The Yao or Mien, as
they are commonly known, probably migrated from
southern coastal China into South East Asia
about six hundred years ago. Legend says they
arrived by sea first to Hainan, then to Vietnam
and Laos and more recently into Thailand. Many
fled the communists in Laos in the 1970's.
Nowadays, they are a homogenous minority
living mostly in the Mae Chan area of Chiang Rai
province in northern Thailand.
Yao are the only minority that has a tradition
of writing, using Chinese script to record
rituals, family records and contracts. Nowadays
it is only the old men who can still read
Chinese but the new generation is literate in
Like the Lisu and
the Hmong they celebrate Chinese new year with
three days of feasting and merriment. Their
religion is ancient Chinese Taoism and the
ceremonies are performed by a priest assisted by
a shaman, the gods are displayed in a pantheon
of paintings, which are displayed during the
most important rituals.
Yao women are noted for their magnificient
cross-stitch embroidery, which richly decorates
the clothing of every member of the family. The
costume of the women is very distinctive, with a
long black jacket with lapels of bright scarlet
wool. Loose trousers in intricate designs are
worn and a similarly embroidered black turban.
Yao silversmiths produce lovely silver jewelry
of high quality.
Yao villages are mostly found on low hills, and
their houses built usually of wooden planks on a
dirt road. There is a guest platform of bamboo
in the communal living area. Their economy for
several generations has been based quite largely
on the cultivation and marketing of opium,
although opium addiction is relatively rare
among them. With the present drive to stamp out
the cultivation of the opium poppy in Thailand,
the Yao find it necessary to seek other means of livelyhood.
The Yao have a written religion based on
medieval chinese taoism, although in recent
years there have been many converts to
christianity and buddhism. They are very
peaceful and friendly, who pride themselves on
cleanliness and honour and they are called the
"businessmen" among the hilltribes.