The official classification of the Vietnamese people on Hainan is a problematic one. They have not been included under the Jing nationality, although the Jing are fellow Vietnamese who have earned official status as one of China's 55 minority groups. This profile refers only to ethnic Vietnamese in China and not to the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese who have fled from Vietnam to China since the late 1970s. As one commentator explains, "During outbreaks of racial hostility in Vietnam in 1978, thousands of Vietnamese of Chinese descent fled in confusion to their home country which they had left many years, sometimes generations, earlier. ... About 100,000 went to Guangxi, and another 110,000 settled elsewhere in China." Because those refugees are ethnic Han Chinese, they have easily assimilated back into China. "Since these refugees can no longer return to Vietnam, the aim of the Chinese government is to repatriate them as Chinese citizens. The teaching medium in schools is therefore Chinese. After several years of hard work, the residents are now no different from other Chinese." The Vietnamese profiled here, however, are ethnic Vietnamese who speak the Vietnamese language. Their official classification is uncertain.
The Vietnamese came to Hainan in 1986 by accident. They had set out as refugees onboard fishing vessels bound for Hong Kong, but only managed to reach Hainan Island. Hong Kong - which at one point housed almost 100,000 Vietnamese refugees - offered escapees the chance for repatriation to Western nations. Not all of the refugees who made it to safety in Hong Kong, however, came by sea from Vietnam. Many crossed the border into China, traveled by train to Guangdong Province, changed their appearance to look as if they had endured great hardship at sea, and then boarded vessels to take them the few miles into Hong Kong waters.
Because of the exorbitant amount of money charged by the owners of the fishing vessels, most of the refugees came from wealthy families in northern Vietnam. They were willing to give up all they had in the hope of gaining entry to the United States or another Western nation.
Most Vietnamese on Hainan Island are nonreligious, although there are some who follow Daoism, Buddhism, or Catholicism.
Few of the Vietnamese refugees on Hainan claim to be Christians. Because they originated in northern Vietnam where there are few churches, most have little awareness of the gospel. One missionary dropped off a few hundred Vietnamese gospel tracts and a Jesus film in 1997, but no organizations are known to be specifically focusing on this group.