Yao People (Photo by Chen Haiwen)
As one of the ethnic minorities in China, the Yao ethnic group has a population of about 2.6 million, most of whom are farmers living in mountainous areas. Titles that they call themselves include the Mian, Jinmen, Bunu, Bingduoyou, Heiyoumeng, and Lajia. In the past, the Yao people were further divided into subgroups based on historical differences in their economic backgrounds, lifestyles, manners and customs including the following and more: Pan Yao, Shanzi Yao, Dingban Yao, Hualan Yao, Guoshang Yao, Baiku Yao, Hong Yao, Landian Yao, Bapai Yao, Pingdi Yao, Ao Yao, etc. In total, there used to be as many as twenty branches of the Yao ethnic group. The different groups of the Yao people had different styles and characteristics in production methods, architectures, and clothes in history. After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, they were combined and are now collectively referred to as the Yao ethnic group. The Yao people mainly live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and the provinces of Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong and Guizhou in China.
Most of the Yao people live together in small groups that are distributed widely throughout the mountainous regions in the above mentioned provinces. According to the nationwide population census conducted in the year 2000, the Yao ethnic group has a population of 2,637,421.The Yao have their own language, but it has complicated and quite different local dialects in different regions. The variations can be so vast that members of different groups can not even understand each other. Furthermore, they do not have their own written language, so they have adopted the system of Chinese characters. The Yao language belongs to the branch of Miao and Yao Languages, a Sino--Tibetan Language Family. Because they have lived together and communicated with the Han, Zhuang and Miao nationalities for a very long time, the Yao people in different regions can generally speak Chinese, and some can also speak Zhuang and Miao languages.
The Yao people mainly live in subtropical areas, where it usually has an altitude between 1000 and 2000 meters. The villages in which they live are surrounded by plenty of green trees as well as bamboo; as a result, it is very picturesque and beautiful there. Historically, the Yao people had close relations with the Miao ethnic group, both of whom originated from the Wuling People in Qin and Han Dynasties. Around the Sui Dynasty (560 A.D.- 618 A.D.), the Yao and Miao nationalities living in today's Hunan and Hubei Provinces had evolved into two different ethnic groups. The ancestors of the Yao people in today's Yunnan Province moved from of Guangxi, Guangdong and Guizhou Provinces to Wenshan area during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Later some of them moved to the Honghe River Basin, Mojiang and Mengla areas. Many of the Yao people now in Yunnan Province can not only speak their own language, but also speak Chinese, and the languages of the Zhuang and Miao nationalities, as they used to interact frequently with one another.
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