The Yao Mien originate from China, and migrated from Hunan province to northern Vietnam, Thailand, and northern Laos beginning in the 15th and 16th centuries. They also have a large diaspora overseas, particularly in the United States. The Yao Mien are also known as the Lu Mien, Mien, or Yao.
The Mien believe that their history began with P’an Hu, an emperor’s five-coloured dog which killed its master’s rival ruler. The emperor rewarded P’an Hu by marrying him to his daughter. Their children, six boys and six girls, became the forebears of the Yao people.
The Mien practice Taoism, a philosophy and religion they adopted in China and brought with them when they migrated southward. Traditionally, all men should be ordained as Taoist priests, to be recognized as part of their families’ ancestors and by the spirits. This would require learning the Chinese script, the basic tenets of Taoism, and undergoing an intensive three-day, three-night ceremony.
Yao Mien women are expert embroiderers. They spend many hours from the time they are young learning the three different stitching techniques, and creating colourful and complex combinations of motifs. The Mien say that a woman’s abilities as a wife and mother can be judged by her embroidery – a dexterous, patient embroider will make a hardworking, dedicated woman. Mien women wear heavily-embroidered trousers, and a black jacket with a red ruff around the collar.