Traditional Miao Songs

Leishan, Qiandongnan, Guizhou
Editing: Nicholas Mangialardi, Jackson Harvey
Camera: Max Lenik
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
[Catalog No. CFV11279; © 2019 Smithsonian Institution]

Members of the Miao ethnic group live primarily in mountainous regions of southern China, particularly in the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, and Yunnan. Traditionally, Miao music is often accompanied by the lusheng, an instrument consisting of multiple bamboo pipes, a cup-shaped body, and a reed. The lusheng is known as a “talking instrument” because it creates musical tones that mimic the human voice. On auspicious occasions—such as festivals, weddings, building a new house, or welcoming honorable guests to one’s home—the Miao people play the lusheng while singing and dancing. During the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program China: Tradition and the Art of Living, audience members—including many younger visitors—joined the Leishan Miao Music and Dance Group from southeastern Guizhou Province in performances of song, dance, and language learning.

Questions for Discussion

  • What do you notice about the Miao performers’ costumes and musical instruments?
  • The Miao are one of China’s ethnic minority groups. Research some of the social, economic, and political challenges faced by ethnic minorities in China today.
  • Research the history of Miao (or Hmong) people in the United States.