Miao Intangible Cultural Heritage  —— Diaojiao Architecture

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

Laying stones on the mountainside, raising timbers among the trees. Diaojiao architecture reflects the Miao emphasis on harmony with nature, and seamlessly integrates these mountain villages into the highland landscape

Wisdom of Mountain Life
The Diajiao buildings of the Miao are supremely practical in design, economizing both space and materials. Because they are built with joints instead of nails, nearly the entire building can be disassembled to be moved, or to recycle its materials into new structures. 

Deep in the Leigong and Yueliang mountain ranges of southeastern Guizhou, Miao villages with row upon row of wooden houses, rise above terraced fields and leafy ravines

The architecture of these mountain-top villages, has adapted to the rocky soil and damp weather.

On these steep, foggy hillsides it is dangerous to dig foundations, and brick buildings grow soggy and unlivable in the torrential rains. The Miao style “Diaojiao” houses solve these problems

In a three story home, the lower level is for livestock, People live on the second floor, and the third is storage.

The house is built using “Chuandou” post-and-lintel construction, securing heavy fir beams with interlocking joints rather than nails

The balconies of the Miao diaojiao houses are enclosed by a bench with a curved back that also serves as a railing, called ghab xil in Miao. Because women often sit here to do embroidery, it is colloquially known as the “beauty’s railing.”

In fact, the ghab xil is a multipurpose balcony where people relax after a day of working in the fields, enjoying the cool air and striking view, telling Miao folktales and singing traditional folksongs. During festivals, this is also where mothers will help their daughters put on their silver jewelry.

The wooden ox horn on the door frame is an auspicious decoration for keeping out bad spirits.


The wooden structure is made from Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata), which, once dried, is light enough to carry great distances.

During the great migrations of Miao history, a house could be disassembled and carried to a new site, then reassembled in a day or two, creating entire villages overnight.

The second floor is devoted to daily life. It is normally made up of several bedrooms arranged around a central living room. It is taboo for non-family members to enter the bedrooms, but guests may sit in the main room, which is spacious with high ceilings. In the middle is a fireplace, around which families normally eat.

This light and airy space is where they come to relax after a long day of hard work, and often they end up singing and dancing late into the night.

Skilled Miao carpenters build these houses without blueprints, using only simple tools. They begin by digging a two-tiered foundation on the hill side. On the lower level they sink pilars that will support the overhanging upper floors. 

Basically all the tools needed to build a Diaojiao building can fit in this small iron box


Every time the carpenter finishes a Diaojiao building, the owner's family presents a pig's head as a token of gratitude. The carpenter keeps the jawbones and display them on the door. As a result, these jawbones of pigs are the carpenter's "transcript", them keep record of the carpenter's work and show if he is good at his job.

Building up the Diaojiao Architecture
Carpenters making all the pillars and boards is only the first step, putting them together is an important event not only for the family but also for the village usually during the Spring Festival.

A ritual is performed before work starts.

The offerings include the Four Treasures of the Study (writing brush, Chinese ink, paper and ink stone) representing good education of the family, yellow papers which symbolize money, calendars, grains and carpenter's tools.

The men who care the beam are all brothers of the wife

All the villagers bring their good wishes for the family and the new Diaojiao building along with gifts. Almost every man of the village come to help putting up the building.

Every Diaojiao building is a group effort of the village.

The Miao has a long history of agriculture, fields for farming are precious in the mountains. The Diaojiao Architecture is a economical but multi-functional housing which saves a great amount of space for farming.

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China
Credits: Story

In Collaboration with Riverbend Academy of Hmongology, Guizhou, China

--- Exhibition Crew ---

Culture Consultants: Yang Peide, An Hong
Project Coordinator: Cecilia Xiong
Exhibition Curator: Lin Wen (linwen@muc.edu.cn)
Chief Photographer: Austin Kramer
Other Photographers: Huang Xiaohai, Shi Kaibao, Lin Wen
Content Writer: Lin Wen
Translator: Austin Kramer, Li Yi, Liu Qing, Lin Wen
Proofreader: Austin Kramer
Video Clip Editor: Lin Wen

--- Mini Documentary Film Crew ---

Director: Lu Ying
Assistant Director: Zhang Te
Video Photographer: Zhi Yuehui, Zhang Te, Ji Xiang
Film Editor: Lu Ying, Zhi Yuehui, Suiwu Changjun
Script Writer: Yang Peide
Script Editor: Lin Wen
Color Adjust: Zhong Rujie, Zhi Yuehui
Music: Audio Jungle
Recording: Chenguang Recording Studio

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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