Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chinese Hmong people

The terms Hmong and Mong both refer to an Asian ethnic group in the mountainous regions of southern China. There, they remain one of the largest sub-groups in the ''minzu''. Beginning in the 18th-century, Hmong groups began a gradual mass migration to Southeast Asia for reasons both political and economic. As a result, Hmong currently live in several countries in Southeast Asia, including northern Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar-Burma.

In Laos, a significant number of Hmong/Mong people fought against the communist-nationalist Pathet Lao during the . When the Pathet Lao took over the government in 1975, Hmong/Mong people were singled out for retribution. Since then tens of thousands have fled to Thailand for political asylum. Between the late 1970s and today, thousands of these refugees have been resettled in Western countries, including the United States, Australia, France, French Guiana, and Canada. Others have been returned to Laos under United Nations-sponsored repatriation programs. Around 8,000 Hmong/Mong refugees remain in Thailand.


Hmong people have their own terms for their subcultural divisions, "White Hmong" and "Green" or "Blue Mong" being the terms for two of the largest groups. In the Romanized Popular Alphabet, developed in the 1950s in Laos, these terms are written ''Hmoob Dawb'' and ''Moob Leeg'' . The doubled vowels indicate nasalization, and the final consonants indicate with which of the eight the word is pronounced. White Hmong and Green Mong people speak mutually intelligible dialects of the Hmong language with some differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. One of the most obvious differences is the use of the aspirated /m/ in White Hmong not found in the Green Mong dialect. Other groups of Hmong/Mong people include the Black Hmong , Striped Hmong , Hmong Shi, Hmong Pe, Hmong Pua, and Hmong Xau.

Since 1949, has been an official term for one of the recognized by the government of the People's Republic of China. The Miao live mainly in southern China, in the provinces of Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi, Hainan, Guangdong, Hubei, and elsewhere in China. According to the 2000 census, the number of 'Miao' in China was estimated to be about 9.6 million. The Miao nationality includes Hmong/Mong people as well as other culturally- and linguistically-related ethnic groups who do not call themselves either Hmong or Mong. These include the Hmu, Kho Xiong, and A Hmao. The White Miao and Green Miao are both Hmong/Mong groups.

Usage of the term "Miao" in Chinese documents dates back to the ''Shi Ji'' and the ''Zhan Guo Ce'' . During this time, it was generally applied to people of the southern regions thought to be descendants of the San Miao kingdom The term does not appear again until the Ming dynasty , by which time it had taken on the connotation of "barbarian." Interchangeable with "man" and "yi," it was used to refer to the indigenous people of the south-western frontier who refused to submit to imperial rule. During this time, references to Raw and Cooked Miao appear, referring to level of assimilation and political cooperation of the two groups. Not until the Qing dynasty do more finely grained distinctions appear in writing. Even then, discerning which ethnic groups are included in various classifications can be problematic. This inconsistent usage of "Miao" makes it difficult to say for sure if Hmong/Mong people are always included in these historical writings. Linguistic evidence, however, places Hmong/Mong people in the same regions of southern China that they inhabit today for at least the past 2,000 years. By the mid-18th century, classifications become specific enough that it is easier to identify references to Hmong/Mong people.

In Southeast Asia, Hmong/Mong people are referred to by other names, including: : Mèo or H'Mông; : แม้ว or ม้ง ; : ''mun lu-myo''. "Mèo", or variants thereof, is considered highly derogatory by many Hmong/Mong people and is infrequently used today outside of Southeast Asia.

Because the Hmong lived mainly in the highland areas of Southeast Asia and China, the French occupiers of Southeast Asia gave them the name ''Montagnards'' or "mountain people", but this should not be confused with the of Vietnam, who were also referred to as ''Montagnards.''

Controversy over nomenclature

Hmong and Mong

When Western authors came in contact with Hmong and Mong people, beginning in the eighteenth-century, they referred to them in writing by ethnonyms assigned by the Chinese . This practice continued into the twentieth century. Even ethnographers studying the Hmong/Mong people in Southeast Asia often referred to them as Mèo, a corruption of Miao applied by Thai and Lao people to the Hmong/Mong. In the middle of the twentieth century, a concerted effort was made to refer to Hmong/Mong by their own ethnonyms in scholarly literature. By the 1970s, it became standard to refer to the entire ethnic group as "Hmong." This was reinforced during the influx of Hmong/Mong immigrants to the United States after 1975. Research proliferated, much of it being directed toward the American Hmong Der community. Several states with Hmong/Mong populations issued official translations only in the Hmong Der dialect. At the same time, more Mong Leng people voiced concerns that the supposed inclusive term "Hmong" only served to exclude them from the national discourse.

The issue came to a head during the passage of California State Assembly Bill 78, in the 2003–2004 season. Introduced by Doua Vu and Assembly Member Sarah Reyes, District 31 , the bill encouraged changes in secondary education curriculum to include information about the and the role of Hmong/Mong people in the war. Furthermore, the bill called for the use of oral histories and first hand accounts from Hmong/Mong people who had participated in the war and who were caught up in the aftermath. Originally, the language of the bill mentioned only "Hmong" people, intending to include the entire community. A number of Mong Leng activists, led by Dr. Paoze Thao , drew attention to the problems associated with omitting "Mong" from the language of the bill. They noted that despite nearly equal numbers of Hmong Der and Mong Leng in the United States, resources are disproportionately directed toward the Hmong Der community. This includes not only scholarly research, but also the translation of materials, potentially including curriculum proposed by the bill. Despite these arguments, "Mong" was not added to the bill. In the version that passed the assembly, "Hmong" was replaced by "Southeast Asians", a more broadly inclusive term.

Dr. Paoze Thao and others feel strongly that "Hmong" can refer only to Hmong Der people and does not include Mong Leng people. He feels that the usage of "Hmong" in reference to both groups perpetuates the marginalization of Mong Leng language and culture. Thus, he advocates the usage of both "Hmong" and "Mong" when referring to the entire ethnic group. Other scholars, including anthropologist Dr. Gary Yia Lee , suggest that "Hmong" has been used for the past 30 years to refer to the entire community and that the inclusion of Mong Leng people is understood. Some argue that such distinctions create unnecessary divisions within the global community and will only confuse non-Hmong/Mong people trying to learn more about Hmong/Mong history and culture.

Hmong, Mong, and Miao

Some non-Chinese Hmong advocate that the term Hmong or Mong be used not only for designating their dialect group, but also for the other Miao groups living in China. They generally claim that the word "Miao" is a derogatory term, with connotations of barbarism, that probably should not be used at all. The term was later adapted by Tai-speaking groups in Southeast Asia where it took on especially insulting associations for Hmong people despite its official status. In modern China, the term "Miao" does not carry these negative associations and people of the various sub-groups that constitute this officially recognized nationality freely identify themselves as Miao or Chinese, typically reserving more specific ethnonyms for intra-ethnic communication. During the struggle for political recognition after 1949, it was actually members of these ethnic minorities who campaigned for identification under the umbrella term "Miao" — taking advantage of its familiarity and associations of historical political oppression.

Contemporary transnational interactions between Hmong in the West and Miao groups in China, following the 1975 Hmong diaspora, have led to the development of a global Hmong identity that includes linguistically and culturally related minorities in China that previously had no ethnic affiliation. Scholarly and commercial exchanges, increasingly communicated via the Internet, have also resulted in an exchange of terminology, including Hmu and A Hmao people identifying as Hmong and, to a lesser extent, Hmong people accepting the designation "Miao," within the context of China. Such realignments of identity, while largely the concern of economically elite community leaders, reflect a trend towards the interchangeability of the terms "Hmong" and "Miao."


The early history of the Hmong has proven difficult to trace, but theories that place the origin of the Hmong/Mong people in Mesopotamia, Siberia, or Mongolia have been disputed by recent studies. According to Ratliff, there is linguistic evidence to suggest that they have occupied the same areas of southern China for at least the past 2,000 years. Evidence from mitochondrial DNA in speaking populations supports the southern origins of maternal lineages even further back in time, although Hmong/Miao speaking populations show more contact with northeast Asians than Mien/Yao populations. Historical Chinese documents describe that area being inhabited by 'Miao' people, a group with whom Hmong people are often identified.

Yet, the history of the 'Miao' cannot be equated with the history of the Hmong. Although the term 'Miao' is used today by the Chinese government to denote a group of linguistically and culturally related people , it has been used inconsistently in the past. Throughout the written history of China, it was applied to a variety of peoples considered to be marginal to Han society, including many who are unrelated to contemporary Hmong/Mong people. Christian Culas and Jean Michaud note: "In all these early accounts, then, until roughly the middle of the nineteenth century, there is perpetual confusion about the exact identity of the population groups designated by the term Miao. We should therefore be cautious with respect to the historical value of any early associations."

Conflict between Miao groups and newly arrived settlers increased during the eighteenth-century under repressive economic and cultural reforms imposed by the Qing Dynasty. This led to armed conflict and large-scale migrations continuing into the late nineteenth-century, the period during which most Hmong people emigrated to Southeast Asia. The process began as early as the late-seventeenth-century, before the time of major social unrest, when small groups went in search of better agricultural opportunities.

From July 1919 to March 1921 the Hmong of French Indochina revolted against the authorities in what the French called the War of the Insane and what the Hmongs call Rog Paj Cai .


While China has the largest population of Hmong people, an exact figure is hard to determine. According to the 1990 census, of the 7.4 million Miao people, 5.4 million were recorded as speaking a Miao language. Of these, around 2 million spoke a dialect of the Hmong language. Currently, based on projected growth rates, along with the inclusion of previously overlooked dialects, the number of speakers of the Hmong language in China has been estimated to be around 2.8 million.

Figures for Indochina are more concrete:
* Vietnam : 787,600
* Laos : 450,000
* Thailand: 150,000
There is also small population of Hmong people in Myanmar, but no exact figure is available.

Outside of Asia, the United States is home to the largest Hmong population. The 2000 census counted 186,310 persons of Hmong ancestry. This number has been criticized for seriously undercounting the actual population, which has been estimated to be anywhere between 250,000 and 300,000. Other countries with significant populations include:
*France: 15,000
*Australia: 2,000
*French Guiana: 1,500
*Canada and Argentina: 600

Within the United States, California, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina have the highest concentrations of Hmong people.


The "Secret War"

In the early 1960s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency began to recruit the indigenous Hmong people in Laos to join fighting the Vietnam War, named as a Special Guerrilla Unit led by General Vang Pao. About 60% of the Hmong men in Laos were recruited by the CIA to join fighting for the in Laos. The CIA used the Special Guerrilla Unit as the counter attack unit to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the main military supply route from the north to the south. Hmong soldiers put their lives at risk in the frontline fighting for the United States to block the supply line and to rescue downed American pilots. As a result, the Hmong suffered a very high casualty rate; more than 40,000 Hmong were killed in the frontline, countless men were missing in action, thousands more were injured and disabled.

General Vang Pao led the Region II defense against incursion from his headquarters in Long Cheng, also known as Lima Site 20 Alternate . At the height of its activity, Long Cheng became the second largest city in Laos. Long Cheng was a micro-nation operational site with its own bank, airport, school system, officials, and many other facilities and services in addition to its military units. Before the end of the Secret War, Long Cheng would fall in and out of General Vang Pao's control.

The Secret War began around the time that the U.S. became officially involved in the Vietnam War. Following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, the Lao kingdom was overthrown by the communists and the Hmong people became targets of retaliation and persecution. While some Hmong people returned to their villages and attempted to resume life under the new regime, thousands more made the trek to and across the Mekong River into Thailand, often under attack. This marked the beginning of a mass exodus of Hmong people from Laos. Those who did make it to Thailand generally were held in squalid United Nations refugee camps. Nearly 20 years later, in the 1990s, a major international debate ensued over whether the Hmong should be returned to Laos, where opponents of their return argued they were being subjected to persecution, or afforded the right to immigrate to the U.S. and other Western nations.

Of those Hmong who did not flee Laos, somewhere between two and three thousand were sent to re-education camps where political prisoners served terms of 3-5 years. Many Hmong died in these camps, after being subjected to hard physical labor and harsh conditions. Thousands more Hmong people, mainly former soldiers and their families, escaped to remote mountain regions - particularly Phou Bia, the highest mountain peak in Laos. Initially, some Hmong groups staged attacks against Pathet Lao and Vietnamese troops while others remained in hiding to avoid military retaliation and persecution. Spiritual leader Zong Zoua Her rallied his followers in a guerilla resistance movement called Chao Fa . Initial military successes by these small bands led to military counter-attacks by government forces, including aerial bombing and heavy artillery, as well as the use of defoliants and chemical weapons.

Small groups of Hmong people, many of them second or third generation descendants of former CIA soldiers, remain internally displaced in remote parts of Laos, in fear of government reprisals. Faced with continuing military operations against them by the government and a scarcity of food, some groups have begun coming out of hiding, while others have sought asylum in Thailand and other countries.

Throughout the Vietnam War, and for two decades following it, the U.S. government stated that there was no "Secret War" in Laos and that the U.S. was not engaged in air or ground combat operations in Laos. In the late 1990s, however, several U.S. conservatives, alleging that the Clinton administration was using the denial of this covert war to justify a repatriation of Thailand-based Hmong war veterans to Laos, urged the U.S. government to acknowledge the existence of the Secret War and to honor the Hmong and U.S. veterans from the war. On May 15, 1997, in a total reversal of U.S. policy, the U.S. government acknowledged that it had supported a prolonged air and ground campaign against the NVA and VietCong. It simultaneously dedicated the Laos Memorial on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery in honor of the Hmong and other combat veterans from the Secret War.

Controversy over repatriation

In 1989, the , with the support of the United States government, instituted the Comprehensive Plan of Action, a program to stem the tide of from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Under the plan, the status of the refugees was to be evaluated through a screening process. Recognized asylum seekers were to be given resettlement opportunities, while the remaining refugees were to be repatriated under guarantee of safety.

After talks with the UNHCR and the Thai government, Laos agreed to repatriate the 60,000 Lao refugees living in Thailand, including several thousand Hmong people. Very few of the Lao refugees, however, were willing to return voluntarily. Pressure to resettle the refugees grew as the Thai government worked to close its remaining refugee camps. While some Hmong people returned to Laos voluntarily, with development assistance from UNHCR, allegations of forced repatriation surfaced. Of those Hmong who did return to Laos, some quickly escaped back to Thailand, describing discrimination and brutal treatment at the hands of Lao authorities.

In 1993, Vue Mai, a former Hmong soldier who had been recruited by the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to return to Laos as proof of the repatriation program's success, disappeared in Vientiane. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees, he was arrested by Lao security forces and was never seen again.

Following the Vue Mai incident, debate over the Hmong's planned repatriation to Laos intensified greatly, especially in the U.S., where it drew strong opposition from many and some human rights advocates. In an October 23, 1995 ''National Review'' article, , the former Heritage Foundation foreign policy expert and White House aide, labeled the Hmong's repatriation a "betrayal," describing the Hmong as a people "who have spilled their blood in defense of American geopolitical interests." Debate on the issue escalated quickly. In an effort to halt the planned repatriation, the Republican-led and both appropriated funds for the remaining Thailand-based Hmong to be immediately resettled in the U.S.; Clinton, however, responded by promising a veto of the legislation.

In their opposition of the repatriation plans, Republicans also challenged the Clinton administration's position that the Laotian government was not systematically violating Hmong human rights. U.S. Representative , for instance, told a Hmong gathering: "I do not enjoy standing up and saying to my government that you are not telling the truth, but if that is necessary to defend truth and justice, I will do that." thousands of Hmong people refused to return to Laos. In 1996, as the deadline for the closure of Thai refugee camps approached, and under mounting political pressure, Around 5,000 Hmong people who were not resettled at the time of the camp closures sought asylum at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist monastery in central Thailand where more than 10,000 Hmong refugees were already living. The Thai government attempted to repatriate these refugees, but the Wat Tham Krabok Hmong refused to leave and the Lao government refused to accept them, claiming they were involved in the illegal drug trade and were of non-Lao origin.

In 2003, following threats of forceable removal by the Thai government, the U.S., in a significant victory for the Hmong, agreed to accept 15,000 of the refugees. Several thousand Hmong people, fearing forced repatriation to Laos if they were not accepted for resettlement in the U.S., fled the camp to live elsewhere within Thailand where a sizable Hmong population has been present since the 19th-century.

In 2004 and 2005, thousands of Hmong fled from the jungles of Laos to a temporary refugee camp in the Thai province of Phetchabun. These Hmong refugees, many of whom are descendants of the former-CIA Secret Army and their relatives, claim that they have been attacked by both the Lao and Vietnamese military forces operating inside Laos as recently as June 2006. The refugees claim that attacks against them have continued almost unabated since the war officially ended in 1975, and have become more intense in recent years.

Lending further support to earlier claims that the government of Laos was persecuting the Hmong, filmmaker Rebecca Sommer documented first-hand accounts in her documentary, ''Hunted Like Animals'', and in a comprehensive report which includes summaries of claims made by the refugees and was submitted to the U.N. in May 2006.

The European Union , UNHCHR, UNHCR, and international groups have since spoken out about the forced repatriation.
The Thai foreign ministry has said that it will halt deportation of Hmong refugees held in Detention Centers Nong Khai, while talks are underway to resettle them in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States.

For the time being, countries willing to resettle the refugees are hindered to proceed with immigration and settlement procedures because the Thai administration does not grant them access to the refugees. Plans to resettle additional Hmong refugees in the U.S. have been complicated by provisions of President Bush's Patriot Act and Real ID Act, under which Hmong veterans of the Secret War, who fought on the side of the United States, are classified as terrorists because of their historical involvement in armed conflict.

Alleged plot to overthrow government of Laos

On June 4, 2007, as part of a lengthy and still ongoing federal investigation labeled "Operation Flawed Eagle," warrants were issued by U.S. federal courts ordering the arrest of Vang Pao and nine others for plotting to overthrow the government of Laos in violation of the federal Neutrality Acts and for multiple weapons charges. The federal charges allege that members of the group inspected weapons, including AK-47s, smoke grenades, and Stinger missiles, with the intent of purchasing them and smuggling them into Thailand in June 2007 where they were intended to be used by Hmong resistance forces in Laos. The one non-Hmong person of the nine arrested, Harrison Jack, a 1968 West Point graduate and retired Army infantry officer, allegedly attempted to recruit Special Operations veterans to act as mercenaries.

In an effort to obtain the weapons, Jack allegedly met unknowingly with undercover U.S. federal agents posing as weapons dealers, which prompted the issuance of the warrants as part of a long-running investigation into the activities of the U.S.-based Hmong leadership and its supporters.

On June 15, the defendants were indicted by a grand jury and a warrant was also issued for the arrest of an 11th man, allegedly involved in the plot. Simultaneous raids of the defendants homes and work locations, involving over 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officials, were conducted in approximately 15 cities in central and southern California.

The defendants face possible life prison terms for violation of the Neutrality Acts and various weapons charges. They initially were denied bail, with a federal court ruling that they were likely flight risks, given their extensive connections, access to private aircraft, and resources.

Multiple protest rallies in support of the suspects, designed to raise awareness of the genocide of Hmong peoples in the jungles of Laos, have taken place in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and several of Vang Pao's high-level supporters in the U.S. have criticized the California court that issued the arrest warrants, arguing that Vang is an historically important American ally and a currently valued leader of U.S. and foreign-based Hmong. However, calls for Californian Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and President George W. Bush to pardon the defendants have yet to be answered, presumably pending a conclusion of the large and still-ongoing federal investigation.

The Americas

Many Hmong/Mong war refugees resettled in the United States after the Vietnam War. Beginning in December 1975, the first Hmong/Mong refugees arrived in the U.S., mainly from refugee camps in Thailand; however, only 3,466 were granted asylum at this time under the Refugee Assistance Act of 1975. In May 1976, another 11,000 were allowed to enter the United States, and by 1978 some 30,000 Hmong/Mong people had immigrated. This first wave was made up predominantly of men directly associated with General Vang Pao's secret army. It was not until the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980 that families were able to come in the U.S., becoming the second-wave of Hmong/Mong immigrants. Today, approximately 270,000 Hmong/Mong people reside in the United States, the majority of whom live in California , Minnesota , and Wisconsin . Fresno, California; Eureka, California; Stockton, California; Sacramento, California; Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota; Lowell, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Wausau, Wisconsin have especially high concentrations of Hmong/Mong people.

There are smaller Hmong/Mong populations scattered across the country, including Missoula, Montana; Western North Carolina (; ; and ; Northeastern Georgia (; ; ; and ; and Linda Vista, California; Eau Claire, Wisconsin; La Crosse, Wisconsin; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Winooski, Vermont; and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, centered around the Pennsylvania towns of and . There is also a small community of several thousand Hmong who migrated to French Guiana in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Hmong/Mong leaders

*Pa Chay Vue
*Pa Kao Her
*Touby Lyfoung
*Zong Zoua Her

Earlier books

* Edkins, ''The Miau-tsi Tribes''. Foochow: 1870.
* Henry, ''Lingnam''. London: 1886.
* Bourne, ''Journey in Southwest China''. London: 1888.
* A. H. Keaw, ''Man: Past and Present''. Cambridge: 1900.
* Merritt, ''Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942–1992''. Indiana: 1999.

Hmong articles and essays

* Doctors Without Borders, May 27, 2008
* ''The New York Times Magazine'', May 11, 2008.
* Al Jazeera English, March 13, 2008
* NY Times, December 17, 2007
* By Joshua Castellino, June 08, 2007
*," ''The World'', June 14, 2007.
* CNN, June 4, 2007.
* by Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe, ''Minneapolis Star-Tribune'', July 2, 2005.
* The Associated Press, June 4, 2004.
* by Sing Bourommavong, Voice of America news, January 28, 2004.
* ''Time magazine'', April 28, 2003.
* by Michael Johns, ''National Review'', October 23, 1995.
* speech in 1987 by General Vang Pao, Heritage Foundation Lecture #96, March 19, 1987.

Hmong web sites

* An educational and cultural Hmong magazine.
*, information about the Hmong veterans of the Secret War still remaining in the jungles of Laos
*, California-based Hmong-American youth group which campaigns for the Hmong hiding in the jungles of Laos and the refugees which have fled to Thailand.
*, Hmong articles on Hmong culture, history, and other topics by Dr. Kao-Ly Yang .
* An entertainment website.
*, St. Paul, Minnesota.
*, list of Hmong-related web sites edited by Mark Pfeifer of the Hmong Cultural Center.
*, Hmong community newspaper.
*, Hmong Business Directory.
*, videos of Hmong traditional arts.
*, by Tom Hang, a Mong-American teacher.
*, about the Hmong of Thailand.
*, To download the Report, and updates on the refugees and Hmong hiding in the jungles of Laos.

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