An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Miao 苗

Nov 26, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Miao was an old general term for Non-Chinese tribes, especially the southern tribes of the "four barbarians". During the early Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770 - 5th cent. BCE), inhabitants of the state of Chu 楚 (modern Hunan) were called Man (Jing-Man 荊蠻).

The largest tribes during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) were Pangu 槃瓠, Linjun 廪君, and Banzhi 板櫍. The Pangu (also called Cong 賨) tribes were famous for their hemp clothes. The most important tribe of the Linjun were the Ba 巴 whose totem was a white tiger. The Banzhi were famous for their music and dances, but were also a martial people that often rebelled against the Han authority. Archeological artefacts give good impressions of the cultural autonomy of the old Non-Chinese tribes of Sichuan and Hunan.

During the rebellion of the Daoist Five-Pecks-of-Grain sect (Wudoumidao 五斗米道) under Zhang Lu 張魯 at the end of Eastern Han, many followers and believers were Non-Chinese Man people. After the downfall of Han and the disturbances during the Three Kingdoms 三國 (220~280 CE) and Western Jin 西晉 (265-316), Man tribes emigrated to the areas of modern Henan, Anhui, and Gansu, but their main settling region was still Hubei, Hunan, and Sichuan. The names of the tribes are manifold, like Jingyong-Man 荊雍蠻, Wuxi-Man 五谿蠻, or Dangyang-Man 當陽蠻, but it is uncertain if all these tribes represent an ethnic unity.

The empires in the area of Shu 蜀 (Sichuan), like Cheng-Han 成漢 (304-347), were characterized by a large Man population that had a partial political autonomy against the Chinese bureaucracy. The rulers of the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420-589) and of the empires in Shu had always the problem that the Chinese farming population was not dense enough to support the economical and fiscal needs of the state and of the gentry. Many Man tribes were abducted form the hills and resettled in the plains as workforce for the Chinese state.

In the course of time, most of the Man tribes of the lower countries gradually merged with the Chinese population, but there are some ethnics (hilltribes) today thought to be descendants of the Man, like the Shezu 畬族 and Yaozu 瑤族.

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