Introduction / History The Shan consist of several distinct people groups that are primarily located in China, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. In Yunnan Province of southwestern China, they make up the fifth largest minority group. They live in cities and farming villages along the Sino-Myanmar border.
The Shan belong to a larger group of people known as the Dai. Before the time of Christ, the Dai migrated across southern China and other parts of Southeast Asia, living in separate tribes. In the twelfth century A.D., the tribes united to establish a local regime known as the Jinglong Golden Hall Kingdom. However, the Dai people as a whole were never independent from the Chinese throne. In the centuries before the Communist takeover of 1949, the Dai tribes slowly began to separate and form distinctive traditions and languages. Later, under Communist rule, the Dai who remained in China lived in self-ruling districts. The Shan settled as rice farmers in the Dehong region and eventually evolved into two groups: the lowland farmers or Shui Dai, and the mountain nomads or Han Dai.
What are their lives like? The Shan are a very friendly and hospitable people. The women are usually more vocal, social, and ambitious than the men. However, the men are still the decision makers and chief breadwinners. Most of them work as farmers. They grow rice, corn, sugar cane, tropical fruits, and various vegetables. They also raise domestic farm animals such as chickens, pigs, and water buffalo. Some work as merchants who frequently travel between China and Myanmar. They sell items such as food, clothing, woven bags, bamboo hats, leather goods, electronics, and vehicle parts. Men generally have less education than women, since boys begin working in the fields or accompanying their fathers on the trading routes before adolescence. The women primarily stay at home, but some earn income by selling products in the market or managing small businesses. Many of the younger women are now moving to the cities seeking education and work.
The Shan of China have been heavily influenced by the Burmese culture. For examples, many men wear sarongs like the Burmese. The Buddhist temples in their villages keep Burmese time and not Chinese time. The Burmese and Chinese Shan merchants also readily exchange goods and ideas.
The Shan have many interesting courting traditions. One example is the "purse throwing game" in which a young woman throws a small purse to the young man of her affections. If he has similar romantic interests, he catches the purse. If not, he allows it to fall to the ground. A more modern tradition takes place in a movie theater. When the room is darkened, the couple shine flashlights at each other. Wedding ceremonies are usually held at either home and are conducted by the local Buddhist monk. In some regions, the bride moves in with the groom's family; in other areas, the groom moves in with the bride's family.
The traditional Shan house built on stilts is no longer a common sight. Today, the poorest villagers live in bamboo homes made with wood, thatch, or aluminum roofs. Middle and upper class villagers live in cement or brick homes with wooden or tile floors. The upper class families may even own modern appliances such as Japanese VCRs. Houses are decorated with clocks, paintings, family photos, and colorful pictures of celebrities, animals, or nature scenes.
Their staple food is rice, often sweetened and mixed with a bean paste and served inside a pineapple. They also eat meat, poultry, and various vegetables, and drink Chinese tea, beer, Coca-Cola, or other soft drinks.
Men wear button-down shirts with pants or sarong-type skirts. Some men have tattoos on their arms and chests. Women of all ages wear heavy, yellow make-up to protect their skin from the sun. They also wear jewelry every day. While single village women wear brightly colored dresses or sarongs with tightly fitted blouses, married village women wear more muted colors. Older women often pin up their hair. Sandals and flip-flops are popular footwear. More modern styles are worn by those living in or near cities, but even there the women generally do not wear pants.
Music and dance are a major part of festivals and other important events. At festivals, the men often perform on stage dressed in the traditional Chinese Shan costume: brightly colored, tight-fitting jackets and loose pants that cling to their ankles. The women dance with graceful movements, sometimes using peacock feathers or flowers. Elephant-leg drums and stringed, guitar-like instruments are played.
What are their beliefs? The Shan practice Therevada Buddhism mixed with animism. Colorful Buddhist temples, often built on stilts, are in the center of every village. Altars and pictures of Buddha can be found in each home. In the temples, the women sit in the back while the men sit up front, since Shan society ranks men above women.
What are their needs? Within urban areas of the Dehong region of China, open prostitution is common, as is the selling of opium and heroin. In Shan villages, the water supply is dangerously polluted. Even well water must sometimes be filtered before it can be used.
Prayer Points * Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers to share Christ with the Shan.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Shan Christians.
* Pray that Christian medical teams and humanitarian aid workers will be raised up to work among the Shan.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Shan towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local fellowships of believers among the Shan.