Identity The Zaiwa are the largest subgroup of the official Jingpo nationality in China. The Zaiwa, who are called Xiaoshan, meaning "small mountain" by the Chinese, have a fearsome reputation. In 1911 James Fraser described the Zaiwa as "the wildest people around here by a long way. Inveterate robbers, their hand is against every man and every man's hand is against them. Dirty, unkempt, ignorant, everybody despises them. They are savages only and not cannibals."
History The Zaiwa have forged a reputation for themselves as a local version of the Mafia. Their gumsa system encourages a "belligerent, competitive, authoritarian society whose chiefs are chosen by public consent." The large Zaiwa village of Banwa forced 44 neighboring villages, amounting to 1,020 households, to pay them "protection" money.
Customs The Zaiwa are enslaved by almost every kind of vice imaginable. Zaiwa young men "do not sleep at home. They usually spend the night flirting with young women at the youth club. Sexual relations are so disorderly as to have rendered them unfit for physical labor. A girl who gets pregnant without a proposal will not easily find another boy to marry her and will be considered a widow because of the heavy bride-price." In Banwa Village alone, there were 55 such "widows" from a total of 134 households.
Religion The Zaiwa are enslaved by evil spirits. In the past they even bullied Lisu households into paying a tax of three squirrels per year, to be used as an offering to the spirits. One tragic example of the Zaiwa's bondage is retold here: "Elder Dai's daughter-in-law died of fever after having a difficult labor. Before her death, several head of cattle were sacrificed to the demons. During the cremation, the firewood did not burn steadily due to its dampness. The sorcerer thereby proclaimed that the deceased's personal effects be thrown into the fire to annul her parsimony. As the fire still did not burst into a blaze, the sorcerer then attributed the cause to the deceased's reluctance to leave her newborn baby behind, thus resulting in the baby being thrown into the fire."
Christianity Despite living alongside strong Jingpo Christian communities, "the demon-worshiping Zaiwa never showed the slightest inclination to turn to Christianity." Moreover, Zaiwa who became Christians in some of the mixed villages were ostracized by their own tribe, "who would expel them from the village and confiscate their land and livestock, compelling them eventually to abandon their alien belief." There are a reported 4,000 Zaiwa Christians, mostly in Myanmar, with few in China. Gospel radio broadcasts in Zaiwa started in 1996, and the New Testament is available in Zaiwa.
Linguist Jan-Olof Svantesson listed a 1990 population of 70,000 Zaiwa in China. The Zaiwa comprise 73% of the total Jingpo population in Yunnan Province's Dehong Prefecture. They are concentrated in the east and west mountains of Luxi County. (Source: Operation China, 2000)