The Li of China
More than a million Li inhabit the tropical forests and mountain regions of central and south-central Hainan, an island off the coast of southern China. Hainan is the slightly smaller than Taiwan, and is the home of the Li and the Miao peoples. The Li speak a Daic language called Hlai, which has five groups of Li dialects.
The Li are the original inhabitants of Hainan. They are believed to be the descendants of the ancient Yue tribes of China, who settled on the island more than 3,000 years ago. Prior to World War II, the Chinese that lived along the islandís coastal areas did not bother those who lived in the interior. However, when the Japanese invaded Hainan in 1939, the Chinese fled to the interior, where they met resistance from the Li. This led to a bloody uprising in 1943, at which time the Li were forced deeper into the islandís interior. There, they linked up with Communist guerrillas. In 1988, Hainan became a separate province of China.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Most of the Li have settled in the upland river valleys of Hainan, where they practice slash and burn farming. They also raise buffalo and cattle, and hunt. Many Li live in and around the city of Tongze, which is located in the Li-Miao Autonomous Region. This is a tropical area with fertile land and abundant rainfall. Coconut palms and rubber trees line the beaches in these coastal areas. There, the Li are more influenced by the Han Chinese, and their own traditions are less noticeable. Other Li communities can also be found in the Wuzhi (Five Fingers) Mountains of Hainan.
Li women are excellent weavers. They enjoy their art of dying cloth to make complicated patterns, a technique that has contributed greatly to the development of textiles in China.
There have been many advantageous changes in Hainan since 1949 when the administrative capitol was changed. Rubber production has been greatly expanded and several new plants have been built. Rice, coconut, palm oil, tropical fruits, black pepper, pineapples, coffee, tea, cashews, and sugar are raised for export, and lumbering has become a major industry. The Li farmers have recently been introduced to wet-rice cultivation. Iron-mining operations have also been expanded, and a steel industry has been built.
In the mountain villages, Li houses are organized in rows. The homes, which resemble overturned boats, are made of thatched bamboo and have dirt floors. Some of the Li living in the coastal areas have homes made of brick. Traditionally, leaves that are placed over the doorway of a Li home let a visitor know how to approach the house. For example, if lichi or langan tree leaves are placed over the doorway, it is a sign that a male baby has been born to the family.
Li society is patrilineal, which means that the line of decent is traced through the males. Each village contains several families related by blood that live together. Girls live apart from their families in a room called the liao from the time they reach puberty until they marry. At weddings, the groom approaches his prospective in-laws with a piece of red cloth. He then wraps the cloth around his new bride and carries her away. The couple later returns to the girlís house, where they live until she becomes pregnant. At that time, they move into their own home.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Virtually all of the Li practice ethnic religions such as ancestor worship (praying to deceased relatives for guidance). They also believe in local earth gods, or tau-ti, as well as other spirits. They do not appear to have been deeply influenced by Buddhism or Taoism. However, many of their practices, such as ancestor worship and magic-religious rituals, have been borrowed from the Chinese.
What Are Their Needs?
There are currently three missions agencies working among the Li. However, less than 1% of the Li have given their hearts to Christ. The Bible has not yet been translated into Hlai; and neither the Jesus film nor any Christian broadcasts are currently available in their language. Additional Christian laborers and evangelistic tools particularly the Bible are desperately needed to see the Li reached with the Gospel.
- Ask the Lord to call missionaries and teachers who are willing to go to China and share Christ with the Li.
- Pray that the doors of China will soon open to missionaries.
- Ask God to give the Li believers opportunities to share the love of Jesus with their own people.
- Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into the Hlai language.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Li toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Li bound for many generations.
- Pray that God will open the hearts of Chinaís governmental leaders to the Gospel.
- Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Li by the year 2000.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Li
- Country: China
- Their language: hlai
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 2,352
- 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: 3
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 249,300 (21%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 926,500 (79%)
- Country: China
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 42
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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