The Shui are one of China’s 55 official minorities. Their name, which means “water” in Chinese, reflects their history. They were originally part of the Luo-yue tribe who lived along China’s southeastern coast. Centuries later they were forced to migrate inland to their present mountainous location. Today the Shui still have more than ten different words for “fish.”
The Shui are proud of their history, which dates back as far as 200 BC in Chinese records. The Shui have traditionally enjoyed good relationships with the Chinese. A Shui man, Teng Enming, was a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party.
Shui women wear a white headdress for three years after the death of a relative. After the three-year period they can wear black again. Most Shui village leaders are able to read the 500 to 600-year-old ancient Shui script. The book contains a Shui code of ethics and behavior. Some leaders are teaching the script to young Shui boys. The Shui live in villages that are arranged according to family clans.
All Shui worship their ancestors. This is considered their main religion. It keeps them in bondage to the past and prevents them from receiving Christ, because to do so would be considered an insult to their ancestors.
Several French Catholic missionaries first went to the Shui in 1884. By the early 1900s some 30 Catholic churches and 5,000 Shui Christians existed. However, all the believers were put to death or fell away during the anti-Christian movement of 1906. In recent years, missionaries have traveled to the villages that formerly contained Catholic churches and have not found a trace of Christianity remaining – neither old buildings nor any knowledge of the gospel among the people. Today there are reported to be only “a small number of Christians” among the Shui. Another source adds, “a handful of Catholic believers remain.” A breakthrough came in late 1997 and 1998 when approximately 100 Shui people came to Christ and were being discipled by Chinese believers.