Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Economic strategies vary. The Hua Miao were shifting-swidden agriculturalists, growing buckwheat, oats, corn, potatoes, and hemp, and using a simple wooden hand plow or hoe. Sheep and goats were fed on nearby pasture land. Additionally the Hua Miao hunted with crossbow and poisoned arrows and gathered foodstuffs in the forests. In parts of Guizhou, the Miao more closely resembled their Han neighbors in their economic strategies as well as in their technology (the bullock-drawn plow, harrowing, use of animal and human wastes as fertilizer). The Cowrie Shell Miao in central Guizhou were settled farmers growing rice in flooded fields, and also raising millet, wheat, beans, vegetables, and tobacco. Their livestock was limited to barnyard pigs and poultry, with hunting and gathering playing a very minor role. Some of the Black Miao in southeast Guizhou combine intensive irrigated terrace farming of rice with dry-field upland cropping.
Industrial Arts. Women continue to spin and weave cotton, hemp, ramie, and wool for home use, and to produce garments with elaborate batik and embroidered designs that vary by area and dialect and serve as subethnic markers. Complex silver necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and headdresses are a well-developed craft specialty for men and again are closely associated with ethnicity. They are not usually sold outside the local Miao community. Carpenters, basket makers and blacksmiths can be found among some Miao groups.
Trade. No Miao communities are self-sufficient. All depend on the market for pottery, salt, processed foods, and various daily necessities. In Guizhou there is great demand for silver for making jewelry. What the Miao have to sell varies greatly by area. The Hua Miao market wool, hides, sheep and goats, wild game, firewood, and a variety of forest products. The Cowrie Shell Miao market agricultural produce, poultry and pigs, bamboo shoots, and homecrafted grass raincoats and sandals. Different areas have their specialties, such as cattle, horses, bamboo baskets, and herbal medicines. Before 1949, some Miao sold opium, but more often poppy growing and production of raw opium was the required rent for cropland and the profits went to the landlord and middlemen. Very few Miao were full-time merchants or traders.
Division of Labor. Both sexes engage in agriculture, care of livestock, and fishing, and men contribute some labor to domestic chores like cooking, gathering firewood, and child care. Men are expected to do the heaviest work, including plowing. Women sometimes participated on short hunting trips, but trips of several days or several weeks were undertaken by groups of men; hunting trips are now illegal. Labor exchange and cooperation between households was common even before collectivization.
Land Tenure. Prior to the 1950s land reform, some Miao were smallholders. Many, if not most, were tenants on lands owned by Han, Yi, Hui, and others. Few were true landlords, and most who rented out land were likely to work part of their holdings themselves with family labor. All land is now owned by the state, including undeveloped mountain and forest lands, thus limiting any expansion beyond lands officially assigned to an individual or village. In the process, pastoralism and forest hunting/gathering have been reduced. Before land reform, some Miao areas followed the practice of lineage or hamlet ownership of mountain and hillside lands even where some private holdings existed. People could open new lands for farming and settlement, share village pastures, or hunt away from their home area.