Total population
550,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
China: Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan
 Vietnam 4,003 (2019)[1]
TaoismBuddhism [1]

The Gelao people (also spelled Gelo) (Gelao: Klau, Chinese: 仡佬族; pinyin: Gēlǎozú) are an ethnic group of China and Vietnam. They form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. However, many Gelao are also variously classified as Yi, Miao, and Zhuang by the Chinese government.

They number approximately 438,200 and are mainly located in Gelao autonomous counties in western part of Guizhou, such as Wuchuan Gelao and Miao Autonomous County and Daozhen Gelao and Miao Autonomous County in Zunyi. They are also found in Liupanshui, Anshun, Dafang, and Bijie. Some live in western Guangxi (Longlin Various Nationalities Autonomous County), southeastern Yunnan and southern Sichuan. The main religion practiced is Taoism with a small but significant Buddhist minority.


The Gelao people are often considered to be the aboriginal inhabitants of Guizhou. The ancestors of the Gelao were the Rau peoples, who made up the population of ancient Yelang.


Main article: Gelao languages

The Gelao languages belong to the Kra–Dai language family. Today, only a small minority of the Gelao still speak this language. Since the various Gelao dialects differ greatly from each other, Mandarin has been used as a lingua franca and is now the main language spoken by Gelaos. Hmong, Nuosu, and Bouyei are also used.


The traditional suits of the men consist of jacket done up to a side and long pants. The women wear short jackets and narrow skirts divided into three parts: the head office is elaborate in red wool while the other two are of fabric bordered in black and white colors. Men and women wear long scarves.

In their traditional music, the Gelao use a two-stringed fiddle with a body made from a cow horn, called the jiaohu (; pinyin: jiǎohú).

The Gelao people have their own language, Gelao . At present, only more than a thousand Gelao people can speak this language. The Gelao language differs greatly from place to place due to scattered living. Most Gelao people speak many languages such as Chinese, Miao, Yi, and Bouyei.

Gelao folk circulates oral literature such as poetry and proverbs. Ancient folk songs consist of long and short sentences of varying numbers of words. In the past two or three hundred years, they have been greatly influenced by the genre of Han poetry, and many have borrowed Chinese words and phrases.


It was previously thought that the Gelao people only had a spoken language, not a written one. However, in September 2008, The History of Jiu Tian Da Ling (English: Record of the Nine Heavens) was found in Guizhou. The book is kept by a Gelao person with a surname of Li in Qianbei, whose ancestors were from the Song dynasty. A descendant of King Li Wentong of Gulao, he himself does not know what kind of book this is, but he has always inherited his ancestral teachings and regards this book as a treasure. The discovery of Record of the Nine Heavens fully proved that the Gelao people is an ancient people with a long history and splendid culture. It not only has a written language, but it was also the earliest nation that advocated the concept of "harmony and harmony." The inventors of tea, fireworks, copper, iron, etc., also proved that the Gelao tribe had their own words.

However, through identification, the distribution area of the Gelao ethnic group described in Record of the Nine Heavens is consistent with the local declaration after the mid-1980s (for example, it was declared that the birthplace of Gelao was in Wuchuan, while the core area of Yelang was ignored in Panjiang, Chishui, Hebei), deviating from the local history records of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Also, the description of the ancient song "Sue Genyou" in Gelao, and the grammatical errors of the classical Chinese and Gelao in "The History of Nine Heavens" contain many grammatical errors, hinting at the possibility of a modern-day forgery.

The Gelao people living in the western part of Guizhou, such as Anshun, used to have Gelao characters made of six Chinese characters, which are used to record some folk songs.


The Gelao consist of various subgroups. Their historical exonyms, given in a provincial ethnic gazetteer from the Republic of China era, include the following.[2]

Yi people

The Yi (羿), who number no more 3,000 people, live in the Chishui (赤水) area in Xuyong County, Sichuan, which is on the border with Guizhou.[citation needed] They are a subgroup of the Gelao but have a distinctive history. The Yi call themselves the gau13.[3] In comparison, the Gelao of Xinzhai 新寨, Puding 普定, Guizhou, call themselves the qau13. The Yi live in:[3]

The Yi have been mentioned since the Tang dynasty, and were said to have come from the north. The Yi are also noted for their belief in the Zitong (子童) Bodhisattva (菩萨).[3]

Unlike most Gelao dialects, the Yi dialect uses a Loloish-derived numeral system (Zhang 1993:424).[3]

Gelao in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the Gelao are recognized as an official ethnic group. There are 2,636 Gelaos in Vietnam (2009), mostly inhabited in the karst plateau Hoàng Su Phì and Đồng Văn districts of Hà Giang province. They represent a majority in Túng Sán commune of Hoàng Su Phì.

See also


  1. ^ "Report on Results of the 2019 Census". General Statistics Office of Vietnam. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  2. ^ Guizhou County Gazetteer: Ethnic Gazetteer [贵州省志. 民族志] (2002). Guiyang: Guizhou Ethnic Publishing House [貴州民族出版社].
  3. ^ a b c d 张済民/Zhang, Jimin. 仡佬语研究/Gelao yu yan jiu (A Study of Gelao). 贵阳市/Guiyang, China: 贵州民族出版社/Guizhou min zu chu ban she, 1993.