Bonan in China

Joshua Project has identified the Bonan only in China






Largest Religion

Main Language



The Bonan are the eighth smallest of China's 55 official minorities. After decades of intermarriage with other peoples such as the Hui, Han, and Tu, a distinct people group formed who came to call themselves Bonan, which means "I protect you." This name refers to their long history as the soldiers and protectors of the people in the area.

The Bonan speak a Mongol language, altered from their original Mongol tongue by 700 years of isolation. Today, Bonan is more similar to the Dongxiang and Tu languages than to modern Mongolian. A 1960 study of 3,000 words found that approximately half of the Bonan vocabulary were loanwords from other languages.


During the Mongolian world empire, large numbers of people from Central Asia were mixed together and sent to China as troops and administrators. These garrisons settled down after the collapse of the empire and gradually formed into their own people groups. It is believed the Bonan were originally Mongol troops sent to their present location on the edge of Chinese territory to act as watch guards against the fierce Tibetans. In 1862 religious friction between Muslim Bonan and those who had embraced Tibetan Buddhism caused the two groups to split. These religious disputes and a quarrel over water rights caused the Muslim Bonan to move east to their present location in Gansu.


The Bonan are renowned for their famous Bonan knife. It is a skillfully made knife with engraved oxhorn handles. Profits from sales of the knife, along with farming and logging, are the main sources of income for the Bonan. The Bonan send the pick of their young people to study at the Northwest Nationalities Institute in the city of Lanzhou.


The majority of Bonan are Sunni Muslims. They worship in their own mosques and no longer consider the Tibetan Buddhist Bonan to be their brothers. The Bonan are linguistically related to the Dongxiang Muslims in the area and live downstream from the Muslim Salar people of Xunhua. First converted to Islam by Muhammed Amin in 1750, Xunhua County contained 73 mosques in the early 1980s.


The Bonan are an unreached people group. There has never been a Bonan church nor a single known Bonan believer. Missionaries worked among the neighboring Salar until the 1950s, but no church was established.6 Little has changed since the 1920s when a plea went unheeded for workers to the Muslims in Gansu, "to give their whole time to each of these tribes."

Profile Source:   Operation China, Paul Hattaway  Copyrighted ©   Used with permission  

People Name General Bonan (Bo-nahn)
People Name in Country Bonan
Population in China 12,000
World Population 12,000
Countries 1
Progress Scale 1.1
Least-Reached Yes
Unengaged Yes (per Finishing the Task)
Indigenous Yes
Alternate Names Bao'an, Baonan, Baonuo, Paoan, Pao-an, Paongan
Affinity Bloc East Asian Peoples
People Cluster Mongolian
People Name General Bonan (Bo-nahn)
Ethnic Code MSY41y
People ID 18419
Country China
Region Northeast Asia
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 29  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country Approximately 10,000 Bonan inhabit areas of southwest Gansu Province. In addition, 4,000 members of the Tu minority speak Bonan as their first language. The Bonan occupy several townships and villages in Jishishan County. The Jishi Mountains have long been an effective defense against approaching armies. For centuries the Bonan have lived on the edge of both Tibetan and Chinese civilizations..   Source:  Operation China, 2000
Languages & Dialects on file:  1  (up to 20 largest shown)
Bonan: Tongren (12,000)
Languages & Dialects (speakers if known) - up to 20 shown
Bonan: Tongren 12,000

For Main Lanugage: Bonan

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Translation Need Questionable
Resource Format
None reported  
Primary Religion: Islam

Major Religion Percent
9.97 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 0.00 %)
0.00 %
Ethnic Religions
0.00 %
0.00 %
90.00 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.00 %

Christian Segments Percent
0.0 %
0.0 %
0.0 %
Other Christian
0.0 %
0.0 %
Roman Catholic
0.0 %
Photo Source: Operation China, Paul Hattaway   Copyrighted ©   Used with permission
Map Source: Bethany World Prayer Center  
Profile Source: Operation China, Paul Hattaway  Copyrighted ©   Used with permission  
Data Sources: Data is compiled from various sources. Read more

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