Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The identity of the Bit - who are called Buxin by the Chinese - is a complicated matter. The Chinese officially view the Bit as part of the Khmu, but the Khmu do not belong to any of China's official nationalities. They were included in a list of Undetermined Minorities in the 1990 national census. In Laos, the Bit were counted separately in the national census of 1995.
The Bit have ethnic relatives in both Laos and Vietnam, yet their language is distinct from the Khmu whom they are counted part of in China. The Khmu claim to be the original inhabitants of Laos, living there before they were driven from the best land by Lao invaders from China during the 12th and 13th century.
Funerals are elaborate affairs for the Bit. The deceased are buried in the mountains. A funeral house is constructed over the grave and is filled with the person's personal items such as a rice basket, drink pipe, bowls, and chopsticks. At the front of the grave a four-to-five-meter (13-16 ft.) pole is erected. A wooden bird and a shirt belonging to the deceased's wife or husband are attached to the top of the pole.
The Bit practice a mixture of Theravada Buddhism and animism. They believe a person has five souls. After death, one soul remains in the house; one goes to the fields; one settles in the foot of the tree that was felled to make the coffin; one lives in the funeral home; and the last remaining soul flies to the sky. Missionary William Clifton Dodd, who visited the Mengla area during the first three decades of the twentieth century, described the loose ties the inhabitants of the region feel to the Buddhist religion: "Buddhism presents a well organized front; and although we have yet to hear of any great mass movement of Buddhists into Christianity; yet it is true that Buddhism furnishes many preparations for Christianity. It includes a spirit of religious toleration. Its temples and monastery grounds are hospitable inns. In our tours of evangelistic itineration we habitually sleep in these temples, preach under the nose of the big Buddha, and sing our Christian songs in his ears. Often the abbot and the monks courteously join us in these services."
There are few if any Christian believers among the Bit in China or Laos, although there are many Christians among the related Khmu of northern Laos.