Prayer Profile
The Yao of China

[IMAGE] More than two million Yao people live scattered throughout the mountainous regions of southern China, where they have dwelled for the past 2000 years. Yao tribes also live in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, and often refer to themselves as Kim Mien, or "men of the mountains." To other Chinese, however, they are known simply as "the barbarians."

Agriculture is the chief activity of the mountain-dwelling Yao. Even though they occupy land up to heights of 12,000 feet, they have ingeniously adapted to their landscape by carefully constructing terraced rice paddies that hang off the sides of steep cliffs.

The Yao have their own language, Mein, but it is only spoken by about half of the population. In fact, some of the Yao do not speak Mein at all, but one of many other Chinese languages.

More than half of the Yao have never once heard the name of Jesus. They are a people living in gross spiritual darkness, crying out to a host of gods who can neither hear them nor help them.

What are their lives like?
The family unit is very important to the Yao, and divorce is a rare occurrence among them. Monogamy (marriage to one partner) is the rule, but polygamy (multiple marriage partners) exists as well. Although some marriages are still arranged by parents, that choice is now generally left up to the young couple. The groom is usually 16 or 17 years old and his bride is perhaps four years older.

The Yao live in "extended family" situations, or with many relatives. Each house usually has a number of rooms where individual family units sleep, and one common area where meals are shared. The oldest male is considered to be the head of the household.

Traditional Yao costumes are made out of coarse blue or black cotton fabric that has been brightly decorated with multi-colored embroidery. Women's costumes are always elaborate and are accented by large, colorful turbans. Yao men usually wear a short, side-buttoned jacket with dark blue, loose-fitting trousers; a black skullcap; and a wide sash tied around the waist. Both men and women enjoy wearing silver jewelry, particularly necklaces.

What are their beliefs?
The Yao religion is a combination of ancestor worship and exorcism of ghosts. ("Ancestor worship" is the practice of praying to the spirits of deceased ancestors for help and guidance. Exorcisms are used as a means of "casting out" evil spirits that are believed to be inflicting illnesses.)

Religious beliefs of the Yao also compare to popular Chinese Taoism. They recognize 18 "chief" deities, in addition to a host of "minor" gods, supernatural beings, deceased heroes, and nature spirits. "Good spirits" would include the spirits of their ancestors, as well as "household deities," i.e., the "Door god," the "Stove god," and the "Fireplace god." Evil spirits would include jungle demons, valley demons, and city demons.

Small altars for spirit worship are located inside Yao homes. Finely painted portraits of the 18 deities are preserved on scrolls and kept on the spirit altars. They are taken out and placed on display during special ceremonial occasions.

What are their needs?
Although agriculture is the chief activity of the Yao, they often cannot produce enough of the staple foods, such as rice, to feed all the people. Physical hunger, however, is not their greatest need. Though the Yao are very much aware of the spirit world, they are actually suffering from spiritual famine. They must be told of the one true God--the God who loves them with an everlasting love and longs to be their Savior.

There are only a few thousand Yao who profess to be Christians. Presently there are no Christian television or radio broadcasts in the mountainous regions of China where the Yao people are located.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that the doors to China will soon be opened to missionaries so that the Gospel can be preached freely to the Yao.
  • Pray against the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Yao people bound and in spiritual darkness.
  • Pray for the physical needs of the Yao to be met.
  • Ask God to raise up qualified linguists who can translate the Bible into the three Mein dialects as well as the other Chinese languages spoken by the Yao.
  • Pray that Christian literature, radio broadcasts, and television programs will soon be made available in their area.
  • Ask the Lord to call Chinese Christians who are willing to share God's love with the Yao.
  • Pray that God will strengthen and encourage the few thousand Yao believers. Pray that they will be bold in their witness of Christ.
  • Pray that strong local churches will be planted among the Yao by the year 2000.

See also the following related groups:
The Highland Yao of Laos and Vietnam;
the Yao of Thailand.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Yao
  • Country: China
  • Their language: mien
  • Population: (1990) 2,136,600
    (1995) 2,256,400
    (2000) 2,360,300
  • Largest religion: Ethnic religionists 99.3%
  • Christians: 1%
  • Church members: 22,560
  • Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 2
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 857,400 (38%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 135,400 (6%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 722,000 (32%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 1,399,000 (62%)
  • Country: China
  • Population: (1990) 1,135,043,400
    (1995) 1,199,901,200
    (2000) 1,262,195,800
  • Major peoples in size order: Han Chinese (Mandarin) 67.7%
    Han Chinese (Wu) 7.5%
    Han Chinese (Cantonese) 4.5%
  • Major religions: Nonreligious 55%
    Chinese folk-religionist 17%
  • Number of denominations: 42

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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