The possible Caucasian origin of the Miao people can be seen in the fair complexion of this young girl in Guizhou. [Miao Messenger]
When Snow Covered the Ground
Any visit to Guizhou Province is incomplete without a trip to a Miao festival. The Miao, who number approximately five million people in Guizhou alone, have millions more in other areas of south China and throughout the mountains of Southeast Asia, where they are better-known by the name of their dominant subgroup, the Hmong.
In 1924, F. M. Savina of the Paris Foreign Missionary Society published a book in which he claimed the Miao were of Caucasian origin. Savina wrote, "In appearance the Miao are pale yellow in complexion, almost white, their hair is often light or dark brown, sometimes even red or corn-silk blond, and a few even have pale blue eyes."
For many centuries the Chinese living in the Miao regions called themselves Li-min, which is generally translated 'black-haired people'. One historian has asked, "Why, then, did they designate themselves the Black or Dark people? Did they at one time live in the neighborhood of people who were fair-haired and of lighter complexion than themselves?"
During intense periods of Chinese persecution, many Miao were killed because they were easy to single out. An 80-year-old Miao man in Laos, Cher Sue Vue, remembered his childhood when the Chinese crossed into Laos searching for white babies. He said, "At that time there was only one white baby in our village. The infant's parents were warned before the Chinese arrived, and they carried him into the forest where they hid."
Speculation about the origins of the Miao has led some to claim that the ancestors of the Miao first lived in Persia or Babylon before migrating into Siberia. After staying there for a time, the Miao moved again, passing through Mongolia and entering north China.
Chinese histories confirm that the Miao once lived in north and central China before they were pushed south. For centuries the Miao have passed down oral histories from one generation to the next. One of their legends tells of a homeland where "days and nights lasted six months, the water was frozen, and snow hid the ground. Only a few trees grew and they were small. The people, too, were short and squat, clothed in furs."
Genesis According to the Miao
Two young Miao girls with blonde hair. [Miao Messenger]
The mysterious origins of the Miao is made even more intriguing by their oral traditions, handed down in song and in couplets, where each alternate sentence acts as a definition of the first. This method has helped their stories and genealogies to be remembered with great accuracy. At funerals and weddings among some Miao groups today, the ancestry of the bride and groom are recited all the way back to Adam.
From their genealogies, it can be seen that some Miao tribes trace their ancestry back to Japheth and Gomer, which some scholars argue would make them of Indo-European stock. If this theory holds true, it would support the speculation that the Miao originated in today's Middle East or Central Asia.
While it's impossible to prove or disprove these theories, Miao wedding and funeral recitations have helped the Christian message enter into the hearts of many Miao people over the past century.
Early anthropologists were astounded when they first recorded Miao creation legends among communities that had been driven out of Jiangxi Province. One account closely mirrored the biblical record of creation, the fall of man, and the other key events from the Book of Genesis. This convinced some scholars that the Miao have managed to preserve the story of their origins with remarkable accuracy over thousands of years, although the account of the flood varies from tribe to tribe.
Some of the more interesting parts of the ancient Miao creation story are included here, as translated by Edgar Truax of the Institute for Creation Research:
On the day God created the heavens and earth.On that day He opened the gateway of light.In the earth then He made heaps of earth and of stone.In the sky He made bodies, the sun and the moon.In the earth He created the hawk and the kite.In the water created the lobster and fish.In the wilderness made He the tiger and bear,Made verdure to cover the mountains,Made forest extend with the ranges,Made the light green cane,Made the rank bamboo.
On the earth He created a man from the dirt.Of the man thus created, a woman He formed....
So the earth began filling with tribes and with families.Creation was shared by the clans and the peoples.
The World Wicked
These did not God's will nor returned His affection....
Their leaders shook fists in the face of the MightyThen the earth was convulsed to the depth of three strata.Rending the air to the uttermost heaven.God's anger arose till His Being was changed;His wrath flaring up filled His eyes and His face.Until He must come and demolish humanity.Come and destroy a whole world full of people.
So it poured 40 days in sheets and in torrents.Then 55 days of misting and drizzle.The waters surmounted the mountains and ranges.The deluge ascending leapt valley and hollow.An earth with no earth upon which to take refuge!A world with no foothold where one might subsist!The people were baffled, impotent and ruined,Despairing, horror stricken, diminished and finished.
But the Patriarch Nuah was righteous.The Matriarch Gaw Bo-lu-en upright.Built a boat very wide.Made a ship very vast.Their household entire got aboard and were floated,The family complete rode the deluge in safety.The animals with him were female and male.The birds went along and were mated in pairs....
Their descendants established encampments and cities.Their singing was all with the same tunes and music;Their speaking was all with the same words and language.Then they said let us build us a very big city;Let us raise unto heaven a very high tower.This was wrong, but they reached this decision;Not right, but they rashly persisted.
God struck at them then, changed their language and accent.Descending in wrath, He confused tones and voices.One's speech to the others who hear him has no meaning;He's speaking in words, but they can't understand him.So the city they built was never completed;The tower they wrought has to stand thus unfinished.In despair then they separate under all heaven,They part from each other the globe to encircle.They arrive at six corners and speak the six languages.
© This article is an extract from Paul Hattaway's book 'Guizhou: The Precious Province'. You can order this or any of The China Chronicles books and e-books from our online bookstore.