The Miao ethnic minority has a population of more than 8.94 million (by 2000), mainly distributed across Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Guangxi, Hubei and Guangdong provinces, forming one of the largest ethnic minorities in China. The Miao language belongs to the Miao-Yao Austronesian of the Chinese-Tibetan Phylum. They used to have their own characters which have long lost. After 1956, the Miao people invented a kind of phonetics characters. Due to their centuries of contacts with the Hans, many Miaos can also speak Chinese. The Miao's ancestry can be traced back to the "Chiyou" tribe, a tribe in the primitive society in the Central Plains. The Miao people used to believe in Animism and worship their ancestors or dragons. Now some of them believe in the Catholicism or Christianity.
The Miaos are fond of singing and dancing, especially famous for their love songs and wine songs, and have a highly-developed folk literature. The lusheng is their favorite musical instrument. In addition, flutes, copper drum, mouth organs, the xiao (a vertical bamboo flute) and the suona horn are also very popular.
Because timber resources are plentiful in most Miao areas, houses are usually built of wood and roofed with fir bark or tiles or are thatched. Houses vary greatly in style. In mountainous areas, they are usually built on slopes and raised on stilts. Animals are kept under the stilted floors.
Miao people's clothing has distinctive features. Men usually wear linen jackets with colorful designs, and drape woolen blankets with geometric patterns over their shoulders. Women's clothing varies even from village to village. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, women wear jackets buttoned on the right and trousers, with decorations embroidered on collars, sleeves and trouser legs. In other areas, women wear high-collared short jackets and full- or half-length pleated skirts. They also wear various kinds of silver jewelry on festive occasions.
The Miaos have the New Year Festival, the Flower Mountain Festival (May 5th), the Tasting New Rice Festival (between June and July), and the Tea Picking Festivals, etc.
The Miao New Year festival is celebrated on "Rabbit Day" or "Ox Day" on the lunar calendar. The festivities include beating drums, dancing to the music of a lusheng (a wind instrument), horse racing and bull-fighting. In counties near Guiyang, people dressed in their holiday best gather at the city's largest fountain on April 8 of the lunar year to play lusheng and flute and sing of the legendary hero, Yanu.
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