The Yao nationality is a government classification for various minorities in China. They form one of the 55 ethnic minority groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China, where they reside in the mountainous terrain of the southwest and south. They also form one of the 54 ethnic groups officially recognized by Vietnam. In the last census in 2000, they numbered 2,637,421 in China, and roughly 470,000 in Vietnam.
Around 1890 the Guangdong government started taking action against Yao in northwestern Guangdong. During the Laotian Civil War, Yao tribes of Laos had a good relationship with U.S. forces and were dubbed to be an "efficient friendly force". This relationship caused the Laotian government to target Yao tribal groups for revenge once the war was over. This triggered further immigration into Thailand, where the tribes would be put into camps along the Thailand-Laos border.
After obtaining refugee status from the Thai government and with the help of the United Nations, many Yao people were able to obtain sponsorship into the United States (although many remain in Thailand). Most of the Yao who have immigrated to the United States have settled along the Western part of the U.S.
The men and the women cover their heads with a black or red scarf. Some women substitute this scarf by a turban that can adopt different forms. The traditional suit of the women is of bright colors. They also decorate their shirts with decorations made out of silver.