Hmong diaspora, ancestral land, and transnational networks

Hmong diaspora, ancestral land, and transnational networks

Weidong Zhang


Miao, one of the oldest ethnic groups native to China, has a long history of migration. Over the long history, they moved internally from the North to the South, from Central China to Southwest China. In the last two hundred years, to escape the Qing dynasty oppression and natural disasters, some of them crossed border and migrated outside of China, to Vietnam, Laos, and other Southeast Asian countries. After the Vietnam War, they were forced to move again, this time, out of Asia to the West. Nowadays, they can be found in diaspora in many countries, including the US, France, Germany, and Australia. Rather than Miao, “a term which Hmong outside China fiercely resent and which they have yet to come to terms with,” (Tapp, 2004), they identified themselves as Hmong, a sub-group of Miao.

After so many years of separation, more and more Hmong living overseas in diaspora trace their migration routes back, to refugee camps in Thailand, to mountain villages in Laos and Vietnam, and finally to China, a land where their ancestors once lived. This is a journey through space and back in time. It is where Hmong and Miao meet. In the last few decades, Miao, once one of the sub-national minority groups in China, is gradually taking on a transnational character. However, in the introduction to the Hmong/Miao in Asia, Tapp et al. (2004) points out that, “the trans-national character of Hmong and Miao has routinely been underplayed.”

What does this encounter mean to Hmong in diaspora and Miao in China? Schein (2004)’s transnationality study on “identity exchanges” between Hmong and Miao across the Pacific sheds lights on cultural production and consumption of videos, costumes as well as movement of people, between two co-ethnics, Hmong in America and Miao in China. She argues that, their transnational identification forged through cultural production and what she has called “identity exchanges” could be “for Hmong and Miao a means not only to reconnect but simultaneously to circumvent marginalization within their respective states.” However, what is missing is the role nation-state is playing in the process. How do these two groups, one from the oversea Hmong diaspora, the other Miao living on their ancestral land in China, interact with each other in this large context of nation-state and globalization? How do they negotiate their identities? Are an overarching common Hmong/Miao identity and a global Hmong/Miao solidarity possible? With Miao transforming from a sub-national minority group in China into a transnational ethnic group, how does that change the nature of relations between Miao/ Hmong and the Chinese nation-state? How did the multiple staged migration experiences change the dynamics of this transnational process? What role is the Hmong from Southeast Asian countries playing in the process? This project, Hmong Diaspora, Ancestral Land, and Transnational Networks, will examine the transnational connections between Hmong diaspora and Miao in their native land.