There are many different types of oral traditional genres among different ethnic groups in China. Northern peoples such as Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Kazak, Kirghiz, are well known for their long heroic epics, in contrast, the southern peoples such as Dai, Yi, Nahki, Hani, Miao, Zhuang are distinguished for their ancient creation epics with medium or short length. Creation epics mainly depicts the origins, evolution, and development of the heaven and earth, all living things, human, societies, and cultures, it is also known as "mythological epic." Creation Epics have been identified mostly in southern China. They have been transmitted or circulated among the ethnic groups or their branches such as Yi, Hani, Nahki, Bai, Lahu, Lisu, Qiang, Pumi, Jingpo, Achang, De’ang, Dai, Buyei, Shui, Miao, Yao, Dong, Tujia, Zhuang, etc. The creation epic maintains integrity of narrative structure and reflect the specific historical views of ancestors of ethnic groups in a specific historical period. Migration epic, focusing on the contents of historical events of migration, represents the social life and fates of ethnic groups or branches in their long and difficult journey of migration, creates a variety of images of national heroes, tribal leaders and other characters, describes magnificent pictures migration deeds of various ethnic groups.
Most of China ethnic minority creation epics have not been identified until the 1950s. It was only in the recent three decades that we have experienced the academic movements in the fields of collecting, recording, translating, sorting out, and printing oral traditional epics. Chinese epic studies started even later, a systematic study has initiated in mid-1980s, which was strongly influenced by the anthropological school, the social and cultural significance of the epic poetry have been strongly emphasized by these studies. Since the mid-1990s, researchers have established the idea of “living oral traditional epic”, and they identified the ethnic minority epics as category of oral traditions, and paid special attention to the deep structure of epic tradition.
With the coming era of globalization, the idea of epic and paradigm of epic studies have shaken off the shackles between civilizations of East and West. In the meantime, the western classic poetics since Aristotle has become a particular school of literary thought instead of mainstream discourse. The idea of epic has gradually been changed under the perspective of multi-culturalism. The rediscovery of oral tradition in the nineteenth century by the Romantic nationalists and later on the rediscovery of oral epics in the second part of twentieth century in the variety of contemporary societies have promoted such changes.
In the past five decades, Chinese epic studies have experienced great development while still having some limitations: the historical description of national or regional epics, taking the epics as national literary cannons, Chinese epic studies have been oriented by ideology instead of academy. The Chinese epic studies should be based on the specific text, genre and tradition. The epic traditions of ethnic groups in China are still in living oral tradition, this is also the departure point of Chinese epic scholarship.