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ANTHR 327 (HMONG 305)

The Hmong Diaspora: Culture, Language, and History

Dr. Jacob R. Hickman

 Winter 2021: Tues / Thurs 9:30am-10:45am

Remote Live (via Zoom)

Teaching Assistant: Sarah Sowards Taylor



The Southeast Asian Massif is one of the most culturally and linguistically variegated regions in the world. Hmong are one of the more populous upland ethnic minority groups in Southeast Asia and China and comprise a variety of ethnolinguistic subgroups. The Hmong diaspora provides an interesting social context to address many key social scientific questions. Although there are now significant populations of Hmong on five continents, the epicenter of the Hmong diaspora is southwestern China. From here Hmong began to emigrate in large numbers to the Southeast Asian peninsula during the nineteenth century. This diaspora was further globalized after the Second Indochina war (which ended in 1975), which displaced hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees from Laos to camps in Thailand. Most of these Hmong refugees would eventually resettle in third-party countries such as the United States or France. Some of them, however, would resettle permanently in the Thai countryside in preexisting Hmong communities. As a result of these divergent migration patterns, some families became transnational families almost overnight, as some members of the family stayed in Southeast Asia, while other relatives were resettled in places like Minnesota and California. These disparate resettlement circumstances provide a unique context for examining theoretical understandings of how people deal with dramatic social change, and the innovative strategies they develop to deal with some of the most dramatically changing circumstances that humans have faced.


Key themes that we will investigate will include Hmong history (including the folk history of the ancient Hmong kingdom); politics in which Hmong were embroiled in China, Southeast Asia, and Western countries where they have resettled; religious frameworks, ranging from shamanism and ancestral practices to conversion to Christianity to new religious movements; refugee resettlement and adaptation to new ways of life in places like the United States and France; Hmong philosophy and ideas of self and personhood; Hmong-specific concepts that are encoded in Hmong language(s); linguistic structure and function and phylogeny; moral values in Hmong society; gender relations; and other dimensions of Hmong life around the globe. There will be ample opportunity to engage with Hmong ritual practice and original texts, and students will learn to analyze and contextualize these.


While this course will focus on the Hmong diaspora in particular, its reach will extend to fundamental questions about what it means to be human. We will thus engage with a variety of social science theories that seek to provide understanding to these questions. By diving deeply into one group's culture, history, and language, we will be able to parse out some of the nuance of scholarly attempts to answer these difficult questions. We will ask how these theoretical frameworks help us understand the vast and complex cultural landscape of Southeast Asia, but reach far beyond the confines of the region to ask what the Hmong story can teach us about ourselves. How do ethnographic data from Southeast Asia challenge predominant notions in social science understandings of the human condition or force us to reformulate the way we understand our own life experience? Thus, this course will be as much theoretically driven and focused as it will geographically, but the point is to create a direct dialogue between a set of theoretical ideas and ethnographic perspectives on groups that lend particular insight into understanding the social processes at hand. In sum, this course is not just for those who care deeply about Hmong issues or the Asia-Pacific region more broadly, but rather it is designed to use this case study to ask fundamental anthropological questions about what it means to be human.


This course will be a seminar style. The instructor may wax in and out of lecture mode as he shares ethnographic examples from his own research or tries to situate or explicate particular theoretical points, but student participation and rich discussion is critical. As a result, your participation in the seminar will constitute an important part of the final grade. The syllabus will include an array of reading and multi-media materials, and it is critical that you come prepared each session to discuss your take on the materials for each seminar discussion. 


Hla dej yuav hle khau;
Tsiv teb tsaws chaw yuav hle hau.

When you cross a stream take off your shoes;
When you move to a new place you ought to change headman.

Hmong Proverb (Heimbach 1996:461)

Books to Purchase 

(other readings will be provided as PDFs)


Yang, Kao Kalia. 2008. The Latehomecomer: a Hmong family memoir. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press.

Lee, Mai Na M. 2015. Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850–1960. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Schein, Louisa. 2000. Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China's Cultural Politics. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Ngô, Tâm T. T. 2016. The New Way: Protestantism and the Hmong in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Reading Schedule

University and Course Policies


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University policy requires all university employees in a teaching, managerial, or supervisory role to report all incidents of Sexual Misconduct that come to their attention in any way, including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Incidents of Sexual Misconduct should be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at or (801) 422-8692. Reports may also be submitted through EthicsPoint at or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours a day).


BYU offers confidential resources for those affected by Sexual Misconduct, including the university's Victim Advocate, as well as a number of non-confidential resources and services that may be helpful. Additional information about Title IX, the university's Sexual Misconduct Policy, reporting requirements, and resources can be found at or by contacting the university's Title IX Coordinator.


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In keeping with the principles of the BYU Honor Code, students are expected to be honest in all of their academic work. Academic honesty means, most fundamentally, that any work you present as your own must in fact be your own work and not that of another. Violations of this principle may result in a failing grade in the course and additional disciplinary action by the university. Students are also expected to adhere to the Dress and Grooming Standards. Adherence demonstrates respect for yourself and others and ensures an effective learning and working environment. It is the university's expectation, and every instructor's expectation in class, that each student will abide by all Honor Code standards. Please call the Honor Code Office at 422-2847 if you have questions about those standards.


COVID 19 Statement


While COVID 19 conditions persist and until further notice, students and faculty are required to wear face coverings at all times during class; faculty are not at liberty to waive this expectation. Students who feel sick, including exhibiting symptoms commonly associated with COVID 19 (fever; cough; shortness of breath/difficulty breathing; chills; muscle pain; sore throat; new loss of taste or smell; etc.) should not attend class and should work with their instructor to develop a study plan for the duration of the illness.


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Academic Honesty


The first injunction of the Honor Code is the call to "be honest." Students come to the university not only to improve their minds, gain knowledge, and develop skills that will assist them in their life's work, but also to build character. "President David O. McKay taught that character is the highest aim of education" (The Aims of a BYU Education, p.6). It is the purpose of the BYU Academic Honesty Policy to assist in fulfilling that aim. BYU students should seek to be totally honest in their dealings with others. They should complete their own work and be evaluated based upon that work. They should avoid academic dishonesty and misconduct in all its forms, including but not limited to plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, cheating, and other academic misconduct.


Inappropriate Use of Course Materials


All course materials (e.g., outlines, handouts, syllabi, exams, quizzes, PowerPoint presentations, lectures, audio and video recordings, etc.) are proprietary. Students are prohibited from posting or selling any such course materials without the express written permission of the professor teaching this course. To do so is a violation of the Brigham Young University Honor Code.





Intentional plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft that violates widely recognized principles of academic integrity as well as the Honor Code. Such plagiarism may subject the student to appropriate disciplinary action administered through the university Honor Code Office, in addition to academic sanctions that may be applied by an instructor. Inadvertent plagiarism, which may not be a violation of the Honor Code, is nevertheless a form of intellectual carelessness that is unacceptable in the academic community. Plagiarism of any kind is completely contrary to the established practices of higher education where all members of the university are expected to acknowledge the original intellectual work of others that is included in their own work. In some cases, plagiarism may also involve violations of copyright law. Intentional Plagiarism-Intentional plagiarism is the deliberate act of representing the words, ideas, or data of another as one's own without providing proper attribution to the author through quotation, reference, or footnote. Inadvertent Plagiarism-Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but non-deliberate, use of another's words, ideas, or data without proper attribution. Inadvertent plagiarism usually results from an ignorant failure to follow established rules for documenting sources or from simply not being sufficiently careful in research and writing. Although not a violation of the Honor Code, inadvertent plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct for which an instructor can impose appropriate academic sanctions. Students who are in doubt as to whether they are providing proper attribution have the responsibility to consult with their instructor and obtain guidance. Examples of plagiarism include: Direct Plagiarism-The verbatim copying of an original source without acknowledging the source. Paraphrased Plagiarism-The paraphrasing, without acknowledgement, of ideas from another that the reader might mistake for the author's own. Plagiarism Mosaic-The borrowing of words, ideas, or data from an original source and blending this original material with one's own without acknowledging the source. Insufficient Acknowledgement-The partial or incomplete attribution of words, ideas, or data from an original source. Plagiarism may occur with respect to unpublished as well as published material. Copying another student's work and submitting it as one's own individual work without proper attribution is a serious form of plagiarism.

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