The Miao, encompassing various linguistically-related sub-groups, are predominantly situated in Southern China and parts of Southeast Asia. They are acknowledged as one of the 56 official ethnicities by the People’s Republic of China. With a population surpassing 11 million in China, they rank as the fifth largest ethnic group1. Their primary settlements are in the mountainous regions of southern China, spanning provinces such as Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, and Hunan. Notably, the Hmong, a sub-group of the Miao, have ventured beyond China’s borders into Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Northern Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. The late 1970s witnessed a significant migration of Hmong refugees to Western nations, with predominant resettlements in the United States, France, and Australia.
1 Bureau of Statistics of the People’s Republic of China. 2020. “China Statistical Yearbook”, Beijing: China Statistics Press.
Xiaoshuijing village (小水井村), Fumin County (富民县), Kunming city (昆明市) Yunnan Province (云南省). Xiaoshuijing has a population of 469, of whom all are Miao, 80% of them being Christians. There are several choirs in the villages. The Miao village has developed a new music tradition Miao hymn, a hybrid of Miao traditional music, language, dance and costumes with elements of Western choral practices. With a rising reputation in singing Miao Christian hymns, these choirs have received national attention and participated in various commercial performances outside the community and also stage Christian singing competitions with performers from other Miao villages each Christmas. The singers work as farmers by day, gathering together to practice choir a few times a week as well as every Sunday.
Miao Musical Culture in Xiaoshuijing
The Miao music of Xiao Shuijing Village is a unique fusion of the indigenous music of the local Miao villagers and the choir-style church music brought by Western missionaries in the early 20th century. This cultural blend has made Xiao Shuijing Village a hub of cultural innovation, continuing a century-old choir tradition that has become an integral part of the local intangible cultural heritage.
In the early 20th century, Western missionaries came to Xiao Shuijing Village to preach and established churches, thus initiating the choir tradition that continues to this day. Currently, about 80% of the Miao villagers are Christians. Despite not having formally studied music theory, the villagers have learned to sing hymns from a young age. They have maintained the traditional singing style of the Miao mountain songs while also adopting the four-part harmony of church choirs, earning the reputation of “Baroque in the deep mountains.”
The “Xiao Shuijing Farmers’ Choir,” founded in 2003, originated from the church choir and consists entirely of village members. The villagers practice spontaneously in their spare time, creating a daily routine of “farming by day, singing by night.” Since its inception, the choir has participated in numerous music competitions and events both domestically and internationally. Their repertoire includes a mix of classical and modern pieces, modern Miao songs, and occasionally, challenging difficult English songs.
The Pollard script, which is also known as Pollard Miao or Miao, was devised in 1905 by Samuel Pollard (1864-1915), a British missionary, with help from Yang Yage and Li Shitifan. Before Pollard came along, the A-Hmao language, when written at all, was written with Chinese characters. Pollard Miao underwent many changes and revisions and only became stable in 1936, when a translation of the New Testament was published in the Pollard script.
Various efforts have been made to improve Pollard Miao writing, which inadequately represents the phonetics and tones of A-Hmao and is not ideal for writing Chinese loan words. A semi-official ‘reformed’ Pollard script has been in use since 1988, along with the older version of the script, and the pīnyīn version.
Pollard文字，也被称为Pollard苗文或苗文，是英国传教士Samuel Pollard (1864-1915) 于1905年在Yang Yage和Li Shitifan的帮助下发明的。在Pollard发明之前，A-Hmao语言若被书写的话，会被写成汉字。直到1936年，当《新约》的Pollard版本被发布时，Pollard苗文经过多次修改后才逐渐稳定下来。
Source: https://omniglot.com/writing/pollardmiao.htm (Accessed: Dec. 13, 2022)
The wedding ceremony is a very important part of the Miao culture. The villagers of Xiaoshuijing believe in Christianity, so their wedding ceremonies combine elements of traditional culture and Christian beliefs. The following videos record the wedding ceremony of Long Shiyin (龙诗音), who’s father is the conductor of the Xiaoshuijing Choir.
In Yunnan, at a traditional Miao wedding, the groom is supposed to come with his best man to the bride’s house and play gongs and drums to show her family that he is sincere in his desire to marry her. After the groom has obtained the consent of the bride’s family, the bride shall leave with the groom, which is we also known as the “picking up the bride”(接亲). The groom and the bride then go together to the Dao Hall (a place used to worship Miao ancestors) in the middle of the village and kneel three times, which means to pray to the Miao ancestors for their future lives.
The traditional ceremony of “picking up the bride” has maintained, but the music has been changed to composed Christian music sung in the Miao language. Today, young Miao couples are formally married in the village church, with the clergy leading the process and conveying the message of the Christian faith to those attending the wedding.