The Miao people of Southern China

The Miao people of Southern China

Some of our most popular accessories are the cushions and silver jewellery made by the Miao people of southern China. The culture of this tribe is absolutely fascinating, so I thought it was a worthy subject of this week’s blog.

The Miaos are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Southern China but are an extremely diverse group. Sub-groups include the Long Horn Miao (named after their fabric-decorated horn-shaped headpieces) and the Silver Miao (known for their dramatic jewellery – many pieces of which we stock).

Miao Silver NecklaceMiao people are known to have existed in China as far back as the Qin and Han dynasties over 2000 years ago, and were mentioned in ancient Chinese documents from the Tang and Song dynasties.

The Miao are very skilled at handicrafts like embroidery, weaving, paper-cutting, batik, and jewellery making. The silver jewellery in particular is extremely delicate and beautiful. Clothing is adorned with intricate and colourful embroidery – girls as young as seven will learn these skills from their mothers and sisters.

One of the most popular Miao festivals is the Flower Dancing Festival between the 4th and 14th day of the first lunar month. It’s dedicated to the young and single in the community and helps them find love. Girls dance and sing in antiphonal style to entertain boys from other villages. Once a boy and a girl become attracted to each other, a presentation of gifts signals the engagement.

Miao girl in traditional dressReaching marriage is a much more elaborate affair, with the groom’s family having to convince the bride’s that he is worthy and will provide for her in the years to come. Endless proposals follow endless refusals and months of bargaining ensue.

Finally, when the girl’s family is happy with the betrothal gifts, they are free to get married, or, if an agreement is not met, the groom’s family may signal the couple to run off and elope.

Unlike western society, divorce does not involve drawn out court battles and asset wars. If a couple falls out of love, they need only give notice to the tribal seniors and are then seen as “on the market” again. 

I’ve referred to this article for information on the Long Horn Miao. You can also find out more here and here.

See the range of Miao jewellery stocked by Shimu, including rings, decorative headdresses, pendants and cuffs here.

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