The Northern Hmu are a linguistic distinction within the large, official Miao nationality in China. Their autonym is Hmu. "Miao" is a Chinese name. There are three Hmu language groups, of which Northern Hmu is the largest.
Northern Hmu is a part of the Eastern branch of the Hmongic linguistic family. It contains at least seven dialects, some of which may also qualify as distinct languages. An orthography was introduced by the government in the 1950s, but it has never gained widespread acceptance among the people.
The Chinese have despised the Hmu for centuries. The Chinese called the Hmu "men-dogs," believing they had tails. Stories were circulated that when the Hmu were born, their feet were cauterized to make it impossible for them to get tired.
Perhaps the greatest Hmu festival is the annual Dragon Boat Festival. Legend has it that at one time an evil dragon lived in a palace in the depths of the Qingshui River. Occasionally he would rise up to cause destruction among Hmu communities. An old man swam to the bottom of the river and set fire to the dragon's palace.
When a Hmu dies, a shaman "opens the road" by giving directions to enable the soul of the deceased to reach heaven after a long journey. He says, "When you come to the snow mountain, don't fear the cold. When you come to the door of heaven, an old man guards it and will not let you in. Tell him who you are and all about yourself, and he will allow you to enter."
The gospel has never taken root among the Northern Hmu. F. B. Webb commenced Protestant mission work at Panghai in 1896. In 1898, CIM missionary W. S. Fleming and the first Hmu convert, Pan Xiushan, were murdered. Thirty-two Hmu "Christian inquirers" were "seized and beheaded without trial or defense." This caused great harm to the advance of Christianity. M. H. Hutton described the cool reception he received at a Hmu village 14 years later: "Some of the men began to curse my men for leading us to their village. They said they did not want the foreigner nor his Gospel, for some years ago, they said, all those who had anything to do with the Gospel Hall were killed." Hutton later reported that "work is steady, with families coming to Christ several at a time." By 1934 he had completed his translation of the Black Miao (Hmu) New Testament. Today only about 50 believers near Kaili "know Hutton's Black Miao writing. Hymns are still sung from the 1928 hymn book."