many mothers no longer need to breastfeed their babies. In fact, some want their milk to dry up as quickly as possible so that they can return to work or do other things they enjoy doing. Are these mothers doing the wrong thing by Hmong birth traditions? Apparently no, as no one seems to have missed the old beliefs and practices.


In terms of physical looks, are there body features which can be said to be distinctly Hmong? Many Hmong seem to think so. They usually comment on the look of a lowland Thai or a Chinese and say that they "don't look Hmong." No one, however, is certain how a Hmong really looks like, but they know a European is definitely not a Hmong. Despite this, Hmong have adopted children from other ethnic groups and these children have grown up into well accepted adult Hmong, regardless of the shades of their skin colours. In France and America we now have Hmong children from mixed marriages between Hmong and White people. These children appear to be well accepted, despite the fact they do not fit the usual image of Hmong. Thus, the Hmong seem to have developed their own image about what they should look like, but also appear to also accept deviations from it.

Descent and Affiliation

A Hmong person is born into a line of descent. This line consists of the immediate nuclear family and the extended household (as primary group), and the lineage or cluster of blood relatives of the father's side (as secondary group). The sub-clan, or members of the clan who follow the same sets of ancestral rituals, and the clan or people bearing the same family name serving as a reference group. This constitutes a Hmong's social structures in microcosm. Beyond these structures lies the misty concept of the Hmong nation which further segments the Hmong into different divisions or tribes such as black, blue, white, red, flowery, magpie, river, striped, etc. It is said that in China there are about sixty such Hmong/Miao tribes.


Spiritually, a Hmong belongs to his line of descent or clan, unless he is adopted into a family with a different clan name. A woman also belongs spiritually to her family of birth unless she marries when she then moves into her husband's line of decent. Once married, she cannot return to the ritual world of her paternal line, even after divorce or widowhood. If she re-marries, she then passes from her previous husband's line to that of the new husband and his clan. A Hmong woman no longer belongs to her parents' ritual domain after marriage whereas a man continues to do so for life.


In terms of marriage, people from the same clan are believed to belong to the same family of origin. The incest taboo forbids persons of the same clan from intermarrying, even though they may not be related by blood. However, this rule does not seemed to be observed by all Hmong clans when some do allow their opposite members to marry so long as they are not closely related. Thus, the incest taboo applies to most clans, but not all of them.


Can we use these descent rules and the incest taboo to characterise a Hmong person? Obviously, the answer is no, because all the Hmong clans are still accepted as Hmong, despite the non-observance of birth beliefs by Western Hmong women, and the violation of the incest taboo by some clans. These differences serve only to highlight the fact that Hmong traditions are often very adaptable to suit new situations, and thus cannot be used to characterise all Hmong.


Three days after birth, a Hmong baby is given the "soul- calling" ("hu plig") ceremony during which it is given a name for the first time. A small necklace is put around the baby's neck to keep the soul (or "plig") to the body. The name may change if the child is sick later in life and the sickness is explained by shamans as a dislike for the original name. Other than this, the original name will remain with the person until death in the case of a woman, or until later in married life for a man when he will be given a new "adult" name ("npe laus") by his parents-in-law in an elaborate "renaming ceremony" to mark his attainment of "family man" status.


Most Hmong in the traditional village setting of Southeast Asia have typical Hmong names. However, many of the younger Hmong have increasingly adopted names from the local majority society in order to enroll in government schools or take up mainstream employment. This practice, whether by choice or by force of necessity, is found virtually among all Hmong groups, whether in Asia or the West. Many Hmong parents in America or Australia, for example, now call their children by American or Australian given names. In Thailand, those who enroll in Thai schools have adopted Thai names, and may sometimes change their clan names into Thai-like surnames. It is thus no longer possible to recognise Hmong by these foreign names.


Can we say that people who have given up the use of names are not really Hmong? Does a Hmong name make one a true Hmong? Again, it is not easy to find an answer, for apart from names there are other factors that define a person.

A Hmong is expected to be able to speak the Hmong language which is distinctly different from all other languages. Being members of a minority and living among many other ethnic groups, most Hmong need to learn, in addition to their mother tongue, one or more of the local or national foreign languages. These could be Mandarin for those in China, Lao for those in Laos, Vietnamese for those in Vietnam and Northern or Central Thai for those in Thailand. In the process, they have also borrowed foreign words from these languages, some of which become assimilated as Hmong. For example, the word "to go" in Hmong is "mus" but many Hmong in Laos have come to use the Lao word "pai" instead, and the word "txiv" (father) is also possibly borrowed from Mandarin. The more educated a Hmong is in another language, the more words from that language the person is likely to use in every day conversations.


Overall, the Hmong language may have some local variations or dialects which are specific to a region or tribal group. However, this linguistic difference in intonation and vocabulary is generally small so that, for example, the White Hmong can usually understand the Green Hmong. But is this always the case? Once again, this does not really hold true. If we look at the broader picture away from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, if we go further north to Southern China, the Hmong linguistic landscape becomes very complex.


According to a recent Chinese study, there are three major Miao dialects in China which are distinctly different so that the speakers of one dialect cannot readily understand those of the others (Lemoine: 195-200). These are: (1) the "Hsiang Hsi" dialect used primarily in Hunan and the Sung T'Ao Miao Autonomous region of Kweichow; (2) The "Ch'ten Tung" dialect spoken in other parts of Kweichow and some areas of Kwangsi and Hunan; and (3) The "Ch'uan Ch'ien Tien" dialect found in Southern Szechwan, Western and Central Kweichow, Eastern Yunnan and Western Kwangsi (Miao Language Team: 2-3).


These Chinese identifying terms have been rendered more Hmong as Ghao-Xong, Hmu and Hmong through the self-desig- nation of their users by Enwall (4-5) who also adds a fourth dialect, A-Hmao ("Ab Hmaob"). These four "languages" are said to consist of more than 30 mutually incomprehensible varieties, each with their own continuum. Ghao Xong is spoken by about one million people, Hmu by two million, Hmong by two and a half million in China and half a million outside China, and A-Hmao (Cifangyan or Diandingbei in Chinese) by about 30,000 people known as the "Flowery Miao" or Hwa Miao who live in Northwest Kweichow and Nor>


Transfer interrupted!
e can see that in China the so-called Miao language is really not one single language with dialects, but a number of very distinct languages.

In addition, many other Miao speak languages which do not belong to the above four dialects. For example, the Miao on Hainan Island speak I-Mien or Yao but not Miao. Smaller Miao groups in Kweichow, Hunan and Kwangsi use only Chinese or the T'ung language. With today's diaspora, French, English and Spanish have been added to this long list of languages used by the Hmong. Some parents speak these languages in addition to their mother tongue but for the younger generation the local foreign language has become the only language they know. Many Hmong children in the West are no longer fluent in Hmong, and many refuse to use it with their parents.


From this brief overview, it is obvious that the Hmong do not all speak the same language or dialect. Despite this, they still see one another as part of the Hmong or Miao family. Therefore, language alone does not make one a Hmong, as a foreigner may learn to speak Hmong fluently but is still not seen as a Hmong. Many participants in this symposium, for instance, need interpreters to communicate with each other, but they consider themselves and are accepted as Hmong.

Religious Beliefs

Traditionally, the Hmong are known to practise ancestor worship and spirit rituals, at least among those in Southeast Asia. These consist of ceremonies that are performed in each household in the case of ancestral spirits, and in the open air in the case of farming or territorial spirits. The Hmong also believe in the existence of souls, and often perform soul-calling ceremonies when a person is sick. Shamanic trances ("ua neeb") are commonly used to reinstate a wandering soul as a means to cure sickness, even among the Hmong living in Western countries. This is sometimes complemented by the use of herbal medicine and magic formulas or "khawv koob" to extract bad spirit from the body of the sick person, or to heal a broken limb. All these practices stem from the Hmong's beliefs in spirits and the ancestral afterworld.


One distinctive set of Hmong rituals is those related to death. A Hmong person has to be given elaborate funeral rites, otherwise the soul of the dead person is believed to remain in limbo, unable to join the ancestors in the other world or to be born again ("thawj thiab"). For this reason, all the important steps of a proper Hmong funeral have to be observed through the playing of the following reed pipe ritual music: "qhuab ke" (showing the way chanting), "qeej tu siav" (last breath reed music), "qeej tsa nees" (helping the person mount the horse for the heavenward journey), and "qeej sawv kev" (raising the body to get it on its way to the spirit world just before burial).


Without all the right steps taken and proper rituals performed, a dead person would not be received by the ancestors. For example a well-respected Hmong man died two years ago in California, USA, but was dressed in a formal Western-style suit rather than the traditional Hmong funeral costumes: his spirit was said to have come back to the family and told them that he was not able to find his way to the ancestors until he has the proper Hmong burial clothes.


These religious beliefs are still held by the majority of Hmong, including many in the West. For many decades now, however, both in China and in Southeast Asia a number of Hmong have become Christian, some Catholic, others Baptist or Fundamentalist. Since their settlement in the United States, this conversion to Christianity has continued unabated. The Christian Alliance Church is now said to be the biggest, and is operated by the Hmong themselves with missions in Thailand and even Southern China. This conversion has driven a large wedge into Hmong society in America as the more fundamentalist converts refuse to interact with their non- Christian relatives, or to take part in the latter's ancestral feasts -- seeing them as sinful pagan practices. The incursion into different religious practices has always divided the Hmong, and is now a major cause of division, even among those following the same religious beliefs.


Despite these religious differences, the Hmong in America continue to see each other as Hmong. Those who have changed religion may be seen by ancestor worshipping relatives as having sold out their ancestors but not their Hmong identity. Again, this seems to show that ancestral rituals and the beliefs in spiritualism are not necessarily the sole indicators of being Hmong. Even among the Christian Hmong, many have discovered that worshipping the same god as White Americans does not really entitle them to be accepted into American churches: many have to fund their own evangelical activities and subsist on the support of other Hmong. Hence, they need to keep their Hmong identity for their personal and spiritual survival.

Self-Identification and Perception by Others

From the above discussion, we can see that being a Hmong does not depend on the possession of a cultural or physical feature particular to the Hmong. A number of factors characterise a person as Hmong, including: being born Hmong, having a Hmong name, speaking a Hmong language, belonging to a Hmong clan and observing Hmong rituals. But is this enough? Some will argue that it is, and I would agree -- to an extent. However, we may be born Hmong, but may not necessarily want to remain Hmong. This has happened to many Hmong-born persons, those who are adopted or who married into a different ethnic group and have completely cut off all links with their Hmong relatives by choice or by force of circumstances. There are also those who may, for social or economic reasons, benefit from not being known as Hmong, and prefer some other identities such as Thai or Chinese because of similar body features. Some may change their Hmong names or learn to speak the other group's language so fluently it is difficult to tell them apart.


For people in these situations, is it possible to forget their Hmong origin? The answer is likely to be both "yes" and "no." Some can but others may not be able to totally escape from their "Hmongness." This is because one's identity is also defined by birth and assigned by members of the other groups we interact with: No matter what we do to imitate them, they will one day discover our origin and put us back there. It is easier to pass over when we have similar physical features and skin colour, but more difficult when we do not look the same.


The question thus becomes whether a Hmong who does not mix with other Hmong can still be seen as Hmong. Again, the answer depends on whether the person concerned will one day face the ultimate test of rejection or acceptance by his or her adopted non-Hmong group. Further, a person's sense of belonging may be tested by reactions to seeing a member of his or her group of birth being abused or mistreated. This seems to be a strong attribute of most Hmong, the bond of solidarity in the face of adversity. Whenever possible, Hmong usually come to the defence of other Hmong, the defence of the group's honour and survival. This group feeling is sometimes so strong that the Hmong-Australia society, for instance, refuses to accept as members anyone (Hmong or non- Hmong) who have betrayed the Hmong people or have ill-treated them.


Given the above features at both the group and personal levels, what can we say about being "Hmong"? This is an open question which really has no one answer, because any one or all the attributes discussed so far can make a person a Hmong. Depending on where the person lives and what he or she does, some attributes may be more important than others, but Hmong everywhere have at least a number of these attributes. This situation applies to any other ethnic group. Feelings of affinity, mutual acceptance and belonging through certain shared beliefs and activities propel members of a group to mix and relate to each other.

Being Hmong is Sharing a Collective Consciousness
Many features of Hmong identity stem from their cultural symbols, their perceptions of themselves in relation to other groups, and their status allocations into superior or inferior social positions. The Hmong like to see themselves as an in-group called "peb Hmoob" (Us Hmong) in contrast tooutsiders who are seen as "mab sua" (strangers). This classification puts the Hmong in a clear social category in relation to other groups of people: "mab sua" stands for all the things which one does not understand, things which are foreign but not necessarily objectionable to the Hmong. Thus, "peb Hmoob" is the inclusive concept used to bring home the fact that there is a collective Hmong identity, a collective Hmong consciousness. This collective image is represented by certain very distinct social values and material objects. The most commonly cited value is that "Hmong have to look after their own" (Hmoob yuav tsum hlub Hmoob). This is like a supreme commandment, although it does not mean that all members of the group will be able to fulfil it.


In terms of material symbols, the following objects are seen as typically Hmong: the reed pipe or "qeej", the long flute or "raj nplaim", the mouth harp or "ncas", and the women's colourful costumes. Although there are other ethnic groups with reed pipes in China, the Hmong reed pipe consists of a longer mouth piece and 12 reeds attached to a blower while the reed pipes of other groups are either longer or shorter. The colours of Hmong women's costumes are also used to identify the divisions or tribal affiliations of each Hmong group such the White Hmong (with the women's skirt being White), the Green Hmong (with green dye batik patterns on the women's skirts), the striped or arm-band Hmong (with the sleeves of the women's shirt having black and blue bands), and so on.


These are the more important cultural symbols of the Hmong: both at the abstract and material level. The Hmong value them and hold them up as typical images of their culture. When they see one of these objects, they know that the person holding that object is a Hmong. For example, the Hmong in America visiting those in China were said to have gone there with a reed pipe in their hands. When the Chinese Hmong see this, they immediately identify with the visitors, thereby feeling much closer to each other than if they see no such object or costumes.

Being Hmong is Being in Relationships with other People

As suggested by Goffman, we have many images of ourselves which we present in every day life to other people based on our expectation of them, and which others give to us based on what they expect of us. These expectations are readjusted all the time, to suit the needs of the moment and the roles we play. In order to meet these changing expectations, we need also to change, to improve and shift our positions. This may also require us to learn from other groups as well as from ourselves so that images of ourselves can be used to our own advantages.


For this reason, the Hmong need to learn to interact with others effectively, so that we can work with each other for mutual benefits. To do this, we have to become competent people through:

1) being self-confident, flexible, tolerant and understanding;
2) being genuinely dependable, and responsible;
3) acting on the basis of evidence, firmly held values and beliefs;
4) feeling that one's own life is important;
5) being open to new experiences and ready to learn; and,
6) being in control of one's emotions and life situations.

While most Hmong have sought only to live simply and peacefully with a very down-to-earth existence as subsistence farmers, others have actively promoted certain ideal modes of behaviour through participation in messianic movements and activities to generate what they see as desirable group qualities. These mythical aspirations aside, we will truly be Hmong if we can weave together a post-modern Hmong identity, a sort of mixed Hmong "cultural pastiche" by using our old traditions and ideas, by borrowing from other sources to shape a new group image to fit the demands of the post- modern world.


We cannot accomplish this by staying inside our houses and saying there is nothing we can do because we are not educated enough, or that there is no need to discover new things because we are already the best. We have to learn from all sources. I do not mean that we have to go to colleges and get degrees only -- this too but mostly we need to learn informally from books, from discussions, get to know ideas about life. This will inspire you to greater heights, give you much more joy in living, and above all open your eyes to new things, make you see clearer and farther, make you outward, not inward, looking. Introspection is good but looking outside yourself gives you better direction.

Being Hmong is Being Effective Parents
For some Hmong, it may be enough to be competent people and to relate positively to others. For many, however, we will need to be more than competent Hmong: we need to become better human beings, to have better visions. By this I mean we need to be good parents and responsible children because, like charity, character formation and cultural appreciation begin at home. If parents do not foster the love of their own culture in their children, how can children know and accept that culture? If parents insist on being right and unquestionable, how can our children think or act for them- selves?


According to Barry, Child and Bacon (BCB-4A), there are at least six aspects to the training of a child:

1) obedience training through setting limits and not going over them;
2) responsibility training through participation in household tasks;
3) nurturance training through being helpful to other siblings and dependent people in the family;
4) achievement training through competition or imposition of standards of excellence;
5) self-reliance training to take care of oneself and to be independent of the assistance of others in providing for one's needs; and,
6) general independence training to learn to act without being dominated or supervised too often.

Most Hmong parents strive to be good to their children, but perhaps stress too much obedience and nurturance training at the expense of the other aspects. There is a need for Hmong parents, in the West especially, to learn other ways of parenting which will agree more with their new Western life style and the new cultural values adopted by their teenage children. This requires that they become effective in con- flict resolution, in producing "win-win" situations rather than "win-lose" outcomes. Parents who demand absolute obedience from their children only makes one side win, the parents. If you allow your children to win also, they will learn to respect you and to listen to you more. Being good parents means being effective managers of our families. Some people are born managers, but most of us have to learn to manage and to make decisions. Unfortunately, few parents believe that they need training to be parents, to be leaders and managers.


The survival of the Hmong culture rests with Hmong children, and the children have to know and take pride in that culture in order for them to adopt it, to pass it on to future generations. Thus, being Hmong also means being good parents, looking after the future of our children and not leaving it to chance, and above all acting as custodians of the Hmong culture by passing it down to future generations. Hmong parents in the West face a most difficult task, and they need guidance and support to be effective parents as well as to be effective cultural carriers. They face an array of conflicting rules and values from their own culture and the mainstream society. We have to adapt to this diversity, whether we like it or not. This cultural diversity can enrich us if we know how to preserve our own cultural continuity.


If our children respect us and listen to us, then like strangers they will gradually learn our culture, skills and beliefs. As suggested by Carrithers (10), what the younger generation makes of things done by their parents must reflect the young people's own situation and needs: they should not be merely imitating their parents like parrots, because real understanding is being able to do something new for yourself with what you have learned, not just copying blindly. Our children need to accept who and what we are by knowing our language and culture as these give us our ident-ity, self- respect and confidence in our own abilities, our future, and the future of our children.

Being Hmong is Living in a House of Many Rooms

An American Anthropologist, Clyde Kluckhohn (246), once said that "human life should remain as a house of many rooms." The world no longer operates as if human societies are isolated from each other, unchanged by the mass media, modern technology or contacts with other cultures. According to Clifford (10), we can no longer speak about other cultures as "primitive", "pre-literate" or "without history". To do so would be to see them as mere caricatures frozen in time and isolated from the influences of the most powerful economic and political systems around them. No society is isolated today. The encroachment of capitalism and government into the heartlands of the most isolated tribes means that virtually no human groups have been left untouched. Many have been changed by this encroachment materially if not culturally, often forever.


In the words of Clifford (22), people in different countries now "influence, dominate, parody, translate, and subvert each other.... enmeshed in global movements of difference and power." Cultures never hold still: they are alive, constantly evolving, adapting, being borrowed, forced upon one another. They are like moving pictures on a screen (Wolf: 387). For the Hmong in their many different settings, new trends and ideas emerge all the time, both within their own society and from outside. Thanks to the initiatives of Xu Thao and other enterprising Hmong in the United States, we now have international movies dubbed in Hmong, Hmong videos and feature movies, documentaries, music and dance adaptations from all sources far and wide (Indian, Japanese, Lao, Thai, American, and Chinese). There is now even rap music in Hmong. This represents real progress and shows that the Hmong culture can be dynamic and not static, can develop and change.


The ability to travel freely to other countries where Hmong live and the informal Hmong mass media have allowed the Hmong people to rediscover each other, to see each other on videos. Hmong girls in Australia and America have now adopted the colourful Hmong traditional costumes from China in their dances. The modest Hmong Quarterly "Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws", published by our Hmong community in French Guyana, has become an international Hmong voice: through it we can now share thoughts and read Hmong stories or news written by Hmong in many countries for other Hmong.


A Hmong is Hmong when he or she reaches out to other Hmong. We are not one single homogenous group located in one single geographical area, but a multi-ethnic and multilingual community living with many people in many countries. We are a community numbering in the millions but without any geographical boundaries. We have to accept these facts and to meet their many challenges without fear and without shame. We need to recognise that despite all the differences in languages, life styles, religion, customs and economic status, we are but one people. We are challenged by the need to adopt a common Hmong writing for all and not the many scripts we now use. We are challenged by the need for a common history book incorporating all the local histories of the Hmong in whatever countries they now live, and not the myriad versions we now have. We need to share our house of many rooms with each other, with our friends and our neighbours.


In the old days it is said that wherever a Hmong might go he would always return home, return to his beloved highland. These days, however, this is not always the case, as many Hmong are scattered in many areas, many directions, creating disloyalty and divisions. The house of many rooms has become a divided house, a neglected house. Unless we come back home more often or permanently, our house risks being a deserted house and eventually a ruin. To be Hmong, we need to look after our own house. This house is held together by our leaders: they are the posts holding the house together. The posts need to support each other, and other parts used to build the house need to stay together or else the house will fall down.


We need to remember that no matter what clan we belong to, this should be used only to define our marriage rules, and not as something that divides us in other areas of life. Our clan differences should not be used to override our unity of purpose, our common identity. Hmong of one tribe or clan should not distrust or betray those of another clan. If we avoid favouritism by treating each other as equals, we will be able to stay together to support the house of many rooms and many tribes. Other people around us build monuments and write books about their leaders: we need to do the same to celebrate the achievements of our great leaders, not just criticising them but these leaders should also set examples to show they deserve this. Our house should not be destroyed by ourselves, but should be kept in excellent repair so it will provide us with comfort and protection against our adversaries. Additions and extensions should be made to our house so that it can grow bigger to accommodate new members, new ideas which will help us survive as a nationality in humankind's long march to the future.

Being Hmong means living by certain commitments and social values

There is a French proverb which says "tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner" or to know all is to forgive all. As stated by Beattie (127), the more we understand each other's cultures, the more we are likely to show mutual tolerance. The Hmong, no matter where they are, need to know that the total sum is always bigger than its parts: the overall global Hmong identity is greater than its many local differences and groups. To stay Hmong, we have to accept that we are a people with other identities as well as our own. More importantly, we need to commit ourselves to certain moral values such as: equality, honesty, ability to compromise, fairness, flexibility and sensitivity to other people. We are Hmong but also American, Chinese, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, French, Argentinian, Australian or Canadian. Being a Hmong in America is not the same as being an American Hmong or Hmong American: the first still keeps his culture and language, the second has lost them.


We need to fulfil our responsibilities as citizens of our respective countries of adoption, but we need to appreciate our "Hmongness." In order to meet the challenge of unity in the face of this diversity, progress in the face of hardship and deprivation, the Hmong need to come together more often as we are now doing at this conference. We need to be united in our goals, to adopt a common language so we can talk to one another, and a common writing so we can communicate. We need to share our hopes and fortunes, to discuss our concerns and plans, to work together and to give of each other. For the Hmong, there is only one road ahead if they want to avoid eventual extinction. That road is the road to progress and redemption, redemption from a past of isolation and distrust, poverty and ignorance, submission and dependence. We need to come out of our own darkness into a new life, a life of prosperity and a life of hope.


I have taken a post-modern approach to my discussion of Hmong cultural identity. This, I believe, is the most appropriate at this juncture of world history and the development of the Hmong. Human societies have now reached the stage where they now actively engage each other. This engagement has resulted in a world which consists increasingly of blended rather than discrete cultures, a cultural mesh or "pastiche" which mixes all styles and materials, borrows from all sources and rejects traditionally accepted standards. Post modernism sees the world as passing through themodernist stage when the so-called "less developed" countries were treated as separate from the more modern societies, to one where they blend with, or borrow from, each other economically and socially on the modern stage.


Using this approach, I have tried to explore in this paper the common patterns as well as the paradoxes in Hmong culture. I have used the knowledge gained through this rediscovery process to see how cultural features are given to the Hmong and how the latter reject or incorporate these features into their group ethos. Like other human groups, the Hmong have benefited as well as suffered from their group image or identity: it has been used to their own advantages and the advantages of other people as during the Vietnam war where the Hmong's reputation as hardy soldiers was exploited by both sides of the conflict with devastating effects. One of these effects is that many Hmong people are now refugees in America where their cultural identity is fast changing. If it was not for the concern for this identity we would not have organised this conference today to discuss its survival.


So many of our Hmong women have transformed their beautiful embroideries into large commercial banners, bed spreads and quilts depicting Hmong history. Their handcrafts now adorn houses, bedrooms and museums around the world. The biggest challenge for all Hmong is how to apply their joint skills, like our women's handicraft skills, to turn our diverse language and customs into one unified and one Hmong / Miao identity, guided by a new set of multicultural social values selected from the many Hmong groups and other people they live with. We cannot achieve this until we look at our shortcomings, broaden our minds by listening more to other people, by becoming tolerant, assertive, knowing how to speak and act without hurting people. When this is done we will be able to join hands and achieve the freedom we yearn for: freedom from poverty and ignorance, freedom to learn and progress, freedom to get together and to share, freedom from exploitation and from contempt, freedom from our own greed, freedom from idleness and neglect of our families, freedom from too much freedom in the West and its effect on our children.


We have to do more than talk, we have to act -- today and every day. We have to change, to overcome our narrowmindedness, our arrogance, our clan politics and divisiveness. The Hmong will be able to maintain and develop their post-modern identity with pride and freedom from fear only if they all join hands to look after each other's interests, when they stop turning against each other because of their clan feelings or parochial differences. For this long and arduous task, I want to share with you the words of the late Martin Luther King Jr (419-420) when he urged his people more than thirty years ago:

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustration of the moment, I still have a dream .... let freedom ring.... when we let it ring from every village, every hamlet, from every stage and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all God's children .... will be able to join hands and sing.... "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, We are free at last".


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Young G. (1974) _The hill tribes of northern Thailand_. Bangkok: Siam Society.

Wolf E. (1982) _Europe and the people without history_. London: University of California Press.


A refugee from Laos now living in Sydney Australia, Gary Y. Lee has been involved in settlement work among Lao and other Indochinese refugees since 1976.

He has been active in the Hmong-Australia Society and has researched and published on refugees and the Hmong in America, Laos ( The Hmong in the Lao State, Minority Policies and the Hmong ),
Thailand ( Hmong in Thailand , and crop replacement project) and Australia and many papers on Hmong clans, kinship structure, history of opium and more.

He has degrees in social work and a Ph. D. in anthropology and is currently a senior Liaison Officer with the Ethnic Affairs Commission for the State government of New South Wales, Australia where he works mainly with Indochinese and other Asian communities.

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WOW. I always wanted to go back to Laos and then to China and visit those places. Those lucky students. Wow.
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post Oct 18 2004, 01:42 PM
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The Thousand-Year Myth: Construction and Characterization of Hmong {1}
Mai Na M. Lee


Coined only in the last twenty years, the phrase "Hmong means free" has been thoughtlessly promoted by both Hmong and non-Hmong alike. This phrase, however, simply manifests thousands of years of narrow, one-dimensional characterization of the Hmong. To historical oppressors of Hmong, "free" entails primitive savageness and inability to assimilate, or to enter the fold of what these outsiders defined as civilization. To outsiders, "free" also captures the essence of the warlike Hmong character, the Hmong's inability to compromise on a peaceful, rational level. The author disputes this simple portrayal of Hmong and points to a historical diversity rivaling that of any human group. To various degrees, Hmong have assimilated culturally and politically in both the Chinese and French Indo-Chinese context. In addition, Hmong who have chosen to isolate themselves politically did so in response to unfair practices against them. Throughout, Hmong character and political history is complex. For this reason, the author urges Hmong to be cautious about embracing such a narrow, unfounded definition for the word "Hmong."



"Hmong," the word which an obscure people use to identify themselves, was not known to the world until two decades ago. Politically marginalized, it took the mountains upon which the Hmong inhabited to echo their name across the hemispheres. This once unknown people has risen to the forefront of international debate as a result of their entanglement in the Vietnam Wars. Occupying a strategic geographical position, the Hmong served as a buffer against Communism in Laos playing an ambiguously controversial role. Hmong involvement in this painful conflict has made them the focus of much debate resulting in Hmong being perhaps one of the more well-known ethnic minority groups of Southeast Asia. Awareness of the Hmong as a people does not, however, mean that the Hmong have advanced significantly. In fact, the construction of the Hmong people is largely based upon speculative myths and traditional stereotypes of politically dominant groups. Consequently, analysis of Hmong history which stretches 4,500 years into the past, {2} goes little beyond regurgitated opinions. Today, the Hmong are as elusive and misrepresented as ever. The Hmong are not blameless in the processes which have contributed to the misunderstanding of themselves.


Let us begin with the name "Hmong" itself. Virtually all authors who have written about the Hmong since the 1970's acknowledged the Hmong's preference to be known as "Hmong." In addition, almost everyone makes reference to the fact that the names "Miao" and "Meo," used by outsiders to identify the Hmong people, have pejorative connotations. Yet most of these authors, even those of respectable scholarly background, have refused to establish the trend of labeling the Hmong by their preferred name, citing academic consistency and established tradition as excuses.{3} Today everyone and anyone who writes about Hmong is pulled into the debate of defining Hmong. Being here to discuss issues on Hmong I am also compelled to touch upon the name "Hmong."


There are two basic opposing views concerning the word "Hmong" in its written and spoken forms. Those who continue to use outsider's terms to identify the Hmong insist that the names "Miao" and "Meo" have no derogative connotations.{4} On the other hand, Yang Dao, prominent as the first Laotian Hmong to hold a doctorate degree, argues that the word means "barbarian." Introduced into Indochina in the late nineteenth century, the word "Miao" degenerated to "Meo," a derogatory term.{5} Swedish researcher Joakim Enwall disagreed with Yang, arguing that there is no reference to the fact that "Miao" meant barbarian although the people who used it to label the Hmong may have perceived the Hmong as barbarians. Finally, Enwall shoots down the arguments of Yang and other's who insist on the name Hmong by stripping the political context embedded in the debate of Hmong. Enwall raises questions regarding academic pragmatism versus a people's right to insist upon an orally correct name which may be impossible for others to pronounce. He also points to the fact that Chinese characters cannot accommodate the aspirated "m" in the word "Hmong." As to the meaning of the word "Miao," Enwall concludes: "To my Miao friends, I just want to say that the basic meaning of the word 'miao' in Chinese is 'young plant', which in an agrarian culture is certainly a more positive concept than that of a 'swede' in the western world."{6}


The debate over whether the word "Miao" has negative connotations has been elaborated upon by many. Most writers have taken "Miao" to mean "aboriginal" with the added connotation of "uncivilized."{7} However, others argue that the ancient form of the character "Miao," in fact, represented a cat's head and meant "cat." The Chinese probably used this word to describe the Hmong due to the Hmong's vocalized language which seemed to resemble the meowing of a cat.{8} William Geddes found it difficult to believe that the Chinese thought there was similarity between the feline utterance and Hmong speech which resembles Chinese. However, he speculated upon the relevance of this argument, citing Chinese references which speak of the Hmong as having tails and Hmong belief in their own ability to transform into tigers after death.{9}


Considering Geddes' speculation, one is compelled to point out that there is a far stretch between a cat and a tiger. While a tiger is associated with supernatural powers, or as Geddes points out, "a more formidable species," which should be feared and respected, a common house cat is just an animal; not even suitable for eating. In Laos and Thailand the word "Meo," does indeed mean cat.{10} Thus, the objection of the Hmong in the West is not to the original meaning of the word "Miao" which could be debated, but how the Hmong themselves perceived it in historical context. Just as the Spanish word "negro" which simply means "black" degenerated in English to "N*gga" as a means of condescending Black people socially, the word "Miao" is imbued with negative political connotations that surpass time and space. As to Enwall's argument that the Hmong of China have not objected to being called Miao, one must consider the limitations of their political situation.


The debate on the definition of "Miao" has yet to be resolved, but a new and perhaps even more powerful myth regarding the meaning of the word "Hmong" has surfaced. Some claim that Hmong means "free." This definition is readily promoted by writers such as Sucheng Chan who entitled her book Hmong Means Free.{11} The origin of this meaning has been attributed to Yang Dao. According to Jean Mottin, Yang claimed that Hmong signifies "freeman."{12} However, if Yang did make such a claim, he has since recanted.{13} Yang's perspective on the various designations used for Hmong has already been discussed. He now defines Hmong as "man" or "human being" in contrast to "spirit."{14} But today the correlation between Hmong and "free" has been readily bought and promoted by the Hmong in the United States -- especially youths who have been much influenced by American notions of freedom and individualism.{15} At a deeper historical level, however, the phrase "Hmong means free" cannot be taken for granted because stereotypes of the Hmong as an aggressively warlike and independent people have long overshadowed other positive and perhaps more important cultural and social values. This image of the Hmong as a people who time and time again refused the persuasions of civilization originates from Chinese and colonial sources.


Thus far, this definition which has underlying negative connotations has been polished and publicized by outsiders who felt the compulsion to be a voice for the Hmong people. The phrase, "Hmong means free," conveniently serves as a means of romanticizing the Hmong and sensationalizing their struggle. That Hmong youth who had little connection to their parents' struggles cling to the phrase requires some thought. During the Vietnam war, the phrase served the purpose of mobilizing the Hmong for group action. The Hmong were called to fight because they were historically perceived as aggressive and warlike in contrast to peacefill Lao Buddhists.{16} In his thesis concerning the Miao Rebellion in Quizhou, Robert Jenks writes, "Almost everyone seems to agree that the Miao were independent and warlike. Boys were raised to be brave warriors above all else."{17} Jenks does not dispute this stereotype, but concludes, "[t]he martial tradition was probably a function of necessity, for the Miao have been surrounded by a hostile population for much of their history."{18}


Stereotypes of the Hmong as a group who could not be brought into mainstream civilization date back to ancient Chinese records. From as early as the twenty-seventh century B.C., the Hmong appeared in Chinese history as a group who hindered Chinese expansionism in the basins of both the Yellow River and the Hoai. The Hmong were always described by Chinese as the attackers and as inferior barbarians, which was why the Chinese "had to punish them."{19} Whenever they were subjugated, strict measures were taken to divide Hmong and pull them under Chinese domination. It was noted that, "In the year 2247, Chun [the mythical emperor] divided the San-Meau [Hmong] into various tribes in order to distinguished them from the other people." These tribes were alotted ground which they were supposed to cultivate, and houses and villages and were overseen by appointed Chinese officials. Chun differentiated the families, and "in short, neglected nothing in order to bend them gently under the yoke."{20}


Throughout history, the Han Chinese viewed Hmong and other minorities as inferior people known for their peculiar costumes, barbarity, belligerence, and moral license.{21} In regards to Hmong, this view comes out most clearly during times of ethnic unrest in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, Jenks provides evidence to dispel traditional interpretations of the so called "Miao" rebellion, and offers new insight into official Chinese characterizations of Hmong as a warlike people.

Modern authors have argued that the "Miao" rebellion was so named because the Miao participated in every rebel group during the course of the insurgency: the Miao served as the underlying foundation of the rebellion, and therefore it bears their name. This questionable argument seems to be driven by political considerations. The term "Miao rebellion" (Miaoluan) was first used by the Qing government while the insurrection was still in progress. The designation served a useful function as a convenient, succinct way of describing an ethnically complex rebellion, for "Miao" in Chinese could refer to either a particular ethnic group or to southern barbarians in general. More important, the term provided a scapegoat on whom responsibility for the rebellion could be fixed. The Qing authorities were well aware that the Han played a major role in the rebellion. By labeling it a "Miao" rebellion in official historiography, the authorities made sure that the stigma of having rebelled and caused vast destruction and misery was attached squarely to the Miao and not to the Han. At the same time, some of the onus was removed from the government for its role in precipitating the turmoil. The Miao, after all, were in the traditional Chinese view a barbaric people who could be expected to rebel gratuitously no matter how well governed the empire might be.{22}

The last sentence merits repetition, "The Miao...were...a people who could be expected to rebel gratuitously no matter how well governed the empire might be." The stereotype belies Hmong ability to integrate and compromise on a peaceful level. Today, the stereotype is kept alive by scholars who continue to disregard a well-known fact -- that the Chinese use the word "Miao" as a generic term for southern barbarians, of which Hmong are a sub-group, as well as for ethnic Hmong. Scholars, therefore, equate "Miao" directly with Hmong. A characteristic which was once associated with a general group has now been attributed to a specific group. It is rather ironic that scholars would debate the various designations used to identify the Hmong, and that scholars recognize the complexity of the terminology "Miao" when applied to ethnic groups throughout history, but readily attribute "Miao" character to the Hmong people.


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as a result of tightening Qing policies, Hmong gradually migrated southward and came in contact with French colonialists who propagated the stereotype of the warlike Hmong to the West. Two revolts established Hmong notoriety. The Hmong of Laos were the first group to threaten the colonial order in 1896 just three years after Laos became a French protectorate. In this year, Hmong kaitong refused to collect taxes from the people who had not been informed of its increase. An armed struggle ensued which ended in the negotiation for a new tax settlement and twenty-five years of peace.{23} Before long, however, abuses mounted and when the Hmong could no longer tolerate them rebellion was inevitable. From 1919-21 a revolt known as the Guerre du Fou,{24} or "Madman's War," engulfed virtually all of northern Indochina. This uprising exacerbated the stereotype of the warlike Hmong and forever colored Hmong history by dividing the Hmong people. While the Hmong of Xieng Khouang were quickly accorded some autonomy following the revolt, the ones in northern Vietnam remained under Tai domination. John McAlister notes that during the Indochina wars the Hmong in Vietnam who had been subjected to French-appointed Tai officials turned to the Viet Minh, while the Hmong in Laos who negotiated directly with the French sided with France.{25}


As happened with the rebellions in China, Hmong bore the brunt of the Guerre du Fou. Extreme measures were taken by French forces with superior firepower to quell the Hmong. The French "drove the Meo from stronghold to stronghold, harassing them without reprieve, surrounding them and decimating them so swiftly that within a month all the units had either been destroyed or had surrendered, that Batchay (Batchai, Pachay), en rout, was abandoned by the last survivors, and that in March 1921 the column could be disbanded."{26} Although French officials recognized the reasons behind the rebellion, its causes escape contemporary French historians. The revolt was attributed not only to the Hmong's warlike nature, but their superstitious stupidity. The Guerre du Fou was described as "fanaticism of the suspicious tribes, superstitious to excess, blindly obedient (like the Kha of the south to the phou-mi-boun) to leaders who impressed them with practices of the lowest kinds of craft."{27}


The incidents of 1896 and 1919-21 stigmatized the Hmong as warlike in the eyes of colonialists and deeply affected the direction and narrative of Hmong history. Hmong temperament was increasingly contrasted to Lao laziness and apathy. During the Vietnam Wars, Hmong ability and fearlessness for action was cultivated for counter-insurgency purposes, entangling the Hmong in the webs of international politics. Through the descriptions of colonial soldiers Hmong men became romanticized as "warriors."{28} The Hmong people who have run for over four thousand years, and whose society (as Enwall claims above) is based predominantly upon agricultural pursuit, have suddenly taken on the persona of a warrior race. Generalizations, however, belie Hmong ability to integrate and compromise as evidence in the Hmong proverb "hla dej yuav hle khau, tsiv teb tsaws chaw yuav hle hau",{29} ("cross the river, take off your shoes; flee from your country, yield your status").


Contrary to stereotypes of the unassimilable, independent Hmong, the Hmong are not afraid to admit that other means of existence may be more preferable. Geddes, studying the Hmong of Thailand wrote:

In October 1970, I stood on top of Chiengdao mountain with a Miao whose maize and opium field was just under the lip of the crater. As we looked down six thousand feet at the cars moving along the road to Chengmai he remarked that he would like to die and be born again so that he could live as a lowlander.{30}

Historical evidence also disputes the one dimensional view of the Hmong as an independent group. In China, there were Hmong who willingly integrated into the mainstream when offered the opportunity, and there were hard independents who may have had good reasons not to assimilate. The Chinese distinguished the "raw Miao" from the "cooked Miao."{31} By definition the former lived in remote areas beyond the pale of Chinese civilization and political control, paid no taxes and rendered no labor services; the latter lived near Han towns, were under direct or indirect Chinese control, paid taxes and did labor service. While one group may have been totally free from influence, others were assimilated to varying degrees.{32}


Also, it was not that they were unassimilable, but that Hmong had justifiable reasons to refuse integration. Being in the folds of Chinese civilization and colonial rule offered little in return. Assimilation meant that Hmong were under Chinese legal and administrative control, forced to pay taxes and perform corvee labor, but were not equated with the same rights and equalities of Han Chinese. Eighteenth century Qing laws, for example, discriminated against Hmong. The law demanded execution of two Hmong for every death of a Han Chinese murdered or killed by Hmong. Hmong were forbidden to go to Han towns and markets except under prescribed circumstances.{33} In addition, rules governing educational attainment of minorities in general kept Hmong uneducated and without other avenues of livelihood. Lastly, the Hmong were not allowed into the regular Army of the Green Standard except by special dispensation as reward for valor. When admitted into the regular army, Hmong were not permitted to rise above a certain rank.{34} Samuel Pollard, a missionary who developed a Romanized script for the Hmong language in the late nineteenth century, recorded the existence of widespread persecution by Chinese and politically dominant groups that goaded Hmong to convert to Christianity. Sure enough "Church membership . . . assured them of a number of privileges. Yi landlords were afraid to molest the Miao tenants as they had done formerly."{35}


Hmong who fled into Southeast Asia did not escape persecution of similar fashion. Under Tai rule, they paid more tribute than the ordinary Tai peasant.{36} In Laos, Hmong were subjected to exploitation by petty local chiefs who "brandished the bogey of the French government."{37} Hmong paid taxes, performed corvee labor and abided by laws, but got nothing in return. In 1922, R. Barthelemy, head of the Civil Services in Indochina noted, "Laos is apparently organized for administrative purposes as though it were populated solely by Laotians. . . . Consultation Chamber has never included a single representative of the mountain races. [In addition], we gave the Buddhists a total monopoly on education . . . all those non-Buddhists who live in the mountains are still illiterate."{38} He went on to propose that ethnic representatives be appointed to Provincial Councils, schools be established in the mountains outside of the pagodas, and that each group have its own officials. However, schools were not established until 1939, and even then only in Xieng Khouang. Not a single provincial council contained minority representatives until 1945, and it was not until the 1970s that most provinces had minority representatives.{39}


Ultimately, Chinese and colonial abuses motivated rebellions. However, even in rebellion, Hmong cannot be categorized. During the "Miao" rebellion attributed to the Hmong, Hmong fought on both sides. The Hmong of Hunnan did not rebel and "good" Hmong resisted "rebel" Hmong. Hmong who were defeated were incorporated into the militia after 1866 and used to defeat their former comrades.{40} This pattern and complexity of Hmong politics continued during the Vietnam War. Hmong fought as communists, and as French and American supporters. Hamilton-Merritt has been heavily attacked for failing to note this fact, and for intending her book, Tragic Mountains, to demonstrate that the Hmong universally supported the French and the U.S. during the First (1945-54) and Second (1954-75) Indochina Wars.{41}


By examining just a few sources, we can see that Hmong culture, politics, history, and Hmong character represent a complex mosaic that requires cautious assessment. The thousand-year myth (really the four-thousand-five-hundred-years myth) that the Hmong are warlike, fiercely independent, and unassimilable remains to be challenged and addressed diligently. For far too long this one dimensional characterization of Hmong, which was constructed by outsiders and political oppressors of Hmong, have overshadowed the development and understanding of Hmong. Recently this once negative stereotype has taken on an equally dangerous turn into a romanticism of Hmong people. The phrase "Hmong means free" has been readily promoted by Hmong and non-Hmong alike. However, one should be aware of the complex history and underlying meaning of this definition. In the Chinese context "free" had more the sense of barbarity and inability to enter the fold of civilization, and in the French colonial period, the Hmong were seen as superstitiously warlike. In both cases Hmong were constructed by politically dominant groups who expected them to comply with tax and corvee laws without being granted much in return. Characterizations of the Hmong as irrationally aggressive persists to the present and Hmong become one-dimensional, lacking the eccentricities and characteristics associated with all human beings.



{1} This is an edited version of a paper presented at the Hmong Leadership Conference held at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio from March 27-29, 1997. In writing this paper I owe much debt to Professor A.W. McCoy who encourages me to move from the path of intellectual apathy and unquestioning acceptance of the "one dimensional" portrayal of Hmong. Professor McCoy commented on the original which was a much longer paper, but I bear sole responsibility for the viewpoint and any errors contained herein. The purpose of this paper is not to offer answers, but to generate discussion. I hope to encourage other Hmong and non-Hmong to come to realize the rich diversity and complexity of what it means to be Hmong--to be human beings of equal value with all other ethnic groups and nationalities. As Hmong people, we do not need to cling to vague, romantic phrases to be proud of who we are. Our history speaks for itself. (Return to text)

{2} Dao Yang, "The Hmong: Enduring Traditions," in Minority Cultures of Laos: Kammu, Lua', Lahu, Hmong, and Mien, ed. Judy Lewis (Rancho Cordova CA: Southeast Asian Community Resource Center, Folsom Cordova Unified Schcol District, 1992), p.259, and Hugo Adolf Bernatzik, Akha and Miao: Problems of Applied Ethnography in Farther India (New Haven: Human Relations Area Files, 1970), p.26.(Return to text)

{3} Roger Warner, Back Fire (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), p.400, and William Geddes, "Note On The Name 'Hmong,'" Migrants of the Mountains (London: Oxford University Press, 1976).(Return to text)

{4} Ibid.(Return to text)

{5} Dao Yang, Hmong At the Turning Point (Minneapolis: WorldBridge Associates, Ltd., 1993), footnote 1, p. xvi.(Return to text)

{6} Enwall, Joakim, "Miao or Hmong?", Thai Yunnan Project Newsletter, No.17 (June, 1992). [Read the full text of the article:]

Arguments against the use of the word "Miao" and its various forms as it exists in Southeast Asia has come mainly from the Hmong who now live in western countries. Scholars who retain the word "Miao" when referring to the Hmong people often promote the positive aspects of it, agreeing with Enwall that it does not have demeaning connotations. Also, like Enwall, many claim that the "Miao" outside the United States have not made similar demands to change the use of the term.

Although the "Miao" in China have not publically expressed opinions against the term, they are not unaware of its negative implications. Yang Kaiyi, a Chinese Hmong, is careful to qualify that since the establishment of the People's Republic of China, discrimination and exploitation of different nationalities have been eradicated. However, he writes, "[In the past] The Miao people were abused as 'Miao-Zi,'....Even when people are cursing something and someone who has nothing to do with the Miao people, they always say 'Miao.' When two people are quarreling the sharpest verbal attacks include the use of the word 'Miao.' Therefore, 'Miao' is a synonym for being stupid, backward, and uncivilized." Despite what outside observers claim, the reality remains that the Hmong outside the United States have not been heard, and whether or not they prefer Hmong as opposed to 'Miao' is unknown. However, no Hmong as far as I am aware of, whether outside or inside western countries, have expressed opinions against the use of the term Hmong. [Yang, Kaiyi, "Are the Hmong Mongolians?" found at](Return to text)

{7} Geddes, op. cit., p.134.(Return to text)

{8} Ibid., p.14.(Return to text)

{9} Ibid., pp.14-15.(Return to text)

{10} Jean Mottin, History of the Hmong (Bangkok: Odeon Store Ltd. Part., 1980), p.3.
There are conflicting opinions as to whether "Meo" means cat in Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese. In the written form, "Meo" most probably is not the same word as cat in these languages. However, with the slightest variation in pronunciation, when spoken the word "Meo" can be easily exploited to be the same word as cat, and can conveniently serve the purpose of belittling Hmong people -- thus the aversion of the Hmong to the term "Meo." As discussed further on, this is similar to how the word "negro" functions in American society.(Return to text)

{11} Sucheng Chan, Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994). [Introductory chapter:] (Return to text)

{12} Mottin, op. cit., p.5.(Return to text)

{13} During an open forum at the conference I asked Dr. Yang Dao whether or not Hmong really means "free" and if he could explain how he came to this conclusion. Dr. Yang Dao responded that he came to this definition after having talked to many Hmong elders who emphasized the Hmong's love of freedom and unwillingness to be dominated politically by other groups as evidenced by their constant migration. Rather than subjecting themselves to the laws of invaders, the Hmong leave their homelands so that they can maintain political independence. However, after having talked to many anthropologists, Yang came to the realization that in order to be free one must first have been enslaved. Since it is doubtful that the Hmong were an enslaved group, he came to accept that just as words used by many other ethnic groups to identify themselves mean "human being," Hmong simply means "human being."(Return to text)

{14} Dao Yang, "Enduring Tradition," op. cit., p. 253, and Hmong at the Turning Point, op. cit., footnote 1, p. xvi.(Return to text)

{15} That Hmong youth promote this phrase enthusiastically was clearly demonstrated during a panel discussion chaired by Tou Ger Xiong and Chao Lee. The whole auditorium of over one hundred twenty Hmong youth, ranging in education from junior high school to graduate school, and over two dozen elders roared, "Yeah!" in response to Tou's question, "Hmong means 'free,' right?" Tou Ger Xiong, the Hmong self-styled "rap-artist/historian," who was there to perform also advertised and sold a video cassette titled "Hmong Means Free" in which he played a leading role. (Return to text)

{16} Timothy N. Castle, At War in the Shadow of Vietnam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p.35.(Return to text)

{17} Robert D. Jenks, Insurgency and Social Disorder in Guizhou: The "Miao" Rebellion 1854-1873 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), p.35.(Return to text)

{18} Ibid.(Return to text)

{19} Bernatzik, op. cit., pp.15-16.(Return to text)

{20} Ibid., p.18.(Return to text)

{21} Jenks, op. cit., p.6.(Return to text)

{22} Ibid., p. 4.(Return to text)

{23} Yang, Hmong at the Turning Point, I, p.36.(Return to text)

{24} Also known to the Hmong as Rog Pajcai, or "Pachay's War."(Return to text)

{25} John T. McAlister, "Mountain Minorities and the Viet Minh: A Key to the Indochina War," in Southeast Asian Tribes, Minorities, and Nations, ed. Peter Kundstadter, v.II (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).(Return to text)

{26} Yang, Hmong at the Turning Point, op. cit., p.37.(Return to text)

{27} Ibid.(Return to text)

{28} For an example of such an account see Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains (Bloomington: indiana University Press, 1993), p.34.(Return to text)

{29} Yang, "Hmong: Enduring Tradition," op. cit. p.255. Yang translates the saying as: "Cross the river, you'll take off your shoes; Flee from your country, you'll lose your status."(Return to text)

{30} Geddes, op. cit., p.31.(Return to text)

{31} Jenks, op. cit., p.34.(Return to text)

{32} Ibid., p.35.(Return to text)

{33} Ibid., p.43.(Return to text)

{34} Ibid., p.84.(Return to text)

{35} Nicholas Tapp, "The Impact of Missionary Christianity Upon Marginalized Ethnic Minorities: The Case of the Hmong," Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 20(1989), p.78.(Return to text)

{36} Geoffry G. Gunn, "Shamans and Rebels: The Batchai (Meo) Rebellion of Northern Laos and North-west Vietnam (1918-21)," Journal of the Siam Society 74 (1986), p. 113.(Return to text)

{37} Yang, Hmong at the Turning Point, op. cit., p. 37, and Alfred W. McCoy, "French Colonialism in Laos, 1893-1945," in Laos: War and Revolution, eds. Nina S. Adams and Alfred W. McCoy (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1970), p. 92.(Return to text)

{38} Yang, Hmong at the Turning Point, op. cit., p. 25-6.(Return to text)

{39} Ibid., p. 26.(Return to text)

{40} Jenks, op. cit., p.47.(Return to text)

{41} Frank Proschan, "Tragic Mountairs: The Hmong, The Americans, and the secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992, by Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992," unpublished manuscript (n.d), p.24.(Return to text)


Bernatzik, Hugo Adolf, Akha and Miao: Problems of Applied Ethnography in Farther India. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files, 1970.

Castle, Timothy N., At War in the Shadow of Vietnam. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Chan, Sucheng, Hmong Means Free: Life in Laos and in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. [Introductory chapter:]

Enwall, Joakim, "Miao or Hmong?" Thai Yunnan Project Newsletter, No. 17 (June, 1992). [Read the full text of the article:]

Geddes, William R., Migrants of the Mountains: The Cultural Ecology of the Blue Miao (Hmong Njua) of Thailand. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Gunn, Geoffrey G. "Shamans and Rebels: The Batchai (Meo) Rebellion of Northern Laos and North-west Vietnam (1918-21)." Journal of the Siam Society 74 (1986): pp. 107-121.

Hamilton-Merritt, Jane, Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, The Americans, and the Secret War for Laos 1942-1992. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Jenks, Robert D., Insurgency and Social Disorder in Guizhou: The "Miao" Rebellion 1854-1873. Honolulu: University of Hawail Press, 1994.

McAlister, John T., "Mountain Minorities and the Viet Minh: A Key to the Indochina War." in Southeast Asian Tribes, Minorities, and Nations. Vol.II , ed. Peter Kundstadter. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966.

McCoy, Alfred W., "French Colonialism in Laos, 1893-1945," in Laos: War and Revolution, eds. Nina S. Adams and Alfred W. McCoy. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970.

Mottin, J., History of the Hmong. Bangkok: Odeon Store Ltd. Part., 1980.

Proschan, Frank, "Tragic Mountains: The Ilmong, The Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992, by Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992," unpublished manuscript (n.d.).

Smalley, William A., Chia Koua Vang, and Gnia Yee Yang, Mother of Writing: The Origin and Development of a Hmong Messianic Script. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Tapp, Nicholas, "The Impact of Missionary Christianity Upon Marginalized Ethnic Minorities: The Case of the Hmong." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 20 (1989).

Warner, Roger, Back Fire: The CIA's Secret War In Laos and its Link to the War in Vietnam. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Yang, Dao, Hmong at the Turning Point. Minneapolis MN: Worldbridge Associates, Ltd., 1993.

_____"The Hmong: Enduring Traditions," in Minority Cultures of Laos: Kammu, Lua; Lahu, Hmong; and Mien, ed. Judy Lewis. Rancho Cordova CA: Southeast Asian Community Resource Center, Folsom Cordova Unified School District, 1992.

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post Oct 18 2004, 03:51 PM
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Txianeng Vang is a relative of mine......He taught me how to drive a few years back!
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post Oct 18 2004, 05:56 PM
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whoa..that's too much to read!
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post Oct 18 2004, 07:44 PM
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sooo longggg =[
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post Oct 18 2004, 09:04 PM
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Yep it is long. But I read it all. Now my eyes hurt. But it was a good read. biggthumpup.gif
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post Oct 18 2004, 09:31 PM
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^summarize plz! help.gif
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post Oct 18 2004, 09:36 PM
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Wow..Very Informative.. Nice Job on the Researching..Pinning Topic..
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post Oct 19 2004, 08:13 AM
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too much to read!!!!!!!!!! Very informative.
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post Oct 19 2004, 05:11 PM
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Great Job ob_muaj_ib!!! I've read all these articles before, but it was a good idea that you posted it up for people to read. I never would have thought of it. Very informative. Anyways, anyone intrested in reading more can visit this web site. You'll find it's very informative about the Hmong Culture. There are a lot of case studies posted up, so you have to like to read to be able to sit through it. Some of the articles ob_muaj_ib posted up is in there as well, so if you wanted to read more about it, I thought I'd post up the web site for whoever is interested. Enjoy:)

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This post has been edited by hua: Oct 25 2004, 11:22 AM
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post Oct 21 2004, 08:21 AM
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very interesting
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post Oct 21 2004, 11:27 AM
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Wow... well we know that there's no limit on message size, now icon_wink.gif

I got a chance to spend a lot of time with Hmong kids in the St. Paul, Minnesota area a few years ago. It was a lot of fun... the kids were great. They were so funny... they were always trying to switch their names around to confuse us :P So we would speak a little bit of the language and confuse them because they weren't sure if we knew it or just a few words :P
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post Oct 31 2004, 07:42 PM
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i passed that sh!t , too long !!
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post Nov 3 2004, 10:20 AM
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i think hmong people originated in the Mongolia area because only the hmong and mongolians have kids (from full blooded hmong or mongolian parents) that have non-black hair like brown, red, and blond.

also the fact that we are one of the few asians who don't eat with chopsticks could mean that we originated from somewhere where western and asian culture intermixed.

This post has been edited by vanggirlie: Nov 3 2004, 10:22 AM
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post Nov 25 2004, 07:01 PM
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QUOTE (vanggirlie @ Nov 3 2004, 11:20 AM)
i think hmong people originated in the Mongolia area because only the  hmong and mongolians have kids (from full blooded hmong or mongolian parents) that have non-black hair like brown, red, and blond.

also the fact that we are one of the few asians who don't eat with chopsticks could mean that we originated from somewhere where western and asian culture intermixed.

This is really intriguing. . . Are Hmong babies ever born with the 'Mongolian spot'? And what are your forks like? Similar to Western ones?
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post Dec 11 2004, 02:21 AM
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you have it in audio i can download and listen to...
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post Dec 18 2004, 10:59 PM
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QUOTE (Khutulun @ Nov 25 2004, 05:01 PM)
This is really intriguing. . .  Are Hmong babies ever born with the 'Mongolian spot'?  And what are your forks like?  Similar to Western ones?

If I am not mistaken, most Asian babies and some African babies are born with Mongolian spots.

As far as the fork goes..... a fork is a fork is a fork.
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post Jan 27 2005, 07:14 PM
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whoa!!!! eek.gif
so much to read!!:jawdrop
through all that.. it's still educational!!
amanda : embarassedlaugh.gif2
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