Yao people
A Yao woman, Tiantouzhai, Longji Terraces, China, November 2010
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 China: 2,796,003 (2010)
 Vietnam: 891,151 (2019)[1]
Mienic languages, Bunu, Pa-Hng, Lakkja, Mandarin Chinese, Shaozhou Tuhua, Badong Yao, Yeheni, Vietnamese, English
Predominantly Yao folk religion, minority Buddhism
Yao people
Chinese name
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetngười Dao

The Yao people (simplified Chinese: 瑶族; traditional Chinese: 瑤族; pinyin: Yáozú) or Dao (Vietnamese: người Dao) is a classification for various ethnic minorities in China and Vietnam. Their majority branch is also known as Mien. They are one of the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups in China and reside in the mountainous southwest and south of the country. They also form one of the 54 ethnic groups officially recognized by Vietnam. They numbered 2,796,003 in the 2010 Chinese census and 891,151 in the 2019 Vietnamese census. An estimated 60,000 Yao of the Iu Mien branch reside in the United States, mostly in the Western coastal states.[1]


Early history

The origins of the Yao can be traced back two millennia to Hunan. They are said to be descended from the Nanman.[2][better source needed] Their descriptions in Book of Rites and Romance of the Three Kingdoms cannot be taken as facts however, as they are vague and heavily romanticized, even the exonym itself meant vague "southern barbarians", in no way being specific nor accurate about Yao history and culture.

The Yao and Hmong were among the rebels during the Miao Rebellions against the Ming dynasty. As the Han Chinese expanded into South China, the Yao retreated into the highlands between Hunan and Guizhou to the north and Guangdong and Guangxi to the south, and stretching into Eastern Yunnan.[3] Around 1890, the Guangdong government started taking action against Yao in Northwestern Guangdong.[4]

The first Chinese exonym for "Yao people" was the graphic pejorative yao ('DOG' radical with the phonetic ; 'jackal'). In the 20th century language reforms, this was changed to its present form, with the 'JADE' radical.

Laotian Civil War

During the Laotian Civil War, the Yao tribes of Laos had a good relationship with U.S. forces and were dubbed to be an "efficient friendly force". They fought in favour of the (South Vietnamese) government against the communists.[5] This relationship caused the new communist Laotian government to target Yao tribal groups once the war was over. This triggered further immigration into Thailand, where the tribes would be put into camps along the Thailand-Laos border.

Immigration to the United States

After obtaining refugee status from the Thai government, and with the help of the United Nations, many Yao people were able to obtain sponsorship into the United States (although many remain in Thailand). Most of the Yao who have immigrated to the United States have settled along the Western part of the US, mainly in central and northern California such as Visalia, Oakland, Oroville, Redding, Richmond, Sacramento, but also in parts of Oregon like Portland, Salem, and Beaverton as well as the state of Washington in Seattle and Renton. See Mien American for those identified as Mien.

Culture, society, and economy

A Yao child with traditional dress in Guangxi
A red Yao woman in Vietnam

Yao society is traditionally patrilineal, with sons inheriting from their fathers. The Yao follow patrilocal residence.[6]

The Yao people have been farmers for over a thousand years, mostly rice cultivation through plowing, although a few practice slash-and-burn agriculture. Where the Yao live nearby forested regions, they also engage in hunting.[6]

During the Southern Song (1127–1279), an imperial Chinese observer, Zhou Qufei, described the Yao as wearing distinctive fine blue clothing produced using indigo.[7]

The Yao celebrate their Pan Wang (King Pan) festival annually on the sixteenth day of the tenth lunar month. The festival celebrates the mythical original story of the Yao people, and has evolved "into a happy holiday for the Yao to celebrate a good harvest and worship their ancestors."[8]


Main article: Yao folk religion

Simulate a ritual of the Red Yao people in Yên Bái province -Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Vietnam

Taoism has historically been important to the Yao.[9] Jinag Yingliang, in a 1948 study, argued that Yao religion was characterized by (1) a process of Han Chinese-influenced Daoisation (Chinese: 道教化; pinyin: Dàojiào huà); (2) the endurance of pre-Daoist folk religion; and (3) some Buddhist beliefs.

The description of Yao religion is similar to the definition of Chinese folk religion as described by Arthur Wolf and Steve Sangren.[10] Scholar Zhang Youjun takes issue with claims of "strong Buddhist influence" on the Yao, arguing that "although Yao ritual texts contain Buddhist expression, the Yao do not believe in Buddhism at all. They are resolutely Taoist."[10]

Groups and languages

A Yao stilt house in Vietnam

There are several distinct groups within the Yao nationality, and they speak several different languages, The Iu Mien comprise 70% of the Yao population.[citation needed]

In addition to China, Yao also live in northern Vietnam (where they are called Dao), northern Laos, and Myanmar. There are around 60,000 Yao in northern Thailand, where they are one of the six main hill tribes. The lowland-living Lanten of Laos, who speak Kim Mun, and the highland-living Iu Mien of Laos are two different Yao groups. There are also many Iu Mien Americans, mainly refugees from the highlands of Laos. The Iu Mien do not call themselves "Yao". Not all "Yao" are Iu Mien. A group of 61,000 people on Hainan speak the Yao language Kim Mun; 139,000 speakers of Kim Mun live in other parts of China (Yunnan and Guangxi), and 174,500 live in Laos and Vietnam.[11]

The Bunu people call themselves Nuox [no13], Buod nuox [po43 no13], Dungb nuox [tuŋ33no13], or their official name Yaof zuf [ʑau21su21]. Only 258,000 of the 439,000 people categorised as Bunu in the 1982 census speak Bunu; 100,000 speak the Tai–Kadai Zhuang languages, and 181,000 speak Chinese and the Tai–Kadai Bouyei language.[citation needed]

Mao (2004)

Mao Zongwu (2004:7-8)[12] gives a detailed list of various Yao endonyms (i.e., self-designated names) and the Chinese names of various groups and clans associated with them. Endonyms are written in the International Phonetic Alphabet with numerical Chao tones.

Plains Yao

Groups considered to be "Plains Yao" (Pingdi Yao 平地瑶) include:[citation needed]


Tim Doling (2010:82-83) lists the following Yao (spelled Dao in the Vietnamese alphabet) subgroups in northern Vietnam.[17]

According to Doling (2010), only Kim Mun, Kim Mien, and Lô Gang may be found outside Vietnam.

Nguyen (2004:14-15, 128) lists Đại Bản, Tiểu Bản, Khố Bạch, and Làn Tiẻn as the 4 primary subdivisions of ethnic Yao in Vietnam.[20]


Yao peoples are distributed primarily in the provinces Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan of China. Ethnic Yao are also found in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

In China

Distribution of ethnic Yao population in China, based on 2000 Chinese Census.
Yao autonomous prefectures and counties in China.

By county

County-level distribution of the Yao, 2000 Chinese Census

(Only counties or county equivalents with more than 0.1% of county population are shown.)

County/City Yao % Yao Total
Hunan Province 1.11 704,564 63,274,173
Dongkou County 1.55 11,639 752,581
Xinning County 2.59 14,438 557,120
Chenzhou City 1.63 70,513 4,324,812
Beihu District 1.25 3,921 314,477
Rucheng County 15.45 52,955 342,861
Zixing City 1.22 4,284 351,581
Yongzhou City 9.57 513,831 5,367,106
Shuangpai County 4.90 7,916 161,510
Dao County 5.92 36,938 624,199
Jiangyong County 62.39 147,164 235,893
Ningyuan County 2.16 15,943 738,259
Lanshan County 5.29 17,608 332,937
Xintian County 1.82 6,541 358,831
Jianghua Yao Autonomous County 61.87 270,889 437,835
Huaihua City 1.55 71,952 4,639,738
Zhongfang County 1.33 3,147 236,675
Chenxi County 6.77 32,405 478,708
Xupu County 3.18 25,398 798,983
Hongjiang City 1.47 7,137 485,061
Guangdong Province 0.24 202,667 85,225,007
Shaoguan City 1.13 31,042 2,735,433
Shixing County 2.00 4,115 205,684
Ruyuan Yao Autonomous County 10.75 19,121 177,894
Longmen County 2.51 6,726 267,949
Qingyuan City 3.05 96,043 3,146,713
Lianshan Zhuang and Yao Autonomous County 14.33 14,195 99,070
Liannan Yao Autonomous County 52.29 69,968 133,814
Lianzhou City 1.31 5,366 409,360
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region 3.36 1,471,946 43,854,538
Xincheng District 1.30 5,560 426,346
Chengbei District 1.50 5,901 392,726
Shijiao District 1.15 2,949 256,730
Guilin City 8.15 375,902 4,614,670
Xiufeng District 1.63 2,050 125,924
Diecai District 1.72 2,312 134,401
Xiangshan District 1.42 3,527 249,135
Qixing District 1.76 4,003 227,278
Lingui County 3.53 14,957 424,182
Lingchuan County 3.20 10,169 318,036
Quanzhou County 4.29 27,984 652,963
Xing'an County 2.35 8,317 353,920
Yongfu County 3.48 8,202 235,368
Guanyang County 7.77 17,971 231,288
Longsheng Various Nationalities Autonomous County 17.56 28,237 160,796
Ziyuan County 3.19 5,014 156,946
Pingle County 14.08 55,553 394,575
Lipu County 7.48 25,893 346,169
Gongcheng Yao Autonomous County 58.60 158,937 271,216
Wuzhou City 1.15 32,021 2,796,087
Mengshan County 12.02 22,587 187,918
Fangchenggang City 4.63 34,074 735,952
Gangkou District 1.37 1,462 106,403
Fangcheng District 6.59 20,840 316,111
Shangsi County 4.22 8,666 205,307
Dongxing City 2.87 3,106 108,131
Guigang City 1.86 71,063 3,827,945
Pingnan County 6.29 66,391 1,055,782
Nanning City 1.43 68,975 4,839,536
Shanglin County 6.50 24,697 379,986
Mashan County 8.48 33,873 399,439
Liuzhou City 3.57 125,839 3,522,322
Heshan City 1.87 2,452 131,249
Luzhai County 2.01 8,424 418,665
Laibin County 1.25 10,475 839,790
Rong'an County 1.88 5,313 283,029
Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County 3.88 11,798 304,149
Rongshui Miao Autonomous County 6.48 27,560 425,608
Jinxiu Yao Autonomous County 37.45 50,532 134,934
Xincheng County 2.05 7,051 343,556
Hezhou Prefecture 12.49 241,822 1,936,849
Hezhou City 4.84 41,130 850,023
Zhaoping County 4.46 15,746 353,298
Zhongshan County 8.75 40241 460021
Fuchuan Yao Autonomous County 52.91 144,705 273,507
Baise Prefecture 3.82 127,351 3,332,096
Baise City 3.29 11,211 340,483
Tiandong County 4.63 16,674 360,123
Pingguo County 4.16 16,344 392,800
Debao County 1.84 5,085 276,335
Napo County 2.74 4,661 170,158
Lingyun County 21.05 36,954 175,573
Leye County 1.97 2,857 144,816
Tianlin County 11.64 27,559 236,799
Xilin County 3.54 4,934 139,282
Hechi Prefecture 9.93 349,819 3,523,693
Hechi City 2.31 7,355 318,348
Yizhou City 5.54 30,436 549,434
Luocheng Mulao Autonomous County 1.21 3,903 322,116
Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County 5.36 17,807 332,067
Nandan County 9.18 29,284 318,844
Tian'e County 2.44 3,461 141,649
Fengshan County 7.71 12,714 164,807
Donglan County 4.29 10,581 246,715
Bama Yao Autonomous County 17.24 37,706 218,724
Du'an Yao Autonomous County 21.66 117,609 543,019
Dahua Yao Autonomous County 21.46 78,963 367,970
Guizhou Province 0.13 44,392 35,247,695
Liping County 1.10 5,046 458,533
Rongjiang County 1.70 5,101 300,369
Congjiang County 2.04 6,158 301,513
Majiang County 3.35 6,807 203,481
Libo County 3.45 5,915 171,366
Yunnan Province 0.45 190,610 42,360,089
Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture 1.86 76,947 4,130,463
Yuanyang County 2.18 7,922 362,950
Jinping Miao, Yao, and Dai Autonomous County 12.00 37,937 316,171
Lüchun County 3.46 6,968 201,256
Hekou Yao Autonomous County 22.10 21,097 95,451
Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture 2.50 81,774 3,268,553
Malipo County 7.06 18,926 267,986
Guangnan County 2.16 15,781 730,376
Funing County 10.35 39,646 382,913
Jingdong Yi Autonomous County 1.15 4,063 352,089
Jiangcheng Hani and Yi Autonomous County 3.94 3,946 100,243
Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture 1.88 18,679 993,397
Mengla County 6.77 15,944 235,657


The Yao of Guizhou are found in the following locations (Guizhou Province Gazetteer 贵州志 2002).[21]

The Yao of Guizhou have various autonyms, such as:[21]


The Jianghua Yao Autonomous County is the only Yao-designated autonomous county in Hunan. Some subgroups of ethnic Yao in Hunan include:[22]

The Hunan Province Gazetteer (1997) gives the following autonyms for various peoples classified by the Chinese government as Yao.

Tan Xiaoping (2012)[27] also gives the following autonyms for Yao subgroups of Jiangyong County.

The Yao of Shaoyang Prefecture are found in the following locations (Shaoyang Prefecture Gazetteer 1997). Population statistics are from 1990.

The Shaoyang Prefecture Gazetteer (1997) reports that the Yao of Shaoyang Prefecture, Hunan speak the following languages.

The following population statistics of ethnic Yao in Hunan are from the 1990 Chinese census, as given in the Hunan Province Gazetteer (1997).

Population of
ethnic Yao in Hunan
County Population (1990)
Jianghua 210,944
Jiangyong 62,647
Dao 26,771
Ningyuan 16,361
Lanshan 16,123
Shuangpai 7,206
Xintian 6,295
Qiyang 3,209
Chenxi 26,132
Xupu 13,989
Qianyang 3,264
Huaihua 2,066
Tongdao 1,657
Xinning 12,756
Dongkou 8,473
Longhui 6,151
Chenzhou 5,872
Yizhang 4,145
Zixing 3,999
Guiyang 2,323
Changning 1,085
Total 460,667

Written languages

After 1982, the Guangxi Nationality Institute and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences together created a new Yao writing system which was unified with the research results of the Yao-American scholar Yuēsè Hòu (Traditional Chinese: 約瑟·候/Simplified Chinese: 约瑟·候). The writing system was finalized in 1984 in Ruyuan County (乳源瑤族自治縣), Guangdong, which included Chinese professors Pan Chengqian (盤承乾/盘承乾), Deng Fanggui (鄧方貴/邓方贵), Liu Baoyuan (劉保元/刘保元), Su Defu (蘇德富/苏德富) and Yauz Mengh Borngh; Chinese government officials; Mien Americans Sengfo Chao (Zhao Fuming), Kao Chiem Chao (Zhao Youcai), and Chua Meng Chao; David T. Lee.

American linguist Herbert C. Purnell developed a curriculum and workshop presentations on language learning in East and Southeast Asia, as well as Yao Seng Deng from Thailand. The US delegation took the new writing system to the Iu Mien community in the United States where it was adopted with a vote of 78 to 7 by a conference of Mien American community leaders.[6] This writing system based on the Latin alphabet was designed to be pan-dialectal; it distinguishes 30 syllable initials, 121 syllable finals and eight tones.

For an example of how the unified alphabet is used to write Iu Mien, a common Yao language, see Iu Mien language.

There is a separate written standard for Bunu, since it is from the Hmong/Miao side, rather than the Mien/Yao side, of the Miao–Yao language family.

Some people think that a variety of Yao is, or was, written in Nüshu, an indigenous script in Southern part of Hunan Province in China. But this connection between Yao language and Nüshu is disputed, because Nüshu more likely recorded local Chinese dialect which might be also known by Yao people in Hunan.

Officially, illiteracy and semi-literacy among the Yao in China still stood at 40.6% in 2002.[28]

See also


  1. ^ a b Census 01/04/2019. p. 44. General Directorate for Statistics of Vietnam, 19/12/2019. accessdate 1/09/2020.
  2. ^ Theobald, Ulrich. "Man 蠻". www.chinaknowledge.de. Retrieved 2019-09-14.
  3. ^ Wiens, Herold Jacob (1967). Han Chinese expansion in South China. Shoe String Press. p. 276.
  4. ^ The Chinese times, Volume 4. TIENTSIN: THE TIENTSIN PRINTING CO. 1890. p. 24.
  5. ^ "Independent Lens . DEATH OF A SHAMAN . The Mien". PBS. Archived from the original on 14 February 2018. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Yao" in Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China (ed. James Stuart Olson: Greenwood Press, 1998), p. 374.
  7. ^ Sean Marsh, Imperial China and Its Southern Neighbours ( eds. Victor H. Mair & Liam Kelley: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2015), p. 96.
  8. ^ Liming Wei, Chinese Festivals (Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 106-07.
  9. ^ Deborah A. Sommer, "Taoism and the Arts" in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts (ed. Frank Burch Brown: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 384.
  10. ^ a b Litzinger, Ralph A. (2000). Other Chinas: The Yao and the Politics of National Belonging. Duke University Press. pp. 289–90. ISBN 0-8223-2549-7.
  11. ^ "Kim Mun". ethnologue.com. Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  12. ^ 毛宗武 / Mao Zongwu. 2004. 瑤族勉语方言研究 / Yao zu Mian yu fang yan yan jiu [A Study of Mien Dialects]. Beijing: 民族出版社 / Min zu chu ban she.
  13. ^ "江华瑶族自治县的汉语方言和民族语言分布,欢迎补充!!!【江华县吧】_百度贴吧". Archived from the original on 2017-03-14. Retrieved 2017-03-13.
  14. ^ Chen, Qiguang [陈其光] (2013). Miao and Yao language [苗瑶语文]. Beijing: China Minzu University Press.
  15. ^ "景东彝族自治县太忠乡岔箐村委会". Archived from the original on 2013-12-30. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  16. ^ "景东彝族自治县太忠乡大松树村委会". Archived from the original on 2013-12-30. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  17. ^ Doling, Tim. 2010. Mountains and Ethnic Minorities: North West Việt Nam. Thế Giới Publishers.
  18. ^ Chảo Văn Lâm. 2013. Thơ ca hôn lễ: người Dao Đỏ ở Lào Cai. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản văn hóa thông tin.
  19. ^ a b Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng. 2013. Lễ cưới người Dao Nga Hoàng. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản văn hóa thông tin.
  20. ^ PGS. TS. Nguyễn Khắc Tụng, TS. Nguyễn Anh Cường. 2004. Trang phục cổ truyền của người Dao ở Việt Nam. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản khoa học xã hội [viện khoa học xã hội Việt Nam].
  21. ^ a b Guizhou Province Gazetteer: Ethnic Gazetteer [贵州省志. 民族志] (2002). Guiyang: Guizhou Ethnic Publishing House [貴州民族出版社].
  22. ^ 湖南瑶族社会历史调查 (2009)
  23. ^ Lei Biying; Zheng Linguang [雷碧英; 郑林光; 新宁县民族宗教事务局; 新宁县黄金瑶族乡中心学校]. 2012. Badong Yao language [八峒瑶语]. Xinning: Xinning County Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau [新宁县民族宗教事务局].
  24. ^ 道客巴巴 (7 June 2012). "新宁县瑶族乡濒危方言峒话调查". www.doc88.com. Archived from the original on 3 May 2018. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  25. ^ 吴萍 (3 May 2018). "湖南新宁瑶族"峒话"音系". 现代语文:下旬.语言研究 (10). Archived from the original on 31 July 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  26. ^ 许阳; 胡萍 (3 May 2018). "新宁县瑶族乡峒话的语音系统". 文教资料 (32). Archived from the original on 30 July 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  27. ^ Tan Xiaoping [谭晓平]. 2012. Language contact and evolution: the Mien language of the Yao people of Jiangyong County, southern Hunan 语言接触与语言演变: 湘南瑶族江永勉语个案研究. Wuhan: Central China Normal University Press [华中师范大学出版社]. ISBN 978-7-5622-5409-6
  28. ^ "您访问的页面丢失了 - 中国红河网 - 官方网站". www.hh.cn. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2018.