The word M.I.E.N can be explained as Mountainous, Interdependent, Enthusiastic, and Nomadic people who are originally from central and southern China. The historical roots of the Mien have been studied and documented by various historians and scholars in China and missionaries from different countries and can be traced back to thousands of years before Christ. The Mien peoples’ rich and fragmented history is partially linked with an ancient period of Chinese history. The Mien peoples’ history has been filled with great pride, as well as disappointments and uncertainties. Many Mien people and educators consider the literature Jiex-Sen Borngv, one of the limited resources available in Chinese characters, provides an in-depth historical background about the Mien people. Since this book has not been translated into English or the Mien language, only few Mien elders who are literate in Chinese can understand the full meaning of the text. Although the text has long been viewed as a sacred and important book by Mien scholars and elders, it has not become familiar or well known to many people in modern times. The text has not gained a great deal of acceptance among the majority of young Mien people and educators who are not literate in Chinese. Furthermore, the text has been put aside as historical evidence by the Mien who have become Christians. For many Christian Mien, the more knowledge they gain from the Bible in regards to history and humanity, the more skeptical they become in accepting historical viewpoints that are not aligned with the Bible’s teachings. Regardless of the dichotomized viewpoints, most Mien educators speak highly of the text and strongly suggest that their children and grandchildren at least become familiar with it.
In addition to the Mien’s Jiex-Sen Borngv, there is other literature written by Chinese scholars, historians, other anthropologists, sociologists, and missionaries about the Mien people, their language, culture and history. Mien leaders and educators in the U.S. have worked closely with many Chinese scholars and historians from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam in tracing, recording and producing some historical studies about the Mien people and their origin. In addition, both short-term and long-term Mien missionaries from the U.S. to Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and China have provided much insight into the Mien people, culture, language and history.
Historically speaking, the Mien were scattered throughout the central, southern, and southwestern provinces as well as some small areas in eastern China and developed a variety of dialects. They inhabited parts of central China in the provinces of Yunnan, Nanking, Kweichow, Kwangsi, and Kwangtung during the latter period of the Han Dynasty (20-220 A.D.). Due to their communication barriers and disadvantaged economic status, the Mien maintained their own livelihood through more primitive forms of agriculture by grazing livestock on hillsides and in mountainous areas. Their basic economy and primitive lifestyle was shaped by their diligent farming skills and familiarity with nature and forestry. They did not possess any sophisticated or industrialized skills but confounded upon their agricultural skills by cultivating terraced fields in the foothills and narrow valleys in order to produce rice, corn, and vegetables to support their families. By becoming friends with their surroundings, they were able to utilize the God-given natural resources to sustain their families.
In the latter half of the 14th century A.D., the Mien were driven out of the coastal mountains and sailed on the China Sea in search of better land and opportunity for survival. Arability of land, as well as many other factors, caused the Mien to leave China and disperse themselves amongst many other countries in Southeast Asia. The increasing dominance of Chinese populations, resistance to heavy levies imposed by the Chinese government, the desire to search for freedom, and famine and drought in China were all contributing factors that forced the Mien to leave Shantung and central China and into the mountainous regions of Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. There they hoped to be able to continue their diligent, hard-working agricultural lifestyle in order to survive and support their loved ones.
At the end of the Indochinese or Vietnam War in 1975, with the fall of Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam, millions of refugees from these three countries fled their homes in search of freedom and safety in Thailand, France, Canada, Australia and the U.S. The Mien were one group of ethnic minorities in Laos that were forced to escape communist persecution due to their connection and involvement with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency from the early 1960’s to 1975.
Today the Mien live throughout the U.S. and in other countries. They can be found anywhere from California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Illinois, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, Kansas, Oklahoma, or Utah as well as in other countries such as Canada, France, China, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. In the U.S., California, Oregon and Washington states have the largest Mien populations. The Mien came to this country from various areas of Laos and Thailand. They speak their own language and possess their own unique cultural traditions.
The Mien people were also known as “Yao,” a term given by the Chinese meaning “barbarians.” Mien leaders and elders in the U.S. redefined the term to be called “Iu-Mien.” “Iu” means “a unique ethnic group” and “Mien” means “the people”. Today one may see many spelling variations of this name, such as Mien, Mienh, Iu-Mienh, Iuh Mienh, Iu-Mien, Yiu Mienh, Yiu Mien, or Yao-Mien. An “h” at the end of a word indicates a tone marker in the Mien writing system as Mien is a tonal language like Hmong, Lao and Thai. Regardless of the spelling, the names refer to the same ethnic group. Any other ethnic groups are considered outsiders, or, “janx,” the non-Mien.