The Festivals of Miao Ethnic Minority

Different Miao communities celebrate different festivals and, in some cases, celebrate the same festival but at different times. However, the Miao New Year, the Sister’s Meal Festival and the Lusheng Festival are considered the most culturally significant and are celebrated by almost all Miao communities.

Miao New Year

The Miao people celebrate a different New Year’s Day to that traditionally adhered to in China. It falls sometime during September to October according to the their lunar calendar. However, there is no exact date for the New Year’s Day each year and the official date is only announced two months prior to the festivities. In southeast Guizhou, the Miao community celebrate their New Year Festival on the “Rabbit Day” or the “Ox Day” of the lunar calendar according to ancient Miao tradition. During the New Year festival, women will wear traditional clothes and there will be large parades. The locals will celebrate by beating drums, dancing to the music of the lusheng, horse racing and sometimes horse fighting or bull-fighting.

The Sister’s Meal Festival

The Sister’s Meal Festival is considered to be the oldest version of what we know as Valentine’s Day. It is a favourite festival among the Miao communities in the Guizhou counties of Taijiang and Jianhe. It is celebrated from the 16th to the 18th of March according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Before the festival, Miao girls will go to the mountains to gather wild flowers and leaves, which are used to make coloured dye. This dye is used to make glutinous rice known as “sister’s rice”. When the festival begins, the Miao girls will adorn themselves in their finest silver jewellery and meet by the banks of a river to make “sister’s rice”. They dye the rice blue, pink, yellow and white to represent spring, summer, autumn and winter respectively.

Finally the men will arrive. They will each single out the woman they love and sing to them. The woman responds to these songs by giving the man a cup of rice wine and the sister’s rice, which is wrapped in a handkerchief covered in symbols. If the rice is offered with a pair of red chopsticks, it means the woman returns the man’s affection. If only one chopstick is offered, it is a polite refusal. If a piece of garlic or a red chilli is placed on the rice, this indicates a flat refusal. Pine needles scattered on the rice means the man should present silks and colourful cloths to the girl and she will wait for him to woo her. This festival is particularly important in terms of courtship, as it is one of the few occasions when men and women from other Miao villages are able to mingle freely.

The Lusheng Festival

The Lusheng Festival is considered the most significant of all the Miao festivals and is celebrated widely throughout Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan. It is celebrated from the 16th to the 20th day of January according to the Chinese lunar calendar. During the Lusheng Festival, Miao people from surrounding villages will all come together in traditional dress and the men will all bring their lusheng. The men will play the lusheng whilst the women dance. They believe that this ceremony will bring a good harvest and good health to the people in the coming year. However, the festival is not simply about playing the lusheng and also features other activities typical of the Miao, such as singing, bullfighting, and horse racing.

Although you can catch the Lusheng Festival in many Miao villages, the grandest one is considered to be the one held near Kaili in Guizhou. If you visit Guizhou in March, we recommend you visit Zhouxi Town, which is about 16 kilometres from Kaili city, where they hold a magnificent Lusheng Festival. If you miss it then there’s no need to worry! In Huangping County, about 75 kilometres outside of Kaili City, there’s another Lusheng Festival in November.

Other Festivals

In Yunnan, the Miao people also celebrate a festival called “Stepping over Flower Mountains”. Childless couples often repeat their vows to the fertility god at this time of year. As part of a religious gesture, they will offer wine to the young people in their village. The young people will then dance under a pine tree which has a bottle of wine hanging from it. It is said that many young men and women fall in love during the festivities and childless couples hope that this will help bring them children.

Other commonly celebrated Miao festivals include the Dragon Boat Festival (national holiday), the Flower Mountain Festival (May 5th), the Tasting New Rice Festival (between June and July), the Pure Brightness Festival, and the Beginning of Autumn Festival.

 

Join a travel with us to discover the Culture of Miao Ethnic Minority:  Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Cost of Guizhou Tour

Cost pp:  £1950

Including: 11 nights of accommodation; all entrance fees to the attractions; all meals during the 9 days spent in the mountainous region of southeastern Guizhou; all transportation costs during designated tour times; the services of an English speaking guide; a pdf file with information about Dong and Miao minorities, and the destinations we will visit; help with any further travel in China following the tour.

Single sup:£2350

Please Note: the cost is based on the subscription of no less than 4 participants; the maximum number of participants being 10.

Accommodation: We will stay in 4-Star, 3-Star and local Guesthouses, as specified in the itinerary.

Note: There might not be en-suite bathrooms in the Diaojiaolou Guesthouse because of its design. In this instance, all rooms will have shared toilets and bathrooms.

Food: We will provide 3 meals per day, consisting of local Chinese food, when staying in the mountainous region of southeastern Guizhou. Our guide can help you order food while we are in Guilin.

Transportation: Mini coach

Duration: 12 days and 11 nights

 

Itinerary of Guizhou Tour

Day 1:

Arrive at Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province. We will arrange our meeting time according to everyone’s flights.

As the landmark of Guiyang City, Jiaxiu Tower is a traditional Chinese style building built in 1598, during the Ming Dynasty.

We will visit Jiaxiu Tower in the late afternoon and then we will have dinner nearby. After dinner, you can enjoy the view of the tower at night. You may get to see some local people setting off Chinese lanterns in the square. There’s also the opportunity to walk around and get a feel for local life in a typical Chinese city. Read more about Guiyang.

Accommodation: Four-star hotel.

Note: We can meet at the airport or the hotel. If your flight is in the late evening or the night, you may feel too tired to join us, so you can miss the dinner and go to the hotel directly if you wish.

Day 2:

Travel to Xijiang from Guiyang

Xijiang nightIt will take us 3 hours from Guiyang to Kaili, where we can stop and have  lunch. After that, it will take us about 1 hour to get to the village of Xijiang.

After a guided tour around the village, we may still have some time to explore the village freely before we have dinner.

Accommodation: Diaojiaolou Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Xijiang Miao Cuisine

Day 3

Xijiang Miao Village

Xijiang lifeWe will watch a traditional performance by the Miao people in the morning. After lunch, our guide will organise a hike up the nearby South Hill so we can enjoy a panoramic view of the whole village. Once we’re finished with the hike, everyone is free to enjoy exploring the village at their leisure.

We will go to Langde Upper Miao Village in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: Diaojiaolou Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Langde Miao Cuisine

Day 4

Langde Upper Miao Village

langde01After we’ve taken our guided tour and watched the traditional performance in the centre of the village, you are free to explore the village by yourself or stay with our guide and do some shopping. This would be the ideal opportunity to pick up a few souvenirs related to the Miao ethnic minority, including their jewelry and even their traditional clothes! There are many small shops for you to choose from, but you may need an interpreter to help you translate.

In the afternoon, we will go to the town of Rongjiang.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Rongjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Day 5

Sanbao Dong Village

Sanbao is a typical Dong ethnic minority village lying on the Duliu River Bank. In the morning, we will take a short hike along the river bank. In the afternoon, we will go to the town of Congjiang.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Congjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Basha haircuttingDay 6 

The Dong Village of Yintan and the Miao Village of Basha

In the morning, while it is still beautifully quiet, we will visit the isolated village of Yintan, and then return to Congjiang for lunch.

The afternoon in Basha will be a stark contrast, as the rowdy rifle displays and music performances we will enjoy are bound to be quite noisy!

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Congjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Day 7

xiaohuang dong villageXiaohuang Dong Village

It is time to enjoy the incredible performance of the Dong people’s Kam Grand Choirs! Let’s do it in Xiaohuang, the celebrated “Village of Songs”.

In the late afternoon, we will travel to the village of Zhaoxing.

Accommodation: Zhaoxing Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Zhaoxing Dong Cuisine

Day 8

Zhaoxing Dong Village

zhaoxing01We will dedicate this entire day to exploring this beautiful Dong village. In particular, the five marvelous Drum Towers are an attraction not to be missed!

In the evening, we will have  a second chance to watch a traditional Dong performance in Zhaoxing.  Their performance will be noticeably different from the one we will have seen in Xiaohuang.

Accommodation: Zhaoxing Guesthouse.

Dinner: Traditional Zhaoxing Dong Cuisine

Day 9

The famous Wind-Rain Bridge of Chengyang Dong Village.

In the morning, we will go to Chengyang, which is home to the most beautiful Wind-Rain Bridge of all the Dong villages in China.

This is the last Dong village we will visit, so please feel free to explore at your own pace and soak up the atmosphere.

Accommodation: Well-equipped hotel in Chengyang.

Dinner: Traditional Chengyang Dong Cuisine

Day 10

Guizhou moutainous villageTravel to Guilin

Guilin is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, places in China according to many tourists. It will take us 3 hours to get there, but fortunately we will get to enjoy stunning views of the mountains along the way.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Guilin

Dinner: Not included. Guests are free to explore the area and sample the local food themselves.

Day 11

Boat tour through the Karst mountains

Guilin 03The Li River, also known as Lijiang, is probably the most famous scenic spot in all of Guangxi. It is so prominent that a tableau of the Li River is featured on the Chinese 20 Yuan note. The river is surrounded by Karst Mountains, which boast such unusual shapes and verdant greenery that they have an almost mythical appearance.

We will take a bamboo raft down the Li River to experience the majesty of the Karst Mountains first hand. We will also stop to explore a natural Karst cave.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Guilin

Dinner: Traditional Guangxi-style cuisine

Day 12

Once the tour has ended, you are free to head home or continue your travels in China alone. Guilin has an airport, from which you can easily fly to large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou.

If you plan on continuing your exploration of Guangxi, we strongly recommend you visit the town of Yangshuo. Resting on the Li River and surrounded by the Karst Mountains, this backpacker’s paradise is the ideal place to relax and meet a few fellow foreign travelers.

 

Highlights of Guizhou Tour

Xijiang Miao Village

xijiang01

Nestled on the northern side of Leigong Hill, surrounded by mountains covered in rich greenery and split in half by the fiercely beautiful Baishui or White Water River, Xijiang prides itself on being the largest Miao village in China, and perhaps the largest Miao village in the world. It is actually made up of a cluster of Miao villages, so it is more like a township than a village proper.

The Diaojiaolou, a kind of stilted wooden dwelling built by the Miao people, stretch up the hillsides on either side of the river. The banks of the river are connected by vast numbers of stunning Wind-Rain bridges, which look like tiny palaces hovering over the rushing water…Read more about Xijiang.

 

Langde Upper Village

langde02

There are only 500 villagers living in Langde Upper Village and all of them come from only ten different family lines. The village has become like a museum, preserving ancient buildings and local customs that have been practised by the Miao for hundreds of years.

The village rests by a stream and is nestled deep within the mountains. There are five “flower roads” that lead into the village and three wooden gatehouses, or village gates, at the northern, western and eastern entrances to the village. These roads are paved with smooth blue flagstones or rippling cobblestones that, alongside the looming stilted houses, look incredibly picturesque…Read more about Langde Upper Village.

 

Basha Miao Village

basha04

Basha is a village unlike any other in China. It is home to members of the Miao ethnic minority but it is unique amongst all other Miao communities. This is because it is the only place in China where residents are still legally allowed to own and carry guns. When the Chinese government tried to confiscate the guns from the members of Basha village, they refused and it was decided that they should be allowed to keep their rifles as part of their rich cultural heritage. To this day, visitors are welcomed with a thrilling display of expert shooting by the local men.

Due to their cautious nature, the villagers have virtually isolated themselves from the outside world. They are almost completely self-sufficient and still maintain practices and customs that date back hundreds of years…Read more about Basha.

 

Xiaohuang Dong Village

xiaohuang village

Xiaohuang is often referred to as the Village of Songs because the Dong people in this village are particularly accomplished at performing polyphonic folk songs known as “Dage” or Grand Songs. In 1996 the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China bestowed the title “the Village of China Folk Art” on Xiaohuang because of its preservation of the Dong singing tradition. Over one third of the population of Xiaohuang is made up of professional folk singers. While some folk songs are accompanied by the pipa[1], most are sung without any musical accompaniment…Read more about Xiaohuang.

 

Zhaoxing Dong Village

Zhaoxing01

Zhaoxing is one of the most famous Dong villages in China, in part due to its size but predominantly due to the fact that it has five Drum Towers. Each tower is specially named in order to promote a certain virtue, and is different in terms of its method of construction, size, height and external appearance.

According to local legend, this village was supposedly founded during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), meaning the village ancestors settled there over 840 years ago…Read more about Zhaoxing.

 

Yintan Dong Village

drum tower yintan

Obscured by misty mountains and dense green forests, Yintan is a gem largely hidden from the rest of the world. The gate is flanked by ancient Chinese yew trees, which give the village an air of mysticism as you enter. Even the name “Yintan”, meaning “Small Silver Lake”, has a certain ethereal quality to it.

Almost every household in the village has a barrel for preparing indigo dye and almost every piece of clothing worn by the locals will have been made entirely by them…Read more about Yintan.

 

Sanbao Dong Village

sanbao01

There are actually about 19 small villages that make up Sanbao, with three main villages, making it the largest Dong village in China. This cluster of villages lies along the banks of the Duliu River and is flanked by stunning banyan trees, which stretch for over a kilometre along the river’s banks. Many of them are over 300 years old!

Aside from these marvellous natural wonders, Sanbao is resplendent with stunning architecture, including a series of drum towers that have earned it accolade over the years. The magnificent Chezhai Drum Tower was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and it has remained undamaged for over 130 years, in spite of having been built without the use of nails or rivets…Read more about Sanbao.

 

Chengyang Dong Village

Chengyang Wind-Rain bridge

The main draw to this scenic area is Chengyang Wind-Rain Bridge, which was built in 1912 and is now over 100 years old. Though there are hundreds of wind-rain bridges in the area, this one is considered the most magnificent. It is also known as Yongji or Panlong Bridge and is made up of 2 platforms, 3 piers, 5 pavilions, 19 verandas, and 3 floors, giving it the appearance more of a palace than a bridge! Read more about Chengyang.

 

Guilin Karst Mountains

Guilin 05

In China, there is a popular saying which goes “the scenery in Guilin is the greatest under heaven” (桂林山水甲天下). The lush Karst Mountains, blossoming osmanthus trees, and majestic Li River combine to make an ethereal paradise. It is no wonder that, historically, people doubted its existence! Read more about Guilin.

 

Miao Ethnic Performance

Miao performance

Performances in Miao villages will always be set to music and, when it comes to the Miao people, the lusheng[2] is the instrument of choice, although other instruments like the suona[3] and the copper drum are also popular…Read more about Miao Performance.

 

Dong Ethnic Performance

Kam Grand Choir 01

The most talented singers in any Dong village make up what are called Kam Grand Choirs. The Kam Grand Choir tradition is thought to date back all the way to the Warring States Period (475BC-221 B.C.), with a history of over 2,500 years behind it. In 2009, it was made a World Class Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

A Kam Grand Choir is a polyphonic choir that sings without the help of a conductor or any accompanying orchestra. Their songs are designed to imitate the natural world, such as the chirping of insects, the gurgling of streams, the whistling of the wind and other soothing natural sounds.

 

Diaojiaolou 

guizhou diaojiaolou

Diaojiaolou is a kind of dwelling popular among several of the ethnic minority communities throughout southern China. The word “diaojiao” (吊脚) in Chinese means “hanging feet” and “lou” (楼) means “building”, so diaojiaolou literally means “hanging feet building”. They are so named because of their unusual appearance. The history of the diaojiaolou stretches back over 500 years and they are widespread throughout Yunnan, Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Hubei, and Sichuan province, but differ in appearance depending on the ethnic group who built them. During our tour, we will have the opportunity to compare the Dong-style diaojiaolou with the Miao-style diaojiaolou…Read more about Diaojiaolou.

 

Jiaxiu Tower

Jiaxiu Lou

Jiaxiu Tower has long been the symbol of Guiyang, the provincial capital of Guizhou, and yet it appears to suffer from rather mixed luck. On the one hand, the tower was supposedly responsible for the success of three Guizhou scholars in the imperial examination. On the other hand, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt six times. It is sometimes referred to as First Scholar’s Tower because the term “jiaxiu” can be interpreted to mean “first scholar” or “to come first in the imperial examinations” and the tower was initially built to encourage local scholars to study hard and perform well. While it seems it managed to achieve its aim, evidently whatever good luck the building had went to the scholars and left it with none for itself! Read more about Jiaxin Tower.

 

[1] Pipa: A four-stringed plucking instrument that has a pear-shaped wooden body and anywhere from 12 to 26 frets. It is sometimes referred to as the Chinese lute.

[2] Lusheng: A wind instrument made of multiple bamboo pipes, each fitted with a free reed, that are all in turn fitted into a large, hardwood pipe. Normally there are five or six bamboo pipes that are each of a different pitch. Air is blown into the hardwood pipe to create sound. They vary in size from small, handheld ones to ones that are several metres in length.

[3] Suona: A Chinese wind instrument. It is made up of a horn with a double reed that makes a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound. It comes in several sizes and the size of the horn affects the sound it makes. It is used throughout China in ritual music and folk music.

Miao Spiritual Beliefs

miao Spiritual BeliefsSpiritually speaking, the Miao people are great believers in animism and shamanism. Animism is the spiritual belief that non-human entities, such as animals, plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomena, possess a spiritual essence while shamanism is the belief that certain people, known as shamans, can interact with the spirit world in a meaningful way. Some villages will have shamans whose main purpose is to exorcise evil spirits or recall the soul of a sick person. The Miao also practice ancestor worship and believe in a wide variety of spirits. Animal sacrifice is also widespread throughout many Miao communities.

 

Join a travel with us to discover the Culture of Miao Ethnic Minority:  Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Miao Customs

Receiving Guests

miao minoroty 01Etiquette is incredibly important to the Miao people and certain customs must be adhered to, particularly when it comes to welcoming guests. Guests who have travelled a long way are given what is called “horn spirit”, which is a locally distilled alcoholic spirit that is specifically reserved for special occasions. If you visit any of the larger Miao villages, such as Xijiang, during national holidays or festivals, then you’ll be treated to this ceremony and be invited to try the “horn spirit”. Traditionally Miao people will receive any esteemed guest by slaughtering one of their chickens for the guest to eat. This is followed by a custom known as the poultry ceremony.

In this ceremony, a chicken is killed, cooked and distributed in a specific way. The head is given to the eldest person in attendance and the leg is given to the youngest. The heart is then presented to the guest of honour by a senior member of the host family, who holds it delicately in their chopsticks. The guest must then share the heart with the person who presented it to them. This gesture illustrates how many of the Miao customs have been developed with the aim of bringing Miao communities and clans together. It is important to note that, unlike in Han Chinese culture, it is considered very insulting to overeat in a Miao household if you are a guest. It is better to excuse yourself from eating when you are full, rather than trying to eat too much.

Family Reunions

When a married woman returns to her parent’s home to visit or when other family members come to visit, they will carry a chicken, about 2 to 3 litres of glutinous rice, a large piece of salted or fresh meat and a fish. These gifts are often simply referred to as a “mixed bundle”. When the guests arrive, the host family will call upon all of the cousins, paternal family members and members of the village to unwrap the bundle. They will all drink liquor and have dinner together. The dinner will be made up of the delicacies that the guests have brought and the glutinous rice will be shared with all of the members of the village.

miao dinnerOn the second day through to the third or fourth day, the families who shared the food that the guests brought should in turn invite the guests to their house to eat. The guests will normally visit between four to five families per day, but will always have dinner at the host’s house. This custom is called “disturbing the village” and has been practised since ancient times. It is an important ritual for improving bonds between distant members of the family.

When the guests leave, the host family and anyone who shared the food they had brought should send gifts to them. After the guests have left, the host family will leave their door open until the guests are long gone, in order to show the guests that they are always welcome to come again. As the guests leave the village, the host will see them off. Traditionally the host must lead them along the main road instead of a smaller path, which symbolically means they are wishing their guests a safe journey home. When a guest of significant importance leaves, all of the paternal family members and villagers will see them off. The women will adorn their shoulders with colourful cloths to express good will and the guest should wear these cloths until they get home out of politeness. The women will then propose toasts to the guest and sing what are called “flying songs”, or seeing off songs, loudly and clearly. The guest will then respond with their own song before departing.

 

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Xijiang Village

xijiang01

Xijiang prides itself on being the largest Miao village in China, and perhaps the largest Miao village in the world. It is actually made up of a cluster of Miao villages, so it is more like a township than a village proper. About 1,000 families and 6,000 people call Xijiang home, and of these 99.5% of them are from the Miao ethnic minority. Xijiang is in Leishan County and is located about 35 kilometres from Kaili City in Guizhou. It is nestled on the northern side of Leigong Hill, surrounded by mountains covered in rich greenery and split in half by the fiercely beautiful Baishui or White Water River. The Diaojiaolou, a kind of stilted wooden dwelling built by the Miao people, stretch up the hillsides on either side of the river. They look almost unreal, with thick wooden poles supporting the backs of the houses so that they appear to be hanging off of the hillside.

The banks of the river are connected by vast numbers of stunning Wind-Rain bridges, which look like tiny palaces hovering over the rushing water. Although many of the houses in the village have been newly built, there are still plenty of traditional houses and structures throughout the village that were all hand-built by local carpenters long before the village became a tourist attraction. If you walk along the paths used by farmers to reach the rice paddies, you’ll be treated with a wonderful view of the rice terraces and the more traditional Diaojiaolou.

miao life 02The main, tourist oriented part of the village is made up of two streets: an old or ancient street and a modern-built street. We recommend a visit to the old street, as it boasts many wonderful snack stalls, restaurants, and stores selling locally produced craftworks such as batik textiles, silverwork and fine embroidery. The Miao people are famed for their skill at these particular arts so a small, handmade trinket from Xijiang village would make the perfect souvenir. If you want a real taste of what Miao life is like, we recommend you try the Long Table Banquet, where you and your friends can share a table and sample a few of the small local dishes. It’s the perfect opportunity to try an array of different local delicacies and, at 28 RMB per person (about £2.80), it is very reasonably priced. Other delicious local foods include glutinous rice cake, la rou (a type of locally cured, smoky bacon) and fish in sour soup.

xijiang03Xijiang is also home to the Miao Nationality Museum, which is made up of eleven exhibition halls and houses wonderful displays of cultural artefacts, traditional dress, architectural marvels and works of art that are sure to give any visitor a better understanding of Miao culture. To enter the museum, you’ll need to produce your entrance ticket to the village. A performance takes place twice every day in the village, once at 11:30 and once at 17:00, in the village square. It is a singing and dancing show where senior members of the village sing ancient songs in Miao dialect that tell wonderful tales of Miao folklore and history. Some of the songs are joyful and uplifting while others are quite soulful and haunting. The performances can take place at slightly different times each day, so be sure to confirm the exact schedule of performances while you are there.

If you want to take in the panoramic view of the entire village, there’s a sightseeing platform where visitors can relax and take photographs. If you like, you can even rent Miao traditional dress and have your photograph taken in it or simply appreciate the beautiful Miao girls, decked out in silvery splendour, relaxing on the platform or entertaining tourists. At night, the view from the platform is particularly attractive, as the twinkling gas lamps of the houses below and the balmy night air are both soothing and mystifying. The hum of the elders chatting in the streets, the chirping of the insects and the faint sounds and smells of delicious meals wafting in the dark air will make you feel truly at home in this isolated place.

xijiang02Since Xijiang is nestled deep within Leigongshan National Park, it is also a perfect place to go hiking. Stunning countryside, mountains and rice paddies stretch for miles around Xijiang village, so a hike can last you anywhere from a few minutes to several hours if you so choose. It’s a wonderful way to discover new landscapes, get close to the beautiful rice paddies, and watch farmers plough the land with their oxen. We recommend visiting Xijiang anytime between May and July, as the spring and summer seasons here boast the best weather for hiking and the village looks particularly beautiful when the local flora is in bloom. However, if you travel to Xijiang during January then you’ll be able to see how the locals celebrate Miao New Year. The Miao New Year Festival is celebrated from December 1st till December 15th according to the Chinese lunar calendar so, if you want to see it, we advise that you check the exact dates of the festival before you go.

To reach Xijiang, there are two direct buses from Guiyang East Bus Station that leave at 9:00 and 15:00 respectively. Alternatively you can take the bus from Guiyang East Bus Station to Kaili, which takes about two hours, and then take the bus from Kaili General Bus Station to Xijiang. The buses between Kaili and Xijiang are far more regular and it means that, if you don’t want to stay overnight in Xijiang, you can return to Kaili to find a hotel. However, there are plenty of wonderful guesthouses in Xijiang that are all reasonably priced and, at some special guesthouses, you will even be greeted by some local Miao women, who will place a cotton necklace with a boiled egg inside it around your neck and offer you a bull’s horn filled with liquor to drink. This is Miao welcoming tradition and, if you get the chance, it’s a wonderful way to feel like a real part of the village. Langdeshang is another, smaller Miao village that is only 2 hours’ drive from Xijiang. Regular public buses and minibuses travel from Xijiang to Langdeshang every day so, if you fancy visiting a Miao village that isn’t quite so tourist oriented, we recommend you take the trip.

 

 

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Miao Agriculture and Craftworks

miao life01

The cultivation of rice and maize are the chief means of subsistence for the Miao people. Rice, maize, millet and sweet potatoes are their staple foods, although in more northern areas they eat maize, buckwheat, potatoes and oats. Miao food typically employs sour and peppery flavours to enhance their dishes. Although the Miao diet is relatively simple, Miao dishes such as Fish in Sour Soup and snacks such as La Rou (a kind of cured, smoked bacon) are popular throughout Guizhou for their rich, flavoursome taste.

miao02The craftwork of the Miao people is particularly magnificent. Miao men are accomplished at silverwork and all of the silver adornments worn by the Miao women will have been made by Miao silversmiths. The artistry of the Miao traditional dress is in part thanks to these silversmiths and in part thanks to the Miao women’s aptitude for embroidery. Their skill at embroidery is renowned throughout China and the Miao women embroider all of their own clothes. The main colours used in Miao embroidery are red and green, although colours will vary between different subgroups of Miao people. The patterns and figures embroidered on clothing are based partly on the natural world but also partly on the artists’ imagination. This is why dragons and phoenixes also feature in many designs and why certain animals, such as fish and birds, and plants will look different compared to how they appear in real life. Miao embroidery is famed for its delicacy, imaginative designs and use of vibrant colour.

苗族银饰The Miao women are also famed for their skill at the art of batik and their technique dates back over 1,000 years. First, the women use a knife that has been dipped in hot wax to draw a pattern onto the cloth. The cloth is then boiled in dye, which melts the wax. Once the wax has melted off, the cloth is removed from the boiling dye. The rest of the cloth will be coloured by the dye but the pattern under the wax will have remained the original colour of the cloth. These batik cloths are incredibly colourful and, although the method seems crude, the patterns on the cloth can be wonderfully elaborate.

The craftworks of the Miao people are beyond compare and look even more beautiful when worn during festivals or daily life. If you’re travelling through Guizhou during festival time, we strongly recommend you visit any of the Miao villages and marvel at the stunning traditional dress of the Miao people.

 

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Miao Traditional Dress

miao Traditional Dress

The daily clothing worn by Miao people will differ from place to place and many of the Miao subgroups are designated by the colour of their clothes, such as the Hmub Miao of southeast Guizhou who are often referred to as the Black Miao because of their characteristically indigo coloured clothing. In northwest Guizhou and northeast Yunnan, the Miao men will typically wear linen jackets that are colourfully embroidered and woollen blankets draped over their shoulders that are decorated in geometric patterns. In other areas, the men will wear short jackets that are buttoned down the front or to the left, long trousers with wide belts and long black scarves. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, the women wear jackets buttoned on the right and trousers that have delicately embroidered collars, sleeves and trouser legs. In other areas, the women wear high-collared short jackets and pleated skirts of varying length. These pleated skirts can have hundreds or even thousands of vertical pleats.

miao01The pleated skirts worn by many young Miao women are culturally significant and wonderful legends abound as to how they came to be. The legend called “the Origin of the Pleated Skirts” states that, in order to differentiate themselves from other ethnic minorities, a mother and daughter set about sewing a unique skirt for the Miao people. They thought long and hard about what the skirt should look like but to no avail. Later, as they were walking through the countryside, they came across a kind of local fungus. The shape of this fungus inspired them and they set about sewing a skirt that would imitate the pleats of the fungus. Once it was complete, they wore the skirt to the flower site to thread flowers onto it. Other Miao women saw the skirt and all immediately praised it. Eventually, these pleated skirts spread throughout the Miao villages and even women from different branches of the Miao people began to wear pleated skirts of different lengths.

These pleated skirts can be divided into three lengths: long, mid-length and short. Long skirts reach near the ankle, mid-length skirts are below the knee and short skirts are above the knee. The length of the skirt can be used to distinguish different subgroups of Miao. For example, in Leishan there are a group of Miao women referred to as “short skirt Miao” because their skirts are only about 20 centimetres long. The legend behind this short skirt goes that a long time ago, in ancient times, there was a very brave and handsome Miao hunter. One day he caught a beautiful golden pheasant and sent it to his beloved, a girl called Abang. To express her gratitude, Abang wove cloth by hand and then stitched and embroidered it to imitate the feathers of the golden pheasant. When the hunter returned, she wore the beautifully decorated short skirt and looked as magnificent as the golden pheasant. Thereafter, this style of richly coloured and delicately embroidered short skirt became popular in Leishan.

Miao01On top of their beautifully embroidered clothes, Miao women are also famed for the glittering silver adornments that they wear during festival time. The Miao people regard silver as a symbol of wealth and so have a particular fondness for it. They also believe silver symbolises light and good health, so wearing silver will ward off evil spirits, stave off natural disasters and bring good fortune. When it comes to the ornamental silver worn by the Miao women, the heavier the better, so some festival outfits can weigh upwards of 20 to 30 jin (about 10 to 15 kg).

A typical festival outfit worn by a Miao woman will include a hat or crown, horns, a comb, earrings or ear pendants, a neckband, a necklace, a collar, bracelets, and rings, all made of silver. Most of these will have been handmade by Miao silversmiths. The decorations are typically in four styles: symmetrical style, balanced style, connected style and radiating style. They usually feature patterns involving dragons, phoenixes, flowers and birds.

The most striking of these adornments is the silver hat or crown. Common motifs for the silver hats are a magpie stepping on plum, a golden pheasant calling out, a peacock spreading its tail, and a male and female phoenix perched together. These motifs can vary in appearance from region to region. For example, the phoenix hat of the Huangping region features hundreds of silver flowers, four birds and one phoenix. The silver pieces at the back of this hat are meant to imitate the phoenix’s tail feathers.

In some Miao villages, such as the ones near Kaili, Leishan, Danzhai and Taijiang, the silver horns are the most important adornment. They vary in thickness and are meant to look like the horns of a bull. The horns are each typically 50 to 70 centimetres long. They normally have patterns hammered into them, such as phoenixes or dragons holding pearls, and are sometimes decorated with feathers or tassels. The collar is another indispensable silver adornment for Miao women and is sometimes called a “moon plate” because it is shaped like a crescent moon. Miao women will also wear either 3 to 5 bracelets or 7 to 8 bracelets on each wrist. These bracelets come in several different styles and can even be made to look like dragons.

The Chinese often refer to Miao women as “fairies” because of the ethereal appearance that their festival clothes give them. They are considered so beautiful and majestic in their traditional dress that they appear almost otherworldly. If you plan on visiting any of the Miao villages, we strongly recommend that you aim to arrive during festival time and catch these fairies flitting about the villages, singing and dancing in their glittering splendour.

 

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The Performance of Miao Ethnic Minority

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Performances in Miao villages will always be set to music and, when it comes to the Miao people, the lusheng[1] is the instrument of choice, although other instruments like the suona[2] and the copper drum are also popular. During many festivals, the lusheng dance will be the focal attraction. It is a traditional dance performed by the Miao people in southeast Guizhou. This style of dance can be divided into two types: lined dance and stepping dance. In the lined dance, the performers will hold their lusheng, stand in a line and dance while turning around, with the performer playing the largest lusheng as their axis. In the stepping dance, two performers will play lusheng of the same size and act as the leaders of the dance. The other performers will circle around them and follow their movements.

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The stepping dance in Rongshui County, Guangxi, is considered particularly magnificent as dozens of lusheng are played and hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of people will join in the dance. It is a true spectacle of joy and a wonderful opportunity to hear the folk music played on the lusheng. In western Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan the Miao people have become particularly famous for their special, acrobatic lusheng dance. Normally it involves one, two, four or eight performers. For example, in Yuanyang, Yunnan, a performer will climb up a decorated wooden pole that is several metres high whilst still playing the lusheng. While continuing to play, they will pick an object off of the top of the pole and climb down. Finally, when they are one or two metres from the ground, they will somersault off of the pole while still playing their lusheng. Other acrobatic tricks include playing the lusheng upside down, playing it whilst performing rolls, and playing it whilst jumping over objects.

 

[1] Lusheng: A wind instrument made of multiple bamboo pipes, each fitted with a free reed, that are all in turn fitted into a large, hardwood pipe. Normally there are five or six bamboo pipes that are each of a different pitch. Air is blown into the hardwood pipe to create sound. They vary in size from small, handheld ones to ones that are several metres in length.

[2] Suona: A Chinese wind instrument. It is made up of a horn with a double reed that makes a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound. It comes in several sizes and the size of the horn affects the sound it makes. It is used throughout China in ritual music and folk music.

 

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