Dali city is 398 kilometers west of Kunming, Yunnan’s provincial capitol. Ninety-seven percent of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture is mountainous; it has a total area of 34,000 square kilometers and is ridged along the west by Hengduan Mountain. The average elevation is 1,500 meters above sea level, except for Cangshan, which has an elevation of 4,000 meters. Three major rivers, Lancang (Mekong), Nujiang (Irrawaddy), and Jinsha (Yangtze), course through parts of the Dali prefecture, giving rise to river valleys, dense forests and fertile tracts of land. The climate is temperate and dry, with temperature ranges from 10C to 25C during the year. The monsoon “rainy” season usually begins in May and ends in August.
The Bai minority “Baizu” developed close ties with the Han people from other provinces in the Qin (221-207 B.C.) and the Han (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) Dynasties, and a large number of Han people migrated to this area. In the 7th century, the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) assisted Mangshe Zhao, a Bai aristocrat, to establish his kingdom known as the Nanzhao Guo (“the southern principality”). The Nanzhao Guo lasted for 250 years until 902 A.D.
It was followed by Dali Guo, which was established by a Bai man named Duan Siping. It lasted for over 300 years (937-1253 A.D.) as a tributary to the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.). The Mongols conquered Yunnan in the 13th century and designated it as a province while establishing Dali as a prefecture under the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368 A.D.). After the Mongols were driven out of China, the Bai people were once again subjugated under different Dynasties (Ming Dynasty – 1368-1644 A.D. and Qing – 1644-1911 A.D.) until the founding of the Republic.
According to the 2000 (fourth) Chinese national census, 80 percent of the 1,858,063 Bai minority are living in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, while the rest are scattered in Xichang, Sichuan and Bijie, Guizhou.
Among the Bai living in Dali prefecture, a third of them reside in the prefecture city of Xiaguan (new Dali city), while the other two-thirds reside in Dali prefecture’s 10 counties: Eryuan, Jianchuan, Yunlong, Binchuan, Heqing, Nanjian, Weishan, Xiangyun, Yangbi, Midu.
The Bai speak a language related to the Yi Branch of the Tibetan-Myanmese roup of Chinese Tibetan family. Over the centuries, the Han script had completely replaced the Bai script, and only spoken Bai remains. Today, most Bai are bilingual, but a considerable number of older people in the villages only speak Bai.
The Bai economy has traditionally been agriculture-based. Bai farming is increasingly more mechanized in the plain but is still completely dependent on manual labor in remote mountainous villages. In recent years, tourism and tobacco production have figured more prominent in the Bai economy.
Religion and Beliefs
Benzhu, or local god, is the Bai traditional religion. These are dead, venerated figures such as famous generals, sages, or ruling ancestors whom they made into objects of worship, and every village has its own local god. During 700 A.D., a Bai king invited a Buddhist monk to teach the people his religion, so Buddhism was incorporated into the Bai belief system. When the Tang dynasty army invaded the Bai kingdom, legend said that the goddess of lotus, Avalokistevara, turned herself into an old woman and picked up a huge stone, scaring off all the Tang soldiers, so this idol was also included into the Bai religion. Later, Daoism, the worship of ancestors, ethics and wisdom, was also added.
In 1881, CIM established a station in “Tali,” building schools, orphanages, and hospitals, providing free medical treatments. Churches were also established. The spiritual revival among the Lisu people west of Dali as a result of God’s blessing upon JO Fraser’s work in the early 1900’s did not include the Bai people. Even though the gospel was so near to them, the Bai people in Dali had been very resistant to the gospel. Up until 1949, there were only 500 Bai believers. Today, there is an estimate of 4,000 Bai believers in the prefecture, but most of them are scattered throughout the prefecture and their faith remains weak and shallow.
The goddess of lotus is a salvation figure to the Bai. According to legend, she saved them from an invasion of the Tang army and the attacks of a sea monster from the Erhai Lake. They are looking for a savior. Would they look to the Lord Jesus Christ to save them?
Even though all 500 temples in the area were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, more than 3,000 temples have been rebuilt during the last 20 years, besides the temples that the Bai worship in every village. This syncretic religion is a stranglehold on the Bai people so that when the gospel is presented to them, they hear the words but would not understand its meaning. The Enemy has blinded their eyes so that they cannot see the light of the gospel, and their hearts are very hardened. Moreover, there is very little active Christian witness among the Bai, and the government often exerts pressure on Christians who do not belong to the TSPM churches.
No Scripture in the Bai language
No radio gospel broadcast in the Bai language
a Bai version in the Jianchuan county Bai dialect (northern dialect) is available, but Bai Christians in Dali city (southern dialect ) only understand 40% of the dialogue.
Status of Christianity
2.5 Christian for every 1,000 Bai. Less than 0.25% are Christians. 95% of the Bai people have never heard the Gospel.
By God’s grace we envision Bai people in every village and town filled with the Holy Spirit, glorifying and worshipping God in indigenous, Biblical and multiplying churches that glorify Christ.
1. Mobilize global prayer movement.
2. Pray for like-minded co-laborers to facilitate church planting movements.
3. Sow broadly and disciple strategically.
4. Pray for 100 hungry and faithful Bai men to evangelize and shepherd their own people.