Evangelization Efforts in Northeast Asia

Northeast Asia is home to fifty-five people group clusters. Of these, just eighteen are larger than one million people in size. These clusters include:

People Clusters  Population (in millions) 
Bouyei  3.0 
Chinese  1,218.7 
Hui  17.2 
Hani  1.8 
Japanese  127.6 
Kazakh  1.8 
Korean  72.3 
Li 1.8 
Miao  9.1 
Mongolian  10.9 
Mon-Khmer  1.1 
Nosu  2.9 
Tai  6.0 
Tibetan  5.7 
Uighur  10.7 
Lolo  20.1 
Yao-Mien  5.8 
Zhuang  20.0 

Largest Cluster Groups
The biggest cluster, by far, is the Chinese cluster. According to Joshua Project data, this cluster is made up of fifty-one distinct groups totaling some 1.2 billion people. Half of these groups are the Han Chinese peoples, broken out by specific languages (e.g., Cantonese, Chaozhou, Dan, Gan, Hainanese, and so on). These groups are considered mostly reached due to the massive numbers of Chinese believers. Their job is by no means complete; however, if you want to work with Chinese you probably won't be working in an exclusively pioneer setting. Most of the other Chinese groups, however, are very unreached. An illustrative example would be the Subei (Jiangbei), a socially outcast group who have migrated throughout the region. There are tens of thousands of Subei believers in Shanghai; however, this huge number amounts to less than two percent of the total population of the group. Many cross-cultural pioneer teams are needed both to aid in the completion of the evangelization of the Chinese groups, and to penetrate smaller, lesser-known, socially-isolated groups like the Subei.

With 130 million people, the Japanese cluster is the second largest in northeast Asia. It is a mostly homogenous cluster: 126 million people are found within the Japanese group itself. The other two large peoples are the 2.5 million Hisabetsu Burakumin and the one million Central Ryukyuan. There are fourteen other small groups, like the ten thousand Northern Amami-Oshima. These groups are small pockets within specific islands of Japan itself. The vast majority (122 million) of Japanese are found within Japan itself; however, some 4.2 million are found in other countries. The largest minorities are in the United States (1.2 million), South Korea (0.9 million) and Brazil (over 1.5 million). “To be Japanese is to be Buddhist,” and Japan is anecdotally known to be a hard field. Nevertheless, there are large numbers of Japanese groups that are reached. Brazil's Japanese, for example, are sixty-three percent Christian (fifteen percent evangelical). Likewise, some 1.5% of the Japanese in the United States are Christian: a small percentage, but a large number of believers. While over one thousand cross-cultural teams are still needed to reach the Japanese, it is possible that many of these teams could find fruitful ministry by raising up Japanese believers outside Japan to go into Japan as home-culture evangelists.

The Korean cluster is the third largest cluster, with over seventy-six million people. The cluster is the most homogeneous in the world, having just one people group—the Koreans. This group is broadly reached. Koreans are found in forty-five countries. In virtually every country believers overall make up over twenty percent of the cluster (although evangelicals are often far smaller in number). The two largest groups are found in South Korea (46.7 million) and North Korea (23.5 million). The Koreans in South Korea are reached: twenty-two percent Christian, sixteen percent evangelical. The Koreans in North Korea are not reached: 1.4% Christian and 1.1% evangelical. Possibly one hundred teams are still needed for the Koreans; servants and facilitators of the Korean Church is preparing for the day when North Korea will open up. Some work can be done in North Korea; however, workers need to have great sensitivity in relationship with the Korean Church.

The twenty million people in the Zhuang cluster in northeast Asia can be found in thirteen people groups, the largest of which is the thirteen million Northern Zhuang. Other large groups include the 1.1million Highland Nung, 1.8 million Tai Tho Tay, 1.7 million Yongnan Zhuang, and 1.4 million Zuojiang Zhuang. All are unreached ethnoreligionists. They typically live rural lives and lag behind China both economically and educationally. They are found primarily in Guangxi province, and very few are found outside China. While there is some outreach here, perhaps two hundred teams are needed to work among the Zhuang.

Smaller Clusters and Megagroups
The remaining groups are fairly small by comparison. We will look at the two medium-sized groups, the Lolo and the Uighurs, and then deal quickly with the smaller megagroups.

The Lolo or Western China cluster is made up of 20.9 million people in 152 groups, found primarily in the southern and mid-western provinces. The two largest are the 8.8 million Tujia and the 2.2 million Bai. There are twenty-two groups that have populations in excess of 100,000, but the remaining 128 groups are all under 100,000 in size. Virtually all of these groups are a mix of Buddhists and ethnoreligionists. The Bai have a large number of believers and are considered reached, as are a handful of the smaller groups (such as the Eastern Lipo, which are majority Christian). However, for the most part these groups are distinct and unreached. Perhaps another two hundred cross-cultural teams are required to fully penetrate the huge diversity found in this cluster.

The fifteen million Uighurs (Uyghur) are found primarily in the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang, with minorities in Central Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. Work in this region is very sensitive since the Uighurs are discontented under Chinese rule. The Uighurs are a majority Muslim group with very few believers among them. Another 150 cross-cultural teams are needed to dedicate themselves to blessing the Uighurs with the good news.

Now, briefly, the smaller groups:

The three million people in the Bouyei cluster are made up primarily of the 2.5 million Bouyei group, the 373,000 Giay group, and three smaller groups. They are found primarily on the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau of China, near the border with Vietnam, although a small number of minority groups are also found in Southeast Asia (primarily Laos and Vietnam), as well as in some European countries like France. The Bouyei are an unreached people group who are mainly ethnoreligionists. Perhaps thirty long-term cross-cultural teams are needed to reach them.

The seventeen million Hui are a Chinese cluster that is primarily Muslim. The cluster is made up of five groups: the Dungan, the Huizhou Han Chinese, the Hui, the Keji, and the Utsat. The Huizhou group is 4.5 million in population, the majority non-religious, and considered mostly reached (seven percent Christian). The 12.6 million Hui group is found mostly in China, although isolated migrant minorities can be found in Malaysia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. They are the third largest minority group in China and can be found in virtually every northwestern province. About 170 cross-cultural pioneer teams are needed to reach this cluster.

The 1.8 million Hani cluster is made up of thirty mostly small people groups. These are mostly Buddhist or ethnoreligionist groups. Only a few of these groups are larger than 100,000 in size: the Akha, the Baihong, the Biyo, the Haoni, the Kadu, the Kucong, the Lami, and the Woni. About half of the groups (mostly the larger ones) are reached, while many smaller groups (mostly Akha subgroups like the Botche, as well as a few larger groups like the Lami) are unreached. These groups are small, little known minorities in Yunnan province and across the border in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. About thirty cross-cultural teams could reach into these groups, working along this border.

The nearly two million Kazakhs in northeast Asia are part of the wider 12.6 million Kazakh cluster. This cluster is made up of four people groups: the Karakalpak, the Qinghai, the Kazakh, and the Teleut. The cluster is largely Muslim and nearly completely unreached. The Kazahs form the largest group within the cluster, and are found in virtually every country from Ukraine east to China. Most Kazakhs are found in Kazakhstan (eight million) and just across the border in western China (1.6 million). Some 120 cross-cultural pioneer teams are needed to work among them, often in admittedly difficult and sensitive situations. Kazakhstan particularly has had a deteriorating attitude toward missionaries in recent months.

The 1.8 million in the Li cluster are found in six people groups that average several hundred thousand people each. All are ethnoreligionists and none are reached. These are peoples found on the southeastern island of Hainan. Some 180 cross-cultural teams are needed to reach out to them; however, it will need to be a highly coordinated effort due to the relatively small geographic space in which they live.

The nine million Miao in northeast Asia are part of the broader eleven million Miao cluster, found in fifty-three people groups. Most of the groups have populations ranging from 10,000 to 100,000. Virtually all of these groups are found in China although some of the very large groups (such as the 1.5 million Hmong Daw) are scattered across China, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Minorities from the cluster can also be found in European countries like France, as well as the United States. About one hundred cross-cultural teams will be required: more than the typical one team per 100,000 people because of the huge diversity of groups.

The Mongolian cluster has eleven million people, mostly found in the two large Mongol groups: the 1.8 million Khalka and the seven million Peripheral Mongolians. The Mongolians once ruled the geographically largest empire in the history of humanity (a third of which was Christian) and had one of the most important Christian queens in history. Their fascinating history has just begun to be told in greater detail due to a curtain of secrecy that descended particularly during the rule of Soviet Russia over Mongolia. Some one hundred cross-cultural teams are still needed to reach out to Mongolians.

The 1.1 million Mon-Khmer of northeast Asia are part of the broader Mon-Khmer cluster, with twenty-three million people. These 1.1 million are mostly minorities across the border in China. Perhaps one hundred teams are needed to focus on them.

The three million in the Nosu cluster are found in six groups and dozens of small sub-groups, the largest of which is the 1.2 million Shengzha. These groups are unreached ethnoreligionists found primarily in China. There are small numbers of believers among them, mainly the results of recent smaller movements to Christ. Some thirty cross-cultural teams are needed to reach out to them.

The eight million in the Tai cluster are divided into fifty-five people groups, many of which are very small in population. The largest of these groups include the 2.2 million Southern Dong, the 1.4 million Northern Dong, and the 1.2 million Lu. The groups are all a mix of ethnoreligionists and Buddhists. Only a few of the smaller groups are reached. The cluster is found primarily at the borders of Guizhou, Hunan, and Guangxi provinces in China. Some eighty teams are needed here; fortunately, several teams are active.

The seven million people in the Tibetan cluster are found in ninety-nine groups, most of which have very small populations. This cluster is frequently in the news (particularly recently). The two largest groups within this cluster are the 1.4 million Eastern Khampa and the one million Tibetans. There are a dozen groups that have more than 100,000 people—and the remaining eighty-plus groups have fewer than 100,000 members. Virtually all are Buddhists and highly unreached. The vast majority of the Tibetan cluster is found on the border of China, Bhutan, Nepal, and India. Over seventy teams are needed to reach out to this cluster, working in concert with local believers (particularly the large number of believers in Nepal), often in very politically sensitive situations.

Finally, the six million in the Yao cluster are likewise found in large numbers of small groups. This cluster features two fairly large groups (the 1.6 million Iu Mien and the 1.3 million Pingdi), half a dozen moderately-sized groups (particularly the 974,000 She), and the balance being groups under 100,000. All of these are unreached ethnoreligionists found primarily in southern China's Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong provinces; interestingly enough, they are highly mobile. Minorities from the Yao cluster can be found in Canada, France, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam. Some sixty teams are needed to reach out to this cluster; much work is already being done.

Justin Long manages strategicnetwork.org and is senior editor for Momentum, a magazine devoted to unreached peoples. He can be reached at [email protected].