Introduction / History The Bai (also known as the Minchia or Pai), are among the oldest dwellers of the Yunnan Province, which is located in south central China. Most of the Bai have never once heard the name of Jesus.
The Bai are primarily rice farmers living in a region from the upper Yangtze River down to the foot of Lake Erh Hai. They make their homes high in the mountains where they are surrounded by beautiful alpine lakes and emerald green valleys. This area is a favorite retreat spot for government officials because of its temperate climate, beauty, and solitude.
The name "Bai" means "white" in Chinese, and was first used to refer to those living near the southwestern border region. The Baimen, or "white men," were called this because of the white sheepskins they wore. They refer to themselves as the "Bozi," "Baihu," or "Baizi."
What are their lives like? The Bai are a family-oriented people and are related to the Chinese Yi. Their families are small, and most members of the group are farmers, fishermen, and hunters. Their diet consists mainly of rice, vegetables, fruit, fish, and grains. Bai villages are usually located on the poorer land near lakes or on lower mountain slopes. This frees as much land as possible for rice cultivation. Their small homes are usually built without the conveniences of indoor plumbing.
To the Bai, the village is the most important social unit outside of the extended family. Marriages are usually monogamous (one husband, one wife), and, unlike many other Chinese tribes, the Bai value girls as much as boys. Traditionally, men and women did the same type of work in the fields, except that the heavier plowing was left for the men. Still, Bai women are known for their strength and ability to carry heavy loads over great distances.
China's economy has undergone many changes since the late 1970s. For example, free markets for food items and homemade goods have been reopened. Consequently, the standard of living in inner China has greatly improved. However, since most Chinese minority groups (including the Bai) live in remote areas, improvements in their lifestyles have been few.
What are their beliefs? There is very little difference between the Bai's form of religion and traditional Chinese customs. Their religious practices embrace ideas from Buddhism, Taoism, and ancestral worship (praying to deceased ancestors for help and guidance).
Formerly, the Bai held special ceremonies in which they honored their family ancestors. Whether or not they still hold such rituals is not known.
The Bai generally hold the Buddhists' views of life after death. Buddhism teaches that right thinking, ritual sacrifices, and self-denial will enable the soul to reach Nirvana (a state of eternal bliss) at death. They live in fear of their gods and constantly strive to appease them with religious chants, rituals, and sacrifices. When a person is sick, a Buddhist priest is often called; however, spiritual matters are usually handled by the head of the family.
What are their needs? For more than 1,000 years the Bai were free from Chinese rule; however, in the 13th century their freedom was cut short. At that time, Chinese imperial troops murdered the Bai nobility and annexed their territory to China. After the 1949 revolution, prejudices against ethnic minorities increased, and the Han (ethnic Chinese) tried to stamp out the Bai. Since the 1960s, their traditions, language, and culture have steadily eroded.
Currently the Bai are being absorbed into the communist Chinese world - a world without God. No Bai pastors or churches exist. Their language, Pai, is unwritten. Although many underground home churches do exist in China, there is no way to train the pastors and teachers.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to share Christ with the Bai.
* Pray that the doors of China will soon be opened to missionaries.
* Ask God to give missions agencies creative ways to train Bai Christians as pastors and teachers.
* Pray for the underground home churches in China.
* Ask God to strengthen and encourage the small number of believers who live among the Bai.
* Pray that the Holy Spirit will heal the wounds that prejudice has inflicted on the Bai.
* Pray for God to raise a strong local church among the Bai. * Pray for translation of the Bible to begin in this people group's primary language.
More than 1.5 million Bai were counted in the 1990 Chinese census. Yunnan was devastated by the plague, which began in Dali and lasted from 1812 to 1903. The population of Yunnan was reduced from eight million to three million, and the population of the Bai was severely cut. The Bai live primarily in the Dali Prefecture in central Yunnan. Dali has been continuously inhabited for 3,000 years. More than 120,000 Bai are located in Guizhou Province. Smaller numbers of Bai also live in Sichuan and Hunan provinces. (Source: Operation China, 2000)