The Tu are an ethnic minority that lives primary along the Huang and Datong rivers in the Huzhu Tu Autonomous County in northeast Qinghai Province. The rest are scattered mostly in the eastern part of Qinghai Province. The Tu are similar ethnically to the Muslim Dongxiang and Bonan. What sets the Tu apart is that they are Buddhists. They regard themselves as Mongolians or White Mongols and what sets them apart from Mongolians (Mongols) is that have intermarried more with Chinese and live in an area traditionally occupied by non-Mongolians. The Tu national minority designation is of relatively recent origin. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

The Tu are also known as the Monguor, Huzhu, Guanting, Mongols, Mongor, Manggheur, T'u-jen, T'ou-jen, Turen, and White Mongols. They speak an Altaic language similar to Mongolian and have no written language of their own (they use Chinese characters for writing). Most belong to the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Families have traditionally sent at least one son to a monastery to be a monk. The Tu have traditionally been nomadic herders. They began settling down as farmers in the mid-14th century. Throughout China they are known for their antiphonal “flower songs” sung between groups of men and women.

The Tu often live together with the Han, Hui, Tibetan and other ethnic groups, but still keep their own traditions and have their own clothing, adornments, ceremonies, customs and folk arts. In the old days, most Tu were engaged in raising livestock. These days they are mainly engaged in agriculture, with animal husbandry as subsidiary industry. Many raise sheep and goats. The Tu represent a mix of Chinese, horseman and Tibetan cultures. Because they had close relationship with the Mongols, the Tu called themselves "Menggu'r", "Menggu'r kong" and "Chahan Menggu'r". Menggu is a word for Mongol. The Han, Hui and other ethnic groups called them the "Tus", "Tu people" and "Tuhu nationality". Tibetans call them the "Huo'r". After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the group was official recognized by the Chinese government as the Tu nationality. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Tu Population and Where They Live

The Tu live mainly in Huzhu Tu Autonomous County in Qinghai Province. Accessible from Xining, this area is east of Qinghai Lake and south of Qilian Mountain Range and along the banks of the Huangshui (Yellow River) and Datong river. Some live in Gansu Province. The area they live in in Qinhai is where the Inner Asian plateau rises to a height of 3000 meters (9820 feet), with surrounding mountains reaching 6,000 meters (19,685 feet). [Source: Ian Skoggard, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

In Qinghai the Tu live in 1) in Huzhu Tu Autonomous County, 2) Minhe Hui and Tu Autonomous County, 3) Datong Hui and Tu Autonomous County, 4) Ledu county, 5) Tongren county of Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, 5) Menyuan county of Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and 6) Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. In Gansu they live in Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County and Yongdeng in Gansu provinces. ~

The Tu are the 29th largest ethnic group and the 28th largest minority out of 56 in China. They numbered 289,565 in 2010 and made up 0.02 percent of the total population of China in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census. Tu population in China in the past: 241,593 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 191,624 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 53,277 were counted in 1953; were 77349 counted in 1964; and 148,760 were, in 1982.
About 85 percent of of Tu people live in Qinghai Province. More than 20,000 inhabit in Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County, Sunan Yugur Autonomous County, Yongdeng County and other places in Gansu Province. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia, Chinatravel.com]

Based on the “Annals of Kansu" printed in 1909, the missionary Louis Schram estimated a population of 55,000 Tu. According to various population figures from the 1980s, the Tu population was distributed as follows: A) 47,208 living in Huzhu Tu Autonomous County (1982), B) 31,735 in Hui and Tu Autonomous County (1985), C) 29,429 in Datong Hui and Tu Autonomous County (1985), D) 6,200 in Tongren County of Huangnan Prefecture (1982), and E) 12,567 in Gansu Province (1988). [Source: Ian Skoggard, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

Origin of Tu

The evolution of the Tu over the centuries is a result of the Mongolian invasion of the area where they live in 1227. At that time, the local population at that time was comprised of Tibetans, Uigur, and Shato peoples. The Mongolian military men intermarried with the local people and their offspring became the ancestors of the modern Tu. The Tu, in fact, call themselves “Mongolians."Their dress clearly distinguishes them from other groups in the area such as Mongols, Tibetans, and Hui.

There are different theories regarding the origin of the Tus. Most people believe they evolved from the Tuguhun people, a branch of the ancient Xianbei people that lived in Liaoning Province in eastern China 1,700 years ago. Over the centuries have intermixed with and absorbed members of the Qiang, Tibetan, Mongolian, Han and other nationalities. "Huoer" was long ago a Tibetan name for the nomadic herdsmen who lived in northern Tibet and vast areas north of Tibet (or north of the Yellow River, according to a different interpretation). In modern times the term refers specifically to the Tu people. It took some time for the Tu to coalesce as a distinct group. becomes a community. There are historical records from the Yuan dynasty in the late 13th century that refer to the "Tu people". Tu had unique characteristics. According to the record in the Qing dynasty, Tu had become a stable community and had their inhabiting regions in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). [Source: yellowsheepriver.com ]

The southern route of the Silk Road crossed Tu lands. Passing Xining City, it had three branches: 1) passing through the northern and southern banks of Qinghai Lake, Delingha, Dachaidan, Xiaochaidan, Dangjin Mount, Dunhuang, Gansu and the Hexi Corridor; 2) passing through the southern bank of Qinghai Lake, Dulan County, Xiangride, Nuomuhong, Ge’ermu, Wutu Meiren, Gasi Kule Lake, A’erjin Mount; and 3) passing through Zhaling Lake, Bu’er Hanbuda Mount and Xinjiang Autonomous Region. With the development of Tuguhun Kingdom, the southern route became prosperous. Under the Tugukhun a new route to Nanjing was opened. It passed the eastern bank of Qinghai Lake- Gonghe County- Chengdu City- Changjiang River-Nanjing. Because of the poor road and climate condition, the southern route is unpopular, compared with northern route.

Tu History

Murong horseman

The Tu have traditionally been goat and sheep herders. As early as the Ming dynasty some Tu adopted agriculture. During the (1271-1368) and Qing Dynasty (1368-1644) Dynasty, as part of their policy to protect the border region, tusi (native officials, usually clan chiefs appointed by the Imperial Chinese government) were were responsible to the Chinese state for collecting taxes, keeping order and organizing corvée labor. The Yellow Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism was encouraged by the Qing court, possibly because so many Tibetans have lived in Qinghai, where the Tu live. Some landholdings were, by special assent, held by Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and controlled by them. Remnant of the tusi system survived until the Chinese communists took power in 1949. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Tu were transformed from nomads and animal herders into farmers and craftsmen, known for handicrafts, brewing and weaving. Farming villages were obligated to provide soldiers for the Tu army, which time and time again was called up to fight invaders and help put down rebellion s in the region. In early Ming Dynasty the Tu were organized under a farming feudal system. Tu habited regions were separated into 16 parts. Each part was ruled by a landlord that owned most of the land. After Revolution of 1911, Tu got rid of the landlords but their land in Qinghai and Gansu Province fell into the hands of warlords who oppressed the Tu even more than the landlords. Because of oppression and discrimination, a lot of Tu people hid their identity and moved to other places. During that period, the population of Tu in their native regions in Qinghai and Gansu sharply declined. scale. Before 1930, there were only 38,000 Tu people. In 1933, there were 30,000.

At that time the tools and farming techniques of the Tu were the same as those of the Han. Landlords and rich farmers who accounted for less than 10 percent of the population occupied more than 30 percent of the land and poor farmers who made up 90 percent of the population owned only had 60 percent of the land. The main agricultural products were wheat, highland barley and potato. Tu were good at brewing. The wine made from barley is very famous.

The ancestors of the Tu were Tibetan Buddhists since at least A.D. 650. Today, there are four large Yellow Hat sect monasteries in the area. Families with more than one son were expected to send one to become a monk. The monasteries became wealthy by lending money, by taxing the people, by renting land, and by leasing grain mills. At the same time, much of the income went to support the large number of monks. Catholics were very active in the Tu area in the 1920s and 1930s. Tey set up modern schools as well as churches. Louis Schram and other Catholic missionaries who worked in the area called them both “Monguor" and “Tu" in their writings. |~|

The Tu struggled against the warlords. In 1945, they organized a rebel force. On September 5, 1949, People’s Liberation Army of China liberated Qinghai and ousted the warlord that ruled for more than 40 years over the Tu. On February 17, 1954, the first Tu Autonomous Area was established. Before 1949, the extent of Tu official was a few handicraft workshops. In countryside, some farmers acted as smiths and carpenters when there was no farmwork. After 1949, Tu people earned income from selling livestock and barley wine. State owned mines, plants and light industry factories were founded. Under the Communists, the Tu economy has grown and agriculture has become more mechanized. Industries includes concrete, chemical fertilizers, farming machines, pesticides, food processing, brewing and paper making. [Source: yellowsheepriver.com ]

Mongol-Tu Connection

left The fact that the Tus claim to be "Mongguer" (Mongolians) or "Chahan Mongguer" (White Mongolians) gives expression to the close relations that existed between the early Tus and the Mongolian ethnic . Popular legends among the Tus of Huzhu Autonomous County have it that their ancestors were Mongolian soldiers under one of Genghis Khan's generals by the name of Gerilite (Geretai). They intermarried with the indigenous Houers of what is now Huzhu County. [Source: China.org |]

Chinese records also tell of Mongolian troops under Genghis Khan making their appearance in Xining (now capital of Qinghai Province), which exercised jurisdiction over Huzhu County during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) founded by Genghis Khan. All historical records have accounts of Mongolian troops having either been stationed in Xining during the Mongolian western expeditions or moved into the place at some point in history. |

Especially worth mentioning is the account of Yuan imperial clansman Buyan Tiemuer's troops being attacked and defeated in Andingwei during the reign of Ming Emperor Zhengde (1506-1521). The survivors settled down to the east of Weiyuan City near Xining. The area is now under the administration of the Huzhu Tu Autonomous County. This shows that a portion of the Tu people in Huzhu County are descendants of Mongolians that moved in from Andingwei during the Ming Dynasty.

Tuguhun Kingdom

The ancient Tuguhun Kingdom was located where the Tu live today. he foundation of Tuguhun Kingdom, it is said, was caused by a horse race. About 1700 years ago, the Murong Tribe — a branch of ancient Xianbei peoples —lived in Liaoning Province. In that tribe, Tuguhun, was the eldest son of the tribe chief. His mother was a concubine. However, his 16-year old younger brother — Murongmo — was the son of the chief’s legal wife. When the chief died, Murongmo succeeded him as chief in A.D. 284. Soon after that, a horse race between Murongmo and Tuguhun was held on the grassland. The two brothers argued with each other. As a result, Tuguhun led 1700 people migrating to west. It was the end of 4th century — the Period of the Jin Dynasty and Sixteen Countries in China. [Source: yellowsheepriver.com ]

At that time, Tuguhun and his people started from Liaoning, moved westward to Hetao Plain, where they feed animals for nearly 20 years. This place was originally occupied by the Xianbei Tribe. There was civil turmoil in Xianbei when the Tuguhun settled. After 10 years, Xianbei became much stronger and drove Tuguhun people away. In A.D. 312, the 67-year-old Tuguhun guided his people westward again. This time, they passed Yin Mount, Yulong Mount, Taoshui River, and finally settled in Hanbaiyuan, Gansu Province. In A.D. 317, the 72- year-old Tuguhun died after presiding over the migration of his people. As the founder of the Tu ethnic group and kingdom, Tuguhun is deeply respected by all Tu. In A.D. A.D 329, his grandson — Yeyan — established the title of dynasty ”Tuguhun” and set up a state of his own. Since then, “Tuguhun” is used to refer to the Murong Tribe living on grassland in northwestern China.

Nowadays, the place where Tuguhun used to live is called Sanchuan Area, Minhe County, Qinghai Province. More than 200,000 Turkic people live there. It’s believed that Turkic people are descendants of Tuguhun, because they keep the tradition of doing sacrificing to ancestors on the first day of the first lunar month. When Tuguhun people migrated to northwestern China, some say they introduced horse-raising culture to the Tibetan Plateau and the local Qiang people.

right At that time of the Tuguhun arrival in what was primarily Qiang-occupied territory, the Qiang were a sparsely scattered people in Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, and Sichuan Province without a unifing leader and were relatively undeveloped. By contrast, Tuguhun people were more advanced and quickly seized Qiang territory. The eldest son of Tuguhun leader — Tuyan — was valiant and brave and expanded the Tuguhun kingdom. After more than ten years fighting, Tuguhun Kingdom was thousands of kilometers from east to west. However, the harshness of Tuyan’s rule stimulated Qiang people’s resistance. In A.D. 329, the head of Qiang-Jiangcong tribe killed Tuyan and his top official and a fierce conflict between these two ethnic groups broke out. Afterward, Tuguhun people gradually changed strategy tone one of political cooperation and inter marriage with the Qiang people.

Fusi City was built as the capital of Tuguhun Dynasty in A.D. 535. It witnessed prosperity and end of the kingdom. In A.D. 609, the emperor of Sui Dynasty took the city. The Tuguhun chief Fuyun and 2000 horsemen escaped and lived temporarily with the Dangxiang tribe. Soon, the Tuguhun Kingdom perished and was absorbed by the Sui Dynasty. About ten years later, Sui Dynasty was succeeded by Tang Dynasty. Fuyun saw this as an opportunity to rebuild Tuguhun, however, it was foolish for him to fight against with Tang Dynasty. In A.D. 634, the Tuguhun chief Fusi committed suicide and the throne was passed to his son Murongshun. Only ten days later, he was killed by his subordinated officials. The grandson of Fusi — Nuohebo — allowed Tuguhun to become part of the Tang Dynasty. He married Honghua, a Tang princess. In A.D. 663, Tibetans took over Tuguhun Kingdom, ending its 350-year history.

Tu Society in Imperial Chinese Times

Ian Skoggard wrote: “Tu society was comprised of nobles and commoners. The nobles were the descendents of the original entitled tusi appointed by the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors. The commoners were subject peoples of the region and included Tibetan and Chinese families, who took on the sib name, in some cases, to protect themselves from tax exactions. Poor and rich lived in the same hamlet and worked together in the fields. Over time the line between nobles and commoners blurred as members of the former fell into poverty and those of the latter rose in wealth and prominence. [Source: Ian Skoggard, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, tusi were appointed by the central government and given a diploma and seal. These officials were responsible to the Chinese state for collecting taxes and keeping order. The tusi became an inherited office. At the village level, a village headman was selected from among commoners and nobles, based on a person's reputation and administrative abilities. Village affairs were conducted at public meetings in the village assembly area, usually the village threshing floor.

Flogging was a commonly used sanction for a variety of transgressions, including fighting, theft, adultery, and abandonment. Gamblers were fined. Village elders led public discussion of all cases in an open-air forum. In the past, feuds were not uncommon, although held in check by the special authority conferred to the mother's brother. The tusi settled intervillage disputes mostly concerning access to water, repair of irrigation canals, theft of animals, and property damaged by wandering animals. Village elders adjudicated disputes between families, over such issues as inheritance, fighting, theft, and adultery. Only in extreme cases would elders involve themselves with altercations among family members.

Chinese-Marxist Take on Feudalism and Warlordism in Tu Areas

Tu in 1901

According to the Chinese government: “Herders and farmers economically, the Tu people started off as livestock breeders, especially of goats and sheep. This was due to the abundance of water and grass in the fertile mountainous area that they inhabited. The Tus used to be well known among the locals for their expertise in animal husbandry. According to historical documents, they began to familiarize themselves with farming at least from the early period of the Ming Dynasty. [Source: China.org |]

“Also starting from that period, the Tu area fell under the rule of 16 hereditary headmen, whose titles and territories were granted by the Ming Emperor. Since the land tilled by the Tu people belonged to the headmen, the former had to shoulder a multitude of labor services and extortion enforced by the landlords, apart from taxes of various descriptions. The headmen made full use of their "inspection tours" once every three years to exploit their people. It was only in 1931 that the Kuomintang government formally abolished the headman system. The displaced headmen were, however, appointed as deputy county heads, district heads or township heads to continue their function as tools of the regime. Economically, most of them retained their positions as rich landlords and continued to dominate the means of production. |

“Like elsewhere in China, the Tu area was gradually being reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society when history entered its modern stage. The only difference was that, due to lack of modern means of transportation and the existence of serious feudal separatist tendencies, the Tu society had then more of a feudalistic nature. Nevertheless, the imperialists did manage to rob the Tu people of their wealth by plundering their raw materials and local produce while dumping foreign products on the Tu market. The penetration of foreign influence was also manifested in missionary activities. In the period from 1915 through to the eve of liberation in 1949, seven churches and four church-run primary schools were set up in the area. |

“Feudal oppression and exploitation in the Tu area was extremely ruthless in the first half of this century. For 38 years, the Tu people toiled under the barbarous rule of the warlords of the Ma family. Just ordinary taxes and corvee in the form of grain as enforced by the Ma family could be of more than 40 different kinds. About half of the peasants' annual income went to the Ma family. This, coupled with forced labor and military service, brought the Tu people to a state of real disaster. In addition to ruthless exploitation through land rent and non-economic extortion in various forms, the practice of usury functioned as another major means of economic plunder. Many poor peasants were heavily in debt as much as several generations on end. |

“The Ma warlords were also bureaucrat capitalists marked by a strong feudalistic tendency. A commercial enterprise owned by the Ma family, for example, not only had the power to requisition of laborers and means of transportation from the people, but also the right to set up its own court and carry out inquisitions by means of torture. It had its own squad of bodyguards and hired roughnecks equipped with guns and horses. The warlords also ran a number of workshops in the Tu areas, whose workers were mostly poor peasants either requisitioned or arrested by the reactionary regime for not having been able to repay loans. The interest on loans was around 150 per cent and could be as high as 400 per cent. The Tu people did not, however, submit tamely to such oppression. On many occasions they rose in resistance, along with people of the Han and other nationalities. |

Development and Reforms Under the Communist Chinese

Tu in 1906

The Huzhu Tu Autonomous County was established in February 1954, in spite of the fact that the Tu people account for only 13.5 per cent of the population of the county. Autonomous townships have also been set up in areas where there are concentrated populations of the Tus. The Tu people have their representatives in the People's Congresses at both the Qinghai provincial and the national levels. [Source: China.org |]

According to the Chinese government: “Prior to 1949 no modern industry of any kind had been developed in the Tu areas. Agricultural production and transportation were backward. Since the founding of the People's Republic, the Huzhu Tu Autonomous County has set up a fair number of industrial and mining enterprises turning out more than 200 kinds of products including farm machinery, chemical fertilizers, wine, ores and coal. Whereas the entire county did not have a single motor vehicle or farm machine before 1949, it now has a substantial number of trucks, cars and buses, tractors, harvesters, threshers and processing machines. The opening of roads to motor traffic throughout the county has helped bring about a big change in its agricultural production. Irrigated farmland has been developed, along with the construction of reservoirs and ponds for draining waterlogged areas. The building of seven hydro-electric stations has made electricity available throughout the county. |

Cultural, educational and public health facilities have been gradually developed. By 1981 the county had founded more than 500 schools of various kinds with a combined Tu student population of over 10,000. College graduates, engineers, artists, journalists, teachers and doctors of Tu origin are playing active roles on all fronts. Quite a few officials from the ethnic group have been promoted to leading positions at the provincial, prefectural and county levels. |

Tu Language

The Tu language, also called Monguor, is a member of the Eastern Mongolian Branch of the Altaic Family. It is also part of the local language of the Huzhu, Minhe and Tongren counties. Han characters are used in written communication. The Tu people do not have a written language of their own; they use that of the Hans instead. In 1979, a Tu script based on the Roman alphabet was devised and in 1988, a massive 70,000-entry Tu-Chinese dictionary was published. This written language has been tried on a trial basis.

Because of long-term contact with Han Chinese, Tibetans and other ethnic group, the Tu has been deeply influenced by Chinese and Tibetan, and absorbed many words and phrases from them. Chinese dialects of the people around them. The basic vocabulary of the Tu language is either the same as or similar to that of the Mongolian language, but it is much closer to the languages of the Dongxiang and Bonan ethnic minorities. Quite a number of religious terms are borrowed from the Tibetan language, while a good portion of everyday words, as well as new terms and phrases, come from the Han language, which has long been the medium of communication among the Tus of Datong County.

Tu is the most divergent of the Mongolian languages and shares 60 percent of its vocabulary with Mongolian. It addition to a large number of Han, a smaller number of Tibetan loanwords, there are even some Turkish loanwords. There are two main dialects. Each of the five main Tu areas has its own dialect with the greatest dialectical differences found between the Huangnan and the Huzhu/Minhe areas. Some Huangnan Tu speak Bonan, a closely related language. The Tu in Datong County speak Chinese exclusively. [Source: Ian Skoggard, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

Tu Religion

As a result of generations of close contact with the Tibetans and Mongolians, most Tus practice Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism). Under the influence of the Han people, they also worship their ancestors and believe in the God of Wealth, the kitchen god, the door-god and others. The Family God is also revered in all households as the family protector. Every Tu family enshrines a deity for protection. Because a lot of Tu people live in mountain area, they all worship mountain deities who are believed to protect them from natural disasters. The dead are mostly cremated, in the old days children were given sky burials in which their remains were placed on a platform on a tree. [Source: yellowsheepriver.com ]

In early period of existence, the Tu believed in shamanism and spirits and some folk beliefs still remain. When they lived in eastern Liaoning, Tuyuhun people, ancestor of the Tu people, practiced shamanism. Some religious activities carried out today that have their roots in shamanism include holding a memorial ceremony for Aobao, offering sacrifice to white tiger and selecting a divine goat. At the end of the 8th century, Bonpo (Tibetan folk Religion) was introduced to Tu ethnic group, but it declined in the 14th century. Nowadays, only few Tu villages in Huzhu County and Datong County have a small number of Bonpo believers. [Source: Chinatravel.com ]

Religious practitioners sought out by the Tu include Tibetan Buddhist lamas, Daoist priests (Yinyang or Kurtain), and shamans. Some Tu may still practice shamanism. White shaman were used to treat sick people. Black shaman were hired to exact revenge. Trance mediums called fala are consulted in the case of illness and identified the cause of illness while in trance. Shaman have traditionally inherited their positions from their fathers. In contrast to lamas, shamans had to work as a farmers to support himself. A Daoist kurtain could be any youth who became possessed of a Daoist spirit and then passed a rigorous examination. [Source: Ian Skoggard, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

Tibetan Buddhism and the Tu

At the end of the 16th century, the Tu adopted the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. In the 32nd year of Wanli emperor in the Ming dynasty (1604), a Tibetan Buddhist temple named Guolong Temple was built in Huzhu, where the Tu lived. During the Yongzheng years in the Qing dynasty, it was renamed Youning Temple. After that, many temples were built in the regions of the Tu nationality, but Youning Temple remained the largest one in the regions where the Tu lived, and was called the mother of all temples in the northern part of the Huang River (in Qinghai province). The temples in the Huzhu, Datong and Ledu regions are mostly branches of Youning Temple. These temples became places the Tu and local Tibetans engaged in religious activities. At the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty, Youning Temple embraced a large monastery with over 6,000 monks and Youning Temple was the largest temple in Qinghai province. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities]

In the area where Tu ethnic minority lives, there are more than 40 lamaseries, including Youning and Guang Hui Lamaseries, Many famous monks are from You Ning Lamasery, such as Zhangjia, Tuguan and Huabu, who are still influential today. The lamaseries cover huge areas of land. In Huzhu County, 15 lamaseries cover an area of 69,200mu (equal to about 4,613 hectares). \=/

Under the Communists, and especially during the Cultural Revolution, the Buddhist establishment was for the most part abolished and many religious buildings were destroyed. According to the Chinese government: “The Yellow Sect of Lamaism used to have a wide-spread following among the Tu people. To strengthen their domination over the ordinary people, the ruling classes of previous regimes had, without exception, collaborated with the upper clerical elements. The latter enjoyed the support of the authorities as well as all kinds of privileges. After 1949, the Tu people carried out a religious reform under the leadership of the people's government. They burned the feudal deeds and loan receipts of the Lama landlords and abolished all religious privileges, forced apportions and labor services. These struggles helped further emancipate the minds of the Tu people, who threw themselves actively into the drive for socialist construction. Whereas superstition forbade the disturbing of "sacred" mountains and springs, the Tu people began transforming mountain slopes into farmlands and digging irrigation canals. Women, who began enjoying unprecedented political rights, took an active part in all these constructive endeavors.” [Source: China.org |]|


Tu Festivals and Celebrations

Tu’ celebrate Han Chinese holidays and some of their own, which have links to traditional Mongol celebrations. When the observe Han holidays they often add their own unique touches. On Lunar New Year’s Eve, families holds sacrificing ceremony. They burn pine branches smeared with ghee and kowtow to their ancestors. Mid-Autumn Festival has traditionally been a taboo among the Tu. At the night of Mid-Autumn Festival, people will sprinkle a handful of grass ash towards the moon. These days t many modern Tu people celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. The mooncakes of the Tu people are home made. They are big, round and of various kinds. The patterns on the mooncakes are unique and colorful.

Ian Skoggard wrote: Ancestors are venerated at the Qing Ming festival falling on April 5. The whole sib (kin group), both nobles and commoners, go to the grave of the first ancestor with much pomp and circumstance, prostrate themselves, and eat a sacrificial meal. Ritual distinguishes between nobles and commoners and between the different lines of direct descendents. [Source: Ian Skoggard, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

On the 19th day of the 11th month, some Tu villages make sacrifices to the local mountain deity who is thought to help childless couples have babies. The following day is the tiger dance (wutu) performed by selected group of young men who in an athletic display jump across rooftops and over piles of burning straw.

Nadun is a village-level harvest festival held in the late summer between mid seventh and ninth lunar months. Some villages host the ceremony for one to two neighboring villages. Flour and bread are offered to the sky god, Tiangere. Some villages make offerings to the Chinese river god Erlang. The ceremony involves a special collective ritual called Huishou, which is followed by dancing and singing. Nadun has many similarities with the Mongol Naadam festival.

The Huaer Festival lasts for five days and is celebrated between the 4th and 6th lunar months in May, June or July by the Han, Hui, Tu, Sal, Dongxiang and Baoan peoples in the northwest provinces of Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai. A huaer is a kind of folk song that is popular among these people. Most huaer songs are improvisations, sung by one or two people, with long and prolonged sonorous tones which have both a lyrical and a narrative content. The festival is usually celebrated in a big square decorated with hanging red lanterns and colorful streamers. The festivities open with gongs, drums and fireworks. At night bonfires are built and sometimes the singing and dancing goes until dawn. In some places older singers put ropes around the festival site and people can't enter until after they have sung a song. In the singing competitions, which are held on a stage, singers are given a subject and they quickly have to compose a song about it. There are individual, duet and team competitions and participants are judged on their singing, their improvisations and their words. Sometime the singing is gentle and soft. Other times it is more forceful.

Nadun: Tu Summer Festival

"Nadun" in the Tu language means "play", "entertainment" and "game". It describes a festival celebrating the harvest of Tu people in the regions of Guanting, Zhongchuan and Gangou, Minhe county, Qinghai province. Also known as the "party of farmers", "party of celebrating harvest" and "July party", Nadun is held in each summer after the wheat harvest, generally from July 12 to September 15 according to the lunar calendar. The event lasts for two months; some people say it is "the longest carnival in the world". Activities and are sponsored by all the local villages from the east to the west, and end in the central regions. By the time, the threshing ground are filled with wheat, colored flags flutter in the wind, and the sounds of singing, drums and gongs fill the air. Nadun is mainly a time for relatives and friends to mingle and male and female youths to look for partners.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

The main Nadun activities are dances and drama performances. The "Huishou dance"—traditionally the first dance of the festival— is a mass collective dance with scores, even hundreds, of people participating, in the sequence from old to young. Generally the old man that starts the dance—often wearing gown and holding a fan in his hands as he dances— is the organizer or Nadun and leader of the Nadun dance. Though he is over sixty years old and his silver beard hangs down to his chest, he still dances with vigorous strides, naturally and freely. Middle-aged people, young people and children follow him in sequence. To the accompaniment of drums and gongs, all the dancers step, sway their bodies, move from left to right and dance by circling around one another. ~

After the "Huishou dance", the mime dance drama Crops Qi is performed by dancer-actprs wearing masks. One common drama depicts a father teaching “agricultural production technologies: to the son in the form of dance. The performance is lively, funny and amusing. Other popular stories include The Three Kingdoms, Three Generals and Five Generals. The the last mask dance—The General That Killed the Tiger— shows the production and life of the ancestors of the Tu nationality when were nomadic animal herders. It demonstrates the indomitable struggling spirit of the Tu in their fight against the nature.

On the origins of Nadun, according to legend: long long ago, there was a Tu carpenter who was summoned by a king to construct a palace. He was selected because of his outstanding skill and great fame. After the magnificent palace was finished, the king unexpectedly ordered that all the craftsmen, including the Tu carpenter, be executed so that no one else could enjoy such a palace. The carpenter fled back to hometown, and assembled a crowd and started an uprising. The king sent the army to suppress them. The village people that were completely surrounded when the carpenter suddenly came up with a bright idea. He ordered all of his people to stage a festival so they would appear to be non-threatening. Drums and gongs were beaten, people feasted and played games; war flags and weapons were put away. When the army entered the town they found that all the people were calm and having a good time. Since there was no sign of rebellion they returned to the king. To memorialize this quick-witted and brave carpenter, people began holding similar activities every year and this developed into the present Nadun.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, map from Joshua Project, Chinese government

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, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated October 2022

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