Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
There are four Mashan Miao language groups in Guizhou, designated Northern, Southern, Central, and Western Mashan. All four comprise part of the large Miao nationality - the fourth most populous of China's 55 official minorities. The Central Mashan Miao may call themselves Bu Cao.
The Central Mashan Miao language - which contains an extraordinary 11 tones - is not spoken in any other part of China.
Out of the extensive history of brutality waged by the Chinese against the Miao, what was probably the most vicious war commenced in 1800. A vast Chinese army was mobilized from provinces all over China in a bid to completely exterminate the Miao. Critics describing the war at the time stated that "elephant guns were used to hunt rabbits." An estimated 500,000 Miao in Guizhou were butchered in the carnage, forcing the survivors to flee to more remote and mountainous regions. This and many similar historical influences have scattered the Miao, which resulted in them speaking such a wide variety of languages today.
According to legend, at one time there were two Miao sisters who were unhappy because they could not find suitable husbands. A special social gathering was arranged with a neighboring village, enabling them to meet two handsome young men, whom they married. To this day the Central Mashan Miao - and most other Miao groups - prefer to marry outside of their village. Marriage outside of their tribe or clan is extremely rare, however, and is discouraged by community leaders.
The Central Mashan Miao believe that all sickness is caused by evil spirits. A farmer with a headache is often thought to have met the "Shrinking Head Spirit" on a mountain slope. The victim is required to throw a bowl of rice and water outside the village gate to appease the spirit.
Only a tiny fraction of the Central Mashan Miao profess to be Christians. A small number of them have believed the gospel, but they currently do not have the resources or initiative to spread the gospel throughout the remainder of their people, most of whom have yet to hear the gospel. There is a massive church among the A-Hmao and Gha-Mu about 200 kilometers (124 mi.) to the northwest. If the believers from these two "Miao" groups came to the Central Mashan Miao they would need to learn a new language and new customs, and they might not be socially accepted.