Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Fuma have been officially counted as part of the Han Chinese nationality, even though they speak their own language and hold to their own identity. The Fuma are considered by some to be a subgroup of the Cun, but locals say the Fuma are a distinct people group. Cun means "village" and is a generic term applied to Chinese people living in western Hainan who speak languages related to Li.
Hainan Island has witnessed wave after wave of immigrants from the Chinese Mainland over the past 2,000 years. Most settled in the northern part of the island, forcing the original inhabitants of the island, the Li, southward and westward. Today most of northern Hainan is inhabited by Han Chinese and Lingao - members of a mixed race who speak a language resembling Zhuang. In the areas located near the boundaries between Chinese and Li culture, however, a great deal of fusion has taken place. Because of centuries of interaction between the Han and Li, people groups have been formed who are ethnically and historically Han Chinese but speak a Li language. The Fuma fall into this category. In other locations the fusion has occurred the other way around. Ethnic Li people can be found throughout Hainan who can speak only the Chinese language.
The Fuma have few customs that distinguish them as a people group. They do not wear any traditional dress and are some of the poorest people in all of China. For generations they have struggled to survive in their remote location.
Most Fuma do not practice an organized religion, although many have a deep reverence and respect for their ancestors.
In the mid-1990s a Hong Kong-based mission discovered the Fuma people and commenced evangelistic work among them. They found that the Fuma were sensitive people, willing to embrace God's truth. Several families immediately became Christians. The Fuma fit this 1920s description of China's tribal people: "The children of the hills are much more responsive than the sons of the Han. They are not so proud, not so reserved, not so phlegmatic. Their women and girls are free as are women and girls of Western lands. They are not secluded nor do they bind their feet. They are allowed to meet and to talk with the men, and there is no mock modesty amongst them."