2012 Student-Faculty Fellows Program Report: University Of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
The China Hmong History Research Project
Mentor: Professor Ezra Zeitler
Students: Der Lee, Becky Vang, Nou Vue, Choua Xiong, Chee Yang
The University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire has a significant number of Hmong students in its population. In fact, it is the largest minority group on the campus. This research team of five students travelled to Southwest China to study the Hmong in this region, along with their history and culture. Each student focused her research on a different aspect of Hmong history or culture. Upon returning to Wisconsin they have established a range of vehicles for sharing their discoveries, which include submitting proposals to participate as organizers of panels this coming spring at the Hmong National Development Conference in California and also at the American Multicultural Student Leadership Conference at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. They also have a broad agenda of activities planned that will enable them to present their findings on their home campus in hopes that their efforts may ultimately lead to the growth of a Hmong Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.
My research focuses upon the state of Hmong/Miao identity in Yunnan Province, China. It centers on two key questions. What can we learn about Hmong self awareness through their use of terms such as suav (Chinese Han) and mab sua (other people or groups), and how prevalent is intermarriage between the Hmong and other ethnic groups. My research was based primarily on interviewing which I conducted in twelve different communities during July 2012. I found that Hmong were more familiar with the term suav, mostly in an historical context, because their parents and grandparents regularly used it to refer to Han Chinese. However, it is not used as much now. Few Hmong in Yunnan were familiar with the term mab sua. Analysis of intermarriage between Hmong and others is more complex. Clearly some disapprove because they fear that those who intermarry face significant challenges and that if it occurs too often the Hmong as a people will lose their identity. Some worry that a lack of communication or support for elderly parents may result from such intermarriage.
My research centers upon intergenerational migration of Hmong in Yunnan Province. Based mostly on interviews conducted during the summer of 2012, it reveals that in recent years, distant migration seldom occurs, but that quite a bit of migration has occurred among Hmong who once lived in remote mountainous villages and chose to move to newer villages located in closer proximity to markets and cities. Another trend has been the movement of young adults to cities like Wenshan and Kunming to attend school or find work. This parallels the broader rural-to-urban migration trend throughout all of China.
My research focuses upon the tradition of storytelling in Hmong communities in China and whether or not it is being sustained during this transformative age in China’s history. It is readily apparent that this tradition is an important element among the Hmong currently living in the United States, but my interviews amongst the Hmong in China reveal that the art of storytelling is being lost among the Hmong. Upon discovering this, the challenge I wish to now address in my research is why this tradition is being lost, and also to record a few of these short stories.
My study focuses upon the earliest Hmong origin myths, especially those centered around the Hmong’s mythical King Chi You (Txiv Yawg). From the sixteen Hmong communities we visited, focus groups were created in ten for surveying and interviewing purposes to determine the views of people in these communities about King Chi You. Five of the ten focus groups acknowledged the centrality of King Chi You in their origin myths. One group recognized King Chi You but not as a central figure in there mythology. However a number of individuals in the focus groups knew nothing about King Chi You and paid no attention to his role in Hmong history. Our interviewing of several elderly figures in Hmong communities, led us to believe that it is difficult to discern if they share a consensus about King Chi You’s role in early Hmong history. However, in areas where Chinese tourists and others are entertained by Hmong, a clearer sense of King Chi You’s role in early Hmong history is clearly evident as they seek to introduce their culture to others.
My research attempted to discover what current Hmong views are about the earliest interaction between the Chinese and Hmong as embodied in tales of the War of Zhuolu and the important Hmong figure King Chi You, and utilize this knowledge to better gauge current Hmong-Chinese relations. Through quite extensive interviewing and working with focus groups, I quickly discovered that few in Hmong villages know much about earliest Hmong history or historical figures, and some choose not to focus on earliest Chinese-Hmong discord. I also discovered that there is quite a bit of self-segregation and distrust in Hmong-Chinese villages, and that most Hmong do not encourage mixed Chinese-Hmong marriages.