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.

苗族是居住在中国南部和东南亚的一个古老民族。苗族人口在中国境内超过1100万,他们被认定为56个官方民族之一,是中国的第五大民族。苗族主要居住在中国南部的山区,如贵州省、云南省、四川省、湖北省、湖南省等。中国以外的一些苗族分支,例如苗族蒙人(Hmong),已经移居到缅甸、越南北部、老挝和泰国等东南亚地区。20世纪70年代末,一大批苗族难民重新移居安置到美国、法国和澳大利亚为主的几个西方国家。

1 Bureau of Statistics of the People’s Republic of China. 2020. China Statistical Yearbook, Beijing: China Statistics Press.


Xiaoshuijing

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. 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. The villagers inherit and perform Christian hymns infused with Miao musical and cultural characteristics, as well as songs that incorporate the lyrical song culture of China’s mainstream and the local cultural features of Yunnan. The Xiaoshuijing choirs actively participate in various charitable and commercial performances beyond their community, which has led to continuous attention and appreciation from various circles. The choir members earn their living through farming on a daily basis and gather several times a week for choir rehearsals, with regular practice sessions every Sunday.

小水井村位于云南省昆明市富民县。全村共有居民469人,皆为苗族。该村拥有数个合唱团。在该村落中,一种融合了苗族传统音乐、语言、舞蹈和服饰与西方合唱实践元素的新音乐传统——苗族圣歌已逐渐形成。村民们既传承和演唱有苗族音乐和文化特色的基督圣歌,也演唱融合了中国主流抒情歌曲文化以及云南本土文化特色的歌曲。小水井合唱团积极参与了社区以外的各种公益和商业演出,这些积累让他们不断收到各方的关注和欣赏。合唱团的歌手们在日常以农耕为生,每周会聚集几次进行合唱团的排练,每个星期天会定时集合练习。


Xiaoshuijin village, Christmas Choir Performance (video shot by Lijuan Qian)
The Miao villagers at Xiao Shuijing enjoy the choir’s performance on stage. (produced by Lijuan Qian).

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 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.

The “Xiaoshuijing 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.

小水井的苗族音乐融合了当地原住居民的原生态音乐和20世纪初西方传教士带来的唱诗班式音乐,展现出一种独特的混合形态。这种文化的融合使小水井村成为了一个文化创新的交汇点,其延续了一个世纪的唱诗班传统,也成为了当地居民非物质文化遗产中不可或缺的一部分。

2003年成立的“小水井农民合唱团”源于教会唱诗班,其成员全部由村民组成。村民们利用白天农忙之余的时间自发排练,形成了“白天拿起锄头种地,晚上放下锄头唱歌”的日常生活景象。自成立以来,合唱团参加了许多国内外的音乐比赛和活动,所演唱的曲目既有古典与现代的结合,也包括现代苗族诗歌,有时甚至挑战高难度的英文歌曲。

Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Choir Performances

The Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Choir was invited to perform at the Kaleidoscope Art Manor in the Oriental Rhythm Art Town of Mile City during the Spring Festival period of 2023. Led by director Zhang Xiaoming, the choir consists of 26 female and 21 male members, with one member playing the accordion and another on the electric keyboard. During the performance, they showcased their expertise with selections from the grand oratorio “Messiah” by composer George Frideric Handel. They also performed the welcoming song with Yunnan’s local musical features and the original ecological songs of the Miao people in a choir format. Moreover, the choir sang many mainstream songs well-known to households, such as “56 Ethnicities, 56 Flowers” and “The Same Song”. They began performing here in 2016, with a 2-3 year hiatus due to Covid restrictions. Now, they have gradually resumed their public performances during traditional festivals and public holidays.

小水井农民合唱团在2023年春节期间应邀在弥勒市东方韵艺术小镇的万花筒艺术庄园演出。合唱团由张晓明团长带队,由26位女性和21位男性合唱成员,以及一位演奏手风琴和一位演奏电子键盘的成员组成。在演出中,他们不仅表演了他们拿手的作品——作曲家亨德尔所创作的宗教神剧《弥赛亚》的选段,还以唱诗班的形式演绎了具有云南本土特色的《迎宾曲》和苗族的原生态歌曲。此外,合唱团还演唱了众多脍炙人口的主流歌曲,如《56个民族56支花》和《同一首歌》。合唱团自2016年以来开始在此演出,由于新冠疫情的限制中断了2至3年。现在,他们已逐渐在传统节日和公共假期恢复了他们的公众演出。

Miao Choir’s music score used by Miao villagers. (photo by Lijuan Qian)
The first video features the Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Choir performing a selection from “Messiah,” the oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel. The second video captures the Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Choir performing a Yunnan folk song ‘Lai Guo Li,’ which has a male-female love theme. (videos by Lijuan Qian)
The leader of the Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Choir, Xiaoming Zhang (right), and the deputy leader as well as the conductor of the choir, Cheng’en Long(left). (photo by Lijuan Qian)

School textbook with Miao writing text and its translation in Mandarin.
Hymnal Directory with Pollard Miao Script

For more information, please see this article: Letters, Pronunciation, and Tones of the Pollard Script

Pollard Miao Script

The Pollard script was devised in 1905 by Samuel Pollard (1864-1915), a British missionary, assisted by Han Chinese preacher Sitifan Li (李斯提反)  and Miao intellectual Yage Yang (杨雅各). This script, known as Pollard Script or Miao Script, also referred to as Shimenkan (石门坎) Miao Script or Old Miao Script of Northeastern Yunnan, was based on Latin alphabets and Miao tribal patterns, using the Shimenkan Miao dialect as the phonetic standard.The Miao language, part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, is monosyllabic and tonal. Each syllable in the Pollard script is represented by a capital letter, which serves as the initial consonant forming the main body of the word, and a smaller letter that indicates the rhyme and is placed above or to the right of the main letter. The position of the smaller letter denotes the tone. This script was primarily used among the Miao communities at the junction of Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan provinces and other areas where the Northeastern Yunnan Miao dialect was spoken.

The Miao language, part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, is monosyllabic and tonal. Each syllable in the Pollard script is represented by a capital letter, which serves as the initial consonant forming the main body of the word, and a smaller letter that indicates the rhyme and is placed above or to the right of the main letter. The position of the smaller letter denotes the tone. This script was primarily used among the Miao communities at the junction of Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan provinces and other areas where the Northeastern Yunnan Miao dialect was spoken.

伯格理苗文是1905年左右由英国传教士柏格理为传教的需要,在滇东北汉族传道员李斯提反和苗族知识分子杨雅各等人的协助下,根据拉丁字母和苗族服饰图案,以石门坎苗语为标准音创制的拼音文字。这种拼音文字称 “柏格里苗文” 或“石门坎苗文”,亦称“滇东北老苗文”。苗语属于汉藏语系,是单音节词且有声调。滇东北老苗文每个音节由一个大字母和一个小字母组成。大字母为声母,构成文字的主体,小字母为韵母,写在大字母的上方或右侧,以小字母位置的高低来表示声调。老苗文主要在川黔滇交界地区以及其它操滇东北次方言的苗族中使用。

Hymns with Pollard Script and Miao Musical Notation (photo provided by Yunhui Yang)

For detailed information on Miao musical notation, please see this article: Miao Musical Notation

Miao Musical Notation

Christian ceremonies feature a large number of hymns. To help Miao believers quickly master Western hymns, Pollard created Miao musical notation by referencing the principles of the British tonic sol-fa system, using initials and finals from the old Miao script. Out of 27 single consonants in the old Miao script, seven were selected that closely match the basic notes of simplified notation. Vowels represent changes in pitch; Berlie’s Miao notation selected three vowels, which, depending on their pitch, are added to the right of the consonants to form the musical scales, including octaves and semitones in the notation.

基督教仪式包含大量赞美诗。为帮助苗族信徒快速掌握西方赞美诗,柏格理参考英国首调唱名法原理,利用老苗文的声母和韵母创制了苗文乐谱。在老苗文的27个单音声母中,选择了七个与简谱基本音级相近的声母。韵母表示音高的变化;柏格理的苗文谱选用了三个韵母,根据音高低,在声母右侧添加,形成苗文谱中的高低八度音和升降半音。


Picking up the Bride. (video by Fengli Wang)
Sung by relatives. (video by Fengli Wang)
The witness song. (video by Fengli Wang)

Miao Wedding

The wedding ceremony is a very important part of the Miao culture. Most of the villagers in Xiaoshuijing village have weddings that combine Miao traditional culture with Christian culture. 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 living in Xiaoshuijing hold Miao wedding ceremonies with Christian cultural elements in the village hall.

婚礼是苗族文化中非常重要的一部分。大部分的小水井村村民的婚礼结合了苗族的传统文化和基督文化。以下视频记录了小水井合唱团指挥龙诗音的婚礼。

在云南传统的苗族婚礼中,新郎需带着伴郎敲锣打鼓地来到新娘家,表示他诚意求娶新娘。新郎在得到新娘家人的同意后,将带着新娘一同离开,这个过程称为“接亲”。之后,新人们会去村中的道堂(一个用于祭拜苗族祖先的地方)跪拜三次,祈求祖先的保佑。

传统的“接亲”仪式延续至今,但婚礼上演奏的音乐已被改为苗语的基督音乐。当今住在小水井的年轻苗族夫妇会在村里的礼堂举行带有基督文化场景的苗族婚礼仪式。

Bride Shiyin Long and Groom Jiehui Zhang.(photo by Fengli Wang)

The Miao kids are learning English by singing English songs (video by Yunhui Yang)

Miao Children with Digital Education

In Xinmin Miao Village in Zhaotong, Yunnan, a new educational effort is underway. As part of the Hearts Together for Ethnic Unity and Progress campaign, introduces Miao children to the English language through an interactive and enjoyable format—singing English songs via video lessons.This integrating technology method not only improves their educational experience but also shows how digital tools can help bring education to remote areas.

在云南昭通的苗寨新民村,一项新的教育计划正在展开。这一计划作为“民族团结进步同心营”活动的一部分,采用互动且有趣的视频课程形式,让苗族儿童通过学唱英文歌曲学习英语。这种融合技术的方法不仅提升了他们的教育体验,还展示了数字工具如何帮助偏远地区实现教育普及。