KAZAKHS IN CHINA: HISTORY AND CULTURE

KAZAKHS IN CHINA


Kazakh herder

Kazakhs (also spelled Kazak or Khazak) have traditionally been excellent horsemen and they generally have stuck to their nomadic ways more than the other minorities in Western China and more than Kazakhs in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh have traditionally made their living from livestock raising and animal husbandry. Only small numbers of them settled down and are engaged in agricultural production, in part because where they lived was not very well suited for agriculture. Also known as Hasake and Qazaqs and closely related to Kyrgyz, Kazakhs are regarded by the Chinese as being industrious, brave, warm and hospitable and good at singing and dancing. Near the Kazakh border are people with blond hair, green eyes and Asian features. Some are Kazakhs. Most are Uyghurs.

A mix of nomadic Mongol and Turkic tribes, the Kazakhs moved into Central Asia in the 13th century and emerged as an ethnic group in the 15th century. The Kazakhs are regarded as a Turkic people although they have links to Genghis Khan and the Mongols. Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Mongolians all have similar facial features. All have traditionally been nomads. Although few Kazakhs are nomads anymore they still regard themselves as nomads at heart. Kazakhs in Kazakhstan are the most Russified major group in Central Asia due their close contacts with Russians over a long period.

Most Kazakhs are Muslims. They practice ground burials and celebrate Muslim holidays but have some non-Muslim practices as well. During memorial services Kazakhs recite Muslim prayers and feast on lamb and horse. They practice bonfire weddings. Because of their traditional nomadic ways they have raised relatively few mosques. [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]

Websites and Sources: Xinjiang Wikipedia Article Wikipedia Xinjiang Photos Synaptic Synaptic ; Maps of Xinjiang: chinamaps.org; Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; People’s Daily (government source) peopledaily.com.cn

Kazakh Population and Where They Live

There are about 1.5 million Kazakhs in China, compared to 10 million in Kazakhstan. They make up about 13 percent of the all the Kazakhs in the world. Kazakhs made up about 9 percent of the population of Xinjiang in the 1940s and only 7 percent today. They live mostly in the north and northwest of Xinjiang. About 90 percent are Kazahks scattered across Xinjiang. Most live in three autonomous regions — Ili, Mori and Burqin — and in villages around Urumqi. The area around the Tien Sien mountains is regarded as their homeland. A few live in Gansu and Qinghai. Important Kazakh tribes in China include the Kereoy, Naiman, Kezai, Alban and Suwan.


Where the Kazakhs live in northwest China

Kazakhs are the 18th largest ethnic group and the 17th largest minority out of 56 in China. They numbered 1,562,518 in 2020 and made up 0.11 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census. Kazakh populations in China in the past: 0.1097 percent of the total population; 1,462,588 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 1,251,023 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 1,111,718 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 509,375 were counted in 1953; 491,637 were counted in 1964; and 878,570 were, in 1982.

The Kazakhs live mainly in Altay Prefecture, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, and Mulei and Balikun Autonomous counties in Yili, the northern part of Xinjiang. A small number of them are found in Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai, and the Aksay Kazakh autonomous county in Akesai, Gansu province.[Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Origin of the Kazakh

The Kazakh have a long history. The Chinese regard them as descendants of Wusun people and Turkic people in ancient times that were among the descendants of the Qidan (Khitan) people that migrated to western China in the 12th century. Some consider them a Mongolian tribe that rose in the 13th century. They were part of nomadic tribes that spoke Turkic languages and separated themselves from the Uzbek Kingdom and migrated to the east in the 15th century. Hailing from the Altai Mountains, Tianshan, Ili Valley and Lake Issyk Kul in the northwestern part of China and Central Asia, Kazakhs were one of the early pioneers and dealers of the “Silk Road”. Kazakh" means "separators" or "brave and free people".

There are many records on the origin of the Kazakh ethnic minority in Chinese history. In the more than 500 years since Zhang Qian of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 25) went as a special envoy to Wusun in 119 B.C., the inhabitants of the Ili River valley and round the Issyk Kul were mainly Wusun people and part of the Saizhong and Yueshi ethnic people, the forefathers of the Kazakhs. As early as the reign of Emperor Wu Di (140-88 B.C.) of the Western Han Dynasty, Wusun established tributary relations of alliance with the Han court through the marriage of Xijun and Xieyou princesses and woman official Feng Liao with the Wusun King of Kunmo and senior generals. In 60 B.C. the government of the Han Dynasty established Duhufu (local government with the highest authority) in West China, aiming to form an alliance with Usun and stand against the Huns together. Therefore the vast area from the east and south of Lake balkhash to the Pamirs were incorporated into China’s territory." [Source: China.org |]

In the mid-sixth century, the Turkomans founded a Turkic khanate in the Altay Mountains. As a result, they mixed with the Wusun people, and the forefathers of the Kazakhs later mixed with the nomadic or semi-nomadic Uyghurs, Geluolus, Qidans (Khitans), Kelies, Naimans and Mongols of the Kipchak and Jagatai khanates. The fact that some of the Kazakh tribes still retained the names of Wusun, Kelie and Naiman into later centuries sufficiently proves that the Kazakh ethnic minority is an old ethnic group in China. |

History of the Kazakhs in China


Kazakh display at a Chinese museum

In the early 13th century, as Genghis Khan marched westward, the Wusun, Kelie and Naiman tribes had to move likewise. Part of the Kipchak, Jagatai and Wuokuotai khanates of the Mongol Empire were Kazakh pastures. In the 1460s, some of the herdsmen in the lower reaches of the Syr-Darya, under the leadership of Jilai and Zanibek, returned to the Chuhe River valley south of Lake Balkhash. As they went eastward to escape the rule of the Ozbek Khanate, they were named "Kazak," meaning "refugees" or "runaways." They then mixed with southward-moving Ozbeks and the settled Mongols of the Jagatai Khanate. As the population grew, they extended their pastures to northwest of Lake Balkhash, the Chu River valley and to Tashkent, Andizan and Samarkand in Central Asia, gradually evolving into the Kazakh ethnic group. |

From the mid-18th century, Tsarist Russia began to invade Central Asia and eat up Kazakh grasslands and areas east and south of Lake Balkhash — part of China's territory. After the mid-19th century, owing to aggression by the Tsar, the Middle and Little hordes and the western branch of the Great Horde were cut off from China. Russian Cossacks infiltrated the area, driving the Kazakhs into the deserts where men and animals could hardly survive. From 1864 to 1883, the Tsarist government compelled the Qing court to sign a number of unequal treaties, forcing the principle of "people go with the land" on the "Tacheng Protocol on the Delimitation of Sino-Russian Boundary." This met with strong opposition from the local minority nationalities. Many Mongolians, Kazakhs and Kirgiz migrated back to Chinese-controlled territory. Twelve Kazakh Kelie clans grazing near Zhaysang Lake moved their animals south of the Altay Mountains in 1864. More than 3,000 families of the Kazakh Heizai clan moved to Ili and Bortala in 1883. Many others followed suit after the delimitation of the border. |

The Ili Uprising during the Revolution of 1911 overthrew Qing rule in Xinjiang. However, it did not shake the foundation of feudal system, as warlords Yang Zengxin, Jin Shuren and Sheng Shicai gained control of the region. Over 200,000 Kazakhs fled to China from Russia after an uprising over the conscription of young men into forced labor in 1916. More fled during the Bolshevik Revolution and the period of forced collectivization in the Soviet Union.

The Chinese Communist Party began to carry out revolutionary activities among the Kazakhs in 1933. Fearful that their feudal privileges might be encroached upon, the feudal rulers within the ethnic group boycotted the establishment of schools and the development of farming, and other economic and cultural undertakings. Under warlord Sheng Shicai's rule, some Kazakhs had to flee their homes, and others, because of threats and cheating by chieftains, moved to Gansu and Qinghai provinces from 1936 to 1939.

left In Gansu and Qinghai the Kazakhs were plundered and massacred by warlord Ma Bufang. Ma also sowed dissension among the Kazakhs, Mongolians and Tibetans, and instigated them to fight each other. As a result, the Kazakhs launched an uprising in Golmud in 1939. Those in Gansu and Qinghai had to lead a vagrant life until China’s national liberation in 1949. |

A revolution against Kuomintang rule took place in Ili, Tacheng and Altay in 1944. Kazakhs, who constituted the majority, and the Uyghurs of Nilka County formed three armed guerrilla units to start it. During the period of the Liberation War in the later 1940s, the Kuomintang tore to shreds the "Eleven Articles on Peace" it had signed with the revolutionary government of the three districts. It instigated Usman, a Kazakh political turncoat, to start an armed uprising to smash the revolution. He attacked Altay twice, in October of 1946 and in September of 1947, looting and burning the houses of the local people. The Kazakhs and people of other ethnic groups beat him off in the end. |

The Kazakhs resisted attempts to by the Communists to make them live on sheep-raising communes. About 60,000 Kazakhs reportedly fled to the Soviet Union in 1962 and other crossed the border in India and Pakistan or were granted political asylum in Turkey. Torgass Pass between Xinjiang, China and Soviet Kazakstan was closed in 1971 and not reopened until 1983.

Kazakh Tribes in China

All Kazakhs belonged to definite clans before 1949. They and their area were divided into three hordes (ordas): the Great Horde, Middle Horde and Little Horde — or the Right, Left and Western branches as the Qing government documents referred to them. The Middle Horde was the most powerful, with the largest number of people and most complete clan lineage. The Kazakhs in China mostly belonged to the Great and Middle Hordes. [Source: China.org |]

The clans were formally blood groups of different sizes. The smallest productive organization and nomadic community within the clan was the "Awul," people with the same grandfather or father; sometimes they included people without any blood ties, mostly dependent poor herdsmen from without. So, there was a sharp contrast of wealth in the "Awul" of three, five, a dozen or more families. Owing to wars, migration or other causes, such internal blood relations became very loose. |

The ruling group was composed of the nobility, tribal chiefs, herd owners and "Bis." The Bis generally came from a rich herdsman's family, were well-versed in the laws, customs and eloquence, and were generally regarded as qualified mediators. The ethnic group did not have any written law, but each clan had its own common law which protected private property, the privileges of the tribal chiefs, and tribal solidarity and unity. Whenever there were disputes over property, marriage or other matters, the "Bi" mediated and handled them in accordance with the clan law, generally practicing "punishment by nine," i.e., compensation of nine head of animals paid by the loser to the winner of the lawsuit. According to the Communist Chinese government: “The Kazakh clan organization was a combination of the feudal system of exploitation and the clan patriarchy. The ruling class plundered the people economically and enjoyed political privileges. The majority of the poor herdsmen were deprived of all rights whatsoever.” |

Kazakh Language


Kazakh Arabic script

The Kazakh language belongs to the Northwest or Kipchak Group of Turkish languages of the Ural-Altaic Family. Together with Karalpak and Nogay it forms the Kipachak-Noay Subgroup of the Kipachak languages. Kazakh has three dialects—Western, Northeastern and Southern. Kazakh has an Arabic script that has been used at least since the 13th century. As the Kazakhs live in mixed communities with the Han Chinese, Uyghurs and Mongolians, the Kazakhs have assimilated many words from these languages. Their spoken language has some Russian loan words too.

Mongolian, Kyrgyz, Uyghur, Manchu, Uigur, Turkish and other Altaic, Tungusic and Turkic languages are Altaic languages in the Ural-Altaic family of languages. Some linguists believe they are related. Other believe they share similarities because of the borrowing of words by traditionally nomadic peoples. Ural-Altaic languages include Finnish, Korean and Hungarian.

The languages of the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Uyghurs are so similar that they can easily communicate with each other and often eat and party together when they live near one another. These languages are difficult to learn and speak. Travel writer Tim Severin wrote they sound “like two cats coughing and spitting at each other until one finally throws up..” Some of the more guttural sounds sound like someone is having difficulty breathing.

The Kazakh written language is based on the Arabic alphabet, which is still in use, but a new Latinized written form was evolved after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In the past, Kazakhs used the Orkhon and Uyghur scripts. In the early 13th century, under Genghis Khan, the Mongols created a vertical script based on the Uyghur script, which was also adopted by many Turkic-speaking peoples and is related to the alphabets of Western Asia. It looks like Arabic written at a slant. The source of the Uyghur alphabets was the alphabet of the Sogdians, a Persian people centered around Samarkand in the A.D. 6th century. After the introduction of Islam, which mostly took place in the 19th century, they adopted the alphabetic writing based on Arabic letters. In 1959, a new writing system was introduced, based on Latin letters, which was not widely embraced. In 1982, the previous writing system was re-adopted, and the new characters were kept and used as phonetic symbols.

The Kazakh have employed a naming system in which father's and son's names are linked. This system has traditionally appeared at the transition period from matrilineal clan system to patrilineal clan system.

Kazakh Religion and Festivals


Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims. They are regarded as only lukewarm Muslims. Islam has never been that important with the nomadic people and still isn't. This is due to their nomadic lifestyle, animist traditions, distance from the Muslim world, close contacts with Russians and Chinese and the suppression of Islam under Stalin and the Chinese Communists. Scholars have said the lack of strong Islamic sentiments is because of the Kazakh code of honor and law—the adat— which was most practical for the steppe than Islamic sharia law.

Many Kazakhs did not covert to Islam until the 19th century and even after the did the maintained their traditional non-Muslim beliefs. Many Kazakhs like to drink alcohol. Traditionally few Kazakh women covered their faces and many don’t even cover their hair. Muslim holidays are their main festivals. Because of their traditional nomadic ways they have raised relatively few mosques. But according to the atheist Chinese government: “Islam exercises a great influence upon their social life in all aspects. Their religious burdens used to be heavy. They had to deliver religious food grain and animal taxes in accordance with Islamic rules. If they wanted to invite mullahs for prayers on occasions of festivals, wedding, burial ceremonies or illnesses, they had to present given amounts of money or property.” [Source: China.org |]

The Kazakhs' festivals and ceremonies are related to religion. The Corban and Id El-fitr festivals are occasions for feasts of mutton and mutual greetings. The Nawuruz Festival, which has Persian origins, in the first month of the lunar calendar is a grand occasion to say good-bye to the old, usher in the new, and hope for a better year in stockbreeding. Families gather and enjoy "kuji," a food made of mutton, milk dough, barley, wheat and other delicacies. During festivals, holidays and festive occasions, various games and activities are held, such as snatching sheep, horse racing and chasing girls. The Kazakhs also give feasts when there are births, engagements or weddings. |

Kazakh Life in China

Today, many Kazakhs live in apartments but use yurts for ceremonies. Others live in stone or mud-brick houses — with carpets on the floor, kilims on the walls, blackened by soot from the wood strove — in the winter and live in yurts in the summer. The roofs of the yurts of wealthy Kazakhs are often elaborately embroidered. To earn money nomadic Kazakhs sell mutton, lamb, wool and sheepskin from their sheep. Chinese merchants provide them with clothes, consumer items, sweet and particularly alcohol.

The staples of the Kazak diet and the diet of most minorities in Xinjiang are boiled mutton, flat crusty bread called nan and tea mixed with sheep or horse milk. Mutton is often eaten in big chunks by hand. They also consume yogurt, milk dough, milk skin, cheese, butter and fermented horse’s milk. Hard bread is dipped into tea with goat's milk. to make it edible.

Kazakhs raise sheep, horses and cattle. Animals are typically slaughtered in the fall. The meat is preserved through curing and smoking. Horse meat sausage is particularly valued because it keeps a long time without spoiling.

There are few roads on the vast grasslands of the steppe and horses are still the ideal way to get around. The Kazakhs like their freedom and elbowroom and often yurts are set up miles away from their nearest neighbors. Some Kazahks use camels to transport their possessions. Kazak schoolchildren sometimes attend outside school rooms set up in pastures by teachers who arrive on saddled steers.

Kakakhs have traditionally been organized into clans that in turn were organized into tribes. The five major Kazakh tribes in China are the Kereit, Naiman, Kezai, Alban and Suwan. Marriages have traditionally been arranged and were set with the payments of bride price of, in some cases, a hundred animals or more.

Many Kazakhs come to the sand Theary Clinic in Turban, where they are buried up to their head in hot sand as a treatment for rheumatism.



Kazakh Family Marriage and Weddings in China

Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims. Their marriage and wedding customs have traditionally been in accord with by Islamic law and custom. There were strict taboos prevented marriages to relatives going back seven generations. Breaking of this taboo was traditionally a very serious matter, resulting in banishment from a clan or even death. The first son was expected to get married first, followed by second son and so.

Marriages to Kazakhs of relatively equal status outside clan restriction were ideal. Sometimes marriages to other ethnic groups occurred, particularly between Kazakhs men and Turkic-speaking women. Marriages between Kazakh men and non-Muslim women were discouraged. Marriages between Kazakh women and non-Muslim men were forbidden According to the Chinese Marxist viewpoint: “The Kazakh family and marriage in history fully showed the characteristics of the patriarchal feudal system. The male patriarch enjoyed absolute authority at home; the wife was subordinate to the husband, and the children to the father. The women had no right to property. The marriage of the children and the distribution of property were all decided by the patriarch. When the man came of age and got married he received some property from his parents and began to live independently in his own yurt. Only the youngest brother eventually stayed with the family. Herdsmen with close blood relations formed an "Awul" (a nomadic clan). Rich herd owners or venerated elders were considered the "Awulbas" (chiefs of the community). [Source: China.org |]

“The Kazakh people usually practiced monogamy, but in the old society, polygamy was quite common among the feudal lords and tribal chiefs, in accordance with their Islamic faith. The feudal mercenary marriage system deprived young men and women of their independence in matrimonial affairs and high bride prices were charged. Hence richer people married up to four wives each and poor herdsmen were unable economically to establish a family. Among the latter, a system of "barter marriage" was practiced. Two families, for example, could exchange their daughters as each other's daughter-in-law without asking for betrothal gifts. This often gave rise to a large disparity in age of the matrimonial partners, let alone mutual affection. |

The marriage and wedding process of the Kazakhs can be very complicated with most of the action taking place at the bride’s home, ideally four times. First, the man proposes, when his parents or a go-between bring gifts to the home of the female. If the female’s family agrees, they accept the gifts, entertain the messenger and agree on a date of engagement. Second is the engagement, the most important ceremony of the wedding, representing the life-long bonds between the bride and groom. Activities include sending gifts, killing sheep and stamping over water. Third, sending betrothal gifts prepared by the female party for marriage. The numbers of clothes, skirts, quilts and towels should be odd numbers. And finally, forth, getting married. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Two ceremonies held in the home of the groom. One is gifts showing. The male part should choose an auspicious day to show to the public what he has prepared for the bride. The second one is going to the bride's home to escort her back to the wedding and unveil the wedding veil. The scales of the ceremonies vary, but in each ceremony, there are many entertainment activities held, such as banquets, singing and dancing. \=/

Kazakh Food and Drink

The staples of the Kazakh diet are boiled mutton, round, flat crusty bread called nan and tea mixed with sheep or horse milk. Mutton is often eaten in big chunks by hand. They also consume yogurt, milk dough, milk skin, cheese, butter and fermented horse’s milk. Hard bread is dipped into tea with goat's milk. to make it edible. Kazakh boiled mutton tastes pretty much the same as Mongolian boiled mutton.

Horse penis and sheep head are delicacies. Honored guest are offered a specially prepared the sheep head. Eating sheep’s head has a long history in Kazakhstan. It is often served at special meals, with the venerated guest or and older man carving it up. The ears have traditionally gone to children so they listen better. The palate is served to teachers to make them gentle with students.

Chinese Kazakhs mainly live on wheat-based food, beef, mutton, horse meat, cream, butter, dried milk, milk tofu and crisp cheese. Usually they would like to make flour into fried pastry, pancakes, pastry slices and noodles with soup. Many kinds of food are made of meat, butter, milk, rice and flour. Their drinks are mainly milk, ewe’s milk and Manaizi. They especially prefer Manaizi, is a kind of fermented horse milk. Tea enjoys an important position in their daily diet. They mainly consume brick tea and Fucha (a kind of fungus growing tea). Milk tea is made by adding milk into tea. Tea with goat's milk is popular. Kazakhs dip hard bread into to make it edible. [Source: Chinatravel.com]

Kazakhs are big drinkers despite of the Muslim prohibition on alcohol. In Kazakhstan men mostly drink vodka. Straight. Cognac is considered a ladies drink. Kazakhstan makes its own version. Alcohol is regarded as the glue of friendship. Toasts are features of big events and declining a drink is considered rude. An evening is not considered complete until many bottles have been finished. Kazakhs drink Koumiss.

Kazakh Clothes


Kazakh yurts

Traditional Kazakh clothes are closely linked with the nomadic lifestyle and have traditionally been made from woven sheep or camel wool, thin felts, skins and furs. Silk, cotton and other materials were obtained through trade with Central Asia, China and Russia. Horse-riding Kazakh herdsmen have traditionally worn in loose, long-sleeved furs and garments made of animal skins. The garments vary among different localities and tribe.

Nomadic Kazakhs dress in boots and goatskin cloaks. Men often wear fur hats or caps similar to those worn by rural Turks. Women cover their head in the traditional Muslim fashion. Many traditional clothes are similar to those of Mongols, Tatars and other horsemen. The poor have traditionally made clothes from home-woven sheep or camel wool. The rich used finer cloth, often brightly-colored heavy cloth, velvet, or silk. Most Kazakhs, especially urban ones, dress in Western cloths. In rural areas you are sometimes more likely to see traditional clothes, especially among older people. Traditional clothes are often worn as expression of Kazakh pride.

In winter, the men usually wear sheepskin shawls, and some wear overcoats padded with camel hair, with a belt decorated with metal patterns at the waist and a sword hanging at the right side. The trousers are mostly made of sheepskin. Women wear red dresses and in winter they don cotton-padded coats, buttoned down the front. Girls like to sport embroidered cloth leggings bedecked with silver coins and other silver ornaments, which jangle as they walk. Herdsmen in the Altay area wear square caps of baby-lamb skin or fox skin covered with bright-colored brocade, while those in Ili sport round animal-skin caps. Girls used to decorate their flower-patterned hats with owl feathers, which waved in the breeze. All the women wear white-cloth shawls, embroidered with red-and-yellow designs. [Source: China.org]

Kazakh Culture

The Kazakhs, men and women alike, are good horse riders. Young men like wrestling and a game in which horsemen compete for a sheep. There are horsemanship displays on the grasslands during festivals. The young people like to play a "girl-running-after-boy" game. The boys and girls ride their horses to an appointed place; the boys can “flirt with” the girls on the way. However, on the way back, the girls chase the boys and are entitled to whip them if they can as a way of "vengeance." Such merry-making more often than not terminates with love and marriage. [Source: China.org |]


Kazakhs have a rich literary heritage. As there were many illiterates, folk literature handed down orally was quite developed, and includes myths, legends, folk stories, narrative poems, long love poetry, ballads and proverbs, among which, long poetry is especially outstanding. By some reckonongs, there are more than 200 Kazakh long poems. After liberation, ballad singers, or "Akens," made great efforts to collect, study and re-create old verses, tales, proverbs, parables and maxims. Many outstanding Kazakh classic and contemporary works have been published in the Kazakh language. |

Kazakhs are fond of music and are good at singing and dancing. Their music and dance has many unique features but also has many things in common with the music and dance of Mongolia and Central Asia. For Kazakhs the summer has traditionally been the best time for merry-making. They often sing and dance during summer nights on the pastures. Their music and dance is not only enjoyed by Kazakhs, it is enjoyed by Chinese and other ethnic groups. The "Dongbula" is their favorite instrument. The Aken playing and singing festival is held every summer on the open steppe pasture. It features poems and arts as well as music and dance. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Kazakh arts and crafts are also plentiful and colorful. Kazakh women are good at needle work and embroidery. They know how to make yurts, felt products, woolen products, traditional clothes and accessories. Some Kazakh men are skilled at making wooden crafts, silverware and bone artifacts and accessories are made of gold, silver, jade and semi-precious stones.

Kazakh Music and Dance

Kazakhs and good at singing and dancing. Two famous Kazakh proverb go: "Songs and horses are the two wings of the Kazakh people" and "The sound of songs accompanies you from the cradle to the tomb." Kazakh music and dance is not only enjoyed by Kazakhs, it is enjoyed by Chinese and other ethnic groups. The Aken playing and singing festival is held every summer on the open steppe pasture. It is a grand meeting and forum for poems and arts of the Kazakh people. Folk music instruments of the Kazakhs are classified by some into stringed instruments, skin instruments and breath instruments. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

The Dongbula—perhaps the most popular traditional Kazakh instrument—is s string instrument that comes in a variety of forms. Most of them are chiseled from whole piece of pinewood or birch wood, carefully carved and beautifully inlaid. The sound boxes of Dongbula are of two types: one is triangle shape and named "Abayi Dongbula” after a modern poet name of Abayi; the other is ellipse shaped, and is called the "Jiangbu'er D'ongbula" after Jiangbu'er, an Aken among the Kazakh people. The two kinds of Dongbula have different appearances, and the tone quality of each has its own strong points. Most Dongbulas have two strings, and some have three strings. In the old days the strings were made from sheep's intestines. Today most are made of sheep wire wrapped with nylon, with copper materials added. ~

Professional" singers are called Aken."Aken" have traditionally been like minstrels: folk actors that recited poems, epics and myths and played instruments and sing. They are regarded as the keepers, spreaders and creators of folk art. Competition Aken antiphonal singing is a measure of skill and wisdom. During festival events Akens play their own Dongbula, cross-examine each other and sing antiphonally. They try to overtake outdo their rivals, not give up ground, and do their best to show off their talents, hide their shortcomings in their impromptu songs, displaying the command of language, singing talents, manner and even moral character. The singing does not come to an end until one party feel ashamed of his inferiority retires on his own accord. Aken contests are held every year on the summer pastures of the steppe. The participants include famous Aken, representatives from a number of clans and tribes, old seasoned singers and young upstarts. ~

Sun Ye, China Daily: the Kazakh traditional dance Karajurha tells the story of how men ride horses and wrestle and how women sew and children play. This traditional dance has also evolved into an engaging square dance and a morning exercise at schools. “We're used to dancing it whenever there is a wedding or happy get-together," says Ersen Heyzat, from the Altay prefecture of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. He led his group of dance enthusiasts to the Galaxy Awards. He has also designed a set of school exercises based on Karajurha. “When the tribe still lived on the grassland, it was danced while on a horse. Therefore it's the same tempo as the horses prance," he says. “It's easy as long as you know how to shrug, as most moves are in the upper body," says Heyzat. “For the Karajurha square dance, there is nothing you can't learn in a minute and no standard you can't match." “That's the point of square dancing. It's easy."In Usu in Xinjiang, young and old participate in ethnic square dancing every evening in the summer in several plazas around the city. “We don't wear an owl's feather or ultra-long sleeves (the traditional dance clothes) for daily square dancing," Heyzat says. “But the movements still reflect our moods, that we are very happy with our lives." [Source:Sun Ye, China Daily, November 13, 2013]

Kazakh Folk Sports: "Snatching Sheep" and Girls Chasing Guys on Horseback

Horse racing is a traditional entertainment and sports activity that is deeply loved by Kazakhs. Traditionally it has been held at large weddings as the main entertainment event. Once the horse racing ends, the celebration is over. Kazakh horse racing comes in two forms: fine horse racing and galloping horse racing. The fine horse racing is a test of skill, comparing the galloping speed, durability and galloping technique. The participating horses are generally adult horses that are five year old or older. The riders are adults. When racing, the riders have to display outstanding riding skills. They not only need to make the horses gallop steadily, but they must also make animals maintain a graceful, galloping movement. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Kazakh sports and entertainment activities on horseback are generally held on wedding days and festivals. One of the biggest crowd pleasers is the girl chasing a young fellow on horseback event. The event begins when a pair of male and female riders ride bridle to bridle to the appointed point. When going there, the young fellow can amuse and make fun of the girl, even kissing and hugging her. According to custom, no matter what he does the girl can not get angry. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Snatching sheep (Buz kashi) is a fierce team sport played on horseback by Kazakh. Also played by the Kyrgyz and Afghani, it integrates sports and entertainment and is a test of strength, courage and riding skills. Generally held on a flat, open grassland, the sport is often the featured event of a festival or an event such as a large wedding. The equivalent of a ball is a sheep or goat or a sheep or goat stuffed with sand. The object of the game is to escape with the stuffed sheep. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Kazakh Falconry

The Kazakhs have a tradition of teaching tamed falcons and eagles to hunt. Ancient hunters had no guns or other modern hunting tools, so they usually used hunting dogs or tamed falcons to capture animals. The key of falcon hunting is the training and taming the falcons. After hunters captured wild falcons, they put all their energy into carefully feeding and taking care of them. They made leather head covers and blinders for them, and flew them and trained them every day. When fully trained falcons used their sharp claws to capture foxes, rabbits, various birds and small animals—even wolves and Mongolian gazelles. Kazakhs are most famous for hunting with golden eagles, but they have also been known to train northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, saker falcons, and others. The famed eagle hunters are found in western Mongolia, not China or Kazakhstan. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Before taming them, the Kazakhs fed good meat to the falcons, and let them become plump and strong as quickly as possible. But at this time, the fat on the falcon made it relatively weak; and the bird could not become strong until the fat was turned into muscle. To do this the hunters reduced the amount of fat of the falcons. They not only did not feed the birds, but also “washed their stomach.” Then they used hot water to bathe the falcon, and let it sweat all over. In the evening, the falcon was placed on a thick rope that was specially used to tame it. The falcon could not stand steadily, and the hunter used a stick to steadily beat a rope under it. The rope shook unceasingly, and the falcon could not sleep. This was called "torturing the falcon". When the falcon was so tired it couldn’t stand it anymore, it fell to the ground. At this time, the hunter used clean water to wash the falcon's head, and let it drink some tea or salted water. Under these conditions, the falcon became very thin only in a few days, and lose their spirit.~

Chinese-Marxist View of Kazakh Economic Life

According to the Marxist view of the Chinese government: “The Kazakhs have accumulated much experience in stock raising over a long period of history. However, under the feudal system, their production level was very low and, being conservative in technical matters, the nomads made little effort to improve their expertise and depended entirely on the natural growth of the stock. As they had no means to resist natural disasters, great numbers of animals died in snowstorms in winter and spring. Disease also took its toll of the herds. [Source: China.org |]

“Kazakh handicrafts were basically a family undertaking. Blacksmiths and carpenters were not specialized, they were herdsmen with expertise in these fields. The making of buttered tea, milk products and felt, tanning animal skins and tailoring furs were all done by women. Though Kazakh animal husbandry provided wool, hides and skins and livestock, the commodity economy was not developed. In the pastures barter trade was in vogue, with sheep as the standard of the price. The herdsmen exchanged their stock for food grain, tea, cloth, daily utensils and handicrafts. In remote Altay, they bartered a sheep skin for only 100 to 150 grams of tea. |

“A minority of rich Kazakhs in the early 20th century owned thousands of head of cattle, sheep, horses and camels, while the majority of herdsmen kept very little stock and that was for subsistence. Though the pastures were owned by the whole tribe, they were in fact the property of clan chieftains and big herd-owners, the winter pasturelands in particular. As commerce developed in Xinjiang after the 19th century, Kazakh animal husbandry economy grew closer ties with markets. The merchants, the privileged Russian merchants in particular, plundered the herdsmen through unfair exchange of commodities. Usury came into being, too. Such ruthless exploitation made the head of animals drop drastically and Kazakh stock breeding virtually struggled on the brink of bankruptcy on the eve of liberation. |


Kazakhstan and China Border


“The Kazakhs began farming in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The main farm implements include katuman (a kind of mattock), sickles, ploughs and grinding stones. In some localities, seeds were sown from horseback before ploughing. Flood irrigation was used, weeding was never done and fertilizers were not applied. As they were short of production means, the poor Kazakhs who switched to farming had to be hired hands. In the Kazakh rural and semi-rural areas, the herd-owners and herd-owner-landlords monopolized the farmland, irrigation facilities, draught animals and farm implements. |

“Of all the feudal practices, "partnership farming" was the most common. "Partnership farming" was a form that incorporated labour rent and rent in kind. The landlords or rich peasants offered land, seeds and farm implements, and the tenants sold their labor, sometimes bringing with them some of the seeds and farm implements. The harvest was divided up 50 to 50, or two-thirds for the landlords. Exploitation through hiring of labor was also a very common practice. The pay was either in cash or in kind, all very low. Water and farm implements were leased by the landlords, who made use of feudal privileges to force peasants to toil for them without pay or exercised political persecution, sometimes even to the extent of enslaving the peasants, for the purpose. |

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Chinese government

Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 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 *\; 4) Chinatravel.com\=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated October 2022


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.