Digging Our Roots: Hmong History
There are so much that we can benefit from our past, which buried many, many roots. And I completely agree with this year’s theme that it is time to dig our roots. The deeper we dig, the more we will be convinced that the Hmong are indeed a very ancient people with a very unique history and culture. We are one of the oldest human races on the surface of the earth. Many scholars can easily say that the Hmong were in China before the Chinese. As Jean Mottin said, “Of their prehistory only one thing is certain, that is that the Miao were in China before the Chinese, for it is the latter [Chinese] themselves who indicate the presence of the Miao in the land, which they, the Chinese, were gradually infiltrating, and which was to become their own country.”
Now let me share with you our Hmong history, our roots. But please be prepared to hear the unexpected. History has not been very kind to our Hmong. For at least five to six thousand years, the Hmong were constantly at wars against the expansionist Chinese, who tried to take over Hmong land and to eliminate the Hmong by suppression and assimilation. Our ancestors had gone through so much of suffering, trying to protect our people from elimination, and they managed to do so. Other strong nationalities like the Xiongnu and the Manchu were completely eliminated by the Chinese over the centuries. I’m surprised to see that the Hmong have survived with much of their culture, after five or six thousands years under Chinese oppression. Without their continuous resistance, the Hmong could have been disappeared from history like the Xiongnu. We owe much respect to our ancestors.
According to historical records and archaeological findings, the Hmong originated in the Yellow River basin. In 1936, there was an archaeological discovery in Jiangsu province, known as the Liangzhu Culture. This culture is said to be as old as 7000 years. In 1996 in China, there was an international conference on the Liangzhu discovery. Some scholars have argued that this Liangzhu Culture was a Hmong culture. In his article “The Birth of Civilization in the East, The Liangzhu Culture,” Wang Zunguo stated that Liangzhu was a Hmong culture belonged to Hmong king Chiyou. Chen Jing is a Hmong scholar in Nanjing who pays special attention to the Liangzhu discovery. He also argued that Liangzhu was a Hmong culture. He said that it was because of the flood from the Yellow River that the Hmong moved northward all the way to Zhuolu. So close to six thousand years ago, the Hmong lived in Zhuolu, some 80 miles northwest of Beijing. Chiyou was the Hmong king during this time. His people were known as the Juili tribe. In his book Haiv Hmoob Liv Xwm, Professor Wu Rong Zhen calls it the Juili Kingdom or Kuj Cuab Cuaj Lig Ntuj. Professor Wu Rong Zhen figured that the Juili Kingdom is 5785 years old, with a deviation of no more than 105 years. Chiyou and the Hmong were rather developed, more so than the Chinese at this time. The Hmong already knew how to use metal and iron as weapons. They already established a government system. They lived in a sedentary life with livestock and farming.
As population grew and the Chinese expanded from the northwest into the territory of the Hmong, wars broke out between Chiyou and Huangdi and Yandi. Huangdi and Yandi are ancestors of the Chinese. Chiyou was very powerful. He could provoke wind and fog (cloud) to confuse his enemy during fighting. But Huangdi developed a compass to help him defeat Chiyou. After winning nine battles, Chiyou lost the war and was killed by Huangdi (2704-2595 BC), who then became the Yellow Emperor of China. And this took place close to six thousand years ago.
Other descriptions of Chiyou are that he was half human and half non-human, and that Chiyou ate sand for food. It is evident that when your history was written by your enemy, you would expect it to be negative.
Despite the fact that the Chinese have painted a negative image of him, Chiyou has been regarded as the God of Warfare, because of his knowledge of metal and iron, and of his supernatural power. Throughout Chinese history, only one Chinese man, Zhuge Liang, during the Han Dynasty, who could provoke wind and cloud like Hmong King Chiyou. Some Chinese people have paid respect and tribute to Chiyou. It is also said that the first emperor of the Han Dynasty (Liu Bang) worshipped Chiyou.
Today in Zhuolu, there are three stone statues of Chiyou, Huangdi and Yandi, erected in 1998, visited annually by over 60,000 people from around the world. Many things in Zhuolu were named after Chiyou — Chiyou Spring, Chiyou Pine Tree, Chiyou Street, Chiyou Tomb, etc. On the 15th day of the 7 month, many people come to Chiyou’s tomb to pay their respect and to ask him for blessing.
Over 1000 years after the collapse of the Juili Kingdom, the San Miao Kingdom came to existence at least 4350 years ago. The Hmong in China and many scholars say that the leader of the Hmong during the San Miao Kingdom was Taotie. Taotie is said to have the face of a human but the shape of a tiger with dog’s hair about two feet long, and that he had the feet of tiger, mouth and teeth of a pig, and a tail 18 feet in length. Taotie was connected to San Miao Kingdom, and was hated by the Chinese. They called him the monster, described as greedy and voracious. But ironically, his figure has been used as designs appeared everywhere in Chinese society.
The San Miao Kingdom existed for at least 500 years. Gradually the Chinese expanded from the north, and San Miao Kingdom was attacked by three Chinese emperors, Yao, Shun, and Yu. Finally San Miao was defeated by Yu during the Xia Dynasty over four thousand years ago (2205-1766 BC), and the Hmong were banished to San Wei, which is in the northwestern part of China. The Hmong were forced to scatter and had been constantly attacked by the Chinese since then.
After San Miao was destroyed, another kingdom, the Chu’ Kingdom, came to live in 887 BC and lasted over 1000 years until it was suppressed by the Qin Dynasty in 223 BC. Scholars seem to agree that Chu’ was not a Chinese kingdom. It was either a Hmong kingdom or a Thai kingdom. It was during the Chu’ Kingdom that the so-called Mawangdui tomb in Hunan was buried. This tomb was unearthed in 1972. In this tomb, many items were discovered, including the body of a 40 year-old woman. She was buried over 2000 years ago, but she was very well preserved; she was not rotten; her body was still attached when discovered. Hundreds and thousands of other items were found in her tomb. Because many of these items are unique to Hmong culture and designs, many scholars argued that this woman is Hmong. This is something worth anticipating as scholars unfold their research in the future.
As you have heard, by the Han Dynasty in 206 BC, the Hmong were already in today Hunan province. It is said that from the Han Dynasty to the Sui Dynasty in 581 AD, all nationalities in China had their own independence. They were not under the control of the Chinese imperial government. However, they had to pay tax to the Chinese emperor. A Hmong man or woman would pay 40 feet of hemp cloth to the emperor, and a child would pay 20 feet of hemp cloth.
As the Chinese continued to expand into Hmong territory, wars broke out between them. In 47 AD, the Hmong in Dong Ting Lake area fought against Chinese expansionism. This war is important because it was one of the first to be recorded in history about the conflict between the Hmong and the Chinese. Chinese general Liu Shang led 10,000 troops against the Hmong but he was killed in battle. Then general Ma Yuan led 40,000 troops to fight the Hmong. He was sick and died while fighting against the Hmong. This war lasted for about 60 years. The Hmong lost the war at the end, and were pushed further into West Hunan.
After Han Dynasty (221 BC), the name Miao disappeared from historical records for about 1000 years. The term Man or Nan-Man was used instead. Man means barbarian, or simply non-Chinese. Nan-Man means southern barbarian. The term Miao, however, reappeared during the Tang Dynasty, which began in 618 AD.
Before Tang Dynasty (618), the Hmong fought the Chinese to stop them from expanding into Hmong territory and from taking away Hmong land. It was a fight against invaders. After Tang Dynasty, the Chinese had penetrated much into Hmong territory. The Hmong, however, were allowed to govern themselves, but they had to pay tax to the emperor. The Chinese not only taking Hmong territory but also oppressed and forced the Hmong to assimilate into Chinese society. During this time, the Hmong fought against the Chinese for equality, justice, and against hatred and oppression.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Hmong territory was almost conquered except areas too far and remote from Chinese reach. Many Hmong had assimilated into Chinese society; and many remained in isolated areas. The Chinese called those Hmong who had assimilated into Chinese society as the Cooked Hmong, and called those who did not want to assimilate as the Raw Hmong. It was during the Ming Dynasty, in 1615, that the Chinese built The Hmong Frontier Wall in Guizhou and Hunan provinces to separate the Hmong and the Chinese. This Hmong Frontier Wall is about 100 miles long, passing through five counties in Guizhou and Hunan. It is as big as the Great Wall in northern China but not as long. The construction of this wall tells us one thing, and that is that the Hmong were very strong to the extent that the Chinese had to build a stone wall to protect them.
Also during the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese allowed the Hmong to govern their own people under the Tu Si System. It is a hereditary title, which means that the son would assume the leadership of the father after his death.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Manchu government tried to assimilate the Hmong into the Chinese society by using force and oppression. They also replaced the Tu Si system with civil administration, controlled by the Chinese. The Hmong were completely under the control of the Chinese, who took away Hmong land and treated them terribly. The Hmong led one bloody rebellion after another against Chinese expansion and oppression.
Now let me share with you some selected rebellions in China to show you that our ancestors were very strong in their fight against their invading enemy; that we did have country and kings; that we had a written language; and that we suffered tremendously during our struggle to preserve our nationality.
In 1436, Lis Theeb Pov led a rebellion against the Chinese for taking over Hmong land, for imposing heavy tax on the Hmong, and for bringing military forces to control and suppress the Hmong. Lis Theeb Pov was selected as the Hmong King with the title of Wu Li.(p131). A Hmong government system was established. Over 70,000 Chinese troops from three provinces (Hunan, Guizhou, and Sichuan) were deployed to suppress this rebellion. In 1460, King Lee Ting Pao was captured and killed in Beijing. It is said that 90% of Hmong soldiers were killed in this war, which lasted for 24 years. King Lee Ting Pao’s name still appears in Hmong songs and poetry.
In 1501, Lis Txawj Vam led a rebellion in Hunan against the Ming Dynasty. Lis Txawj Vam was made the Hmong King (known as Huab Tais Lis Theeb Vaj). He carried a yellow flag. The Chinese used 57,000 troops, divided into four divisions to attack the Hmong. A few thousand Hmong were killed, and 400 Hmong women were captured, raped and tortured to death. King Lee Ting Vang was killed, and the war ended after one year.
In 1737, Poj Lig and Hooj Yeeb led a rebellion in Guizhou province against the Qing Dynasty. This rebellion is important because both Cooked Hmong and Raw Hmong jointly fought against the Chinese government. The Chinese used 30,000 troops from seven provinces (Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Yunnan, and Sichuan) to suppress the Hmong. At one point, 37 Hmong leaders with 600 family members surrendered in good faith, but they were executed instead. The Hmong continued to fight. In this rebellion, Hmong men killed their wives and children before going off to battles against the Chinese, because they did not want the Chinese to get to their families and torture them. And I suppose that Hmong women and children were willing to die from the swords of their husbands or their fathers, who would end their lives without pain. They knew so well that if the Chinese captured them, they would be slowly sliced to death in front of other people, and some would be burned to death. It was just too much pain to bear.
In this rebellion, the Hmong won many battles in the beginning. But eventually they could not hold back the stronger Chinese forces. They were forced to defend themselves in the famous Lei Gong Shan, a mountain of 2,170 meters above sea level in Guizhou province. They were surrounded by Chinese troops. They could not farm in the mountain. After six months in Lei Gong Shan, over 30,000 Hmong died of starvation, excluding those died in battles. Finally, Poj Yig and Hooj Yeeb with 400 comrades were captured, and were taken to Guiyang to be executed. In one battle only in Faj Pheej, 17,600 Hmong soldiers were killed, and 25,000 were captured, which half them were executed. 1,224 Hmong villages were burned down, which is about 75% of Hmong villages. It is estimated that about 70% to 80% Hmong were killed in this war. Hundreds and hundreds of villages were completely wiped out without a single Hmong living.
In 1734 in West Hunan, the Chinese government accused two Hmong leaders of stealing their military uniforms. During this time, the Chinese imposed a policy on the Hmong stating that if one person did one thing wrong, then the whole village would be blamed for and penalized. The Chinese then used force to arrest the two Hmong leaders. The Hmong resisted and a war broke out, and lasted for about three years. The Hmong were defeated in a mountain called Roob Xyoob Ntsuam. It is said that Hundreds and thousands of Hmong were killed, piling one on top of each other, and their blood ran like a stream. Hmong men of 15 years and over were all killed. Women and children were taken as slaves and were sold to distant places.
After the Roob Xyoob Ntsuam massacre, the Hmong were ready for a bigger rebellion. The Hmong organized themselves and began making weapons. They also created a Hmong written language to be used among themselves (p158). They began spreading rumor that a Hmong king had come. The rebellion was launched in early 1740, led by Xub Xeev Yig, who was selected to be the Hmong king. The flag of the Hmong had five colors (p159). A total of 20,000 Chinese troops from five provinces were used to suppress this rebellion, which lasted about 1 ½ year. In June 1741, the Hmong were defeated, also, at Roob Xyoob Ntsuam. King Xub Xeev Yig was captured. Over 10,000 Hmong were killed during this war (p180). About 15,000 or 16,000 died of starvation and suicide. Captured Hmong girls and women were sold as follow (p180):
3-5 years 1 lag nyiaj (1/12 of a silver bar)
6-11 2 lag
12-16 3 lag
17-30 5 lag
30-40 2 lag
Over 40 .5 lag, like and infant
Only 40% of the Hmong were alive after this war. They were prohibited to learn their written language (p187). After this war, there were more military garrisons stationed in Hmong territory, and more Chinese citizens were brought into Hmongland.
In 1787, in the village of Khawb Pus (Hunan?), a group of Chinese merchants were robbed, and they accused the Hmong in that village for the crime. They used to do this as a pretext to rip off the Hmong. So two Hmong leaders, Sis Mas Yim and Looj Kab Yeeb argued with the Chinese, who sent in 1,300 Chinese soldiers to wipe out Khawb Pu village. 130 Hmong were captured. Sis Mas Yim and Looj Kab Yeeb were sliced to death. The rest was thrown into a burning fire (p204).
From 1787, the Hmong in Hunan and Guizhou planned a revenge for Sis Mas Yim and Looj Kab Yeeb. After 7 years of planning (from 1788 to 1795), Hmong began talking about the coming of a Hmong king. Their slogan was to chase out the Chinese and the Manchu and to get back Hmong land and to regain their independence. This was a rebellion organized by the Hmong in Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou, and Sichuan.
In January 1795, the rebellion began, and lasted until 1806. Wu Pa Yia was selected to be the Hmong king. He was an educated man, and had great martial art skills. It is said that he carried a sword of 45.5 kg, which is about 100 lb. His sword is being kept in a museum in Jishou in Hunan province (p213). Within a year into the rebellion, the Hmong regained most of their lands that were taken by the Chinese. The Chinese deployed a total of 180,000 troops from seven provinces (Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong, and Guangxi) led by Fu Kang Nya to suppress the Hmong.
King Wu Pa Yia was captured and tortured to death by slicing in front of every body, on March 25, 1796, just barely over a year into the rebellion, when he was 67 years old. Now Hmong troops grew to 100,000 men. The war continued for 10 more years until it was finally suppressed in 1806. Other Hmong leaders were either killed in battles or captured and executed. Both Wu Tian Ban and Shi San Pao were captured and taken to Beijing to be executed before the emperor. It is said that some 220 Chinese leaders were killed by Hmong in this war, and thousands Chinese troops were killed.
Before the war started, the Hmong had over 4,000 villages with over 400,000 people. After the war, only 1,200 villages remained with 115,019 people alive. It is estimated that over 70% of the villages and people were destroyed during this war. Hmong territory in Hunan and Guizhou alone was being reduced by 80%, from 19,000 square kilometers to 4,000 square kilometers (p.281). Over 90% of Hmong farms were taken by the Chinese.
The last and the biggest rebellion in the Qing Dynasty started in 1855 and lasted for 18 years until it was suppressed in 1873. This rebellion was led by Zhang Xiu-mei, Yang Tuo Long, and other Hmong leaders. The causes of this rebellion were Chinese military colonialism, suppression, and heavy and unjust tax. During this time, there were 109 garrisons stationed in Hmong territory with 8,935 families and 9000 soldiers, and each soldier was given 5 mu of Hmong farm; there were 11,032 new Chinese families coming to Hmong territory and took away 8,398 Hmong family farms. The Chinese governments looted the Hmong freely. They destroyed Hmong irrigation system, took away Hmong property, dug out Hmong ancestral graves, prohibited the Hmong from celebrating their new year, and closed down Hmong market places. Tax was heavy and unjust, taking about 10% of their produce, and then was increased to 40% and 50%. Those who could not pay their tax were penalized by cutting nose and piercing nose. Some families had to dig out their ancestral graves and took out the money from the graves to pay their tax to the Chinese.
In 1855, a Hmong elder in Lang De village in Guizhou province could not pay his tax. He was hung and tortured to death by a Chinese soldier. Yaj Tuam Lwj, a young Hmong man of the village, was so angry, and he killed that Chinese soldier on the spot. The Hmong rebellion began hereon. On March 15, 1855 in Taijiang, there was a gathering of Hmong leaders to organize the rebellion. A white water buffalo, a white cow, a white chicken, and a white duck were sacrificed by the Cheeb Siv Cab River. An oath was sworn by drinking bloods from these animals mixed with wine. Here Zhang Xiu-mei was selected to be the leader of the rebellion. A Zhang Xiu-mei flag was raised here in Taijiang.
According to Professor Wu Rong Zhen, over 100,000 Chinese soldiers were killed during this war, and over 150 cities or villages were captured by the Hmong. But at the end the Hmong lost the war. Zhang Xiu-mei and Yang Tuo Long were captured and killed in Changsa, Hunan. Other Hmong leaders, Shi Liu Ting and Shi Xan Pao, were captured and killed in Beijing before the emperor. The rebellion came to an end in 1806.
It was because of Chinese oppression and killing in these many wars mentioned above that many Hmong chose to seek peace in Southeast Asia.
Today, it is estimated that there are at least eight to ten million Hmong in China, and that there are about two million Hmong living outside China such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, France, French Guiana, Germany, Argentina, Canada, and the United States.
On the one hand, it is so unfortunate that we have scattered throughout the world due to oppression and warfare. On the other hand, however, living in diaspora has given us a chance to broaden our worldview and to look at our society from the outside in. And doing so, we will be able to rediscover our roots and identity. In America, for example, we are in the best position to be educated with the knowledge and resources needed to dig out our roots that have been lost over times.
With education, we can read and learn that the world is not flat as once told to us by our parents; that the Hmong are not as backward as we once admitted; that the Hmong are as good looking as other people; and that the Hmong are a very ancient people with a very long history and a very unique and elaborate culture.
I don’t know about you. But for me, it was not until recently did I begin to see the beauty of our people and our culture. And honestly, I did not see it by myself. It was my American friends who, being outsiders, told me that the culture of the Hmong is very unique and highly structured. I was awakened. I began to observe closely our culture such as wedding rituals and funeral rituals. I began to realize that yes, our culture is one of the most highly structured, highly sophisticated cultures in the world. It sure needs some minor modifications in order to fit in today’s world. But I am pleased to say that our culture is one of the best in the world. If it is not the best, it certainly is among the best. And we should not be ashamed to be Hmong or to live in our culture.
In fact, if we go beyond the surface of our culture and look deeper into its roots, we would agree with many Hmong Chinese scholars that yes, the Hmong were rather developed and highly civilized in the distant past. We don’t know exactly who created our culture for us, and we don’t exactly when and where. But it certainly took a genius, during a peaceful period, to put together our culture, that even today, we could not see much room for improvement, because it was so well done. Our only main concern is that we are losing our culture, inch by inch. Today, Mr. Leng Kao Thao and Mr. Vang Chai Thao will discuss more of Hmong culture in their workshops.
Also in our culture, Hmong women have played important roles both during peace and war times. According to my Chinese Hmong professors, we once were living in a matriarchal society, in which women were the head of the household. Somehow, somewhere, and sometime in the distant past, our society gradually switched from matriarchy to patriarchy. Throughout history, it is obvious that our culture could have been lost long time ago, if our Hmong girls and women have not tried so hard to preserve it through their making and wearing Hmong clothing. Even today, it is so true. I have traveled widely in the United States, and to Laos, Thailand, and China. Only Hmong girls and women are wearing Hmong clothing. Hmong men are not even aware of our failure to defend, protect, and preserve our beautiful costume.
During war time, it was recorded that Hmong women had also fought along side Hmong men, and surely they also sacrificed their lives so that their children could live in peace with enough land to cultivate. During the rebellion led by Wu Bayue from 1795-1806, there was a Hmong woman named Shi Mog Mim. She was a commander, who was involved from the very beginning of the rebellion. She attended the first meeting with many other Hmong leaders, planning to launch a bloody rebellion against the Qing Dynasty. She was very intelligent and talented in martial art. It was said that she led only 10 or so woman soldiers, and they ambushed their enemy and sneaked behind enemy line to burn their arsenal. At times, they fought big battles with other Hmong leaders and troops. The Chinese had great fear of Shi Mog Mim. They offered a price for her head. One day, a Hmong woman carried a bloody head to a Chinese camp. There were also 10 or so women with her. They said that they had killed Shi Mog Mim and wanted to claim their price. As the Chinese commander was coming to inspect the head, the woman threw the head to him, took out her weapon, and killed him instantly. They fought briefly and withdrew. This brave woman was Shi Mog Mim herself. After most of the Hmong leaders were captured and killed, Shi Mog Mim was captured and tortured to death by slicing her flesh. Today Shi Mog Mim is a legend in the Hmong community in China, and particularly in her village.
One hundred thirty four (134) years after Shi Mog Mim’s death, another Hmong woman named Vwj Cheeb Mim became popular during the 1940 war against the Chinese in Hunan province. She was a prophet who fought alongside Hmong men until the war was suppressed after two years. Vwj Cheeb Mim was captured. But while in her captivity, Vwj Cheeb Mim slammed herself against a stone wall and killed herself, before the Chinese could do harm to her body.
Too often we took things for grant and forgot to acknowledge our women for their roles in our society. At times, it was only women who could save their family members from starvation or from danger. We often heard about the story of our migration from China to Southeast Asia that the Hmong were so hungry, so that they would exchange their daughter (if not their wife) for three small sticky cakes. Recently, our migration from Laos to Thailand, in some cases, only daughter could be offered to an escape guide who would take the whole family to Thailand. Under certain circumstance, only our women could save their families’ lives. And we must honor their undertaking.
There are too many Hmong woman leaders out there who have done great things to our community. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to discuss each of them individually. One of the living examples of Hmong woman leaders is your workshop speaker Choua Lee, whom I knew since 1988. She is the first Hmong to be elected to political office in the United States. She certainly has lifted the spirit of our Hmong girls and women to a higher level. Ms. Choua Lee will discuss more about Hmong woman leaders in her workshop.
Ms. Choua Lee was not only looked up to by Hmong girls and women as their role model in politics, but also Hmong men have followed her footsteps as they ventured into mainstream politics in America.
Whether it is in China, Southeast Asia, or in the United States, we have to be involved in politics in one way or another in order to voice our opinion and to help improve our livelihood. In Guizhou province, for example, there is more Hmong population than any other province. The Hmong there are stronger politically. Mr. Wang Chao-wen was elected as the governor of Guizhou province in either late 1980s or early 1990s. He is probably the highest elected Hmong official in contemporary China. He is now working for the central government in Beijing. Because of the large Hmong population and of Wang Chao-wen’s leadership, the Hmong in Guizhou are more visible and stronger, socially, economically, and politically.
In Laos before 1975, Kiatong Bliayor Lor, Phanya Touby Lyfoung, General Vang Pao, and other Hmong leaders had brought equality and justice to the Hmong by involving in Lao politics and by sacrificing their lives in war to help defend the country.
Here in America, a fair and democratic country, you can become what you deserve to be. And Mr. Joe Bee Xiong will address more about Hmong politics in his workshop.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I said in the beginning, our past is a tragic one. Often times, I would cry when talk about Hmong history. It is painful to revisit our past. But as Billy Lim said in his book, Dare to Fail, it was through suffering that great thing or great future could be achieved. I agree with him. But you see, the problem is that our ancestors had not only gone through some suffering, they’d been through too much of suffering which they did not deserve it.
For over five or six thousand years, our ancestors had fought against Chinese expansion, oppression, and conquest, and they managed to survive without being wiped out by their enemy, the Chinese. We ought to honor and be proud of our ancestors, and we must be proud to be a part of them.
If we can learn anything at all from our history, our roots, we would learn that the Hmong once had our own country or kingdom with kings, queens, princes, and princess; that we had a very rich culture; that we had a written language; that we had our own heroes and heroines; that our ancestors were very strong, mentally and physically. They never allowed themselves to be treated inhumanely. And we would learn that all of these were destroyed by the Chinese who took away our civilization and oppressed our ancestors for thousands of years.
Less than a month ago, a Hmong man in his fifty came to my bookstore, and we began talking about Professor Wu Rong Zhen’s book, Haiv Hmoob Liv Xwm. He said to me, “After reading this book, I want to launch another rebellion right now.” He is not alone. Those who have read this book would feel the same way. But ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, we could not afford to allow our hearts to control our minds. Don’t allow our painful past to interfere with our development of a better future, a future that we can better redeem our ancestors from their tragedy.
Currently we do have our own problems, social problems that we have seen. But our future looks bright and hopeful. Within recent years, I began to see more and more Hmong boys and men wearing Hmong clothing. I began to see more and more Hmong boys and men learning our culture such as wedding and funeral rituals. I began to see many Hmong boys and girls learning Hmong folktales and learning how to sing Hmong folksongs. And I also began to see many young Hmong men and women showing greater interest in learning about their history, our Hmong history. I would say that we are off for a very good start.
So ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, let’s learn from our history by knowing what went wrong or went right, and take them as our lessons, so that we can create a better future — a future that is full of hope, love, and prosperity; a future that we will no long be ashamed of who we are and what we are; a future that we will have much national pride and dignity; and a future that our ancestors in heaven can look down on us and say yes, we now can rest in peace.
Source: Yuepheng Xiong's keynote presentation at UW-Oshkosh Hmong Student Conference 2003