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The Thousand-Year Myth: Construction and Characterization of Hmong

Author(s): Mai Na M. Lee

Journal: Hmong Studies Journal
ISSN 1091-1774

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 1997;
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Keywords: Hmong Studies | Hmong History

Coined only in the last twenty years, the phrase"Hmong means free" has been thoughtlessly promotedby both Hmong and non-Hmong alike. This phrase,however, simply manifests thousands of years ofnarrow, one-dimensional characterization of theHmong. To historical oppressors of Hmong, "free"entails primitive savageness and inability toassimilate, or to enter the fold of what theseoutsiders defined as civilization. To outsiders,"free" also captures the essence of the warlikeHmong character, the Hmong's inability to compromiseon a peaceful, rational level. The author disputesthis simple portrayal of Hmong and points to ahistorical diversity rivaling that of any humangroup. To various degrees, Hmong have assimilatedculturally and politically in both the Chinese andFrench Indo-Chinese context. In addition, Hmong whohave chosen to isolate themselves politically did soin response to unfair practices against them.Throughout, Hmong character and political history iscomplex. For this reason, the author urges Hmong tobe cautious about embracing such a narrow, unfoundeddefinition for the word "Hmong."
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