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The Impact of Missionary Christianity Upon Marginalized Ethnic Minorities: The Case of the Hmong


This paper combines historical with anthropological evidence on the relationship between Christianity and messianism among the Hmong of Southeast Asia and China. The lack of literacy is a motivating factor in Hmong Christian conversions. Messianism is seen as a reaction to Christian conversion, which encourages the alienation of minority groups.

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1 Weber M., “Die Wirtschaftsethik der Weltreligionen”, Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Religionssoziologie 1 (1922-1923) ; Tylor E., Primitive Culture (London, 1871).

2 The Hmong form two distinct branches of the much wider linguistic, cultural and historical category of ‘Miao’ peoples. Although the term ‘Miao’ should not be used to refer to the Hmong of Southeast Asia, since it has strongly pejorative associations, within China the term includes a much wider group who are related linguistically, culturally and historically, and it is in this sense that it is retained here.

3 Fieldwork for a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, was conducted in North Thailand from April 1981 to October 1982, with the assistance of the Social Science Research Council and the Central Research Fund of the University of London. Two return visits have been made since then, for periods of three months in 1984 and 1985, partly funded respectively by the British Institute in Southeast Asia and the Walter Vella Foundation. Two research visits to Hmong communities in the United States were made in March and September 1983, in addition to various visits to Hmong communities in France. In China research was conducted in August 1985 with the help of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Kunming, in June 1986 under the auspices of the Department of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and with the assistance of the Guangdong National Minorities Affairs Commission and National Minorities Research Institute, and of the provincial governments of the Autonomous Counties of Ruyuen and Liannan in Shaoguan, and in July 1986 as Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Kunming. I should like to thank all these agencies for their assistance.

4 I use the Romanized Phonetic Alphabet (R.P. A.) transcription for Hmong, in which doubled vowels indicate final nasalization and final consonants are not pronounced, but instead indicate tone values. One peculiarity of this system which should be remembered is that x=s, and s=sh.

5 Papers of S. Pollard (Mss. Boxes 639–40), London, School of Oriental and African Studies.

6 Wingate A., A Cavalier in China (London: Grayson & Grayson, 1940) ; Anderson J., The Journey of A.R. Margary from Shanghai to Bhamo and back to Manwyne (London: MacMilland & Co., 1876). Cf. also N. Tapp, “The Relevance of Telephone Directories to a Lineage-based Society: A Consideration of Some Messianic Myths among the Hmong”, Journal of the Siam Society 70, 1 (1982).

7 Pollard S., The Story of the Miao (London: Henry Hook, 1919), p. 47; cf. Tapp (op.cit., 1982) and Christianity in China Today”, Anthropology Today 2, 2 (1986).

8 S. Pollard (1919), p. 47; cf. Tapp (1982).

9 Hudspeth W., Stone Gateway and the Flowery Miao (London: The Cargate Press, 1937).

10 Hayes E., Sam Pollard of Yunnan (London: The Pilgrim Press, 1928).

11 Pollard W., The Life of Sam Pollard of China (Edinburgh: Seeley, Service & Co., 1928).

12 Derrida D., Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1974).

13 Feuchtwang S., “Investigating Religion”, Marxist Analyses and Social Anthropology, ed. Bloch M. (London: Malaby Press, 1975) ; Goody J., The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967) ; Levi-Strauss C., Structural Anthropology II (London: Allen Lane, 1977).

14 Gesau Von and Alting Leo, “The Dialectics of Akhazan”, Highlanders of Thailand, ed. McKinnon J. & Bhrukrasri W. (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1983).

15 BMalinowski ., Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays (Illinois: Glencoe, 1948); Von Gesau (1983).

16 Terms in parentheses refer to self-appelations. Gilhodes Viz. C., “Mythologie et Religion des Katchins (Birmanie)”, Anthropos IV (1909); Graham D.C., Songs and Stories of the Chuan Miao (Washington D.C: Smithsonian Misc. Coll., No. 123, 1954).

17 Keyes C., The Golden Peninsula: Culture and Adaptation in Mainland Southeast Asia (London and New York: MacMillan, 1977). Cf. also Stern T., “Ariya and the Golden Book”, Journal of Asian Studies 27 (1986) and Keyes C. (ed.), Ethnic Adaptation and Identity: The Karen on the Thai Frontier with Burma (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1979).

18 Burridge N., New Heaven, New Earth (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971) et al.

19 W. Hudspeth (1937).

20 Cf. Gilhodes, op.cit. (1909) on the Kachin, where a similar version appears, as in some of the Karen accounts.

21 S. Pollard (1919), p. 76. One should compare this to Pollard's accounts elsewhere of a Miao couple who suddenly became deranged and began to sing and dance about the mission house, and the ‘mad Miao woman’ who claimed to be Jesus’ sister (Pollard S., Tight Corners in China (London: Andrew Crombie, 1921), p. 45.Kendall R., Eyes of the Earth: The Diary of Samuel Pollard (London: The Cargate Press, 1954).

23 Thus in the earliest mention of the ‘Miao’ in the Chinese annals, we find the term used to refer to a rebellion against the semi-legendary Huang Ti, or ‘Yellow Emperor’. Moreover, the personage respected by the Hmong of China as their first ancestor, and also reported by Savina F.M. (Histoire des Miao, Hong Kong, Societe des Missions Etrangeres de Paris, 1930) for the Hmong of Vietnam, was a legendary rebel against the Yellow Emperor.

24 Yaj T.T., “Rog Paj Cai” (mimeo., Y. Bertrais, Sayaboury, 1972).

25 F.M. Savina (1930), p. 258.

26 Cf. Savina F.M., “Consideration sur la Revolte des Miao”, L'Eveil Economique de I'Indochine, No. 373 (1924).

27 Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, Vol. VI (1919).

28 Smalley W., “The Gospel and the Cultures of Laos”, Readings in Missionary Anthropology 3:3 (1956); Barney G.L., “Christianity and Innovation in Meo Culture: A Case Study in Missionization” (M.A. diss., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1957).

29 G.L. Barney (1957).

30 Halpern J., Government, Politics and Social Structure of Laos (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964).

31 Garrett W., “The Hmong of Laos”, National Geographic Magazine CXLV (June 1974).

32 Lemoine J., “Les Ecritures du Hmong”, Bulletin des Amis du Royaume Lao 6–7 (1972).

33 Tapp N., “Categories of Change and Continuity among the White Hmong (Hmoob Dawb) of North Thailand” (Ph.D. diss., University of London, London, 1985).

34 Heimbach M., At Any Cost (London: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1964; 1976). Cf. Kuhn I., Ascent to the Tribes (London: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1956) and Scheuzger O., The New Trail (London: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1966) for other instances of messianic Christianity among the Hmong of Thailand.

35 Douglas M., Natural Symbols (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1970), p. 24.

36 Cf. Bilmes J., Discourse and Behaviour (New York: Plenum Press, 1986), p. 8.

37 Hudson J., The Marxist Philosophy of Ernst Bloch (London: MacMillan, 1982).

38 N. Tapp (1982).

39 J. Hudson (1982), p. 160.

40 Cf. Kuhn I., Nests above the Abyss (London: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1980).

41 Tapp N., “Notes from an Unfinished Journal”, Khaawsaan Suun Wicaj Chaawkhaw 6, 3 (1982b).

42 Tapp N., “How to Stop Opium Farming?”, Royal Anthropological Institute Newsletter 48 (1982c).

43 Cooper R., Resource Scarcity and the Hmong Response: Patterns of Settlement and Economy in Transition (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1984).

44 Detailed records of the activities of these missionaries can be found in the annals of the Laos News (Chiangmai: Payap College Theological Archives, Payap University).

45 Cf. Young D., Confucianism and Christianity (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1983).

46 The results of this questionnaire can be found in Tapp (1985), pp. 472–84.

47 Kunstadter P., “Highland Populations in North Thailand”, McKinnon J. and Bhrukrasri W. (1983).

48 `Worsley P., The Trumpet Shall Sound (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1968).

49 Tapp N., “The Reformation of Culture: Hmong Refugee from Laos”, Refugee Issues 1, 5 (1985b).

50 Garrett W., “Refugee from Terror”, National Geographic Magazine (May 1980).

51 Personal communication, Vam Nrhuag Vaj, Chicago (19 March 1983).

52 Lee G., “Culture and Adaptation: Hmong Refugees in Australia”, The Hmong in Transition, ed. Deinard A., Downing B. and Hendricks G. (New York: Center for Migration Studies of New York Inc. and the Southeast Asian Refugee Studies Programme of the University of Minnesota, 1986).

53 N. Tapp (1986).

54 Ting K., “Retrospect and Prospects: Open address before the Third Chinese National Christian Conference, Nanjing, 6–13 October 1982”,Chinese Christians Speak Out (Beijing: New World Press, 1984).

55 South China Morning Post (4–5 July 1986).

56 Andrew Viz., Brother, God's Smuggler (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967); Wallis A., China Miracle (London: Kingsway Publications, 1985).

57 Tian Feng China Study Project Bulletin (27 April 1985).

58 Fei Hsiao-Tung, Towards a Peoples’ Anthropology (Beijing: New World Press, 1981); Hsieh J., “China's Nationalities Policy: Its Development and Problems”, Anthropos 81 (1986).

59 Lemoine Viz. J., “Ethnologues en Chine”, Diogène 133 (January-March 1986).

60 The Miao number over 5 million in China. The major groups classified as Miao in China and who are linguistically, culturally and historically related, include those who refer to themselves as Hmo or Hmong, and are known as the Hua, Bai or Qing Miao to the Chinese.

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Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-4634
  • EISSN: 1474-0680
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