Although they have been officially included as part of the Miao nationality in China, the Qanu possess their own distinct ethnic identity. The Qanu may also be known as the "Miao with Combs in Their Hair" to local people. There are many smaller Miao groups in China, such as the Qanu, who have not yet been thoroughly researched by Chinese linguists. In southern Guizhou, six different Miao "dialects" remain unclassified. One linguist states they are "presumably mutually unintelligible languages." These six unclassified groups amount to about 30,000 people.
The lack of a written script has caused great anguish among the Miao for centuries. A Miao pastor, Wang Mingji, declared his feelings: "We Miao do not have writing. For thousands of years we have been like the blind, it has been very bitter. Everybody knows that there is nothing worse in the world than to be blind, however shimmering is the sun in the sky, however shining is the moon in the sky, however clear are the rivers and mountains on the earth, however beautiful are the flowers in the wilderness, the blind cannot see them anyway."
Most Qanu are agriculturists. Many families also raise livestock to supplement their meager incomes.
The majority of Qanu are animists. The spirit of the water is particularly held in great fear.
Many Protestant missionaries focused on the Gha-Mu and A-Hmao in northwest Guizhou and northern Yunnan prior to the advent of Communism, but few worked in the region of southeast Guizhou where the Qanu are located. Former missionaries in China are generally remembered as self-sacrificing servants who labored with the love of God for the people they lived among. The Communist authorities, however, have a very different view of history: "From the nineteenth century onwards the imperialists propagated Christianity in northwest Guizhou and in other Miao areas. They ... printed the 'Bible' in order to poison and deceive the masses in the area of question. Furthermore, they sowed dissension and discord, spied, exploited, pillaged etc."