TATARS IN CHINA(Xinjiang)
The Tatars are group more associated with Russia than with China. A small number of them live in Xinjiang, mainly in Yili, Tacheng, Aletai, Urumqi and other cities, and pastoral areas in Qitai and Jimusa'r counties in Changji Prefecture in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. " Most are descendants of Tatar peasants, traders, religious figures and intellectuals that escaped persecution by Russians in Central Asia. Tatar" is the name they call themselves. Chinese regard them as a “white race” even though their cultural roots are more similar to Mongols and Turks than Europeans. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]
Tatars often live in mixed communities with Uighurs and Kazakhs. Many make their living as traders. Business has been the main traditional economic activity of the Tatars. Agriculture, animal husbandry and handicrafts have been secondary occupations. Some Tatars are also engaged in work related to culture, education, science and technology. Some are pastorialists who live part of the year in tents.
Most Tatars are Muslims and Islam shapes many aspects of their lives and customs. They practice ground burials and celebrate Muslim holidays. They eat distinctive pastries and cakes as well as cheese, rice, pumpkins, meat and dried apricots. They drink alcoholic drinks made of honey and wild grapes. One of the central events of their wedding ceremonies is the drinking of sugar water by the bride and groom. They are also known for their excellent dancing and singing. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]
The Tatar have a long history but are relative latecomers to China. In the middle of the 15th century, they established Kashan Kingdom in the regions of the Volga and the Kama River, which was governed by Mongol Jinzhang Kingdom in the past. Most of those in China are descendants of Tatars that came to Xinjiang in the middle of the 19th century to engage in business, find work and escape persecution.
The Tatar language belongs to the west Xiong language branch of Turkic language group of the Altai family of languages. It was written for a long time in Arabic and then with the Roman alphabet. In China, most speak Chinese, Uyghur or Kazakh or varying degrees of all three. because of their long-term mixing with the Uyghur and Kazakh ethnic groups, the language and written words of these two groups has gradually been applied by the Tatars in their social communication.
Tatars population in China: 0.0003 percent of the total population; 3,556 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 4,895 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 4,873 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]
Chinese Tatar History
The history of the Tatars in China dates from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when the Tatar tribe was ruled by the nomadic Turkic Khanate in northern China. As this state fell into decline, the Tatars grew in strength, and their name was used to refer to several tribes in the north after the Tang Dynasty. Their homeland was later annexed by Mongols, and when the Mongols pushed west, many Central Asians and Europeans called them Tatars. In the mid-13th century, Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, established the Golden Horde Khanate in Central Asia. It began to decline in the 15th century, and the Kashan Khanate began to rise on the middle reaches of the Volga River and in areas along the Kama River. The rulers of the Kashan Khanate, to boast their strength, began calling themselves Tatars, the sons of the Mongols. Tatar gradually became the recognised name for the inhabitants of Kashan Khanate. Today's Tatar ethnic group was formed through a mixture of the Baojiaer people, Kipchacks and Mongolians over a long period. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
In the 19th century, conditioned worsened for the Tatars in Tsarist Russia. Most of the Tatars' land along the Volga and Kama was seized, and the inhabitants forced to flee. Some went south to Central Asia and then on to southern Xinjiang. In the late 19th century, Tsarist Russia expanded into Xinjiang, and won trade privileges there. For a time, Russian merchants traveled to Xinjiang, and were followed by Tatar merchants from Kashan. Many stayed in Xinjiang to trade. During this period, many Tatar intellectuals and clerics moved to Xinjiang. Up to the early 20th century, a continuous stream of Tatars came to Xinjiang from Russia. The Tatar language belongs to the Turkic language family of the Altaic language system along with the languages of the Uzbeks, Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz and other people of Central Asia. This allowed the Tatars to mix freely in Xinjiang with the Uyghurs and the Kazakhs. *|*
Xinjiang’s Tatar people mainly migrated from areas of Kashan, Shemlech and Zaysan in Russia in the 19th century when when the Russian feudal landlords drove them from their land and the 1920s and 1930s when they were persecuted under Stalin. Some of them crossed the lower reaches of the Volga River, Siberia and Kazakhstan, and came to Xinjiang. Tatar people living in places such as Burqin and Haba River are the descendants of these people. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian Tsarist pursued commercial and political goals in Xinjiang and Central Asia. During and after the First World War, quite a few Tatar people migrated to Xinjiang, and most of them were small or medium business people, peasants and handicraftsmen. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
According to the Marxist Chinese view of history: “In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some wealthy Tatar merchants netted great profits and forced smaller traders to the brink of bankruptcy. Of the few Tatars engaged in animal husbandry, most were poor herdsmen who had few animals and no pastures. As a result of exploitation by Tatar and Kazak feudal masters, some poor Tatar herdsmen were forced to become hired hands, whose families suffered great hardship, and others were taken on by feudal masters as "adopted sons," who had to work as hired herdsmen but without pay. In addition, there were also a smaller minority of Tatars engaged in handicrafts, chiefly in leather-making, tailoring and embroidery. These trades were carried out as household sidelines. *|*
“Since 1949, the Tatar people have enjoyed equal political rights in Xinjiang, where many ethnic groups live in tightly-knit communities. They have representatives on the National People's Congress and various tiers of regional and local government. A series of social reforms has extricated the poor Tatar farmers from feudal exploitation and oppression. Some have now become industrial workers. *|*
“The Tatars' educational development began in the late 19th century when Tatar clerics opened schools in several areas. Besides the Koran, Islamic history and Islamic law, these schools taught arithmetic and Chinese language. The Ining Tatar School, set up in 1942, was one of the earliest modern schools for ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. It played an active role in reforming the old religious education and teaching science and culture. Many Tatar intellectuals earlier this century worked hard to set up and run schools. Some went deep into rural areas, and played a big part in establishing Xinjiang's educational cause. Their efforts benefited not only the Tatars, but also the Uygur, Huis, Kazaks, Xibes and Uzbeks.” *|*
Chinese Tatar Marriage Customs, Taboos and Festivals
Most of Tatars in cities belong to small monogamous families. Sons and daughters live apart from their parents after they get married, but they still support their parents until they die, showing great respect for their elders. Intermarriages between Tatars and other ethnic groups believing in Islam are quite common. Marriages between cousins occurs but is uncommon. A wedding is held at the bride's home in accordance with religious rules. The newlyweds must drink sugar water from the same cup, symbolizing a long sweet life together. Usually, the groom must live for some time at his parents-in-law's home, and in some families, and sometimes can not go to his own home until the first child is born. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
Tatar ethnic group abstain from pigs and pork. They are forbidden to eat donkey, dog, mule and animals or beasts that die a natural death. The blood of any animal is forbidden to eat. It is forbidden to bring pork into an Islamic cafeteria. It is forbidden to wash clothes near water channel, ponds, well or dams. It is not allowed to swim or bath in dams. When living together, it is forbidden to relieve the bowels in the room. When talking with others or having dinner, it is not allowed to blow nose, spit, yawn or fart. It is not allowed to make fun of women or touch any parts of the body. In public places, it is not allowed to bare the upper part of the body, or visit a Tatar house wearing only sleeveless sweater and short pants. It is forbidden to relieve the bowels, spit or pour used water near houses, sources of water, mosques and graveyards. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Tatar festivals like Ramadan and Corban are in accordance with Islam and held according to the Muslim calendar. Tatar people also celebrate Saban Festival, their own traditional festival. The Saban Festival (also called Plough Head Festival) is usually held in spring in places with beautiful scenery.
At festivals, the Tatars often hold mass dancing contests. "The Plough Head Festival" every spring is an annual grand gathering, held usually at beautiful scenic spots, and includes such collective games as singing, dancing, wrestling, horse racing and tug-of-war. The game they enjoy most is the "jumping walk" contest. All contestants hold an egg on a spoon in their mouths. The first to reach the finishing line without dropping the egg is the winner. Tatar drama began developing earlier than those of most other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
Tatar Naming and Baby Ceremonies
Babies receive a formal religious blessing three days after birth, and their names are usually taken from the Islamic classics. A child usually takes the surname of father or grandfather. The cradle rites are held seven weeks later, with the cradle and clothes provided by a grandmother. Forty days after the child's birth, he or she is bathed in water fetched from 40 places, a custom intended to bring about healthy growth. When a person dies, the body is shrouded with white cloth in conformity with Islamic practice. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
Among the traditional Tatar life cycle ceremonies, two of the most important ones are the cradle ceremony and 40 water ceremony. The Tatars like most peoples sees a birth of a baby as a special happy event for family, relatives and neighbors. In addition to giving congratulations and presents, a series of ceremonial activities are held. For example, on the third day after the baby is born, the naming ceremony is held. The traditional method is to let a Muslim imam or teacher help choose a Muslim name from the Islamic scripture as the given name. When the child grows up, the father's name is added and a name often incorporating the name of the tribe or birthplace of child makes up the individual name. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
On the seventh day after a baby is born, the cradle ceremony is held. The baby's maternal grandfather prepares a baby cradle in advance, and presents it together with clothing and toys to his grandson or granddaughter. On the 40th day, the 40 water ceremony is held. On this day, the parents and family members of the baby collect and carry clean clear water from 40 different places (including the home of neighbors, relatives and friends) and pour the water into a bathtub, where the baby is bathed. At the same time guests that come to express congratulations are entertained with rich grabbed rice and stewed mutton. The Tatars believe that after the child has a bath with the water from all directions, he or she will have the ability to adapt to all kinds of environments and grow up healthily. ~
Chinese Tatar Houses
Most Tatars in cities live in thick-walled flat-roofed mud houses equipped with flues for heating. They like to hang tapestry inside their homes, which are usually very clean and tidy. Courtyards planted with flowers and trees have the appearance of small gardens. The Tatars in pastoral areas have adapted to a nomadic life, and live in tents. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
The courtyards are independent from each other. The yards are like gardens with fruit trees, plants and flowers, and the environment is tranquil. The walls of the houses are thick in order to install hot walls (a wall with flues for space heating) or iron sheet fireplace for heating and getting warm in winter. The houses are usually spacy and luminous. Besides the bedroom, there are also living room, kitchen, storeroom and other rooms. The parents live with their children. The walls are usually painted with some soft colors and suspended with wall carpets. There are also carpets on the floor. The furniture is usually designed with European style with antique and elegant look. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Chinese Tatar Food
Tatar cuisine, popular in Xinjiang, includes various kinds of pastries. At festivals, they serve pastries called "Gubaidiai" and "Yitebailixi," the former being cured with cheese, dried apricots and rice, and the latter with pumpkin, meat and rice. Both kinds have crisp crusts and soft contents. Tatar drinks include beer-like "keerxima," made of fermented honey, and "Kesaile" wine brewed from wild grapes. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
Tatar people eat three meals a day, among which the lunch is the main meal of the day. Flour, meat and dairy are indispensable in their daily diet. They occasionally eat rice, but usually rice is prepared and made into some special foods. Tatar women are famous for being excellent cooks, especially with various kinds of pastries. For example, Gubaidiai, which has crusted shells and soft inside, is made by baking wheat flour, rice, cheese, eggs, cream and raisin with dried apricot slices. Rang (a kind of crusty pancake) is made from eggs, cream, granulated sugar, fresh milk, cacao powder, soda and wheat flour. Among the most common dishes are Katelite (rice made of beef, potato, eggs, salt and pepper), Rang and fried noodle, there are also Palamaxi (a kind of pie), dumplings, fried pancake (with potatoes) and other kinds of foods. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Chinese Tatar Clothes and Embroidery
The clothes of the Tatars are unique. Traditionally, men and women, old and young have worn white embroidery shirts with wide sleeves, vertical collar and buttons down the front. The collar, sleeves and breast part of the shirts are embroidered with the crosses, diamonds and other geometric patterns. Outside the white shirt, they wear a short black vest that extends down to the waist. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
Men like wearing white shirts with embroidered images of flowers, with black waistcoat or black long gown with buttons down the front, and the trousers are also black. The cap is either black or white with embroidered flowers. In winter, Tatar men sometimes wear a kind of blue rolled-hair leather hat that is made of sheepskin, short-crotch tight black trousers, high leather boots, and a fur coat with a leather belt around the waist.
Tatar women wear small colored caps studded with beads, and a large piece of kerchief is hooded. Tatars women generally wear the simple but elegant white, yellow, purple and red dresses. They also like wearing long skirts inlaid with semi-crape lace, and wear "kayika" multicolored leather shoes or long-leg boots. Their small traditional embroidered hat is inlaid with a lot of colored pearls. They often wear this hat with a colored transparent gauze kerchief and matching earrings, necklaces, brooches, bracelets, rings and other decorations made of gold, silver, pearl, jade and other materials. ~
Tatar women are famous for their embroidery. Their skillful hands embroider patterns that are not only pleasing to both the eye and the mind on all kinds of clothing and body decorations, they also apply colorful patterns to pillows, bed sheets, bedspreads, dado, tablecloths, curtains and other household items. Tatar wedding dresses are often like works of art, featuring elaborate patterns and flowers that show off talent and skill of their makers. Traditionally, a young woman’s marriageability was measured in part on her embroidery skill. ~
Chinese Tatar Music and Dance
The cultural life of the Tatars is rich and colorful. Their music has a lively rhythm, and several musical instruments are used, including the "Kunie" (a wooden flute), the "Kebisi" (a kind of harmonica), a two-stringed violin, Muxiao (a vertical wooden flute), accordion, mandolin, heptachord and violin. In Tatar folk dances, the hero is usually performed by women. Tatar dances are lively and cheerful. Men use many leg movements, such as squatting, kicking and leaping. Women move their waists and arms more. Their dance styles incorporate features of the Uygur, Russian and Uzbek dances, but also have their own unique characteristics. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
Tatar people enjoy singing and dancing. In Xinjiang, whenever there are celebrations or weddings, Tatar people play the music, sing the folk songs and perform the dances with rich ethnic characteristics. Tatar people have various kinds of folk songs, expressing rich emotions and love between young men and women. Their music is lively and cheerful with strong ethnic features and some features of Central Asia. They also have various musical instruments. By the early 1930s, a Tatar drama troupe had been set up and began giving performances in Ining, Tacheng and Urumqi.[Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Tatar Architecture and Art
Tatars are famous their colored architecture art and carving that are applied to a wide variety of buildings, especially mosques and other religious structures. Doors, crossbeams, pillars, wood ceilings and other architectural features are decorated. Single-line horizontal painting usually have a blue bottom but otherwise use all kinds of colors, which often contrast sharply but are still bright and attractive. The patterns of mainly floral and geometrical in nature, with various plant and flower designs and symmetrical, interlocking, parallel and circular designs. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
Most doors, doorframes and window leafs at Tatar mosques have exquisite carving. The styles of carving are mostly two or four connected geometrical patterns, and the structure is rigorous and complex. The painted flowers are mostly white and red. Under the bottom foil of sky blue and light green, they look dazzling. Designs of joined flowers and plants inlaid on the doors, windows, roof beams, pillars and ceilings are connected with the natural color of wood strips. ~
Nanliang Mosque in Urumqi, Xinjiang is a good example of the architectural style of the Tatars. Its unique arched door, main room, arched roof, moon watching building and surrounding railings have outstanding individual characteristics that are arranged cleverly and in an integral whole. The indoor decorative art includes exquisite carvings and colored art on the roof beams, pillars, doors, windows and ceiling. Especially beautiful are the "Maihelafu" (shrine) in the main hall of the mosque and the wooden stair case and sermon podium ("Mingbair") that is used by the imam to teach scripture. ~
Tatar Sports and Entertainment
The Tatars are regarded as clever, intelligent, bold, unconstrained and optimistic. They are very good in all kinds of interesting entertainments and competing sports activities. These include music, songs, dances, small-scale dramas, wrestling, horse racing, climbing smooth poles and jumping and running races. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
The climbing of smooth poles is a kind of game with strong entertainment value. Several wood poles of the same height are erected in an arena. All the poles are is slathered with diluted soap to make them slippery. Contestants try to climb the poles, with the winners being the first ones to reach the top. The participants are mostly young men, who do their best amid loud cheers of the spectators. Because the poles are so smooth and slippery they are almost impossible to climb. Hard falls are greeted with uproarious laughter from those watching.
Jumping and running racing is a test of stamina, cleverness and willpower. Contestants run holding a soupspoon in their mouth with an egg placed on it. The winner is the person who reaches the finish line first without his egg falling to the ground is the winner. Men and women, old and young all can participate in it. Climbing smooth poles and jumping and running racing are generally held together with songs, dances, horse racing, wrestling and other activities at festivals.
Image Sources: Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html
Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books,websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015