The Miao in The Middle kingdom: a survey of the geography, government...


Samuel Wells Williams. The Middle kingdom: a survey of the geography, government, education, social life, arts, religion, &c., of the Chinese empire and its inhabitants, Volumen 1. 1882

p. 147 ad ff.

The capital of the province, Guiyang fu, is situated near its centre; it is the smallest provincial capital of the eighteen, its walls not being more than two miles in circumference. The other chief towns or departments are all of them of inferior note. There are many military stations in the southern portions of Guizhou at the foot of the mountains, intended to restrain the unsubdued tribes of Miao who inhabit them.

This name is used among the Chinese as a general term for all the dwellers upon these mountains, but is not applied to every tribe by the people themselves. They consist of forty-one tribes in all, found scattered over the mountains in Guangdong, Hunan, and Guangxi, as well as in Guizhou, speaking several dialects, and differing among themselves in their customs, government, and dress. The Chinese have several books describing these people, but the notices are confined to a list of their divisions, and an account of their most striking peculiarities. Their language differs entirely from the Chinese, but too little is known of it to ascertain its analogies to other tongues; its affinities are most likely with the Laos, and other tribes between Burma, Siam, and China. One tribe, inhabiting Lipo hien, is called Yau-jin, and although they occasionally come down to Canton to trade, the citizens of that place firmly believe them to be furnished with short tails like monkeys. They carry arms, and are inclined to live at peace with the lowlanders, but resist every attempt to penetrate into their fastnesses. The Yau-jin first settled in Kwangsi, and thence passed over into Lien chau about the twelfth century, where they have since maintained their footing. Both sexes wear their hair braided in a tuft on the top of the head, but never shaven and tressed as the Chinese, and dress in loose garments of cotton and linen; earrings are of universal use among them. They live at strife among themselves, which becomes a source of safety to the Chinese, who are willing enough to harass and oppress, but are ill able to resist, these hardy mountaineers. In 1832, they broke out in active hostilities against the Chinese, and destroyed numerous parties of troops sent to subdue them, but were finally induced to return to their retreats by offers of pardon and largesses granted to those who submitted.

A Chinese traveller among the Miao says that some of them live in huts constructed upon the branches of trees, others in mud hovels. Their agriculture is rude, and their garments are obtained by barter from the lowlanders in exchange for metals and grain, or woven by themselves. The religious observances of these tribes are carefully noted, and whatever is connected with marriages and funerals. In one tribe, it is the custom for the father of a new-born child, as soon as its mother has become strong enough to leave her couch, to get into bed himself and there receive the congratulations of his acquaintances, as he exhibits his offspring. Another class has the counterpart of the may-pole and its jocund dance, which, like its corresponding game, is availed of by young men to select their mates. It is said there are more than fifty tribes in all of the Miao, but no estimate can be made of their numbers. Many vigorous efforts have been made by the monarchs of the present dynasty to subdue these hardy tribes, but they have all failed; and the general government now contents itself with keeping them in check, or in efforts to induce them, by kind treatment, to settle on the plains.

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