The Diao applied for recognition as a distinct minority group in the 1950s, but their application, along with 90% of the more than 400 groups who applied, was rejected. The official classification of the Diao remained in limbo for more than 30 years. In the 1982 census they were included in a list of Undetermined Minorities. After scholars visited them to further investigate their application, the Diao were incorporated into the official Dong nationality in 1985. There appears to have been an official push in the mid- 1980s to "tie up the loose ends" of the many minority groups that remained unclassified. Although some groups such as the Diao were assigned to official nationalities, they still regard themselves as distinct from the other people in the group they now find themselves part of. Surrounding peoples in Guizhou continue to call this group Diao or Diaozu, which means "Diao nationality."
After the Mongolians took control of China in the thirteenth century, great ethnic upheavals took place in southern China as people groups moved about in all directions seeking to avoid the fierce Mongol armies. At this time many of the small people groups in Guizhou, possibly including the Diao, formed separate identities.
Among minority peoples in Guizhou, the making of her traditional dress continues to play an important part in a woman's life. Each tribe's dress has its own background story which reflect that group's customs, history, and beliefs. Cultural identity is therefore maintained by the making and wearing of the garments.
The Diao are animists. They worship the spirit of the bull, which they believe to possess supernatural strength. The Diao participate in the annual Dong bullfights. Some elements of ancestor worship and Daoism are also present among the Diao.
It is not known if Christianity has made any impact among the Diao people, but the large Dong nationality among whom they live has received little exposure to the gospel throughout their history. It can safely be assumed that most Diao have no comprehension of the name of Jesus Christ.