Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
Although the Han Tai have never previously appeared in Christian research lists, they are a people group with their own customs, selfidentity, and language. While Tai Lu (Shui Tai) women wear long, colorful sarongs, and put their hair up in a bun, "Han Tai women wear black, hand-woven sarongs with a bright blue fitted blouse and black turban."
Over many generations, the Tai race slowly began to separate and form distinctive traditions and languages. They "eventually evolved into two groups: the lowland farmers or Shui Tai and the mountain nomads, or Han Tai."
In contrast to the dominant Tai Lu, whose homes are built on stilts, the Han Tai build their homes flat on the ground, often in a long row of houses containing several families. The Han Tai celebrate the annual Songkran Festival. People splash water over each other, believing it cleanses the sins of the past year. A Tai legend tells about a powerful firebreathing demon who was defeated by Yidanhan, a beautiful Tai maiden. "One night she made a special feast for the demon and got him drunk. ... He told her that if someone was able to pull a hair from his head and wrap it around his neck, his head would fall off and he would die. Yidanhan did this, but the demon's head rolled away and set everything on fire. The Tai splashed water on the demon's head to quench the fire, and to wash the blood from Yidanhan's clothes."
During the Cultural Revolution the Han Tai Buddhists suffered much persecution. Cadres even dug up the skeleton of a revered Buddhist abbot and used his bones as fertilizer, in a bizarre bid to provoke the people and destroy their religion. Pa Ya Shanmudi, the legendary Tai folk hero, laid down several commandments to ensure the survival of his people. One of these instructs each village to build a shrine, called a zaixin, as the symbolic heart of the community. "It serves as a ritual center. ... To destroy it or obstruct access to it would be the height of sacrilege."
A small number of Han Tai Christians who live in the Mengyuan area were won to Christ by an evangelist in recent years. In the 1960s many of the Tai church leaders in Xishuangbanna were killed by the fanatical Red Guards.