TYPE: Manuscript
COMPONENTS: 60 pages with fabric covers
ITEM ID: 5274
  • Artwork
  • Artwork

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Yao Manuscript #34

Century: 20th (1901-2000)

A very large Yao magic manuscript.

The Yao people (its majority branch is also known as Mien; simplified Chinese: 瑶族; traditional Chinese: 瑤族; pinyin: Yáozú; Vietnamese: người Dao) is a government classification for various minorities in China and Vietnam. They are one of the 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities in China and reside in the mountainous terrain of the southwest and south. They also form one of the 54 ethnic groups officially recognized by Vietnam. In China in the last census in 2000, they numbered 2,637,421 and in Vietnam census in 2019, they numbered 891,151. In addition to China, Yao also live in northern Vietnam (where they are called Dao), northern Laos, and Myanmar. There are around 60,000 Yao in northern Thailand, where they are one of the six main hill tribes.

The origins of the Yao can be traced back 2000 years starting in Hunan. Yao folk religion has been profoundly intermingled with Taoism since the 13th century, so much that it is frequently defined as Yao Taoism (瑶族道教 Yáozú Dàojiào). A shared sense of Yao identity is based additionally on tracing their descent from the mythical ancestor Panhu.

Yao manuscripts mainly contain texts used in religious activities on various occasions, including funeral, annual festivals and special rituals for questing fortunes and expelling evils. Yao does not have its own writing, manuscripts thus are written in its spoken language by homophonic Chinese characters or coined characters. Yao manuscripts are very unique writings which are significant for understanding Yao people, their religion and culture in general.

The extent of the Yao manuscripts is not clear. Previous ethnographic surveys have indicated the existence of Yao manuscripts but no scholar has ever tried to estimate the entire scale.

The Yao manuscripts are endangered in many aspects. Firstly, the quality of the original material and their preservation conditions limit the numbers of Yao manuscripts to the minimum. Secondly, the modernization process in China after the 1980s also brought dramatic changes to the Yao societies. Most seriously, Shigong shaman were marginalized and the indigenous religious activities mostly abandoned. Yao manuscripts were viewed as useless and destroyed at an astonishing speed. Thirdly, smuggling and illegal trading brought further threats.