How the Hmong First Encountered Christ

Part 2 of 3

The story of the Hmong coming to embrace Christianity is tremendously compelling. The Hmong, like a number of other Southeast Asian minorities, possessed no written script for their spoken language and therefore had no books for much of their history.  It wasn’t until the British missionary Samuel Pollard devised a script to represent the Hmong language at the turn of the 19th century that the Hmong were able to begin reading and writing. The Hmong themselves had an oral tradition as to why their people had no written language – they had been given a written language and had been given books at one point in their people’s history, but it had been lost (or taken away in other variations of the story) because of the people’s poor choices.  Some versions of the story describe that the Hmong were forced to eat their books because of their hunger as they fled the persecution of the Chinese.  Even though their books had been taken away, a promise was given that one day a book would be given back to them – a book which told of the one creator God of the universe (Vaj Tswv in Hmong).  This story had been told before the Hmong had encountered any western missionary.  William Hudspeth, in his book Stone Gateway and the Flowery Miao wonderfully describes this:

Before the Pollard script, books and a library were unknown. The great majority of these tribesmen had never handled even a sheet of writing paper or a pen. They had heard that once upon a time there were books: a tribal legend described how, long ago the Miao [Hmong] lived on the north side of the Yangtze River, but the conquering Chinese came and drove them from their lands and homes. Coming to the river and possessing no boats they debated what should be done with the books and in the end they strapped them to their shoulders and swam across, but the water ran so swiftly and the river was so wide, that the books were washed away and fishes swallowed them.
This was the story. When the British and foreign Bible Society sent the first gospels and these were distributed, the legend grew – the once upon a time lost books had been found, found in a white man’s country, and they told the incomparable story that Jesus loved the Miao [Hmong]. Only the imagination can conceive what this meant to these hillmen, some of whom traveled for days to view the books. [1]

Illiteracy has been one of the tools traditionally used in the marginalization of the Hmong. As they were given a written script for their language - and then received and actual print Bible – many Hmong accepted the Bible as the promised (or Golden) book speaking of the one true creator God. The Hmong quickly received Christianity as their own religion.  As many Hmong have experienced marginalization with the surrounding majority ethnicities and the ruling authorities, Christianity has provided an enhancing identity to their marginalization status, providing dignity and worth in a culture which counts them as lower than a dog. Said a different way, Christianity has provided an alternate way to remain Hmong without losing their unique identity by assimilation with surrounding cultures. [2] Christianity, and a relationship with the Lord Jesus has provided a way to escape the addictions many Hmong have found themselves gripped with, the addiction to their main cash crop, Opium.  Most of all, as the Hmong receive Christ and then receive God’s Word, the Hmong highly prize their physical Bibles as they receive it as the long promised book which they once lost but was promised to be brought back to them from brothers and sisters from over the sea. Numerous sources have estimated hundreds of thousands - perhaps even half a million Hmong turning to Christ.  Yet because of their geographic isolation and persecution from the government, the need for Bibles and Christian material in this great turning to Christ is immense; Biblia Global and its partners are working to meet the need, and you can help by praying for our work and giving towards Hmong Bibles through our Bibles for Asia Project.

Next week, Part 3: The Recent Hmong Revival


[1] Tapp, Nicholas. “The Impact of Missionary Christianity Upon Marginalized Ethnic Minorities: The Case of the Hmong”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. XX, No. 1, 1989, 77 retold from William Hudspeth, in his book Stone Gateway and the Flowery Miao

[2] Ibid, 89.