Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
Although the Guanyingqiao Jiarong have officially been classified as members of the Tibetan nationality, they do not even speak a language closely related to Tibetan and are known to have a different history, origin, and customs. Whereas certain Chinese experts were in favor of giving the Jiarong status as a distinct minority group, certain Tibetan leaders are believed to have campaigned for their inclusion in the Tibetan nationality, fearing that the exclusion of the Jiarong would weaken the Tibetan cause.
Guanyingqiao Jiarong is a member of the Qiangic branch of the Tibeto- Burman language family. It is related to Ergong and Shangzhai Jiarong. Despite their small population, studies indicate the existence of eight dialects within Guanyingqiao Jiarong. "Representative local varieties of Guanyingqiao, some very different, include Xiaoyili and Siyaowu in Zamtang County, Muerzong in Barkam County, Guanyingqiao, Ergali, Taiyanghe, Ere and Yelong in Jinchuan County."
Thousands of years ago the various branches of the Jiarong in Sichuan were more closely related to today's official Qiang nationality. The Jiarong, however, migrated into Tibetan areas and have been culturally assimilated to Tibetan ways.
Although the dress and most customs of the Jiarong are now identical to their neighboring Tibetans, they proudly retain their ancient stone defense towers, called tianlu, which show their historic relationship with the Qiang peoples.
Tibetan Buddhism is embraced by all Jiarong people. Polytheism and shamanism are also present. The deities most feared by the Jiarong are the Mountain gods, which they believe dwell inside large mountains and are responsible for most bad things that happen.
The extreme geographic remoteness of the Guanyingqiao Jiarong has separated them from gospel witness throughout their history. There are few roads in this sparsely populated part of China, and most local people here have never seen a Westerner. Very few Han Chinese have settled in this part of Sichuan, except for government officials and some adventurous merchants. Few Guanyingqiao Jiarong have ever heard the name of Jesus Christ.