The Hezhe live in the extreme northeast of China. More than 12,000 are also located across the border in Siberia, where they are known as Nanai. The Hezhe in China live at the juncture of the Heilong, Wusali, and Songhua rivers in Heilongjiang Province. Hezhe history dates to the Sushen, a tribe who occupied the region as far back as 700 BC. They are the third smallest of China’s 55 official minority groups.
Hezhe teach their children history and culture by singing rhymed ballads and telling folk tales. During the summer months the Hezhe’s beautiful homeland is flush with an abundance of deer, fish, bear, and pheasants. During the bleak winters, temperatures plummet to as low as 40 degrees below zero. In the past the Hezhe were known as the “Fish Skin Tatars.” Their coats, trousers, and even shoes were made of fish skin.
For centuries the Hezhe have worshiped the spirits of the sky, earth, sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, and trees. In the late 1960’s shamans were still active among the Hezhe, but since that time the traditional beliefs of the Hezhe have been rapidly eroded by atheism and secularism.
Until recently, the Hezhe in China had never had a known church in their midst. In the late 1990’s, Chinese believers from nearby conducted outreach efforts to the Hezhe, and more than 60 believed and were baptized. Today there are a few house fellowships, but there are no organized Hezhe churches or trained church leaders available to pastor the flock.