Bibliography for the study of Yao religion

Yao religious culture: bibliography by Barend ter Haar

 The following bibliography is a personal tool and comments are my own, based on cursory survey or reading. I have attempted to be complete with respect to Yao religion, but not with respect to the Yao in general. As of now, the main research centers for Yao ritual are in Hong Kong ( and Japan ( The Hong Kong center in particular has a rich body of open access materials for the interested lay person or scholar.
(revised 6-11-2023)

Public collections outside China (in progress)

  • Munich State Library
    Scholars (mostly Lucia Obi) at München University (Germany) have catalogued a large collection of around 2,800 Yao manuscripts (religious and otherwise), which has resulted in one substantial article and a catalogue, as well as an exhibition . The exhibition catalogue entitled "Botschaften an die Götter. Religiöse Handschriften der Yao. Südchina, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar" (Th. O. Höllmann, M. Friedrich, eds.) was published by Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden (1999), in the series "Asiatische Studien". Review by Jonsson. Sadly, the overall project itself has been discontinued. A growing number of these manuscripts have been digitized and can be found (somewhat complicatedly) through the library Website.
  • Leiden/Heidelberg collections
    Small collection in the University library (catalogued by Koos Kuiper) and a larger collection shared by the Leiden Museum of Ethnology (Volkenkunde, now Wereldmuseum) and Heidelberg University, acquired in 1994-1995.
  • Royal Danish Library (Copenhagen)
    See Bent Lerbæk Pedersen, Catalogue of Yao manuscripts (Copenhagen: NIAS Press - Royal Danish Library, 2016) discussing 38 ms in great detail.
  • Kunming/British Library
    "Preservation of Yao manuscripts from South Yunnan: text, image and religion (EAP550)" Funded by the British Library. 208 manuscripts have been digitzed and are publicly available. See website.
  • Oxford UniversityGuo Wu 郭武, "Guanyu Niujin daxue tushuguan cang Yaozu wenxian diaocha baogao" 關於牛津大學圖書館藏瑤族文獻的調查報告 , Daojiao yanjiu xuebao 道教研究學報 4 (2012) 287-336 lists and briefly discusses Yao ritual manuscripts kept at the University of Oxford.
  • Sophia University (Japan)
    Shiratori Yoshirô has collected much more than he has included in the published book which is all preserved at Sophia University (Tôkyô). Whether this last collection is publicly accessible I do not know. What is important to realize is that the material published by Shiratori is only a fraction of the written materials that a specialist might have.
  • Overview
    Wu Chia Yun吳佳芸, "Geguo shoucang zhi Yaozu shougao ji shuwei diancang gaikuang 各國收藏之瑤族手稿及數位典藏概況" (An Introduction to Yao Manuscripts in Overseas Collections and Digital Libraries), Hanxue yanjiu tongxun 漢學研究通訊 38:2 (2019), 18-28. Excellent Chinese language introduction to publicly available Yao mss.
  • Some remarks

    General comments.
    a. Many Chinese language articles do not indicate which languages/dialects are used during a given ritual, nor do they indicate when they have translated from a Yao language and when original Chinese material is used.
    b. Another problem is that studies either discuss rituals entirely from the Chinese scriptures used (as in Jiang Yingliang) or only from the actual events (most anthropological literature). At best, both methods are combined, but without integration of these two types of information, as in the Zhongguo yaozu fengtu zhi. Chinese articles are often hampered by restrictions of size on the depth of analysis. Much work remains introductory and superficial.
    c. Few people have a good mastery of the secondary literature in Chinese and other languages. Especially pre-war research has often been ignored, leading to the supposed discovery of the Daoist nature of Yao religion in the early 1970s, which had already been demonstrated many decades ago by several authors (such as Jiang Yingliang and W.C. Wang in Fortune [1939]) before 1940.
    d. The study of Yao religion is extremely limited in size. Furthermore, most studies on minorities tend to be restricted to one minority at the time, usually either in China or outside. As a result, scholars show little awareness of general trends among minorities (such as will be pointed out below).

    Analytical problems.

    a. It is by no means clear if all groups classified as Yao should actually be seen as part of one minority and whether or not some non-Yao groups should not be re-classified as Yao (and possibly vice versa). Also see the interesting article by Lemoine (1991).
    b. As far as can be ascertained at present, the Yao are the principal non-Han minority using Daoist written texts. However, other minorities may also have undergone Daoist influence. Furthermore, shared religion need not necessarily come from Chinese influence, it might have gone the other way round and/or it might be the result of common cultural origins. N.B. She in Northern Fujian/Guangdong and Miao in Hunan have same ritual paintings as the Yao. Other minorities have similar deities.
    c. The examples of Meishan and Yangzhou show that we are talking about Chinese (not: Han-Chinese) culture and religion, shared by Non-Han and Han groups alike. They are certainly not restricted to the Yao and therefore the Yao need to be studied in combination with other ethnic groups, including the Han Chinese.
    d. If the Strickmann hypothesis on the Song origins of Yao Daoism  is correct, then the  Song-Yuan Tianxin ritual tradition which supposedly formed it source should be also characterized by the presence of the mythico-ritual centers of Yangzhou and Meishan (which it is not). Since the earlier reliably dated mss are from the second half of the 18th century, I prefer to take that period as the starting point.
    e. The religious ms. are written in a simple Classical Chinese, but full of transcription errors which can either be explained as mixed up characters (based on similar form, no or wrong radicals) or very often on homophony. This shows the oral dimension of this tradition.

     Source publications

    A basic problem with all of these source publications is the complete lack of religious and social context. Furthermore, we are never given a complete survey of the overall written and oral texts that one given community has/had. Only Chinese is used, and indications of the original language(s) involved are absent or sketchy. Every researcher should take the extremely useful dissertation by Cushman as his point of departure.


    Vocabularies and dictionaries

    Note that all Chinese vocabulary lists are organized according to the Han Chinese words, which seems rather cumbersome to me.

    Linguistic work

    History and society

     Bibliographical surveys

     General works

    a. Please note that there are two works with the same title, Hu Qiwang and Hua Zugen eds., Yaozu yanjiu lunwen ji* (1985) and Qiao Jian, Xie Jian, Hu Qiwang eds., Yaozu yanjiu lunwen ji** (1988). The latter is the Chinese version (with  less papers) of Qiao Jian (Ch'iao Chien) and Jacques Lemoine (1991).
    b. There is a huge ethnographic literature by the Chinese, but usually each article is very short and as a result also repetitive. In depth religious studies are scarce. I have not attempted to include any article with some minor comments on religion. Furthermore, they are published in hard to get journals.



    She versus Yao

    Women's script/Nüshu