Political Struggle of the Hmong People

Origins of Hmong People In Indochina

The Hmong people living in Indochina are an ethnic minority group that has lived in the region for over 200 years. However, they are not native to SE Asia and began migrating from the Yellow River region of China in the 18th century. Although the Hmong people had been living in China for 2000 years, the migration was still imposed on them by the Qing Dynasty.

Forced Migration of Hmong People

Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi Vietnam

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However, it is ironic that the Qing Dynasty was established and administered by the Manchu minority group. The Manchus were descendants of the Jurchen people that originated in Manchuria. The separate Jurchen clans became unified in the 17th century and renamed themselves the “Manchu”. The Qing Dynasty then ruled China for 3 centuries.

Despite their minority origins, the Qing were unsympathetic to the plight of other ethnic groups in China. However, the Hmong people defied the oppression of their Manchu overlords. As a result, they were labeled as ‘Miao’ (‘barbarian’ or ‘savage’) and targeted for genocide. Therefore, some of the Hmong migrated to SE Asia and resettled in Northern Vietnam and Laos.

Hmong People Resettle in Northern Vietnam

In Vietnam they make up just over 1% of the population and they are classified as one of 54 ethnic minority groups. Additionally, the Hmong people are further segmented into many sub-ethnic groups such as the Flower Hmong, Black Hmong, Blue Hmong and several others.

Black Hmong Ethnic Minority

We encountered these Black Hmong while traveling in Northern Vietnam near Sapa Township.                 

Hmong Allies in Indochina Wars

Unfortunately, the Hmong people living in Northern Vietnam became allies of the French colonists in the first Indochina war. As a result, they were left to fend for themselves after the French surrendered. Their future in Northern Vietnam became very unstable because they faced the wrath Vietnamese army.

The plight of the Hmong people did not go unnoticed by the CIA. As a result, the Hmong were actively recruited and once again became allied with foreign invaders. To make matters worse, they were recruited into the US military on a much larger scale as compared to the first Indochina War.

Objectives of the Hmong Fighters

Sapa Trek Vietnam Mountains

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The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a vital supply line needed for the Viet Cong fighters in the south. Disruption of the Ho Chi Minh trail was the primary objective of the Americans. Therefore, the Hmong fighters were recruited to serve as ground forces acting on behalf of the US military during the “secret war” in Laos.

Additionally, Northern Vietnam and Laos were subjected to gratuitous, prolonged carpet bombing conducted by the US military.

Surrender of the US Military

The massive destruction caused was ultimately ineffective because in the end the US military capitulated. As a result, the Hmong people would once again face the wrath of the Vietnamese army. However, in Laos they also faced the wrath of the Pathet Lao.

The result was another humanitarian disaster and a mass migration of over 300,000 refugees. Although the US eventually agreed to relocate 100,000 refugees to the US, most were left behind to fend for themselves. Among the thousands left behind was a dedicated commander and his followers.

Hmong Commander Moua Toua Ter

During the 1960’s the Hmong military commander Moua Toua Ter and his followers fought valiantly on behalf of the US military in Laos. In return, they were left behind after the chaotic retreat of the US military.

These 2003 award winning photos below were taken by Philip Blenkinsop and they portray the life of Moua Toua Ter and his followers. The diminished group had been living a desperate existence for decades in the jungles of Laos. They had been cut off from food supplies and living on the run in fear of the Pathet Lao.

Plight of the Hmong Allies in Laos

The leader of the Xaisomboun camp of Hmong, Moua Toua Ther, recorded his group as numbering 7,000 people in 1975. Today there are around 800 left.

Plight of the Hmong Allies in Laos

In 2014 Moua Toua Ter was captured in Thailand and was deported back to Laos.

The Hmong Fighters Are American Heroes

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The Hmong fighters had been widely respected by the US military and their efforts were at times heroic. They had saved many downed US pilots from certain death and ultimately 12,000 Hmong fighters would lose their lives in the “secret war”.

However, the US government still does not recognize their existence. In addition, the US refuses to allow Hmong veterans to be buried in the US with military honors. Neither will the US government acknowledge or assist those who are still left to suffer.

The abandoned US allies who remained in Vietnam also faced persecution at best and at worst death. Those who were able, fled to Thailand to meet their fate. The ones who remained in Vietnam still face persecution today.

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