The Background to the Conflict.

The ancient homeland.

The Miao songs enshrine a firmly held belief that there was a time when the people lived in prosperity and peace in an ancient homeland. This was a large well watered plain where rice, wheat, millet and other food crops grew in abundance, and also cotton for making cloth. In the midst of the plain was Lao-gu, "The Golden City", full of fine houses. The homeland had the central organization of a city-state, with powerful leaders who commanded well trained and disciplined soldiers. The Miao were ultimately driven from the homeland by the Chinese, but the memory provided a sense of identity and cohesion amid the pressures and persecutions under which they subsequently had to live. There is a constant refrain in these songs, "This is sung that the descendants may recall,
This is sung that the generations may remember".
One unique passage dared to prophesy that the day would come when the fortunes of the Miao people would be restored.

There appear to be at least two different traditions concerning the homeland intertwined in the songs, each having its own set of names. but once the latter have been sorted out a surprisingly consistent picture emerges. The homeland was called Ndlo-hlang-dleu-di, which means "within the heart country", or "the heartland". It was regularly described as "drao dlao gu", "to four corners", a phrase which probably means, "four-square" or "rectangular". A great river, with seven sweeping bends, divided the land and flowed on down gorges and rapids cut through the Gi-njio (or Di-njio) ranges which bounded the plain on its eastern side. Beyond these mountains the river emptied into the Nine Lakes of Gi-nzyu.

Ndlo-hlang-dleu-di had been the home of the fabulous twins who had set in order sky and earth, and, in establishing the movements of sun and moon, had fixed the sequence of the seasons. They lived in a city called Hmao-shi, and the river was sometimes referred to as the Shi, or Hmao-shi river. Its regular name, however, was either Yi-bang (sometimes written Gi-bang) or Ndu-na-yi-mo. Some songs use one name, some the other. The latter form was from time to time abbreviated to Ndu-na-yi or Na-yi-mo. The fertile land along the river had been brought under cultivation by the folk-hero, Zie-gha-lao. In a number of songs this region is called "the Tracts of Mi-li and the Plains of Li-mo". Presumably these two names referred to the land to the north and the south of the river, and they are always used together. In other songs the whole area was called simply "the Plains of Yi-bang".

At the north western edge of the plain was a narrow gorge through which the river flowed on to the plain and at this point it was joined by a tributary. This place was known as "the pass of the gorge of the Tracts of Mi-li" and "the meeting of the waters of the Plains of Li-mo". It was also called more succinctly, "the pass of Ji-ya", or "the pass of Li-byu".

A morning's journey from the river, that is about ten miles, stood the Golden City. In Miao the name is Lao-gu. In some songs a city called "Lao-u" is mentioned. The context in most cases makes it plain that the two are one, although at least one song is at pains to differentiate them. The Golden City was described as circular in plan and containing rows of houses with timber frames and tiled roofs. It is also just possible that it should be identified with the legendary city of Hmao-shi.

To the south, beyond a gap in the hills named the Lion's Throat, was another fertile plain called the Plain of Li-vu to which, when the north had been over-run by the Chinese, the Miao fled. On this plain they established a settlement called Rice City, which unlike the Golden City with its compact plan, was spread out over a wide area. They were eventually driven from this place also and had to flee to the mountainous country of the south. Away to the north of Ndlo-hlang-dleu-di was Cai-sie-mi-fu-di, the native land of the Chinese.

The loss of the homeland.

Among the songs sung by Yang Zhi there are eight which record the conflict with the Chinese and the consequent loss of the ancient homeland. All eight bear the unmistakable imprint of Yang Zhi's style, but a consideration of the names used, both of people and of places, suggests that the first two, which concern the Elder Gi-vu and the Elder Gi-no, have a source different from the other six which are about the Elder Gi-yie, the Elder Gi-chi and Gha-sao-hmao-byu. The second group of songs again divide into two subgroups. In the first there is one song about each of three leaders and a fourth which is a kind of summary. Then in the second sub-group there are two songs which are about the aftermath of the conflict. The one tells how the Chinese general, having defeated the Miao, took items captured from them and put them on display in the "house of records", while the other suggests that the patterns on the tribal dress were devised as reminders of the good land that had been lost.

These songs by Yang Zhi, together with contributions from Tao Zi-Gai, Zhang Ming and others, all record the same story. The repetition results from the tradition having been preserved in different clans or family groups, in which their particular ancestor was named as the hero. The story, in its simplest form, is found in the latter half of the song of Zie-gha-lao, according to which no resistance was offered. As the Chinese approached, the Miao simply crossed the river and fled southward, leaving everything behind. However, according to the conflict songs, when the Chinese first attacked from Cai-sie-mi-fu-di, they were ambushed and soundly defeated in the narrow valley where the great river flowed on to the plain. In some of the songs a second, and even a third such attack was similarly repulsed, but finally, with their ability to use boats, and possibly due to their knowledge of gunpowder, the Chinese proved too strong for the Miao, many of whom fled southwards, first to Rice City and then on into the mountains. Some leaders were captured and executed, while the people who remained were subjugated and enslaved.

The boats.

In these narratives two kinds of boat are described. There was first the flat bottomed river ferry which floated right on the surface of the water. Because it was attached to a rope spanning the river and was hauled across by hand, it travelled in a straight line. Secondly there was the conventional craft with a keel, which drew some depth of water, but being subject to the current and the wind, could not travel in a straight line across the river.

The various names of the clan leaders.

The opening section of the sixth of this cycle of eight songs sorts out the various names of the Miao leaders. The information may be summarized as follows:-
Old form Modern form Chinese equivalent
Hmao-ndlw Zhang
Hmao-chi Yang
Hmao-jiai Li