Friday, December 15, 2017

Introduction to the costumes of the Hmongic/Mienic peoples. Part 5 the Mien

Hello all, 
Today I will finish this series by talking about the Mien. This is the largest language of the Mienic branch of the Miao/Yao or Hmongic/Mienic language family. The speakers of this language number about 850,000, spread between Guangxi, Yunnan, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

The following maps will be helpful as you follow the article.

Most of the Mien live in Guangxi, Yunnan, and Vietnam, with small numbers in Laos and Thailand. They are divided into many groups and subgroups, and it appears that noone has yet made a methodical arrangement of the various groups and their relationship to one another. I will present several groups, but by no means all, and try to identify them by their self designation as best I can.

The Mien share with the Hmong a love of silver, embroidery, and outstanding composition. Most Mien have the same basic pieces to their costume, and distinguish themselves by various details in ornamentation, color, cut, etc. In their homeland, the costume is an important sign and badge of identity. Here is a typical Mien costume from Jinxiu in Guangxi province, China.

 The pieces consist of a tunic with embroidery, this one having it on the cuffs, collar, front opening, front and back tails, and Pan Hung patch on the back. This last commemorates the Yao's original ancestor, the Dragon Dog. Not every group has embroidery in all of these places. There is a sash with embroidery on the ends, and a pair of pants with embroidery along their length. All are indigo dyed. Wrap around leggings, or puttees, similar to those worn by the Hmong, are common. Accessories vary, but most Mien costumes are variations on a theme. Note the row of small pompoms around the embroidery on the front opening. Mien have an especial love for pompoms, tassels, and streamers, and they play important roles in their costumes.

Kam Mien

Some call themselves Kem Mien,
also Dao Tien, Tsio Ban Yao, Sapeque Yao, or Coin Yao.

I will start with the biggest exception. This is the only branch of the Mien in which the women do not wear pants, but rather a batik skirt. Batik is rare among the Mien, and the style of the skirt is very different from that of the Hmong. It is not pleated, and does not have an embroidered border. Ethnologists think that it was picked up from the Bouyi, and it certainly resembles the skirt worn by the Kim Mun of Hainan island. The design of circles and zigzags does not vary.

Here is a skirt panel which is waxed and ready to dye.

There is an eastern group in which the women wear white turbans, around Cao Bang and Tuyen Quang provinces, Vietnam.

A western group which wears black turbans is found in the Hoa Binh area, Vietnam.

A brides' outfit

A grooms outfit. Hey! he gets more embroidery! All right!

Im Mien

Also called Black Dao of Dien Bien and Lai Chau; This group includes an apron in their costume as well as a large black turban.


Red Dao of southern Lao Cai, Yen Bai, and Son La. This is one of several groups called Red Yao.


Kiem Mien

Also called Hongtou Yao [Chinese for Red Head Yao],  Dao Do, Red Dao, or Red Yao.
The costumes include a double dickey, or bib, the front part is worn inside the tunic, but the back part hangs down on the outside, taking the place of the Pan Hong patch.

These first two are Hongtou Yao from the Cao Bang area, in Vietnam close to the Guangxi border, and likely the other side of it as well.

The rest of these are some of the groups called Red Yao, with various red turbans.


Kim Mien

 This and the next are the two largest groups, The Kim Mien having many branches.

Hongtou Yao from Tianlin in Guangxi,

A little north of the Vietnamese border. This  group has large red pompoms on the front which are still separate, and tassels on the sides, as well as in back. This group wears a large apron, and no longer embroiders their pants. A dickey with silver plates is worn under the tunic.

The woman in the middle of this photo belongs to a different group.


Moving somewhat to the west,
Hongtou Red Yao from Hekou, Yunnan. This group also lives across the border in Lao Cai, Vietnam.

Here are a couple images from Hekou in Yunnan.

These images are from the village of Thanh Uyen in Lao Cai province of Vietnam. The outfits are slightly different.


Moving west yet again,

Hongtou Tapan Yao from Jinping area, Yunnan.

Tapan means big plank and refers to the extremely large wedding headpiece which this group and many Iu Mien wear.  Unmarried girls wear a black turban, but married women wear a red conical headpiece with a silver tiara. This group has the more typical embroidered pants and a very short blue edged apron.

Unmarried outfit.

married women

Some closeups ot this group's rather restrained embroidery/

Hongtou Tapan Yao of Quyet Tien

This group is found in north central Vietnam in the province of Ha Giang, the village of Xa Quyet Tien, not far from the border with Yunnan. Again, this group does not embroider its pants.

Hongtou Tapan Yao from Bac Quan.

This group lives southwest of the last group. These first images are of the festive costume. Note that here the pompoms on the front have become tassels.

We can see that in the past the apron was larger.

An everyday outfit. Note the child's hat. Fancy hats for the protection of children are widespread in east Asia, being found not only among the Mien, but also other Yao, Hmong, and even Han, and other peoples.

Red Dao or Red Tapan Yao of Tuyen Quang and Bac Can

This group is found downstream from the last two, at the edge of the delta area. In this group the pompoms have grown to extremely large size.

Here are a couple of images of the 'large plank' wedding headdress.

Note that the woman on the right here above is from the Bac Quan group.

Hontou Red Yao of Babe

This group is found slightly to the east of the last one.

Hongtou Red Yao of Yen Bai.

This is in the highlands to the west of The last few groups.

There are three divergent branches which are also found in this general area of northeastern Vietnam. They are sometimes considered to be distinct from the Kim Mien.

Lo Gang Yao

These live in the Loc Binh area of Vietnam, along the eastern border with Guangxi. They have a unique padded roof-shaped headpiece which reminds me of the Italian tovaglia. Note that the pants have limited embroidery.

O Gang

This is a sister group of the above. They live in the Tuyen Quang area near the group above with the large pompoms.

Quan Chet Dao or Yao

This is another divergent branch, some live in the Tuyen Quang, Vietnam area, like a couple of the groups above, and a few live in Thanh Hoa, close to the coast. The costume is distinguished by tight pants and a floppy headdress.


 Coc Mun or Man Coc

These are sometimes considered to be a subgroup of the Quan Chet. They live in northeastern Vietnam.

 Lang Son province, Vietnam, along the Guangxi border

This woman is from the Thai Nguyen area.

Iu Mien

This is the group which is best known in the west, because they live in northern Laos and Thailand, and some have emigrated to the west as a result of the Indochinese wars. In this group the pompoms on the front of the tunic have grown together into a continuous ruff, and the lower panels of the tunic are not embroidered, but the front ones are tied around the waist to secure the outfit. The colors and embroidery techniques used on the pants vary by location, and also by fashion, Brighter colors and more cross stitch being used in more recent times.


in Laos they tie their turbans in a W shape, and for dress occasions put silver chains on them. The Hmong in Laos have copied this fashion.

Here we see the bride with the large plank headdress, and the groom on the right.

Here the groom is in a red turban.

Here we have a couple of images of the everyday costume.


In Thailand, the turbans are generally round, but the outfit is otherwise similar.

Here we have a groom from Thailand and a bride whose family came from Laos. For special occasions they put on a greatly ornamented garment which can be worn either as an apron or a cape, as well as a great deal of silver.


Just a few shots of Iu Mien women at their favorite pastime.

This concludes my introduction to the costumes of the Hmongic-Mienic peoples. It may have been exhausting, but it is not exhaustive. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative, and perhaps has inspired you to try out some of the incredible embroidery which these people produce. Thank you for reading.

Roman K


Source Material:
Jess J. Pourret, 'The Yao', Chicago, 2002
Joachim Schliesinger.'Ethnic Groups of Laos, V 3', Bangkok, 2003
Ngo Duc Thinh, 'Traditional Costumes of Vietnam, Hanoi, 2009
Nguyen Vab Huy et al, 'The Great Family of Ethnic Groups in Vietnam', Hanoi, 2011
Margaret Campbell, 'From the Hands of the Hills', Hong Kong, 1978
Paul and Elaine Lewis, 'Peoples of the Golden Triangle', London, 1984
Robert Lam Ping-fai et al, 'Ethnic Costumes of the Miao People in China, Hong Kong, 1986 Tomoko Torimaru, 'One Needle, One Thread', Honolulu, 2008  
Wu, Shizhong, 'A picture album of China's Miao Costumes and Ornaments', Guiyang, 2000 Zhao Yuchi et al, 'Clothings and Ornaments of China's Miao People', Beijing, 1985  
Yan Da, et al, 'Miao's Attires', Guiyang, 2010  
Deryn O'Connor, 'Miao Costumes', Southhampton England, 1994
Florian Knothe et al, 'Embroidered Identities', Hong Kong, 2013  
Gina Corrigan, ' Miao Textiles from China' Seattle, 2001  
Zeng Xiangyang, 'Ethnic Miao Embroidery', 2009


  1. Bonjour,
    J'ai rencontré ce groupe Hongtou Tapan Yao de la région de Jinping, Yunnan à l'ouest de Lai Chau au Vietnam cette année, je sais maintenant grace à vous que les femmes mariées seules portent la tiare, merci!!
    Votre blog est une mine d'or que je mets en page favorite! Quel travail, je suis admirative!
    Encore merci!

  2. This is really awesome to see other non-main stream people and their cultures. Great work!

  3. Bonjour, Pour information il y a des villages Tapan au nord de Lai Chau notamment au village Sì Lở Lầu, Phong Thổ District, Lai Châu, Vietnam, village de la corne (son nom est du à son marché qui se tient le jour de la corne chèvre...). Votre site est riche, c'est un vrai trésor, MERCI!!