The Yunnanese Shan of China
The Yunnanese Shan (also known as the Dai) are one of China's fifty-five registered minority groups. They belong to the same Tai group as the Thai of Thailand and North Vietnam. Most of the Yunnanese Shan live in south central China, along the border of Myanmar (Burma). Others are spread throughout the south and southwestern portions of the Yunnan province. This land consists of river valleys and pocket flatlands between mountains that are covered with tropical or semi-tropical rainforests.
The Yunnanese Shan live in villages that typically have about 40 households. These permanent settlements are mostly located along rivers or streams.
History tells us that the Yunnanese Shan, along with related groups, conquered many smaller groups in the south, and thus became the most powerful group in that area. Today, these groups are still distinguished by their villages, female dress styles, and languages.
What are their lives like?
The tropical climate and fertile valleys of this area make it ideal for growing wet rice. The Yunnanese Shan were among the earliest rice farmers of the Yunnan province; and today, wet rice fields account for 70% of their total farmland. Sugar cane, tea, rubber, and tropical fruits are other major cash crops. The women help with all of the farming, except for plowing and tilling. They are also responsible for selling homemade items in local markets, and taking care of the household chores.
The Yunnanese Shan identify more with the local community than with kin groups. They also identify with their birthplaces, even though they may live elsewhere. The line of decent is traced "patrilineally," or through the father, and children are given the surnames of their fathers. The family's legacy is generally divided by the sons. The eldest son inherits the house, while the daughters and sons-in-law inherit part of the property.
Traditionally, Yunnanese Shan society was broken into two classes, aristocracy and commoners, based on blood origins. Buddhism dominated the societies both religiously and politically. For this reason, the Buddhist commandments have played an important role in both informal social control and in the training of children for many years. Even today children prefer going to the Buddhist temples to learn how to write their native language, Dai. This has created tension between school teachers and teachers working in the temples.
What are their beliefs?
The primary religion of the Yunnanese Shan is Theravada Buddhism. This sect of Buddhism emphasizes Buddha as a historical figure, the virtues of the religious life, and the authority of the Tripitika. The Tripitika ("three baskets") refers to self-discipline, preaching, and discussing doctrine.
Buddhists believe that right thinking, ritual sacrifices, and self-denial will enable the soul to reach nirvana (a state of eternal bliss). They also teach reincarnation, and that each person's well-being was determined by his behavior in previous lives.
Larger Yunnanese Shan villages have at least one Buddhist temple. For the lay believers, making offerings to the Buddha, supporting the monks, and sending their sons to the temple are the ways to become "enlightened" or to achieve salvation.
In addition to Buddhism, the Yunnanese Shan also believe in many spirits. Some are believed to be benevolent and helpful, while others are considered wicked and harmful.
What are their needs?
No Christian television or radio broadcasts are available for the Yunnanese Shan. Only portions of the Bible have been translated into Dai. These precious people must be told that their acts of self-denial will never be enough to pay the price for their salvation.
Currently there is one missions agency working among the Yunnanese Shan. However, very little progress has been made among them.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Yunnanese Shan bound.
- Pray that the doors of China will soon open to missionaries.
- Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to China and share Christ with the Yunnanese Shan.
- Pray that God will strengthen and encourage the small number of believers who live among the Yunnanese Shan.
- Ask God to raise up qualified linguists to complete translation of the Bible into Dai.
- Pray that God will soften the hearts of these Buddhists towards Christians so that they will be open to the Gospel.
- Ask God to raise up a strong local church among the Yunnanese Shan by the year 2000.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Yunnanese Shan
- Country: China
- Their language: dai
- Largest religion: Buddhists 80%
- Christians: 1%
- Church members: 10,850
- Scriptures in their own language: Portions
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 1
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 271,200 (7%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 813,800 (75%)
- Country: China
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 42
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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