Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Katso are a distinct people group. They deliberately separate themselves and refuse to intermarry with people from other nationalities. Despite having been cut off from their homeland for seven centuries, the Katso proudly retain their ethnic identity as Mongols.
The Mongolian empire gained control over southwest China in 1252 when they overthrew the ancient Nanzhao Kingdom in Dali. They ruled Yunnan for 129 years, extracting annual taxes and tribute which were sent north to fill the coffers of the Yuan Dynasty rulers. In 1381, "Ming Dynasty troops routed the Yuan army by the shore of the Baishi River. The Mongol soldiers, their hopes to return to their homeland having been dashed, had no alternative but to settle down in the province." Their ancestors have today grown to 7,000 people around Jihulu Lake.
The Katso women's dress is said to resemble the uniform of the original Mongol soldiers. During the hotter part of the year, they wear cloth instead of fur and cut off the sleeves.
In the early 1980s, village elders sent a delegation to Inner Mongolia to learn about Mongolian culture. They immediately adopted customs similar to Mongols in the north. Wrestling became their favorite sport when they saw how popular it was with other Mongols.
The religion of the Katso is a mixture of Buddhism and Daoism. Posters of fierce Daoist deities hang on the doors and gates of their homes to ward off evil spirits. A few Mongol families are Muslims. They were converted to Islam by the neighboring Hui community, located near the entrance to the Mongolian village.
There is no Christian church among the Katso. The few efforts to take the gospel to them have been met with stubborn resistance and opposition from village leaders and local police who are eager to preserve the Mongolian traditions they had neglected for centuries and who are careful to shun all change to their society. In the 1980s, a Mongolian Christian from northern China visited this village, hoping he would be able to influence the Katso to become Christians. He too was rejected by the locals.