Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The official classification of the Tai Pong is confusing. Most Tai Pong have been included in the Dai nationality by the Chinese government, but others have been included under the Zhuang. In addition, there are various subgroups among the Tai Pong - such as the La and the You - which may qualify as distinct ethnolinguistic groups. Little research has been conducted into the relatively obscure Tai Pong.
Records of contact between the Tai and the Chinese date back to 109 BC when Emperor Wu Di of the Han Dynasty established the Yizhou Prefecture in presentday southern China. The Tai sent tribute to the Han Court at Luoyang and also sent musicians and acrobats to entertain the emperors. The Han Court gave the title "Great Captain" to the Tai chief. The Tai Pong have lived along the Red River for centuries. They use the same script as the Tai Dam and Tai Kao, which suggests historical kinship between these different groups.
Many of the Tai Pong are indistinguishable from the local Chinese and Hani, alongside whom they have lived for many generations. Most Tai Pong no longer wear traditional clothing, nor do they celebrate any of their own historical festivals.
Because the Tai Pong live at the eastern extremity of the Tai groups in China, they did not come under the influence of Theravada Buddhism when it first arrived from India. They have retained their polytheistic and shamanistic practices, although many of the younger generation of Tai Pong are nonreligious and consider themselves atheists.
There are a small number of Christians today among the Tai Pong. Mission activity among them was already underway in 1919. In 1945 missionary John Kuhn joyously reported his visit to a mission station among the Tai Pong: "I shall never forget the Red River Valley. At Mosha I attended the twenty-fifth anniversary of the formation of the Shan [Tai] church and school there." Presently, however, the majority of Tai Pong have yet to receive a clear gospel witness. The small number of known Tai Pong believers are concentrated in one or two areas.