Uzbek dancer

There are about 10,000 Uzbeks in China, where they make up less one percent of the population of Xinjiang and less one than .001percent of the population of China. This is a far cry from the 30 million or so Ukbeks in Uzbekistan, where they make up 80 percent of the population. There are also many Uzbeks in Afghanistan and some in former states of the Soviet Union. The Uzbeks that live in China live mostly in Xinjiang near the border of Russia and the former Soviet Central Asia republics. Uzbeks have been trading in western China for centuries. In the 16th century they began to settles in cities in Xinjiang.

Uzbeks in China have traditionally been an urban people. and most still live in the cities and are engaged in trading or business. In he 1990s, less than 30 percent were farmers or herders; most were factory workers, technicians, and traders. At that time their literacy levels were the highest of any group in Xinjiang. The few Uzbeks that make their living as herders do so in northern Xinjiang, where they live among Kazaks. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

The word Uzbek is derived from the name on a 14th century Uzbek leader who helped unify the Uzbek people and converted them to Islam. The word itself probably comes from two Turkic words: v., which means "Genuine" and be which means "man." Thus Uzbek means "genuine man. In cities in Xinjiang, most Uzbeks live in adobe houses with flat roofs, though some have distinctive round, pointed roofs. Since there are so few Uzbeks in China, and since they are so widely scattered, they frequently intermarry with Uyghurs and Tatars. In many cases it is difficult to tell Uzbeks and Uyghurs apart. The easiest way to distinguish them is that Uzbeks wear round hats while Uyghurs wear square ones. Another distinguishing characteristic is the embroidery designs on men and women's clothing. |~|

Uzbeks are scattered over a wide area of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Most of them are city dwellers that live in compact communities in Yining, Tacheng, Urumqi, Shache, Yecheng and Kashi. Uzbek autonomous countries have been set up in Dongjiang Mulei County, where Uzbek people are relatively concentrated. Most Uzbeks live in 1) Urumqi, Mori Kazakh Autonomous County, Qitai County and Tarbagatai in northern Xinjiang; and 2) Kashgar, Hotan, Shache and Karghalik in southern Xinjiang. More live in Yining County than anywhere else. Millions of Uzbeks live in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan as well as elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and Iran. [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 ; \=/]

Uzbeks are the 49th largest ethnic group and the 48th largest minority out of 55 in China. They numbered 10,569 in 2010 and made up 0.0008 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census. Uzbek population in China in the past: 12,423 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 14,502 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 13,626 were counted in 1953; 7,717 were counted in 1964; and 13,810 were, in 1982. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Websites and Sources: Xinjiang Wikipedia Article Wikipedia Xinjiang Photos Synaptic Synaptic ; Maps of Xinjiang:; Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; People’s Daily (government source) ; Muslims in China Islam in China ; Islam Awareness ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia

History of the Uzbeks

Where Uzbeks live in Xinjiang in China

The Uzbeks of China originated in Central Asia. The name Uzbek first originated with Uzbek Khan, a local ruler in the Mongol Empire in the 14th century. Himself a Moslem, the Uzbek Khan spread Islam in his Khanate. In the 15th century, a number of Uzbeks moved to the Chuhe River valley, where they were called Kazakhs. Those who remained in the area of the Khanate continued to be known as Uzbeks, who later formed the Uzbek alliance. [Source: |]

The Uzbeks are an ancient Iranian people that intermingled with nomadic Mongol and Turkic tribes that invaded Central Asia between the 11th and 15th centuries. They have traditionally been regarded as nomads who settled down while their rivals the Kazakhs were regarded as nomads who didn't settle down. After the Timurids (the Samarkand-based dynasty founder by Tamerlane) declined, the Uzbeks rose up in their place under the leadership of Shibaqan (Shayban), a Mongol khan from southern Siberia and a grandson of Genghis Khan. One group of Uzbeks with links to Mongols, converted to Islam under the leader Ozbeg, or Uzbek (ruled 1313 to 1340), the source of the Uzbek name.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Some Uzbeks moved east to Xinjiang as long-distance traders of silk, tea, porcelain, and other goods. Some settled there, becoming silk weavers, farmers, craftsmen, and, eventually, entrepreneurs. The Uzbek migration to Xinjiang has continued into the twentieth century, as has migration out of Xinjiang. Competition from Russian long-distance traders later forced many into local trading, handicraft production, and laboring. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Many of the Uzbeks in China are descendants of merchants and settlers who arrived in western China in 1850s when Qing Dynasty unified Xinjiang. But according to the Chinese government: “The ancestors of the Uzbeks moved to Xinjiang from Central Asia in ancient times. In the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Uzbek merchants often traveled along "the Silk Road" through Xinjiang to do business in inland areas. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Uzbek trading caravans from Bukhara and Samarkand used Yarkand in Xinjiang as an entrepot for business deals in silk, tea, chinaware, fur, rhubarb and other such products. Some Uzbek merchants moved goods to inland areas via Aksu, Turfan and Suzhou (present-day Jiuquan of Ganzu Province). During this period, Uzbeks from Central Asia began to settle in certain cities in Xinjiang, and the number grew with each passing year. Later on Uzbeks also settled in Kashi, Aksu, Yarkand and other cities in southern Xinjiang and a number of places in northern Xinjiang.” [Source: |]

Uzbek Language and Religion

The Uzbek language is a Turkic language that is similar to other Turkic languages of Central Asia, particularly Uyghur. Most of the words are Turkic in origin but there also a great many Arabic, Persian, Russian—and in China, Chinese—loan words. The written form of Uzbek uses alphabetic writing based on Arabic letters. Uzbeks people have frequent exchanges with other ethnic groups in Xinjiang, and have particularly close relations with the Uyghurs and Kazakhs. The Uzbek, Uyghur and Tatar languages all belong to the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family and are very close to each other. Xinjiang Uzbeks use the Uyghur (Arabic) script and Chinese writing, In the 1930s the Soviets attempted to replace Uyghur (Arabic) script with a Cyrillic-based writing system.

Uzbeks are Muslims. Those in Uzbekistan are regarded as the most devout and conservative Muslims in Central Asia. Traditionally Uzbeks have not been very tolerant of other religions or towards women rights. By contrast other Central Asians are is "moderate, even lax.” Most Central Asians are Sunni Muslims of the Hannafi school. Islam was introduced by Arab invaders in the 7th and 8th centuries but was spread primarily by Sufi teacher, who wandered in the deserts, steppes and mountains. Some of those who spread Islam were of Turkic descent. Others were of Persian descent. The Muslim prohibitions on eating pork and drinking alcohol are often ignored, especially by by younger Uzbeks. Medrese, (madrassahs, religious schools located in mosques) were closed after Chinese public education was introduced.

A number of pre-Islamic beliefs persist. Some have their roots in Zoroastrianism. A belief in demons and other spirits was widespread in traditional society. Many people in the plains were Zoroastrians before they converted to Islam while those in the mountains and northern steppes followed horsemen animist religions.

Central Asian Islam incorporates many customs that have their roots in animism, shamanism and nomadic traditions. At mosques people walk under Koran stands to ensure fertility and kiss and rub venerated objects. The cult of tombs (mazar) of holy men is widespread. There are also shamanist "wishing trees" tied with pieces of rags, the cult of pir (holy men), and Mongol-style poles with horse hair tassels placed over grave of revered figures. Reportedly some Zoroastrian fire ceremonies endure.

Uzbek funerals are conducted according to Islamic rules. People who attend funerals tie a strip of white cloth around the waist, and women wear a piece of white cloth on their heads. The dead person's children stay in mourning for seven days. On the 40th, 70th and 100th day of the person's death, ahung (Muslim priest) performs a memorial service in which they chant scriptures.

Uzbek Festivals

Uzbek have many traditional festivals such as the Rouzhi festival ("Id al-fitr"), Gurbang festival, Shengji festival and Nuluzhi festival. Among these the Rouzhi festival, Gurbang festival and Shengji festival are religion festivals, while the Nuluzhi festival is a traditional ethnic festival. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China ~]

20080306-Uzbek Nolls.jpg
The main Uzbek festivals are the Islamic celebrations "Mawlid al-Nabi","Id al-fitr" and "Corban Festival". "Id al-fitr" and "Corban Festival" are the most important festivals in a year. "Id al-fitr" is held after the Ramadan fasting period. During the "Corban Festival", the Uzbek people will butcher cattle and sheep, and fry deep-fried dough cakes. They also have boiled lamb, zhua fan (meaning grasping rice, a typical Xinjiang staple food), and a unique folk food named "Na Ren". Like Uyghurs, Uzbeks butcher sheep and camel during festivals, and gather in mosques. In addition, they also sing and dance and hold various activities such as horse racing, Buzkashi and wrestling. [Source: \=/]

Gurbang, celebrated on March 22, is the Spring Festival of Uzbek and their most important festival. Especially in the countryside, people gather for a large traditional party called a "Shumailaike". At this event all village members sit around a circle in which several pans and stoves are set up to boil a sort porridge called "Shumailaike". In the evening, while the porridge is boiling, people play the tabur, dutar, tambourine and other musical instruments. Accompanied by the exciting and rapid music, young men and girls enjoy singing and dancing. Music, singing and laughter merge together and resonate through the night until the early morning of next day. Then, some respected old man serves porridge to everyone. Uzbeks are expected to treat "Shumailaike" seriously. It is said that its purpose is to memorialize ancestors engaging in farming. ~

Uzbek Customs and Taboos

According to The Uzbek people attach much importance to rites and customs. They respect the elderly in every aspect of their lives. If two persons go out by horse, the senior one will be seated in front of the young one, and the male will be seated in front of the female. When two men meet each other, they will firstly bow to each other with hands on the chest and then shake hands. However, when two women meet each other, they will firstly bow to each other with hands on the chest and then hug each other. When having meals, the senior is seated on the distinguished seat while the young ones are seated on other seats. In a family consisting of many people, they will eat on separate tables. In this case, the children and the women will have meal at the same table. In the past, the Uzbek people grabbed food with their hands, so they had to wash hands before and after meals. Nowadays, except in some pasturing areas where people have kept this habit, most of the Uzbek people have meals with chopsticks. During the meal, people are forbidden to take off their hats or cough while eating at the table with guests. [Source: \=/]

There are a lot of taboos in Uzbek ethnic group. Like other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang which also believe in Islam, people of Uzbek ethnic minority are forbidden to eat the meat of pigs, dogs, donkeys, mules and on the like. They have to wash hands both before and after meals. After washing the hands, they should wipe dry their hands with towels, instead of swinging hands. When there is only a mature woman at home alone, other people should not come over. In public, people are forbidden to be tripped to the waist. They cannot wear shorts in public either. The Uzbek people pay special attention to the cleanness and safety of the drinking water. \=/

Uzbek Marriage, Wedding and Family Customs

Most Uzbek families are nuclear families with parents and children living separate, and brothers living apart from one another. There are also families in which three generations live together. In the past, marriages were completely arranged by parents. The boy's family had to present betrothal gifts to the girl's family and cover the cost of wedding feasts. According to traditional Uzbek customs of Uzbek, younger sister should not get married until her elder brother get married, and the younger brother should not marry anyone until his elder sister gets married. [Source: |; \=/]

The Uzbeks have traditional marital ties with the Uyghurs and Tatars. Theoretically marriages were supposed to be limited to the tribe one belonged to, however, for a long time, the Uzbeks in southern Xinjiang have had close relationships with the Uyghur people, so the two groups often intermarried. In northern Xinjiang, the same has been true with Uzbek and Kazakhs and Tatars and some other ethnic minorities. \=/

According to Uzbek tradition, before the man and woman are engaged, the man's family needs to go the woman's to propose the marriage several times. After the woman's family approves the proposal, both families invite relatives and friends for dinner to discuss and decide on the date of the wedding. Before two people get married, the man's family sends gifts such as cloth, food, and daily essentials to the woman's family during festivals. Several days before the wedding day, the man's family sends some more gifts to the woman's family. On the day prior to the wedding day, both of the parents of the bridegroom go the bride's home to confirm the name list of the guests to be invited to the wedding. Then, they will send out invitation cards. All of the costs on the wedding day are paid for by the bridegroom's family. \=/

The wedding ceremony has traditionally been held at the bride's home. The bride's parents treat guests to fried rice and sweets during the day. The newlyweds go to the groom's home in the evening after an Islamic ceremony is held. Sometimes, relatives and friends of the bride "carry the bride off" after the wedding ceremony, and the groom has to offer gifts to "redeem" her. When the "carried-away" bride is "redeemed," she has to make a circle round a fire in the courtyard before entering the house.

Uzbek Houses

Uzbek building patterns and arrangement of their houses and furnishings are typical of Central Asia. The Uzbeks build their houses in different designs. Some have round attics, and most are rectangular adobe houses with flat roofs arranged around a courtyard. These wood and mud structures have thick walls with beautifully patterned niches, in which odd things can be placed. Patterns are also carved on wooden pillars. In summer, spring and autumn, some Uzbeks live in yurts and in the winter live in a solid earthen or wooden houses. [Source: |]

Uzbek houses are mainly built of adobe and wood. They are usually tall and spacious with thick loam walls. The four sides of the houses are covered or bottomed by bricks. The rooftops of the houses are a little slanted. Some Uzbek families cover their rooftop with a layer of iron sheet to make it water-proof. In the Ili district, Uzbek houses contain extended eaves above the verandas. In summer, people eat their meals or entertain guests under the eave. They can also store stuff there. The pillars inside the house are carved with patterns. In winter, a fire is lit in a fireplace, kang or stove to keep warm. Many of the Uzbek families set up some grape trellises in their yards. [Source: \=/]

Uzbek houses are divided into two types: buildings and bungalows. A traditional building is called an "Awa". It has a characteristic dome attic built of wood boards, straw mats and adobe bricks with glass windows, sometimes covered with sheet metal for rain protection. Houses gates are generally arched, sometimes with an arcade. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China ~]

Bungalows are rectangle adobe brick houses or cake house with slanted roofs and thick walls that keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. On the roofs are some open area that help to light the rooms. In the house, log beams and wooden poles are decorated with all sorts of patterns. Arched closets and cabinets are arrayed in the walls, around which are inlaid elegant patterned tiles. Common patterns include plant lines and geometry shapes. Some are depicted with realism and strong colors; some are made of carved plaster, brick or wood. Many are produced by skilled craftsmen. The closets and cabinets are used to store various utensils and ornaments. Wall fireplaces keeps room warm in the winter. Kangs (heatable brick beds) are very large, and with felt, carpets, blankets and sitting cushions. Quilts are placed along the walls with embroidered pillars to serve as decorations. Some families use kangs to keep warm. Uzbek kangs are different from those of other ethnic groups. A little pit is dug in the room and a stove is put into it with chimney to the outside. Wood boards cover over the pit, and pelts are laid on the boards. Walls are adorned with tapestries.

Uzbek Food

Like other ethnic groups in Xinjiang who believe in Islam, the Uzbek people do not drink alcohol and eat pork. They like mutton, beef and horse meat and dairy products. Crusty pancake and tea with milk are standard fare for all three meals of the day, and they enjoy stewed meat with potatoes, honey and syrup. "Naren," a mixture of minced cooked meat, onion and sour milk, dressed with gravy and pepper, is a table delicacy reserved for guests. The Uzbeks eat it with their fingers.[Source: |]

Uzbek plov, a staple party food in Uzbekistan

Uzbek people have traditionally lived on meat and dairy products, including lamb, beef and horse meat. The staple foods of the Uzbek people include Naan (a kind of crusty pancake), Zhua Fan, hot cakes, Na Ren, Hai Le Wa, (a kind of fried food made of mutton fat, flour and sugar), steamed stuffed bun, roast steamed stuffed bun and cold noodles with sesame sauce.

Naan is similar to the round breads eaten throughout Central Asia. Many people add milk, edible vegetable oil, mutton fat or butter into the flour, making the naan crispy outside and soft inside. That is called "you naan" (meaning naan with oil). In addition, there are meat naan, wo wo naan, pian naan and many other kinds. Tea with milk is essential in Uzbek people's daily lives. While drinking tea with milk, Uzbek people pour the tea with milk into a bowl, and add some butter, mutton fat, or pepper, and drink it [Source: \=/]

Zhuan fan is also a unique Uzbek food. Uzbeks usually entertain guests with it. Zhua fan is mainly made of rice, fresh mutton, edible vegetable oil, carrot and onion. Before having the meal, the host will firstly offer a hand-washing pot and a basin to the guest. These are for guests to wash their hands. Then, the guests will grasp food from the plate directly with their hands. Instead of meat, some zhua fans contain died fruits like raisin in it, which is called sweet zhua fan or vegetarian zhua fan by local people. \=/

Uzbek Clothes and Hats

Uzbek men wear buttonless robes reaching the knee, with oblique collars and the right side of the front on top of the other. The robe is tied with a triangular embroidered girdle. Women wear broad and pleated dresses without girdles. Uzbek men usually wear leather boots and overshoes with low-cut uppers. Women's embroidered boots are very beautiful and unique in design. The collars, front openings and sleeves of men's shirts are trimmed with colorful, patterned lace, which is typical of the handicraft art of the ethnic group. [Source: |]

Uzbek women have traditionally worn halats (calf-length tunic-like dresses with a turned up collar and long sleeves reaching to the wrists) and matching baggy trousers. They are usually made with ikat cloth and feature an array bright iridescent colors and psychedelic patterns that are unique to the Uzbeks. In spring and autumn, Uzbek wear loose colorful pleated dresses, together with necklaces, bracelets, rings and other jewelry. In summer, Uzbek women like to wear silk shirts and dresses. [Source: \=/]

Uzbek women are regarded as experts on adorning themselves. The quinake, a broad pleated dress which is worn without a girdle, is common worn by Uzbeks in China women. Colored embroidery lace and decorating pearls are often added to the collars, front openings and cuffs of their shirts. These ornaments make display the Uzbek women's excellent embroidery skills. Sometimes, wear vests outside the quinake. Other embroidered shirts and western dress also are worn with various skirts.

Both men and women of Uzbek ethnic minority like wearing little colorful hats. There are many kinds of little colorful hats, such as the hats with edges, the hats without edges, hats with patterns on the top or around the hats. Skull caps with bright colored embroidery in unique patterns are often made of corduroy or black velvet. Both Uzbek men and women have traditionally worn four-sided skullcaps called tyubetevka, doppilar or dopy, usually embroidered in white. In the winter they sometimes wear fur hats (telpeks).

Uzbek Music and Dance

The Uzbek ethnic group is one of those in Xinjiang that are good at singing and dancing and their folk music is melodious and appealing. They have a great variety of musical instruments. Most of them are plucked and percussion instruments. One string instrument with a triangular sound box is known for its sweet and appealing tone. Uzbek dances are famous for their vivacity, grace and variety. Most dances are solos, with the dancer waving her arms while turning round and round. The traditional tambourine dance is unique in style and very entertaining. [Source:]

Uzbek music includes folk songs, dance songs, rap, working songs, customary songs, love songs and classical song cycles. The folk music instruments include Dutar, Rewapu and Dobro. Folk songs of Uzbek ethnic minority boast beautiful tunes with lively rhythm. There are various performing forms, such as unison, solo and antiphonal singing. [Source: \=/]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Chinese government, Map: Joshua Project

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, ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) \=/; 5), the Chinese government news site | New York Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated October 2022

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