The Dongxiang

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Acts 2:21

The Basics:


The Dongxiang people, with a population of 621,500, are the fourth largest of China’s 10 Muslim people groups. Their origin dates back to the 13th century when China was subdued by the Mongols, and Genghis Khan moved some of his garrisons into northwest China to control the land he had taken. Soldiers intermarried with local women and gradually developed their own distinct ethnic group, now known as the Dongxiang people. The largest concentration of the Dongxiang people is in the rugged, dry mountains of Gansu Province. Dongxiang County is a narrow, desolate and arid valley, bordered by rivers on three sides.


Their Beliefs:


Islam is the dominant religion of the Dongxiang, with one mosque for every 30 homes and one paid Muslim worker for every 18 families.

Their Livelihood:


Most Dongxiang are farmers whose main crops are potatoes, barley, millet, wheat and corn. Many also raise livestock, particularly sheep. The Dongxiang are known for making elaborate rugs and growing their “three treasures:” apricots, melons and other fruits.


Their Language:


During their seclusion in northwest China, the Dongxiang people formed their own language which is related to Mongolian. Originally it was only a spoken language. A writing system has been developed, but most are still not aware of it. They have an oral tradition of legends, stories, folk songs, riddles and proverbs. Some Dongxiang understand spoken Mandarin, but many have only had one year of schooling and find it difficult to learn Chinese. The Dongxiang people are considered among the poorest and least literate of China’s minorities.


The Situation:


No official study groups or churches exist among the Dongxiang, though there are a few Christians. Foreigners are restricted from the area, and Han Chinese believers have been harassed and even imprisoned for sharing the gospel. There is currently no Bible, radio broadcast or evangelistic material in the Dongxiang language.

Dongxiang County

Dongxiang County – home to the majority of the Dongxiang people

A Story of Faithfulness – 10 Years in the Making

Many years passed and Xiao Wei and her family returned to their rural hometown. She began to do some sewing and to grow sunflowers and fava beans on a small plot of land. Some of her friends came to visit and helped her from time to time with the farming. Life became more difficult. She broke her leg while trying to harvest sunflowers. Her crippled daughter died of pneumonia a few months later.

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Intentionality with a Dongxiang Friend

The Gospel clearly speaks for itself. But honestly, it can be hard to find different angles from which to share the Gospel when it comes to friends who have been shared with many, many times. I’m so thankful, though, that the Lord continues to open doors, windows, even cracks for His Word to come through.

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Eid al-Adha – The Festival of the Sacrifice

Hours before sunrise Mr. Ma, his father, grandfather, and 4-year-old son, Ibrahim, all rise and get dressed. Winter has almost arrived so they pull on their warmest long underwear before slipping into their finest clothes. Mr. Ma slips on black dress pants, a new white shirt and a nice grey sports coat. His son has received new clothes for this special day. He has a new white outfit that resembles traditional Muslim clothing with a colorful prayer cap (skull cap). The Ma men leave their mud brick home and walk down to the local village mosque where they find a tour bus waiting.

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Day Twenty Nine: Working with the Dongxiang

I’ve heard before that it’s not always good to listen to what “they” say, but it can also be very difficult to get first-hand experience, especially when it comes to expat life in another country, namely China. We also often hear a friend here say, “What’s true today in China will not necessarily be true tomorrow.”

When the Father called our family to China to work among the Dongxiang people, we were about as green as you could be when it comes to working among Chinese Muslims.

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“Do You Have Eggs?”

“Do you have eggs?”

A huge warm smile spread over the man’s face that day. He wore a white crocheted hat, typical of a lot of DongXiang men in this area.

“Of course!” he answered in clear Mandarin and hurried to get a plastic bag to collect the eggs I had requested.

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Lanzhou City Profile

In the center of China lies the provincial capital city of Lanzhou — a transportation hub surrounded by mountains to the north and south, with the Yellow River flowing through the middle.

Here, the favored dish is Niu Rou Mian (beef noodles). Created by a Hui man more than a hundred years ago, the hand-pulled bowl of beef noodles is a staple for the city’s residents and makes the city famous around the country.

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Hardships in the Countryside

Many Dongxiang live in the mountains. Most live as farmers, working the soil with their own hands rather than using large equipment. For city dwellers, confined to the cement jungle most of the time, a walk through green fields and fresh air is relaxing and refreshing. But for those who work the land day after day, it’s a hard life. Families normally produce just enough to survive. Many children do not receive an education, as they are needed by the family to work.

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Communities of Followers of Jesus

Joseph* and Mary* took their kids to visit a tea market, and the shopkeepers were all so excited
to talk to them. In the first visit, God allowed them to have very interesting conversations about the Qur’an, Muslims around the world, prayer, and Jesus. Now they go visit these Dongxiang friends every week, and every time they leave, a dozen new friends line up, waving and saying, “Come back and talk more!”

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Pray for the Dongxiang


  • Ask God to send believers to live among and boldly proclaim the gospel to the Dongxiang people.
  • Pray that God will open the hearts of the Dongxiang to the Good News of salvation so that they may enter His kingdom.
  • Pray for the few Dongxiang believers to be discipled, and for their witness to bear fruit in their communities.