The Yugur are a minority that live around the Yellow River town of Jishishan in the middle of Gansu Province. Their language is similar to the language of the Uyghurs, but unlike the Muslim Uyghurs the Yugurs practice Tibetan Buddhism. The Yugurs speak an Altaic language similar to Turkish. They have traditionally been organized into nine tribes, each headed by a hereditary chief. Their Tibetan monasteries have traditionally been associated with a particular tribes. Today, each tribe has its own monastery and families consider it an honor if their sons become monks. [Source: "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

Yugurs, some say, are essentially a small group of Uyghurs that practice Tibetan Buddhism rather than Islam. They live mainly in western Gansu province in Sunan Yugur autonomous county and Huangnibao Yugur village near Jiuquan city. The source of the Yugur is thought to be the Huihe, a group of nomads that roamed around the Erhun River basin in the Tang dynasty. In the of the 9th century, one branch of the Huihe—the Hexi Huihe—migrated to the regions of Dunhuang, Zhangye and Wuwei on the Hexi Corridor in Gansu province. The mixed and intermarried with local ethnic groups and gradually the Yugurs were created. [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]

The Yugur call themselves "Yaohur", and has many other names. Chinese refer to them as Yuku. According historical records, their ancestors were called the "yellow head Huihe" in the Song dynasty, "Saliweiwu" in the Yuan dynasty, "Saliweiwur" in the Ming dynasty, and "Xila weigur" in the Qing dynasty. After the founding of the new China, in 1954, "Yuku" was decided as the nationality’s name, as the pronunciation was similar to that of "Yaohur", and Sunan Yugur autonomous county was founded.

Yugur Population and Where They Live

Yugur are the eighth smallest minority out of 55 in China. They numbered 14,378 in 2010 and made up 0.0011 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census. Yugur population in China in the past: 13,747 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 12,297 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 3,861 were counted in 1953; 5717 were counted in 1964; and 7,670 were, in 1982. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

As of 1990s, 90 percent of Yugurs lived in the Sunan Yugur Autonomous County in Gansu Province. Sunan Yugur Autonomous County is located at the foot of the Qilian Mountains, on the northern side, in the middle part of Hexi Corridor. The pastures here are vast. The Yugur have lived on raising animals since ancient times. The Qilian Mountains are on the northern edge of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, which enjoys a semiarid alpine climate. The Hexi Corridor is on the artery of the Silk Road, which enjoys a continental monsoon climate.

Yugurs living in western Sunan Yugur Autonomous County speak Yohur, a language belonging to the Turkic Branch of the Altaic Family and closely related to Uyghur and Salar; those living in the eastern part of the same county speak Enger, a language belonging to the Mongolian Branch of the Altaic Family and related to Bonan, Tu, and Mongolian. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

Origin of Yugur

The Yugur at one time were Uyghurs. After an attack by the Kyrgyz (Kirgiz) in the A.D. 9th century they fled to the Gansu area not Xinjiang like most Uyghurs. In Gansu they came under the influence of Tibetans who introduced them to their version of Buddhism.

The origin of the Yugur ethnic group is long and complex, dating back to the ancient Huns before Christ and the Uyghurs in the 7th and 8th century. The Yugur ethnic minority is the combination of a tribe of the ancient Uyghur ethnic minority and a tribe of ancient Mongolian ethnic minority. The Yugur ethnic minority was originated from the nomadic Uyghur ethnic group in the Orkhon River basin in the Tang Dynsty (618-A.D.- 907 A.D.). In the mid 9th century, one of its tribes went to the area of Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province, getting the name of "Hexi Uyghur". In the early Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.-1644 A.D.), they successively moved to the Qilian Mountain area, and the Yugur ethnic group gradually formed. In 1953, the whole group is renamed to the Yugur ethnic minority. On February 20th, 1954, Southern Yugur autonomous county in Gansu Province was set up. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Old Uygur art

The Yugur trace their origins to the nomadic ancient Ouigurs [Uyghurs, Uyghurs] in the Erhun River valley during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In the mid-9th century, the ancient Ouigurs, beset by snowstorms, feuding within the ruling group and attacks from the Turkic Kirgiz, had to move westward in separate groups. One of the groups emigrated to Guazhou (present-day Dunhuang), Ganzhou (present-day Zhangye) and Liangzhou (present-day Wuwei) in the Hexi Corridor — the most fertile area in central-western Gansu Province — and came under the rule of Tubo, a Tibetan kingdom. They were thus called the Hexi Ouigurs. Later, they captured the city of Ganzhou and set up a khanate — thus they were also called Ganzhou Ouigurs. [Source: China.org |]

The Hexi Ouigurs had all along maintained very close ties with the central empire and regarded these ties as relations of "nephew to uncle." During the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126), the Khan of the Ganzhou Ouigurs often sent special envoys to the imperial capital to present tribute to the emperor, and, in return, the Song court gave "the nephew Ouigur Khan in Ganzhou" special products from central China. The Khan's emissaries went to the capital of the Song Dynasty on several missions to offer camels, horses, coral and amber as tribute to the imperial court in the fifth year (980) of the reign of Emperor Taizong and the third year (1010) of the reign of Emperor Zhenzong. |

Yugur History

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: ““The Yugur are essentially a people who were separated from the Uyghur and who came to have their own identity. After the Kyrgyz from the north in the ninth century, the Uyghur fled Mongolia. Those who moved into what is now Dunhuang, Zhangye, and Wuwei came under Tibetan control and came to be known as Hexi OUyghurs (later, Yugur). They have alternately been free and under the control of external forces, including the Tufan (Tibetan) kingdom, the Tangut state of Xixia, the Mongol Empire, and the Ming and Qing court. It is during the period between the mid-eleventh and the sixteenth centuries that a distinctive Yugur culture and identity emerged. In this period they moved farther to the west beyond the Great Wall, where they hunted, herded, and interacted with a great many different peoples. By the sixteenth century, the Turfan people had become so aggressive that the Yugur returned to safety behind the Great Wall, in Sunan and Huangnibao. Those who went to Huangnibao became farmers, whereas those in Sunan have remained migratory pastoralists who live in tents. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

In the mid-11th century, the Western Xia Kingdom conquered Ganzhou and toppled the Ouigur regime. The Hexi Ouigurs then became dependents of the former and moved to pastoral areas outside the Jiayu Pass. However, their links with the Song court were still maintained. Ouigur envoys came to the Song capital with tribute again during the first year of the reign of Emperor Shenzong (1068) and requested a copy of a Buddhist scripture. According to an envoy in 1073, there were more than 300,000 Ouigurs at that time. In 1227 the Mongols conquered Western Xia Kingdom and put the Hexi Ouigurs under their direct rule. |

Part of the Hexi Ouigurs were assimilated with neighboring ethnic groups over a long period of co-existence from the mid-11th to the 16th century, and developed into a community — the present-day Yugurs. They lived around Dunhuang in western Gansu and Hami in eastern Xinjiang. The Ming (1368-1644) rulers moved many of the Yugurs farther east as the frontier became unsettled. The Yugurs underwent changes in the mode of economic production after their eastward move. Those in the Huangnibao area, availing themselves of exchanges with the Hans, learned farming and gradually substituted it for animal husbandry, while those in the Sunan area still engaged in livestock breeding and hunting. |

The Qing government (1644-1911), in an attempt to strengthen its rule, divided the Yugurs into "seven tribes" and appointed a headman for each and a powerful chieftain — the "Huangfan Superintendent of the Seven Tribes" — over them all. The Qing government made it a law for the Yugur tribes to offer 113 horses every year in exchange for tea. At first, they got some tea, but later, virtually none. The horses thus contributed were tribute pure and simple. The tribute demanded by the central government also included stag antlers, musk and furs. The Suzhou Yugurs had to deliver grain or silver. |

Yugur family in 1944

Tibetan Buddhism took hold in the Yugur area in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Each tribe had its own monastery. The lamas worked closely with the chiefs in important tribal matters; some tribes practiced integration of religion and politics. According to the Beijing government: “The Lamaist monasteries had their own feudal system of oppression and exploitation: courts, prisons and instruments of torture. They could order compulsory donations and gratuitous forced labor, and compel children to join the clergy. Some lamas extorted large amounts of money and property out of the common people by way of fortune telling and exorcism. Donations for religious purposes accounted approximately for 30 per cent of the annual income of a middle-class family.” |

Various hardships reduced the Yugur’s population. In the mid-20century, there were less than 3,000 of them. In February and April of 1954, the Sunan Yugur Autonomous County and Jiuquan Huangnibao Yugur Autonomous Township were established. |

Yugur Tribes, Clans and the An Surame

The Yugur have maintained their tribal and clan organization for a long time. Each tribe is composed of some clans. At the time of the founding of Communist China in 1949, there were 10 tribes and 29 clans. The name of each clan had of "surname". Therefore, the Yugur had 29 traditional surnames. The current single character Han surnames of the Yugur are all translations of these 29 surnames, which include Anzhang — An, Suogale — Suo and Tuo'eshi — Tuo. Among them, "An" is the largest surname. In the past, all the main tribal chiefs had the surname “An,” and thus it was said that "the surname of all the heads is 'An'". [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities ~]

About the source of the surname "An", there is an interesting legend: Long, long ago, the Yugur migrated to a new place. A prince gathered all the people and asked for a volunteer to go to the capital and meet the king to get something done. Most people were too timid and did not dare go. After some time, a brave youth, who was also a skilled rider, said he would go, adding "I will call on the king. If he kills me, please forget me; if I get the things done, please let me be a chief.” The prince agreed to his request. Then, he rode and settled the matter with the king. The king was impressed by the boy’s talent. On his departure, the king asked about his surname. The youth did not hear him, and patted his saddle, whipped his horse and left. The king mistakenly thought that his surname was "An" (a word for "saddle" in Chinese) and so named him chief of the "An" tribe. The youth returned to his tribe. The prince kept his promise and granted the titles of chief to him and his brothers. The youth had seven brothers and they became chiefs of seven tribes, which were called the seven clans. After that, the surnames of all the members of the seven clans were changed to "An".

The surname "An" can be traced back to the Huihu people in the Five Dynasties and Northern Song Dynasty. An Yanshang, An Tieshan, An Jin and An Dianmin were Huihu officials of Gan Prefecture appointed according to the imperial order of the Five Dynasties and the Northern Song Dynasty.

Yugur Language

left The Yugur speak three languages: Yohur (western Yugur), Enger (eastern Yugur) and Chinese. Western Yugur belongs to the Turkic language group in the Altai family of languages, and is closely related with the Uyghur Kazakh and Kyrgyz languages. Eastern Yugur belongs to the Mongolian group of the Altai family of languages, and is closely related to the Mongolian, Dongxiang, Baoan and Tu languages. Chinese language is the main language of the Yugur in Huangnibao. Chinese is also a common medium of communication among all Yugurs.

Yugurs living in western Sunan Yugur Autonomous County speak Yugur, a language belonging to the Turkic Branch of the Altaic Family and closely related to Uyghur and Salar; those living in the eastern part of the same county speak Enger, a language belonging to the Mongolian Branch of the Altaic Family and related to Bonan, Tu, and Mongolian. Other Yugur speak only Han, which also functions as a lingua franca among the various Yugur groups. There is no writing system for either Yohur or Enger; Han is used in written communication. A few Yugur also speak Tibetan. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

Yugur Religion and Festivals

The Yugur believe in Tibetan Buddhism and most of their traditional festivals are tied to this belief. Most Yugur are followers of the Gelugpa Sect of Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism). Before the middle 8th century, the Uyghur people believed in Shamanism. They worshipped spirits, the ancestors and the God of Thunder and believed that witches and sorcerers could predict the future and control the forces of the nature. After that, the ancestors of Yugur ethnic minority believed in Manicheism, a Gnostic Christian sect that spread into Central Asia and China in the eight and ninth centuries, and Buddhism successively.

When they moved to Gansu, they came under Tibetan rule and influence, and became converted to Lamaism. In the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty (1644 A.D.- 1911 A.D.), the Gelugpa Sect of Lamaism gradually spread to the Saliweiwu'er area. Here a Geglugpa temple, named Huang Zang Temple (or Gu Fo Temple, meaning the Temple of Ancient Buddha), was built. Since that time, Tibetan Buddhism has gradually become the main religion that the Yugur people. [Source: Chinatravel.com]

Each tribe had its own Lamaist monastery, and all households were expected to contribute to its support. The poorer Yugur maintained a belief in animist and shamanist. Some believe in the cult of the Emperor of Heaven, Han Tengri, the religion of the Genghis Khan Mongols.

Yugur propaganda dance

Drive Demon with Fire is an ancient tradition of the Yugur ethnic minority and festival that falls before the Spring Festival Eve. In the past, people thought that the period between Spring Festival Eve and fifth day of new year was the most active time of demons. When Spring Festival Eve comes, every Yugur family cleans up their yurt or house and lights two bonfires in the open air. Then they set off fireworks and drive their livestock through the space between the two fires. \=/

The June Pageant is a traditional religious festival of the Yugur people living in Sunan County, Gansu Province. The date of June Pageant varies from one temple to another, from first day to the 15th day if the sixth lunar month. During the June Pageant, Yugur people in the mountainous area accompany a lama as he chants scriptures for peace and offers sacrifice to the mountains god Ebo in the mountains. They go to a fixed place with Ebo pole and spread green tea on the mountainas an offering to the mountain god.

Yugur Society and Marriage

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: ““The Yugur were traditionally organized into nine tribes, seven of which were ruled by a datomu (great chief), and two of which were associated with each other and independent. In addition, each had a chief and an assistant chief. All three leadership positions were inherited. There were other minor noninherited positions. The tribal leaders also collected taxes from its members (to be paid to the Chinese), and each tribe met several times a year to decide how much each family was to be taxed. Local monasteries worked closely with the tribal leaders. In the past, some of the pastureland was owned by rich households, other lands by the tribe as a whole or by the local Lamaist monasteries. Today, lands are owned by the state. |[Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

The Yugur are monogamous, Marriages have traditionally been arranged when children were 12 or 13. When the couple reached 15 to 17 the groom’s family presented the bride’s family with presents and this initiated the final preparations for marriage. The "shooting the bride" wedding ceremony involved a feast in which the couple ate a sheep’s thigh and saved the bone for years afterwards.

After the wedding the couple moved in with the groom’s family except when she had no brother, in which case postmarital residence was with her own family. . Women who could not find partners became “married to heaven” and could have children with any man they chose. Their offspring are referred to as “children of heaven."

Yugur Food and Tea

Yugur are very fond of meat and milk and tea, which often they drink everyday, all day, with every meal. It is said old people are addicted to tea, and suffer headaches, dizziness, itchy eyes and runny noses if they don’t get their daily tea fix. Many Yugur live on little more than boiled lamb, milk tea and flour-based foods. Yugur have three meals a day. They like having tea as food and having a little cooked wheaten food at night. As for alcohol, Yugur mostly drink distillate spirits, and sometimes drink barley wine. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities ~; Chinatravel.com \=/]

To make Yugur milk tea: 1) heat brick tea pieces with appropriate amounts of caoguo, ginger slices in water. 2) When the tea becomes thick, add fresh milk and salt, repeatedly stirring and mixing the tea and milk. When drinking it, fill a cup with parched flour, butter and qula (grain-shape milk products), and then fill with hot milk tea. Yugur regard this concoction as nutritious and filling. They do not drink bland milk tea or sweet milk tea, only salty tea. They believe that "the tea with no salt is like water". ~

"Minced-meat sausage", "zhiguogan" and hand grabbing mutton are the favorite traditional the Yugur foods. To make minced-meat sausages: 1) mince the mutton of the sheep's neck and tenderloin, 2) mix them with flour, onions, chives and other condimentss, and 3) then place all this into a sheep's large intestines, and boil. To make zhiguogan: 1) mince sheep's liver, lungs and other internal organs, 2) mix them with flour, onion, ginger, garlic, salt and other condiments, 3) use tripe oil to roll them into meat rolls that are about 30 centimeters in length and have a width of four or five centimeters, and 4) boil them. ripe and it can be eaten. Minced-meat sausages and zhiguogan are foods that Yugur people offer guests and never tire of eating themselves.

Yugur Customs, Eating Habits and Taboos

As a nomadic people, the Yurgur have traditionally lived in tents and moved with water and grass. Until the 1950s, except a small group of Yugur people living in Hexi Corridor, most Yugur still lived in tents. The tents of the Yurgur people are similar in shape to the tents of the Tibetan people. Mainly made of cattle hair cloth, they are water-tight and but breath. On rainy and snowy days, they water out, while being relatively cool in the strong sunshine. The houses of the Yugur are similar to those of Han Chinese. Yugur houses are often spaced far apart. The distance between two houses can be one or two kilometers or even tens of kilometers. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

The Yugur have traditionally worshiped "Mao Deity" at home. Guns, bullets, whip, raw meat and raw skin of non-family members cannot be brought into the tent. It is said that the "Mao Deity" wears red clothes and ride a red horse. So people in red clothes or riding a red horse are forbidden to go into the tent. When the guest enters the tent, the male is seated in the left and the female is seated in the right. In daily life, it is forbidden to throw trash into a fire. It is also forbidden to point the edged tools such as knife, bow and arrow and needle at the fire. In winter, people are not allowed to warm their feet by putting their feet above the fire, or the fire basket or the stove directly. It is also not allowed to dry shoes, socks and underwear—which are viewed as dirty— on the fire. \=/

According to Chinatravel.com: “Yugur people serve their guests according to their traditional customs: the elderly welcome the guests at the door and the guest is seated on the ground bed on the left, facing the door (this is the seat for distinguished guest). The Yugur people are used to squatting on two knees first of all and then being seated cross-legged. Usually, the male and the female are seated separately with the male being seated on the left while the female on the right. The first dish is tea with milk. If the guest has had enough tea with milk, he or she has to eat up the "Qula" at the bottom of the bowl. If he or she does not eat up the "Qula", it shows that the guest wants more and the host will add more tea. The dish after tea with milk is boiled lamb and barley wine. Generally, one toast of the Yugur people means two cups. Sometimes, the host may sing toasting songs to propose a toast. They sing one song and propose a toast of two cups of wine. When Yugur people drink tea, they are forced to use one chopstick instead of two chopsticks. When passing teacup or wine bowl to the guest, people should use both of their hands instead of one to show their respect to the guest. \=/

“The Yugur people are not allowed to eat the meat of animals with pointed mouth or round hoof. Animals with pointed mouth mainly refer to the birds and fish, while animals with round roof mainly refer to donkey, mule and horse. The modern Yugur people are no longer forbidden to eat the meat of animals with pointed mouth; however, they are still not allowed to eat the meat of animals with round hoof. In addition, even though dog is excluded from the animals with pointed mouth or round hoof, the Yugur people are strictly forbidden to eat its meat.” \=/

Yugur Clothes and Hats

Yugur clothing has been influenced by the clothes of Mongolians and Tibetans but has distinct features of its own. Women wear colorful waistcoats over the gowns and wear hats with a black rim and red tassle. A typical well-dressed man sports a felt hat, a high-collared long gown buttoned on the left, a red-blue waist band and high boots. The Shanghai Museum has a Yugur Ceremonial Dress on display. According to the museum: Living at the north foot of Qilian Mountain, the Yugu people mainly wear long robes, clad with turtle-neck sleeveless jackets in order to adapt to the local natural conditions.

Yugur clothes reflect their animal husbandry culture. There are several styles of clothing, robes and long boots. They are usually made of sheepskin, Tibetan woolen fabric, felt and silk. Yugur robes (or gowns) have a high collar and are about the same length as the body. Some of the high collars are ear level. The lower hem of women gowns is slit upwards. Most of the slit, collar, the hem of front part and the sleeve's cuff are inlaid or embroidered with lace or patterns. Outside the robe they like wearing scarlet, pink or jade green high-collar jackets made of satin. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities ~]

Married Yugur women wear a horn-shaped white felt hat topped by red tassels. The brim of hat is comparatively wide and is inlaid with two strips of black silk. The back brim is slightly warped, and the front brim extends horizontally. The roof of hat is decorated with red tassels. It is said this is to memorialize a Yugur heroine that was murdered. The red tassels represent the blood on the top of her head when she died for her people.

Yugur Jewelry and Hair Decorations

Among the clothing and decorations of the Yugur, the most distinguished are the jewels and hair ornaments of Yugur women. Most the single women and young girls wear their hair in five or seven braids, and decorate themselves with a forehead belt. Most of the forehead belts are made of red cloth 5 or 6 centimeters in width, and inlaid with coral, shell slices and other decorations. The front part is worn with a necklace stringed together by coral and jade spheres of different colors. It looks like a pearl curtain hanging before the forehead, at the same level with the eyebrow.
A woman of marriageable age combs her hair into many small pigtails which are tied up into three big ones, with two thrown over the chest and one over the back after marriage.

Yugur married women wear their hair in three braids, with one hung on the back, and the left and right ones hanging from the back of the ears to the breasts. They do not wear a forehead belt. Instead they wear "braid ornaments". ~ Married Yugu women wear three tapes as head ornaments, with three braids of hair on the left, right, and back; and then use three decorative tapes inlaid with silver, coral, agate, beads, shells and other accessories to tie respectively to the three braids in the front and back. Each tape of head ornament is divided in three sections linked with metal rings. The length of the head ornaments is based on the height of the body, with the top even with the earrings and the bottom reaching the hem of the robe. The clothes make a very distinctive jingling sound when walking. [Source: Shanghai Museum]

Braid ornaments are three pieces of long decoration belts that are bound to the three braids. The one on the back is hung with a row of big round shell slices from top to the bottom. The two pieces before the breast are respectively divided into three sections: upper, middle and bottom, and they are connected with metal loops in the middle. The upper sections is comparatively wider, in width, about 11 to 12 centimeters, and is hung on both sides before the breast, the upper end is in the shape of triangle. The two lower sections are slightly narrower, with a width of about 7 to 8 centimeters. They hang below the waist.

Yugur decorated tents

The belts are inlaid and decorated with coral, agate, shell, pearl, silver plates and copper plates, which constitute all kinds of patterns. The bottom end of the lower section is decorated with colored silk tassels, which are beautiful and tasteful. The length of the braid ornaments is decided according to the figure and height of every person, and generally extends from the ears to the bottom hem of the gown. On their wedding day, a solemn ceremony is held for Yugur young women to dress them in their wedding clothes and prepare their braid ornaments.

Yugur Culture

The Yugurs have a rich literary tradition handed down orally, such as legends, folk tales, and ballads. The folk songs feature uniquely simple yet graceful. They are skilled at embroidery, weaving beautiful patterns on bags, carpets and harnesses. Vivid patterns in harmonious colors of flowers, grass, insects, birds and domestic animals are woven on women's collars, sleeves and cloth boots. Geometrical patterns made of coral beads, sea shells and green and blue stone chips, and silk threads in bright colors are used as hair decorations. [Source: China.org |]

Wrestling is a traditional recreational activity in Yugur ethnic minority. The two wrestlers hold each other's waist and try to trip the rival with their legs. The one who first trips his rival is the winner. The winner is widely praised. People call the winner "the true man", which is "Bateer" in Yugur language. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Yugur Swan Qin Legend

According to the Yugur "Swan qin" legend, long long ago there was a poor young fellow who herded animals for the chief of a tribe. The fellow was often hungry as most of the fruits of his labor went to the chief. The young fellow had a good singing voice and sang songs to his animals while out in the pastures. Local villagers liked his songs very much. Whenever they heard them they felt relieved from their daily pains and worries for them. Animals liked listening to his songs too. Every time he sang, many swans came to listen to him. They left when he finished. One day one white swan flapped his swings and danced to the herder’s song and refused to leave afterwards. For some period of time, the young fellow and the swan were always together. They became good friends. One morning, the young fellow came to the bank of the lake where the often saw the swan but the swan wasn’t there. He thought that maybe the white swan was still sleeping, so he went to look for it in the reeds. When he reached the reeds, a group of yellow-pointed birds flew up. Searching so more he found that this group of wicked birds had eaten the white swan. Only the skeleton, intestines and stomach were left. The young fellow was heartbroken. He threw himself on the skeleton and cried loudly from the morning right up to the night, until he became tired and fell asleep. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities ~]

The next day, when the young fellow woke up, he found that the skeleton of the swan had become a beautiful qin (a stringed musical instument). He looked at it carefully and found that the qin was made with six strings made of the intestines of the swan. The head of the qin is exactly alike with the head the of swan, and the eyes were still sparkling. The young fellow strummed the first string, and swan qin sent out an unusually beautiful sound. Shortly after that, it suddenly thundered on a sunny day, and heavy rain came. When he plucked the second string, the rain stopped and the cloud scattered; when he touched the third string, it became sunny again, and a beautiful rainbow fell before his eyes; when he moved the fourth string, a burst of very beautiful sound of singing came to his ears; and when he moved the fifth string, he found a horse was walking towards him. ~

The young fellow rode on the horse and ran to the place where the sound of singing came, but he found nothing when he arrived there. The young fellow remembered that there was still one string that he had not touched. When he plucked the sixth string, a beautiful girl wearing a white skirt flew down from a cloud, smiled and bowed to him before his horse. The young fellow helped the girl up to the horse. They rode together, playing the swan qin, and covered all the pastures of the Yugur. The girl, it turned out, was a swan fairy. She touched by the young fellow and his hardships and songs, and so descended to the world and married him. It is said that later the girl returned to the heaven with the young fellow. Today the swan qin is a symbol of Yugur identity.

Yugur Folk Songs

The Yugur like singing and have traditionally sung songs in the pastures and villages, where they spent much of their time. Yugur say: "When I forget my hometown, I cannot forget the language of my hometown; when I forget the language of my hometown, I cannot forget the songs of our hometown." The folk songs of the Yugur are known for their graceful melodies and sprightly rhythms. They include historical songs, production and labor songs, pastoral songs, love songs and life custom songs. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities]

Yugur historical songs mainly narrate the source of their own nationality and their migration history. For example, “We Came to Know After Telling and Singing It” narrates the history of the Yugur people's ancestors who migrated west from Jiuquan to Qilian Mountain in the Ming Dynasty. Labor songs are meant to be sung while do various chores and jobs. There are felt rolling songs, grass reaping songs and grass piling songs. The rhythms are strongly accented and the melodies are vigorous.

Pastoral songs feature lyrical melody suited for wiling away the hours spent with animals. There are sheep herding songs, cows herding songs, camels herding songs, milch lambs songs, milch foals songs and milch calves songs.

The pastoral songs are sonorous, loud, clear, sweet, and melodious. The Sheep Herding Song goes:
My treasured lamb,
In order to let you eat good grasses,
I do not fear of walking for a long distance.
No matter how deep the ditch is,
No matter how high the mountain is,
If only you can become fatter quickly,
I am happy to run farther.
My treasured baby,
You should eat more grasses quickly.

Yugur Livestock

The Yugur are primarily herders. Those that live in higher elevations raise sheep, goats, horses and Tibetan oxen. Those who live in lower elevations raise camels, sheep, oxen and goats, who provide meat and hair and wool for garments and tents.

The place where the Yugur live—Sunan Yugur autonomous county in the middle part of the Hexi Corridor— is said ro deal for raising livestock. Many Yugur practice farming and raise animals. The main domestic animals raised by the Yugur are sheep, goats, yaks, pien niu, oxen, horses and camels, and small numbers of donkeys and mules. Because of the differences of pasture and the traditional herding and raising habits and experiences, most Yugur areas have their own "famous brand" animals. An old Yugur proverb goes: "The donkeys in Shuiguan, the horses in Yangge, the wool in Huangcheng is better than cotton; the goats in Baiyin, the oxen in Dacha, and the camels in Minghua are strong." [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities ]

Many Yugur herders live a semi-nomadic existence, living in tents and yurts in the summer and autumn and houses in the winter and spring. In the past, most of their tents were conical shape, now they are mostly square in shape. These tents are generally made from the wool of yaks and goats, and are woven with knitting tools. They keep out rain and wind, but also are convenient to move. When pitching tents, generally people choose the places that are sheltered from the wind and face the sun. The facing direction is decided according to the shape of mountains and waterways. Most tents face south, or west or east. They are forbidden from facing north because people believe that it is unlucky to face north. It is said "only at the time of bad luck, the doors of people face north".

Yugur Development

right According to the Chinese government: In the last few decades, wool shearing has been mechanized, animal stocks improved and steps taken to have the herdsmen settle down and pastures grazed by rotation. Reservoirs have been built, ponds dug and underground water tapped to irrigate large tracks of dry pastures and provide drinking water for animals. The situation of "worried herdsmen having sheep but no water, wandering from place to place" has been fundamentally changed. The Yugurs used to hunt wild animals without trying to domesticate any, but in 1958 they began to set up farms to domesticate wild deer. [Source: China.org |]

In industry, the area now has farm and livestock-breeding machinery factories, carpet, fur, and food processing industries, and coal mining. Electricity reaches all townships and most Yugur homes. Wool shearing, threshing and fodder-crushing machines are now in extensive use. There is a developed network of highways now. Before 1950 there was "not a meter of smooth ground and not a single bridge across the rivers" as the saying went. Merchants made use of this backwardness to exploit the local Yugurs: a mere five or six pieces of brick tea could buy a horse. At the time there were only four primary schools with a total student body of 70, mostly children of tribal chiefs, herd owners and landlords. In the early 1980s Sunan County had two senior middle schools, eight junior middle schools and 76 primary schools. Many young Yugurs were able to finish secondary technical or college education. The ethnic group now has its own teachers as well as technicians. |

Image Sources: Nolls China website University of Washington; Wiki commons

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 *\; 4) Chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York 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

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