Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Dianbao are one of many tribes and language groups combined to form the Zhuang nationality in China. The Dianbao did not oppose being officially classified under the Zhuang minority. As one writer explains, "After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, during the stage of the 'recognition of nationalities,' the Zhuangs from different districts agreed, through democratic consultation, that they be regarded as the Zhuang nationality as a whole."
The Dianbao language suggests they are descended from the great Tai race that splintered into dozens of different tribes over the course of history. Today, Tai (or Thai) peoples are scattered throughout Asia from the northeastern part of India to the Tai-speaking minorities in China such as the Zhuang, Dai, Bouyei, and Li. One historian listed more than 25 different Tai tribes in China. The various Zhuang groups - who first appeared in Hunan during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) - migrated to southwest China in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, "under the pressure of the advancing Mongol armies."
The Dianbao have a rich collection of folk songs and tales that are handed down from one generation to another.
The majority of Dianbao are animists. They observe a great number of superstitions, especially about eating and how visitors enter their homes.
There are no known Christians among the Dianbao today. Few have ever heard the gospel. A missionary near the Dianbao region, Mrs. T. P. Worsnip, described her frustrations at the lack of progress she encountered in the early 1920s: "I am sure that when we can speak the language of these people we will be better able to get into their homes. Even though in many cases they can understand Chinese, the fact that they cannot speak it, and we cannot converse with them in their vernacular, causes them to turn us away and to look upon us with contempt. We have felt this very keenly, especially when we have visited the streets where every house is occupied by aboriginal families. They invariably turn us away. There are many villages surrounding Lungchow [Longzhou] where the women speak only [Zhuang], and in order to give them the witness we must know their language or take a woman who can speak for us."