The Yao Ethnic Minority

There are around 2.7 million people belonging to the Yao Ethnic Minority. They are mainly spread across Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou, Jiangxi and Guangxi Provinces. They are divided into several branches, For example there is the Hong-Yao (they often wear red clothes) and the Baiku-Yao (they often wear white trousers) among others.

An elderly Yao lady

An elderly lady wearing traditional clothing


Their language is part of the Miao-Yao sub-group of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The majority of people speak the groups own language although some speak a language similar to the Miao language. Some of their people even primarily use the Zhuang and Dong languages. They can also usually speak Mandarin. Their language alters greatly between the regions.


The groups living in different areas have different beliefs. Some of them worship nature, while some deeply revere their ancestors. Taoism (one of the accepted Chinese religions) is also central to the lives of many people from this ethnic minority. Some of the people also believe in magic.


Clothes differ depending on regions where they live. However, their clothes are mainly made of blue cloth with various pictorial designs on the fabric. Women wear trousers, short skirts or pleated skirts adorned with special embroidery. Men wear short shirts without collars, and trousers or pants with the lower part wrapped.

A Yao lay making a tablecloth

A lady making a traditional tablecloth


They are masters of handicrafts. These include batik, sculpture, painting, and printing and dying.


Their staple foods are rice, corn and potatoes. Meat mainly comes from their own domestic livestock and from wild animals hunted by he men. Teas and homemade wines are their favorite drinks. They are traditionally very hospitable. They enjoy entertaining guests and serving food and wine. The eldest sits at the head of the table.


They hold many festivals. The Panwang and Danu festivals are most lively. The former is held either every year, or every three to five years to express their reverence for their earliest known ancestor, Panwang. During this festival, everyone dresses themselves in their best clothes. They also sing and dance.

The Danu festival is mainly held by the Yao people living in Guangxi Province to pay tribute to their grandmothers. The Zhuang people often gather together with the Yao people to celebrate this festival. They share wine and play games.

They also have a rich array of myths and legends, romantic stories and various forms of dance.

Yao Ladies with Mulan

The Yao Ladies and Mulan letting their hair down! Yao women are in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world's longest hair.

Video of the Yao ladies brushing their hair.

To find out more about the Yao people and other minorities click this 'Thinkquest' link. (Opens another window)

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