ˇˇˇˇPeople of the Dongxiang
ethnic minority live in the part of the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture
situated south of the Yellow River and southwest of Lanzhou, capital
city of the northwest province of Gansu. Half of them dwell in the
Dongxiang Autonomous County, and the rest are scattered in Hezheng
and Linxia counties, the city of Lanzhou, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous
Region and some other places.
The Dongxiang ethnic minority received
its name from the place it lives -- Dongxiang. However, this ethnic
group was not recognized as a minority prior to the founding of
the People's Republic in 1949. The Dongxiangs were then called "Dongxiang
Huis" or "Mongolian Huis." The Dongxiang language
is basically similar to Mongolian, both belonging to the Mongolian
branch of the Altaic language family. It contains quite a number
of words borrowed from the Han Chinese language. Most of the Dongxiang
people also speak Chinese, which is accepted as their common written
language. Quite a few of them can use Arabic alphabet to spell out
and write Dongxiang or Chinese words.
The Dongxiangs are an agricultural
people who grow potatoes, wheat, maize and broad beans as well as
hemp, rapeseed and other industrial crops.
Historians are divided in their views
about the origin of the Dongxiang ethnic minority. Some hold that
they are descendants of Mongolian troops posted in the Hezhou area
by Genghis Khan (1162-1227) during his march to the west. Other
historians say they are a mixture of many races -- Hui, Mongolian,
Han and Tibetan groups.
However, according to legends and historical
data, the Dongxiangs probably originated from the Mongolians. As
far back as the 13th century, Mongolian garrison units were stationed
in the Dongxiang area. In these units were Mongols and military
scouts and artisans Genghis Khan brought from West Asia. In time
of war, the military scouts would fight as soldiers on the battlefield.
And they farmed and raised cattle and sheep in time of peace. These
garrison troops later took local women as wives, and their offspring
at the beginning were called "military households" which
became "civilian households" with the passage of time.
During the early years of the Ming
Dynasty (1368-1644), they were offered amnesty by the Ming rulers,
and they settled down permanently in the Dongxiang area.
The Dongxiang people had been groaning
under national and class oppression throughout the ages. This had
driven them to take up arms against their oppressors many times.
For several decades before the founding
of the People's Republic in 1949, the Dongxiang people were suffering
under the oppressive rule of the feudal Hui warlords, Ma Anliang,
Ma Qi and Ma Bufang, and Kuomintang warlord Liu Yufen.
What infuriated the Dongxiangs most
was the pressganging of their young men into the armed forces by
the Kuomintang and Hui warlords. At one swoop in 1948, the pressgangs
rounded up a total of more than 3,000 young men. Even the ahungs
in some mosques were not spared. They were thrown into the army
after their beards were shaved. Pressganging operations that were
carried out time and again had made the Dongxiang villages and towns
devoid of young men.
The Dongxiangs are Moslems, and at
one time there were 595 mosques and 79 other places of worship in
the Dongxiang area. This gave every 30 Dongxiang households a place
of worship. Apart from the 12 imams, there were more than 2,000
full-time religious workers. That means every 18 households had
to provide for one religious worker. And there were 34 different
kinds of religious expenses which had to be borne by the ordinary
The Moslems in the Dongxiang area were
then divided into three sects -- the Old, the New and the Emerging
sects. Carrying out a "divide and rule" policy, the ruling
class sowed dissension among these sects. As a result, the Moslems
were at feud among themselves. At times there were armed clashes.
Since the early days of 1950s, the
Chinese government has pursued a policy of freedom of religious
beliefs in the Dongxiang area and taken measures to restore unity
among the Moslem population. In 1958, the Dongxiang people carried
out the struggle against religious and feudal privileges and the
system of oppression and exploitation. This resulted in a further
liberation of the productive forces.
"Flowers" in Bloom
There are in the Dongxiang area many
folk songs which the local people have dubbed "flowers"
and were sung in the past by people to express their hopes for a
better life and to pour out their wrath against oppression. The
"flowers," which had been ruthlessly trampled down in
the old days, began to blossom anew following the emancipation of
the Dongxiang people.
There are quite a number of popular
narrative poems and folktales in the Dongxiang area. The long poem
"Meilagahei and Miss Machenglong" sings the praise of
the heroism of a young couple who pitted themselves against out-moded
ethics and the feudal marriage system. The folklore "Green
Widow Kills the Boa" depicts the courage, wisdom and self-sacrificing
spirit of Dongxiang women.
Many changes took place in the Dongxiang
area after the arrival of the People's Liberation Army in the autumn
of 1949. On September 25, 1950, the Dongxiang Autonomous County
was founded to be followed by the establishment of many ethnic minority
townships in other localities. "Solidarity Committees"
were set up everywhere to eliminate disunity then still existing
between the Dongxiangs and other ethnic groups. Many Dongxiangs
were trained to be government functionaries at various levels.
Trees and grass were and are being
planted on barren hills to check erosion which had plagued the Dongxiang
area for ages. Large tracts of farmland on hill slopes have been
transformed into terraced plots. All this, coupled with the construction
of irrigation facilities, has greatly raised annual grain production.
A power station and factories turning
out farm implements, cement, flour, bricks and tiles have made their
appearance in the area, one of the most under-developed localities
in China a few decades ago. Transport and travelling have been made
easier with the arrival of trucks and buses, and with the construction
of a highway network that links together all the townships, and
the Dongxiang area with the provincial capital of Lanzhou.
Diseases such as kala-azar and leprosy
in the area have, in the main, been stamped out, thanks to improved
health care and health education conducted among the people.