A Miao Language and Mandarin Chinese Speech Contest
A Miao Language and Mandarin Chinese Speech Contest

The A-Hmao branch of the Miao people have migrated many times throughout their history and faced countless hardships during these journeys. Thus, the ancestors of the Miao people believed that, as long as a person could learn to make a simple living and support his family such that they had enough food to eat and clothes to wear, one need nothing more. This traditional way of thinking has been deeply rooted into the mindset of each new generation of A-Hmao people, and now, the A-Hmao people have an education problem that no one is addressing. What is more is that there are not likely people who will happen upon this problem and find that there is still a group of people in modern society that does not attach importance to education and that misunderstands the role of education in the manner that the A-Hmong people do. In order to address this issue, Eco-Women partnered with the Miao Ling Public Welfare Group in order to hold the “Ethnic Minority Unity Cup,” an oral Miao language competition, on February 8, 2019. 

Miao societies, including the Provincial Miao Society, the Chuxiong Prefecture Miao Society, the Wuding Miao Society, and more, came from places far and wide to participate in the hosted event, and several influential Miao representatives were also invited to the competition. These representatives included Han Chenhan (who comes from the San Zhuanwan area of the Panlong District; worked in the early stages of liberation efforts; engaged in special anti-enemy work; experienced numerous hardships; left work in the public sphere due to an injury; is self-taught in the lusheng, a traditional instrument; and is an imparter of traditional culture), Zhu Wenguang (who hails from Anning; is a retired member of the Anning People’s Bureau; is an expert on Miao culture; is author of the book Exploring the Path of One Hundred Years; and still engages in research on Miao culture as well as collects pieces of Miao culture even after retiring); Long Fenglian (who hails from the Qishu Tang area of the Panlong District; created a start-up; has undertaken contracts for work on numerous highway construction projects; and recruited Miao people as laborers for these projects, therefore, creating a large number of job opportunities as well as providing people with a way to earn money); Wang Meifen (a student from Wuding’s Xiang Shui Middle School who set up a choir of more than 100 Miao students and uses music to encourage students to grow), and others.

Eco-Women also used this competition as an opportunity to give the people of Lisichong Village the chance to showcase their work and talent. Some prominent figures during the event were the village’s women’s representative Zhang Hong Hua and student representative He Qin. Luo Sheng Lan participated in the speech contest, and Lisichong Village’s women’s dance team took part in the arts performances at the event. During the speech contest, people from community leaders to students all focused their talks on encouraging Miao students to recognize the importance of an education and learning, and people spoke about this subject from various angles, focusing on the value of knowledge and the crucial role that Miao youth have in the development of the Miao people. The competition was, overall, full of passion and thought-provoking statements. Zhang Hong Hua’s speech centered on personal life experiences as part of a discussion on Miao marriage practices and the rationality and pitfalls of certain customs. Zhang’s speech was both thought-provoking and well-delivered, and Zhang ultimately won first place in the competition. Meanwhile, He Qin discussed the story of the Luo family in Lisichong Village, and Luo Sheng Lan recounted the Miao people’s migration history. These two children were extremely successful in their delivery, and they ultimately tied for third place in the competition.

When it came time for performances at the event, Lisichong’s dance team performed a traditional Miao dance for the audience, and everyone present took out their phones to record the dance and take photos. One could see the amazement on people’s faces; audience members could not stop thinking how difficult it must be to perform the movements of the Miao dance, how rare it is to see such a performance, and how authentic this performance was.

One young girl who performed, Tao Jinlong, has congenital blindness. When she opened her mouth and began to sing the first line of the song “Rainbow Pact,” however, people could not help but begin to cry because of how moved they were by the girl’s courage and optimism.

After the competition had ended, there were still more events centered on the Miao people. In one such activity, the activity’s host would say a word or phrase in Mandarin Chinese, and the children would race to beat a drum in the center of the space and provide the correct translation of what was said in the Miao language. Many of the questions were simple, everyday phrases, but the children didn’t know how to say them in the Miao language. When the importance of the Miao language is discussed, some people say that, because they are afraid their children will not be able to speak Mandarin, they speak Mandarin rather than the Miao language at home. This way, they can help their children to improve their abilities in spoken Mandarin and not affect their studies at school. There are also people who say that, because Mandarin is now the most commonly used language in China, the Miao language is less useful to learn than Mandarin. And yet, when the parents at the event saw that their children could only express themselves using Mandarin and had forgotten how to speak their mother tongue, they were stunned. In this way, the oral speech contest was intended not only to encourage Miao students to attach greater importance to knowledge and learning, but it was also a reminder to the Miao people that, in learning Mandarin, they should not forget their mother tongue. After all, the Miao language is an essential part of Miao culture and is something that is unique to the Miao people. 

Roughly 1,000 people participated in the event and activities, and a photographer was present to capture a live broadcast of the event, thereby increasing the scope of the event throughout Yunnan Province and providing more people with a look into Miao culture. This event encouraged more Miao students to be diligent in their studies as well as to go out into the world and realize their self-worth while also reminding the Miao people that, as the world changes and new trends develop, they should not forget to preserve and pass on their traditional culture, and they should not forget what is essential to Miao culture and traditions.

Written by Long Haiyan

Translated by Elizabeth Tong, a student from Princeton University interning at Eco-Women