Although the Tai Kao are part of the official Dai nationality in China, they possess their own spoken and written language and are fiercely proud of their distinct ethnic identity. Their name Tai Kao means "white Tai."
The majority of the Tai race in north China lived farther to the north prior to the thirteenth century, when invading Mongol armies pushed the Tai into southern China. Some groups - such as the Tai Kao, Tai Dam, and Red Tai - moved from Guangxi into Yunnan Province and farther south into Vietnam and Laos.
The Tai Kao live in compact communities along the Honghe River. Most are engaged in agriculture and fishing.
The animistic Tai Kao have never converted to Buddhism. They "have a number of statues and altars ... to the spirit of the soil, to the tiger god, and to Tan Sin and Kouan-Yin, local heroes now deified by the White Tai." Unlike most people in this region, the Tai Kao believe in a sovereign, supreme god who is active in their lives. "One of their legends states that their ancestors emerged from a pumpkin in which they had taken refuge during a divinely decreed flood that drowned all the other inhabitants of the earth because of their wickedness."
Despite the availability of weekly gospel radio broadcasts and Scripture portions in the Tai Kao language since 1969, few have shown any interest in Christianity. They have been described as "the most unreached of all the Tai groups." Little has changed since the 1920s, when missionaries in the region outlined their strategy for reaching the branches of the Tai in southern China: "We are not deaf to the call to plant and preach over the whole world; not among certain promising races only, nor alone in coastwise provinces. Neither do we put much reliance in the project to have the Chinese Christian assume entire responsibility for the evangelization of this disgracefully big unoccupied territory in Southwest China. There is too much racial antipathy. Chinese, unless under foreign guidance, will ever patronize the Tai ... and the Tai are as proud as the Chinese and resent being either abused or patronized."