There are close to 3 million Dong in Southwest China concentrated in the juncture of Guangxi, Guizhou, and Hunan provinces.
1.7 million Dong live in southeastern Guizhou, 800,000 in southwestern Hunan and 200,000 in northern Guangxi.
Most Dong live in valleys surrounded by rough mountainous terrain. There are no major cities; most live in villages. The majority of roads in the region are narrow, unpaved mountainous, and subject to flooding and landslides.
Language and Dialects
Two major dialects, northern and southern. Use Han characters for writing.
Dong is a Dai related language with almost 2 million speakers. It is a tonal language with two main dialects (northern and southern).
A romanized script was created for the Dong language in the 1950’s, but only one small area (where 6 Dong Chinese schools exist) can read and write Dong. The remainder of the Dong rely on Chinese, completely unrelated to their native Dong tongue, to read and write.
Agriculture is the main occupation; including rice farming, vegetables, fish, pigs, and other livestock. Additionally, men often hunt or work in the lumber industry; women weave, dye cloth, and make other handicrafts.
Culture, Customs & Character
The Dong are well known for distinctive wooden architecture, particularly Wind and Rain Bridges and Drum Towers which are built without nails. Folk singing and dancing play an integral role in traditional Dong festivals as well as the courtship process. The Dong are traditionally a very friendly people. Village life tends to be casual and relaxed. Hard work and socializing with one another are both valued. Villages feel like an extended family; children play with one another as they go about their daily chores. Outsiders are treated with hospitality, respect, and are generally included in village life.
Traditionally the “Sa” goddess—or Grandmother—was a Dong folk hero or a major deity. Certain large trees, and rocks are venerated. Most Dong mix Chinese idols and animistic sacrifices to spirits. Due to the influence of Marxism in education, Dong young people are increasingly likely to be atheist.
Response to the Gospel
Christian workers among the Dong only know of two to four small village congregations (less than 20 believers). There may be two or three other small Han and other Chinese minority congregations which contain Dong believers, but we only know of a handful of isolated believers scattered throughout the Dong areas. The primary need is initial evangelization and training among the Dong.
Because China is a communist nation that does not welcome the sharing of the gospel it is especially difficult to reach people in remote rural areas. The area has had numerous cult groups sweep through so new or unfamiliar faces in a village are often met with suspicion as to the purpose of the visit. Tourism is opening up the area more than in the past, but the rush for wealth is still happening in these poorer rural areas. Christian workers have met significant spiritual opposition and those who have been there long enough to be effective are often removed by the government or meet strong spiritual opposition. New approaches need to take place where people can have an impact and facilitate an IBCM and then get out of the way. The Dong men often go to cities to work, but there has been no intentional effort to reach these migrant workers. Because Chinese is their only written language, but not their mother tongue unless workers change to an oral approach using Dong language the people will not be hearing the message of God’s love in Dong and are not able to reproduce the message in Dong themselves.
An indigenous, reproductive Dong church solidly founded in Christ and the Bible, bearing fruit throughout all Dong areas and reaching out to other peoples.