The Zhuang (Yongnan, Dai, Nong, Yang, Zuojiang) are a collection of related Central Tai language groups which have been combined with the Northern Zhuang - a collection of Northern Tai language groups - to form China's official Zhuang nationality. There are many tribes, clans, and self designations among the Zhuang. Names such as Debao and Heiyi frequently appear in Chinese linguistic research.
During the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), half a million Han convicts were exiled by Emperor Qin Shihuang to the Lingnan region in southern China (now Guangxi and Guangdong). There they intermingled with the various branches of the Bai Yue nationality. The Zhuang today are thought to be the descendants of the Bai Yue. Historically, the Zhuang were called Tuliao or Sharen.
Because they are primarily engaged in agriculture, the Zhuang are also locally known as the T'u or "People of the Soil." Their homes are usually built on stilts. A newly married woman stays with her parents until after the birth of the first child. Only then does she go to live with her husband in his village.
The Zhuang are a superstitious people. They are careful not to offend the spirit world that surrounds them. They believe in the spirits of the water, forest, mountain, village, etc.
The first Protestant missionary to the Zhuang was R. H. Graves, a Southern Baptist, who arrived in Guangxi in 1862. In 1895 the Christian & Missionary Alliance commenced work in Guangxi. They established 65 churches over a 50- year period. Most of these churches were attended by Han Chinese, but small numbers of Zhuang also attended. The Zhuang have great linguistic diversity. Little has changed since this 1922 report describing Guangxi: "There are 58 cities, 700 market towns, and over 17,000 villages, all teeming with human lives for whom no effort whatever is being put forth."