A part of the official Miao nationality in China, Northern Guiyang Miao is one of four distinct Guiyang Miao languages. There are said to be more than 70 tribes of Miao in China, "each one with a distinctive costume." The name Miao comes from the Chinese. The character used in the Chinese Book of History means "tender blades of grass or sprouts." One historian notes, "The various subgroups of Miao have no love for each other, and the Chinese have in the past been able to get some Miao groups to serve as mercenaries against other Miao groups."
The Guiyang Miao language group is divided into five distinct languages: Northern, Northwestern, South Central, Southern, and Southwestern.
In 1924 Father F. M. Savina of the Paris Foreign Missionary Society published his book Histoire des Miao, which caused a sensation in the Western world. Savina claimed the Miao were of Caucasian origin. He wrote, "In appearance [the Miao are] pale yellow in complexion, almost white, their hair is often light or dark brown, sometimes even red or 'corn-silk blond', and a few even have pale blue eyes."
A Miao mother is not allowed to help her daughter during the delivery of a baby. The mother's sister-in-law is not even allowed to enter the delivery room, for if they do, Miao superstition dictates, the new mother will have no milk. When visitors come to see the new baby, often they will remark how ugly or dirty the baby is, so the demons will be tricked into thinking the baby is not worth their trouble and will leave the child alone.
The worldview of some Miao groups states that heaven is a flat land on top of the sky where the deceased souls of their ancestors live. It is a wonderful place, with no sickness or death, no mountains to climb, and no fields to plow. The sun always shines, and although it never rains, there is an abundance of water available.
The Northern Guiyang Miao were first visited by Protestant missionaries in the late 1800s. Several Protestant families lived in the Guiyang-Anshun region, but the Miao were described by the missionaries as "utterly indifferent to things spiritual." The 1900 Boxer Rebellion broke out just as the work was seeing its first fruit, causing the mission to close and the missionaries to flee China. During the years the missionaries were gone, a military official and a noted village headman went throughout the entire district and threatened people with death if they joined the "foreign religion." A small church remains today among the Northern Guiyang Miao.