Who would think that in one relatively small geographical area in China, over half of the 480,000 people are committed to Jesus Christ? The area is Yunnan, one of the southwest provinces, and the people are Lisu, one of the large non-Chinese minority people groups. Over the past 100 years, Christianity has in some cases spread even more quickly and thoroughly among these ethnic minorities than among the majority (Han) Chinese. Whole clans and villages have come to Christ. In nearly every case, these mass movements can be traced back to seeds planted by some very influential early missionaries.

When the People's Republic of China drew up its first constitution in 1954, it defined the country as a "unitary multinational state in which all the nationalities are equal." The principal nationality is the Han people—those traditionally considered Chinese, who originated during the Han dynasty at the time of Christ. This dominant group numbers more than one billion people. The other 56 nationalities range in population from several hundred to 15 million. They live in China and are patriotic Chinese citizens, but they have their own unique language, history, and land. Politically, they are Chinese, but culturally they have another identity.

For more than 1200 years, Christian missionaries have sought to bring the gospel to the minority nationalities of China. Beginning with the Nestorians during the Tang dynasty (618-907) and continuing at least until the advent of the People's Republic of China, emissaries of the cross have tried to penetrate Mongolia, Tibet, and areas in what is now Xinjiang in northwest China. In the late 19th century, missionary work began among the many minority groups in southwest China.

In the decades leading ...

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