Linguistically the Miao belong to the Miao-Yao branch of the Sino-Tibetan family of language. The Miao speak their own language surely consisting of several dialects varying from place to place, which makes it even hard for them to understand those of other tribes. The written form was only compiled based on the Han Chinese Phonetic Symbols after liberation (1950 in Guizhou). This has, however, proved unsatisfactory due to the number of dialects that cannot be understood by other Miao groups in different parts of the province. Miao authorities recognize four major dialects: Western Hunan, Southeast Guizhou, Southeast Yunnan and Southwest Sichuan. Nowadays more and more young Miaos can speak Han Chinese (Mandarin).
Turbans, short jackets and black puttees are the Miao men's favorites, while Miao women in Chinese-style jackets and pleated skirts are famous for their novel hairstyles: buns on the top with turbans of different colors, hair bound over a frame on the top and capbill-like hair above the forehead shaped with vegetable oil. Girls do not only know how to beautify themselves but also how to print with wax, a traditional handicraft that remains the pride of the ethnic group.
The great number of pleats characterizes skirts of the Miao women. In many areas in Guizhou, Miao women wear skirts, which are as short as western miniskirts. While in some other areas, Miao women wear long skirts. No men wear skirts in China except those of the Long-Horn Miao. But this tradition seems to have undergone a change. Perhaps in a few years’ time, men of the Long-Horn Miao will not wear skirts any more except on festival occasions.
Minority nationality villages possess distinctive architectural features. The Miao dwell in mountains and their villages are often seen sprawling up mountain slopes. The Diaojiaolou (also the Mao's Wooden House) is the typical building in Miao villages. Seated on wooden columns, a few meters above the ground, the Diaojiaolou looks like a house on stilts.
Drinking and dancing are part of the Miao's life. The Miao have a liking for drinking to such an extent that all the households brew wine. When a guest arrives, he/she is asked to drink in turn with the host. They offer 12 roadblock drinks to honored guests with lusheng dance as a formal welcome ceremony. The Miao are a musical group. Whenever there is a party, there is singing and dancing. The male and female are all good at antiphonal singing. They sing to introduce each other, to welcome guests, to express affection for each other, to voice out inner emotions and feelings as well as to mourn the dead.
Folk Songs of Miao Minority
This kind of folk song is popular in the villages of Miao people in the whole city such as Kabao in Xiaba Village and Xiaoyao in Xinchang Village in Wudang County; and Gaopo and Qiantao in Huaxi County. There are two types of folk song: mountain air and Miao song. Mountain air refers to the folk songs sung in Mandarin and Miao song refers to the songs sung in Miao dialect. Folk songs for Miao minority can also be classified into ancient song, sacrificing song, love song and toasting song. There are diversified branches of Miao minority in Guiyang, so there are different song keys in different places, so there are diversified styles of pitches and tones for the folk songs.
Wood Drum Dance
Wood Drum Dance is the dance for Miao ethnic group in worship. The dance is accompanied with wood drum beating, and always with lusheng, a reed-pope wind instrument. It is mainly popular at Gaopo of Guiyang and Shilong Village of Baiyun District. The wood drum dance in Shilong Village is also called Seizing Drum Sticks. The dance primarily aims to pray for good weather for crops, peace and safety. It is also said that the dance is performed for the purpose of praying for giving birth to a child. During performance of the dance, the drum is beaten by the most senior man in the village. Lusheng in hand, young men dance around the wood drum. In the beginning，the dancers are mostly married young people without kids. When dancing, the dancer may seize the drum sticks from the drum when the latter is neglectful so that the dancer himself becomes the drummer, who is said to have child in the year to come.
Among the Miao's important festivals are the Miao's New Year, Si Yue Ba Minority Festival, the New-Rice-Tasting Festival, the Lusheng Gathering and the Dragon Boat Festival. The following Chapter offers a vivid description of these festivals.
The daily dressing of the Miao differs greatly from one place to another. General speaking, the men wear their hair long and wrapped in a head-cover. They wear a collarless coat with large sleeves, while the trousers have wide legs. The waist is fastened with a belt and there are wrappings for winter wear. Meanwhile, the women keep their hair worn in a coil on the top, and they also wrap it in a scarf. Wearing accordion-pleated skirts, the women adorn themselves with wrist rings, earrings and neck hoops of silver. The Miao's festival costumes are exotically beautiful with delicate embroidery, silver ornaments or colorful batik patterns.
The Guzhang (water buffalo offal) Fertility Festival is one of the grand festivals of the Miao nationality. It has two purposes: one is to commemorate the ancestors of the Miao nationality who had come here as pioneers from other places; and the other is to celebrate the harvests of the past years. It takes place every 13 years, most recently in March 1992 at Langde Village, Taijiang County, when modern influences mixed with age-old customs. Festivals continue for three to seven days. On the first day, the elected committee in charge of the festival climbs the mountains to search for the soul of the dragon, a symbol of good luck. The shaman guides the dragon soul into a duck, which is bought specifically for this purpose. In the evening, a pig is ceremonially killed and shared among all participants during a great celebratory feast. In times past, a water buffalo would be scarified, but now pigs are killed instead. Sharing the meat symbolizes sharing in the community and the preservation of old traditions that are linked with the good fortune, prosperity and fertility of the whole village. During the festival period, the villagers delight in eating, singing and dancing all day and all night. It is still celebrated in Leishan County, Taijiang County, Jianhe County as well as in some areas around Kaili city.
New-Rice-Tasting Festival is the grand occasion of the Miao to enjoy newly ripe rice to welcome the coming harvest. It is practiced as well among the other minority nationalities. On this day, as soon as everyone in the village gather around, the village chief walks to the field, cuts three ears of rice and passes the to the local witch (shaman) for sacrificial rites. There is a belief in ancestors worship as well as a desire to give thanks for the virtues and power of the land spirit. Each family will enjoy a nice meal of new rice with fish and meat. During the festival, the villagers will hold a variety of activities, such as bullfighting, bird fighting, lusheng dance and antiphonal singing.
The Sisters Festival begins on the fifteenth day of the third lunar month, when unmarried women harvest rice from the terraced fields and gather together by the river to prepare it. The rice is cooked until it has a sticky consistency and is blue, pink, yellow, and white to represent spring, summer, fall and winter. The young women then place some of the rice in small bundles of cloth as young men arrive and begin to serenade them. Each young man singles out the woman he hopes to marry someday. Although he sings about his hunger and thirst, his real meaning is: "I love you, do you love me?"
The young woman responds to his song by giving him a drink of rice wine and some rice wrapped in cloth. Her official reply is inside. If she has placed a hot pepper there, it's a flat refusal; one chopstick signals a more polite "no-thank-you" to his love. If he finds a leaf inside his bundle, he must first give her satin; and a piece of grass implies he must first supply her with a needle and thread before she will signal "love you too" with two chopsticks. For those who have already "exchange two chopsticks" at the river, the festival is also a time for married women to return to their parents' home. This is the only time that daughters see their parents and the one occasion that sisters sit down together all year. The rest of the days are spent with their husbands' families. Women arrive on foot laden with chickens, rice cakes and bolts of hand-woven cloth for their families. Their husbands remain at home.
The Dragon Boat Festival is the most important celebration of the Miao people who live along the Qingshuijiang River in the southeast of Guizhou Province. Every year between 30000 and 40000 Miao participate in the festival. In the eyes of the Miao, the dragon is a good symbol. Girls like to adorn their hair with silver ornaments shaped like dragons and wear clothes embroidered or woven with dragon patterns. The Miaos make exquisite dragon boats. The dragon's body consists of three canoes -- one large and two small --that are bound together. The carved head, painted red, blue or yellow, is made from the trunk of a water willow tree. It is about two meters long and sports a pair of horns. The Miao Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated from the 24th to 27th of the fifth lunar month. But according to local customs, people are allowed to send their boats down the river after the 16th, provided that they have finished weeding their fields. The earlier appearance of the boats on the river is a testimony to the efficiency of the villagers. The diligent peasants consider it a shame not to finish weeding before the festival begins.