The Paongan of China
There are only 13,000 Paongan (also known as Bonan) living in China today. The majority of them live in four villages that are nestled among the foothills of the Jishi Mountains. All four of these villages are located within the Gansu Province of north central China. A few of the Paongan, however, still live farther west in their former homeland, the Qinghai Province. Their population there has been growing rapidly.
The Paongan speak two dialects of their native language which is called Bonan or Ningting. Bonan belongs to the Mongolian branch of the Altaic family and is very similar to the Chinese language Tu. Bonan does not yet have a written script, but most Paongan know Han Chinese and use it for written communication.
The Paongan are probably descendants of Mongolian soldiers that occupied northern China during Genghis Khan's rule. After the fall of the Mongolian Empire, these soldiers chose to remain in China rather than to return to Mongolia.
What are their lives like?
Although the Paongan live in an arid region, it is still covered with forests and grassland. Most of the Paongan breed livestock and raise wheat and rye for a living, while others work as lumberjacks or silversmiths. They are best known, however, for their ability to make knives. The Bonan knife is a prized possession in most parts of the Gansu and Qinghai Provinces.
The Paongans have retained many characteristics of the Mongolian culture, particularly a love of wrestling, riding horses, and shooting. Other facets of their lifestyles, however, are more similar to those of the Chinese. For example, they love to wear very colorful costumes on festive occasions. They enjoy singing, dancing, and playing traditional Chinese instruments. They are also skillful at writing ballads that they call hua'er, which means "flowers." Impromptu singing is welcomed entertainment during celebrations.
China's economy has undergone many changes since the late 1970's. Free markets for food items and homemade goods have re-opened, schools have been built, and irrigation projects have been started. As a result, the standard of living has been rising rapidly in inner China. Unfortunately, the Paongan live in a very remote region, so improvements in their living conditions have been few.
What are their beliefs?
The Paongan were converted to Islam in the early nineteenth century, a fact that set them apart from other surrounding people groups. Upon facing persecution by their Buddhist neighbors, they decided to move to an area where they might worship more freely. At that time, they migrated down the Yellow River and settled in the foothills of the Jishi Mountains, where they still live today.
A majority of the Paongan (90%) are Sunni Muslim, while the remaining 10% are Buddhists. Over the years, Islam has had a great influence on their culture. Islamic practices are observed at funerals, on festive occasions, in family decisions, and in social customs.
In the past, religion was used by the ruling class to exercise control over the people. Local Mullahs (Muslim officials) had the power to throw people into jail and torture at random those who had broken spiritual laws or showed signs of resistance to the oppression.
What are their needs?
The physical needs of the Paongan are numerous. The quality of health care, housing, utilities, and education is poor. Spiritually, however, their needs are even greater. The Bible has not yet been translated into Bonan; the Jesus Film is not available; and there are no Christian radio or television broadcasts in their area. Islam has blinded their eyes for many generations.
Several unsuccessful attempts have been made at evangelizing the Paongan. Today there are only four known believers among them.
Only 6% (800) of the Paongans have heard the Gospel; and more than 12,000 have never once heard the name of Jesus.
- 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 Paongan.
- Pray that God will soften the hearts of the Paongan Muslims to the Gospel.
- Ask God to strengthen and encourage the four known Paongan believers.
- Pray that Christian literature, radio broadcasts, and television programs will soon be made available in the region where the Paongan live.
- Ask God to raise up qualified linguists to devise a written script for the Paongan so that the Bible can be translated into their native language.
- Pray for God to raise up a strong local church among the Paongan by the year 2000.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Paongan
- Country: China
- Their language: bonan
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 4
- Scriptures in their own language: None
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: None
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 800 (6.2%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 12,200 (93.8%)
- 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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