Yunnan Dai Ethnic Minority Village Banned from Converting to Christianity

Bangbie Church for Dai minorties in Yingjiang County, Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, China's southeastern Yunnan Province
Bangbie Church for Dai minorties in Yingjiang County, Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, China's southeastern Yunnan Province
By Yi YangSeptember 11th, 2020

In Yingjiang, Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, a small county on Yunnan’s border with Myanmar, an ethnic minority village released a regulation in early September that locals must not convert to Christianity, otherwise the offenders will be punished. 

On August 24, the regulation named “Supplement to Regulations of Huangfei Village” was published and circulated on the Internet. One of the online pages gives four rules concerning the punishment for conversions and helping others to have religious convictions.

The village committee ruled that villagers are not permitted to convert to Christianity since it is their tradition to believe in Theravada Buddhism. Anyone who violates the regulation must turn over a certain number of pigs, rice wine, children, and rice which will be used for a custom Buddhistic ritual named Xizhaizi. The convert will be forced to renounce his Christian faith.

“Xizhaizi” is a local ritual sacrifice that punishes people that go against Dai’s ethical principles and religious taboos. Normally an offender walks around the village on a specific day, carrying tribute (live pigs or children) while blaming himself aloud. After the walk, he should cook tribute food for all the people in the whole village. The offender needs to pay the total expense by himse. The activity is very intimidating, offering the severest punishment in dignity and property to the offender. 

The paper also reads, “If any child or relative of the offender continues to believe other religions, all of his fields will be be taken and credited to the village.”

Meanwhile, the fourth article says that nobody should assist others to follow other religions. A local pastor said, “The village sets rules that no Dai people should believe in Christianity.” In 2016, he told Dai converts not to announce that they had converted as some broke with their families. The severity of the consequences was not less than the danger of Muslims converting to follow other religions. 

A Christian netizen commented, “The rules are ineffective because it violates our constitution that promises freedom of religion.” Another said, “It goes against the national regulations on religious affairs.”

Compared to Yingjiang, the church in Yunnan’s  Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture faces a more tolerant political landscape. There are open churches.

Scholars estimate that there are about 6,000 Christians, scattered in Xinping, Yuanjiang, Wuding, Yuanmou, Puer, Baoshan, and other cities. As many as 2,000 Christians live in Xishuangbanna Prefecture and 500 in Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture.

It is said the difference between Christianity and the culture of Dai triggers family and social conflicts. For example, a Christian woman in Yingjiang County was married in 2007. The wedding was held in a Christian manner, presided over by a believer. When the believer hosted the ceremony, he had to sit in the only chair in the main hall, forcing the highly respected elderly person who should lead the wedding leave. Later, her village opposed adopting the Christian style when her family was about to hold another wedding. If she insisted, she would offend the village god and need to offer “xizhaizi.” Eventually, the wedding was conducted in the traditional way of the Dai people. Since then, the village has stipulated that weddings shall not be held according to Christian traditions.

With a square area of about 724 acres and a border length of 195 miles, Yingjiang has a population of 320,000. The nationalities of the residents include Han, Dai, Jingpo, Lisu, Palaung, and Achang. In 2016 the county had 34,000 Christians, 240 churches, and other places of worship. Seven ordained pastors and more than 50 pastors served there. 

There is one registered church in the county seat where more than 500 people gather in three Sunday services. There are more than 200 churches and gathering points, whose congregations are half Jingpo and half Lisu people. 

- Translated by Karen Luo

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