Tai–Kadai-speaking peoples

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ethic Dong Liping Guizhou China.jpg
Dong women and man in Guizhou, People's Republic of China. The Dong are among the many Tai-speaking groups of China and Southeast Asia.
Regions with significant populations
Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam
Tai–Kadai languages, Mandarin Chinese (in China)
Theravada Buddhism, animism

The Tai (Chinese: )[citation needed] ethnicity refers collectively to the ethnic groups of southern China and Southeast Asia, stretching from Hainan to eastern India and from southern Sichuan to Laos, Thailand, and parts of Vietnam, which speak languages in the Tai-Kadai language family, and share similar traditions and festivals, such as Songkran.[note 1] Despite never having a unified nation-state of their own, the peoples also have historically shared a vague idea of a "Siam" nation, corrupted to Shan or Assam in some places, and most self-identify as "Tai"[dubious ].

Linguistic subdivisions[edit]

There are five established branches of the Tai–Kadai languages, which may not correspond to ethnicity:

The Lakkia people of Guangxi Autonomous Region of China (Tai Lakka in neighboring portions of Vietnam) are ethnically of Yao, but speak a Tai–Kadai language called Lakkia.[1] These Yao were likely in an area dominated by Tai speakers and assimilated an early Tai–Kadai language (possibly the language of the ancestors of the Biao people).

Geographic distribution[edit]

The Tai have historically resided in China, India and continental Southeast Asia since the early Tai expansion period. Their primary geographic distribution in those countries is roughly in the shape of an arc extending from northeastern India through southern China and down to Southeast Asia. Recent Tai migrations have brought considerable numbers of Tai peoples to Japan, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North America and Argentina as well. The greatest ethnic diversity within the Tai occurs in China, which is believed to be their prehistoric homeland.

Nuclear Tai peoples throughout China, India and Southeast Asia[edit]

Due to the great ethnic diversity among the nuclear Tai peoples in the countries of China, India and Southeast Asia, the geographical distribution of the individual Tai ethnic groups in these regions is discussed in three respective articles on the topic. Articles on each of the individual ethnic groups provide further detail.

Other related[edit]

Population in China[edit]

In southern China, people speaking Kam–Tai (Zhuang–Dong) languages are mainly found in Guangxi, Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Guangdong, and Hainan. According to statistics from the fourth census taken in China in 1990, the total population of these groups amounted to 23,262,000. Their distribution is as follows:

Dai have a population of 1,025,128, mainly inhabiting Yunnan Province. Most them live in autonomous prefectures Xishuangbanna, Dehong and such autonomous counties as Gengma, Menglian, Yuanjiang, and Xinping. The rest are scattered throughout many districts of Yunnan province (Zhang Gongjin 1994).

Sui (Shui) have a population of 345,993 and live mainly in the autonomous county Sandu Shui of Qiannan autonomous prefecture in Guizhou Province and in some other areas in the counties and districts nearby, such as Libo, Dushan, Rongjiang and Congjiang etc., as well as in Ringshui County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (Liu Rirong 1994).

History in China[edit]

In China, Tai–Kadai languages are mainly distributed in a radial area from the western edge of Yunnan Province to Guangdong and Hainan Provinces. Most speakers live in compact communities. Some of them are scattered among the Han Chinese or other ethnic minorities. The Baiyue people, who covered a large area in South China in ancient times, were their common ancestors.

The use of name Zhuang for the Zhuang people today first appeared in a book named A History of the Local Administration in Guangxi, written by Fan Chengda during the Southern Song Dynasty. From then on, Zhuang would usually be seen in Han Chinese historical books together with Lao. In Guangxi, until the Ming Dynasty, the name Zhuang was generally used to refer to those called Li (originating from Wuhu Man) who lived in compact communities in Guigang (the present name), the Mountain Lao in Guilin and the Tho in Qinzhou. According to A History of the Ming Dynasty – Biography of Guangxi Ethnic Minority Hereditary Headman "In Guangxi, most of the people were the Yaos and the Zhuangs, ...the other small groups were too numerous to mention individually." Gu Yanwu (a Chinese scholar in the Ming Dynasty) gave the correct explanation of this point, saying "The Yao were Jing Man (aborigines from Hunan), and the Zhuang originated from the ancient Yue."

The word Zhuang was the short form of Buzhuang, which was the name the ancestors of the Zhuang people living in the northeast of Guangxi, the south of Guizhou and the west of Guangdong used to refer to themselves. Later this name was gradually accepted by those who had different names, and finally became the general name for the whole group (Ni Dabai 1990). Zhuang had several variant written forms in the ancient Han historical books.

The Buyi, who lived in Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau since ancient times, were called Luoyue, Pu, Puyue, Yi, Yipu, Lao, Pulao, Yilai, etc., in the Qin and Han Dynasties. Since the Yuan Dynasty, the name Zhong, which appeared in the historical book later than Zhuang was used to refer to the Buyi. It was originally a variant form of Zhuang, referring to both the Zhuang and the Buyi in Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou. Later, it referred to the Buyi only, and always appeared in the historical books as Zhongjia, Zhongmiao, and Qingzhong, until the early 1950s. Like Zhuang, Zhong may also be the short form of Buzhuang, which Zhuang people use to refer to themselves, as the pronunciation of Zhong and Zhuang is similar, and Zhong was once a variant form of Zhuang in the Han Chinese historical books. But today, Buyi people never use Buzhuang or Buzhong to refer to themselves, therefore, the use of Zhong as the name of Buyi may have something to do with the common origin of these two groups of peoples, or the mass migration by Zhuang into Buyi areas (Zhou Guoyan 1996)

Hlai (黎) people living on Hainan island were called Luoyue (雒越) during the western Han Dynasty. During the period from the Sui to the Tang Dynasty, Li began to appear in the Han historical books. Li (黎) was frequently used in the Song Dynasty, and sometimes Lao was also used. Fan Chengda wrote in History of Local Administration in Guangxi: "On the island (Hainan island) there is a Limu Mountain; different groups of aborigines lived around it, calling themselves Li."

The Kam lived in compact communities in neighboring areas across the Guizhou and Hunan Provinces, and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region until the Ming Dynasty. At that time, the name Dong and Dong-Man began to be recorded, In the Qing Dynasty, they were called Dong Miao, Dong Min and Dong Jia. Much earlier, during the period of the Qin and the Han Dynasty, they were called Wulin Man or Wuxi Man. Later the name Lao, Laohu, and Wuhu were used to refer to a group of people who might be the ancestors of the Kam.

As suggested by some scholars, the ancestors of the Sui were a group of Luoyue (雒越) who were forced to move to the adjacent areas of Guangxi and Guizhou from the Yonjiang River Valley, tracing a path along the Longjiang River because of the chaos of war during the Qin Dynasty. The name Sui first appeared in the Ming Dynasty. Before that, the Sui had been included in the Baiyue, Man and Lao groups.

The ancestors of the Dai in Yunnan were the Dianyue (滇越) group mentioned in the Records of a Historian by Sima Qian. In Records of the Later Han Dynasty, they were called Shan, and in Records of the Local Countries in Southern China, they were called Dianpu. In the Tang Dynasty, they were mentioned as Black Teeth, and as Face-Tattooed in a book named A Survey of the Aborigines by Fan Chuo. These monikers were given based on their customs of tattooing and teeth decoration. In the Song Dynasty, they were called Baiyi Man, and in the Yuan Dynasty were called Jinchi Baiyi. Until the Ming Dynasty, they were generally called Baiyi and after the Qing Dynasty, they were called Baiyi. The modern Dai people can be traced back to Dianyue, a subgroup among the ancient Baiyue groups.

Common culture[edit]


The languages spoken by the Tai people are classified in a Tai language family. They are the most widely spoken of the Tai–Kadai languages, and include Thai, the national language of Thailand; Lao, the national language of Laos; Burma's Shan language; and Zhuang, a group of languages of southern China. These languages are tonal languages, meaning variations in tone of a word can change that word's meaning.


The Tai throughout Asia celebrate a number of common festivals, including a holiday known as Songkran, which originally marked the vernal equinox, but is now celebrated on the 13th of April every year.

Genetic structure of Tai–Kadai as revealed by Y chromosomes[edit]

Y-chromosome polymorphisms are powerful tools in delineating the genetic structure of human populations. A large number of populations in China have been studied in the last several years and 17 Y-chromosome single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) haplotypes have been found in them, some of which are specific to East Asians. Major ethnic groups tend to have their own characteristic profiles reflected by their respective Y haplotype distribution. Tai–Kadai, an ethnic group dispersed from Assam to Taiwan, is a diverse group, and yet its genetic structure shows a distinctive profile, different from those of the other groups in East and Southeast Asia, although some resemblance between Tai–Kadai and Austronesian groups, especially Taiwanese aborigines, is noticeable. The most frequent haplogroup among the Tai–Kadai-speaking peoples is haplogroup O2a, which means there was widespread assimilation of Austroasiatic speakers. O1a represents affinity with Austronesian speakers. Tai–Kadai peoples' most dominant Y-DNA haplogroups are O2a, O1a, O2a1.

The distribution of Y-chromosome SNP haplotypes in 30 Tai–Kadai populations were studied. Among the 19 SNPs studied, M119, M110, M95, and M88 are most informative in delineating the genetic structure of Tai–Kadai. Linguistic and cultural classification are in general concordance with the genetic classification, although it may be transgressed due to the apparent gene flow between the major branches of Tai–Kadai. For example, some populations of the Kadai, a major branch of Tai–Kadai, are more similar to the populations of the Kam–Sui, another major branch. This phenomenon may be the result of the unitary self-identification and geographic assimilation of Tai–Kadai system. The geographic distribution of the three principal components (PCs) were generated by superimposing the loading coefficients of each population onto a map, respectively.

The distribution of the first PC suggested a possible single origin of all the Tai–Kadai populations. The second PC indicated a deep division of the Tai–Kadai peoples into two: east group and west group. The center of the east group is in Zhejiang, China, and that of the west one is on the border between China and Burma. The third PC implies the migration routes southern China towards northeast, northwest and southwest during the relocation of Tai–Kadai populations. The gene flow between Tai–Kadai and populations of other ethnic groups are noticeable. Han Chinese in Zhejiang and Shanghai have the highest concentration of Tai–Kadai types of Y haplotypes among all the Han populations in China, suggesting a possible expansion of Tai–Kadai peoples from southern China to Zhejiang via Jiangxi. Tai–Kadai in Zhejiang and Fujian might have come by different routes, as suggested by the difference of their profiles. A diphyletic genetic structure was found in Taiwan Aborigines. The West Tai–Kadai, Tai, Thai, Ahom and so on emigrated from southern China rather late. It might have happened one to two thousand years ago.


  1. ^ There is some ambiguity as to the use of the term Tai peoples, as some of the peoples speaking languages in branches of the Tai–Kadai language family other than the Tai languages may also call themselves Tai. Therefore the term nuclear Tai peoples is used when discussing speakers of Tai languages.