¡¡¡¡The Kazak ethnic minority, with a population
of 1,250,458, mainly lives in the Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture,
Mori Kazak Autonomous County and Barkol Kazak Autonomous County
in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Some are also located in
the Haixi Mongolian, Tibetan and Kazak Autonomous Prefecture in
Qinghai Province and the Aksay Kazak Autonomous County in Gansu
The Kazak language belongs to the Turkic
branch of the Altaic language family. As the Kazaks live in mixed
communities with the Hans, Uygurs and Mongolians, the Kazaks have
assimilated many words from these languages. They had a written
language based on the Arabic alphabet, which is still in use, but
a new Latinized written form was evolved after the founding of the
People¡¯s Republic of China.
Except for a few settled farmers, most
of the Kazaks live by animal husbandry. They migrate to look for
pasturage as the seasons change. In spring, summer and autumn, they
live in collapsible round yurts and in winter build flat-roofed
earthen huts in the pastures. In the yurt, living and storage spaces
are separated. The yurt door usually opens to the east, the two
flanks are for sleeping berths and the center is for storing goods
and saddles; in front are placed cushions for visitors. Riding and
hunting gear, cooking utensils, provisions and baby animals are
kept on both sides of the door.
The pastoral Kazaks live off their
animals. They produce a great variety of dairy products. For instance,
Nai Ge Da (milk dough) Nai Pi Zi (milk skin) and cheese. Butter
is made from cow's and sheep's milk. They usually eat mutton stewed
in water without salt ¨C a kind of meat eaten with the hands. By
custom, they slaughter animals in late autumn and cure the meat
by smoking it for the winter. In spring and summer, when the animals
are putting on weight and producing lots of milk, the Kazak herdsmen
put fresh horse milk in shaba (barrels made of horse hide) and mix
it regularly until it ferments into the cloudy, sour horse milk
wine, a favorite summer beverage for the local people. The richer
herdsmen drink tea boiled with cow's or camel's milk, salt and butter.
Rice and wheat flour confections also come in a great variety: Nang
(baked cake), rice cooked with minced mutton and eaten with the
hands, dough fried in sheep's fat, and flour sheets cooked with
mutton. Their diet contains few vegetables.
The horse-riding Kazak herdsmen are
traditionally clad in loose, long-sleeved furs and garments made
of animal skins. The garments vary among different localities and
tribes. In winter, the men usually wear sheepskin shawls, and some
wear overcoats padded with camel hair, with a belt decorated with
metal patterns at the waist and a sword hanging at the right side.
The trousers are mostly made of sheepskin. Women wear red dresses
and in winter they don cotton-padded coats, buttoned down the front.
Girls like to sport embroidered cloth leggings bedecked with silver
coins and other silver ornaments, which jangle as they walk. Herdsmen
in the Altay area wear square caps of baby-lamb skin or fox skin
covered with bright-colored brocade, while those in Ili sport round
animal-skin caps. Girls used to decorate their flower-patterned
hats with owl feathers, which waved in the breeze. All the women
wear white-cloth shawls, embroidered with red-and-yellow designs.
The Kazak family and marriage in history
fully showed the characteristics of the patriarchal feudal system.
The male patriarch enjoyed absolute authority at home; the wife
was subordinate to the husband, and the children to the father.
The women had no right to property. The marriage of the children
and the distribution of property were all decided by the patriarch.
When the man came of age and got married he received some property
from his parents and began to live independently in his own yurt.
Only the youngest brother eventually stayed with the family. Herdsmen
with close blood relations formed an "Awul" (a nomadic
clan). Rich herd owners or venerated elders were considered the
"Awulbas" (chiefs of the community).
The Kazak people usually practiced
monogamy, but in the old society, polygamy was quite common among
the feudal lords and tribal chiefs, in accordance with their Islamic
feudal mercenary marriage system deprived young men and women of
their independence in matrimonial affairs and high bride prices
were charged. Hence richer people married up to four wives each
and poor herdsmen were unable economically to establish a family.
Among the latter, a system of "barter marriage" was practiced.
Two families, for example, could exchange their daughters as each
other's daughter-in-law without asking for betrothal gifts. This
often gave rise to a large disparity in age of the matrimonial partners,
let alone mutual affection.
The Kazaks are warm-hearted, sincere
and hospitable. They entertain all guests, invited and uninvited
alike, with the best things they have -- usually a prize sheep.
At dinner, the host presents a dish of mutton with the sheep's head
to the guest, who cuts a slice off the right cheek and puts it back
on the plate as a gesture of appreciation. He then cuts off an ear
and offers it to the youngest among those sitting round the dinner
table. He then gives the sheep's head back to the host.
The Kazaks are Muslims. Though there
are not many mosques in the pastures, Islam exercises a great influence
upon their social life in all aspects. Their religious burdens used
to be heavy. They had to deliver religious food grain and animal
taxes in accordance with Islamic rules. If they wanted to invite
mullahs for prayers on occasions of festivals, wedding, burial ceremonies
or illnesses, they had to present given amounts of money or property.
The Kazaks' festivals and ceremonies
are related to religion. The Corban and Id El-fitr festivals are
occasions for feasts of mutton and mutual greetings. The Nawuruz
Festival in the first month of the lunar calendar is a grand occasion
to say good-bye to the old, usher in the new, and hope for a better
year in stockbreeding. Every family entertains with "kuji,"
a food made of mutton, milk dough, barley, wheat and other delicacies.
They give feasts when there are births, engagements or weddings.
The Kazaks, men and women alike, are
good horse riders. Young men like wrestling and a game in which
horsemen compete for a sheep. There are horsemanship displays on
the grasslands during festivals. The young people like to play a
"girl-running-after-boy" game. The boys and girls ride
their horses to an appointed place; the boys can ¡°flirt with¡± the
girls on the way. However, on the way back, the girls chase the
boys and are entitled to whip them if they can as a way of "vengeance."
Such merry-making more often than not terminates with love and marriage.
This ethnic minority has its own rich
literary heritage. As there were many illiterates, folk literature
handed down orally was quite developed. After liberation, ballad
singers, or "Akens," made great efforts to collect, study
and re-create old verses, tales, proverbs, parables and maxims.
Many outstanding Kazak classic and contemporary works have been
published in the Kazak language.
Kazak music and dance also have their
own unique features and are very popular. The Kazaks like summer
the best, terming it merry-making time. They often sing and dance
throughout summer nights on the pastures. The two-stringed instrument
is their favorite.
All Kazaks belonged to definite clans before
1949. They and their area were divided into three hordes (ordas):
the Great Horde, Middle Horde and Little Horde -- or the Right,
Left and Western branches as the Qing government documents referred
to them. The Middle Horde was the most powerful, with the largest
number of people and most complete clan lineage. The Kazaks in China
mostly belonged to the Great and Middle Hordes.
The clans were formally blood groups
of different sizes. The smallest productive organization and nomadic
community within the clan was the "Awul," people with
the same grandfather or father; sometimes they included people without
any blood ties, mostly dependent poor herdsmen from without. So,
there was a sharp contrast of wealth in the "Awul" of
three, five, a dozen or more families. Owing to wars, migration
or other causes, such internal blood relations became very loose.
The ruling group was composed of the
nobility, tribal chiefs, herd owners and "Bis." The Bis
generally came from a rich herdsman's family, were well-versed in
the laws, customs and eloquence, and were generally regarded as
qualified mediators. The ethnic group did not have any written law,
but each clan had its own common law which protected private property,
the privileges of the tribal chiefs, and tribal solidarity and unity.
Whenever there were disputes over property, marriage or other matters,
the "Bi" mediated and handled them in accordance with
the clan law, generally practicing "punishment by nine,"
i.e., compensation of nine head of animals paid by the loser to
the winner of the lawsuit.
The Kazak clan organization was a combination
of the feudal system of exploitation and the clan patriarchy. The
ruling class plundered the people economically and enjoyed political
privileges. The majority of the poor herdsmen were deprived of all
The Kazaks have accumulated much experience
in stock raising over a long period of history. However, under the
feudal system, their production level was very low and, being conservative
in technical matters, the nomads made little effort to improve their
expertise and depended entirely on the natural growth of the stock.
As they had no means to resist natural disasters, great numbers
of animals died in snowstorms in winter and spring. Disease also
took its toll of the herds.
Kazak handicrafts were basically a
family undertaking. Blacksmiths and carpenters were not specialized,
they were herdsmen with expertise in these fields. The making of
buttered tea, milk products and felt, tanning animal skins and tailoring
furs were all done by women. Though Kazak animal husbandry provided
wool, hides and skins and livestock, the commodity economy was not
developed. In the pastures barter trade was in vogue, with sheep
as the standard of the price. The herdsmen exchanged their stock
for food grain, tea, cloth, daily utensils and handicrafts. In remote
Altay, they bartered a sheep skin for only 100 to 150 grams of tea.
A minority of rich Kazaks in the early
20th century owned thousands of head of cattle, sheep,
horses and camels, while the majority of herdsmen kept very little
stock and that was for subsistence. Though the pastures were owned
by the whole tribe, they were in fact the property of clan chieftains
and big herd-owners, the winter pasturelands in particular.
As commerce developed in Xinjiang after
the 19th century, Kazak animal husbandry economy grew closer ties
with markets. The merchants, the privileged Russian merchants in
particular, plundered the herdsmen through unfair exchange of commodities.
Usury came into being, too. Such ruthless exploitation made the
head of animals drop drastically and Kazak stock breeding virtually
struggled on the brink of bankruptcy on the eve of liberation.
The Kazaks began farming in the late
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The main farm implements include katuman
(a kind of mattock), sickles, ploughs and grinding stones. In some
localities, seeds were sown from horseback before ploughing. Flood
irrigation was used, weeding was never done and fertilizers were
not applied. As they were short of production means, the poor Kazaks
who switched to farming had to be hired hands. In the Kazak rural
and semi-rural areas, the herd-owners and herd-owner-landlords monopolized
the farmland, irrigation facilities, draught animals and farm implements.
Of all the feudal practices, "partnership
farming" was the most common. "Partnership farming"
was a form that incorporated labour rent and rent in kind. The landlords
or rich peasants offered land, seeds and farm implements, and the
tenants sold their labor, sometimes bringing with them some of the
seeds and farm implements. The harvest was divided up 50 to 50,
or two-thirds for the landlords. Exploitation through hiring of
labor was also a very common practice. The pay was either in cash
or in kind, all very low. Water and farm implements were leased
by the landlords, who made use of feudal privileges to force peasants
to toil for them without pay or exercised political persecution,
sometimes even to the extent of enslaving the peasants, for the
History of the Kazaks
There are many records on the origin
of the Kazak ethnic minority in Chinese history. In the more than
500 years since Zhang Qian of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.
25) went as a special envoy to Wusun in 119 B.C., the inhabitants
of the Ili River valley and round the Issyk Kul were mainly Wusun
people and part of the Saizhong and Yueshi ethnic people, the forefathers
of the Kazaks. As early as the reign of Emperor Wu Di (140-88 B.C.)
of the Western Han Dynasty, Wusun established tributary relations
of alliance with the Han court through the marriage of Xijun and
Xieyou princesses and woman official Feng Liao with the Wusun King
of Kunmo and senior generals. In the mid-sixth century, the Turkomans
founded a Turkic khanate in the Altay Mountains. As a result, they
mixed with the Wusun people, and the forefathers of the Kazaks later
mixed with the nomadic or semi-nomadic Uighurs, Geluolus, Qidans
(Khitans), Kelies, Naimans and Mongols of the Kipchak and Jagatai
khanates. The fact that some of the Kazak tribes still retained
the names of Wusun, Kelie and Naiman into later centuries sufficiently
proves that the Kazak ethnic minority is an old ethnic group in
In the early 13th century, as Genghis
Khan marched westward, the Wusun, Kelie and Naiman tribes had to
move likewise. Part of the Kipchak, Jagatai and Wuokuotai khanates
of the Mongol Empire were Kazak pastures. In the 1460s, some of
the herdsmen in the lower reaches of the Syr-Darya, under the leadership
of Jilai and Zanibek, returned to the Chuhe River valley south of
Lake Balkhash. As they went eastward to escape the rule of the Ozbek
Khanate, they were named "Kazak," meaning "refugees"
or "runaways." They then mixed with southward-moving Ozbeks
and the settled Mongols of the Jagatai Khanate. As the population
grew, they extended their pastures to northwest of Lake Balkhash,
the Chu River valley and to Tashkent, Andizan and Samarkand in Central
Asia, gradually evolving into the Kazak ethnic group.
From the mid-18th century, Tsarist
Russia began to invade Central Asia and eat up Kazak grasslands
and areas east and south of Lake Balkhash -- part of China's territory.
After the mid-19th century, owing to aggression by the Tsar, the
Middle and Little hordes and the western branch of the Great Horde
were cut off from China. Russian Cossacks infiltrated the area,
driving the Kazaks into the deserts where men and animals could
hardly survive. From 1864 to 1883, the Tsarist government compelled
the Qing court to sign a number of unequal treaties, forcing the
principle of "people go with the land" on the "Tacheng
Protocol on the Delimitation of Sino-Russian Boundary." This
met with strong opposition from the local minority nationalities.
Many Mongolians, Kazaks and Kirgiz migrated back to Chinese-controlled
territory. Twelve Kazak Kelie clans grazing near Zhaysang Lake moved
their animals south of the Altay Mountains in 1864. More than 3,000
families of the Kazak Heizai clan moved to Ili and Bortala in 1883.
Many others followed suit after the delimitation of the border.
The Ili Uprising during the Revolution
of 1911 overthrew Qing rule in Xinjiang. However, it did not shake
the foundation of feudal system, as warlords Yang Zengxin, Jin Shuren
and Sheng Shicai gained control of the region. The Chinese Communist
Party began to carry out revolutionary activities among the Kazaks
in 1933. Fearful that their feudal privileges might be encroached
upon, the feudal rulers within the ethnic group boycotted the establishment
of schools and the development of farming, and other economic and
cultural undertakings. Under warlord Sheng Shicai's rule, some Kazaks
had to flee their homes, and others, because of threats and cheating
by chieftains, moved to Gansu and Qinghai provinces from 1936 to
1939. There, they were plundered and massacred by warlord Ma Bufang.
Ma also sowed dissension among the Kazaks, Mongolians and Tibetans,
and instigated them to fight each other. As a result, the Kazaks
launched an uprising in Golmud in 1939. Those in Gansu and Qinghai
had to lead a vagrant life until China¡¯s national liberation in
A revolution against Kuomintang rule
took place in Ili, Tacheng and Altay in 1944. Kazaks, who constituted
the majority, and the Uygurs of Nilka County formed three armed
guerrilla units to start it. During the period of the Liberation
War in the later 1940s, the Kuomintang tore to shreds the "Eleven
Articles on Peace" it had signed with the revolutionary government
of the three districts. It instigated Usman, a Kazak political turncoat,
to start an armed uprising to smash the revolution. He attacked
Altay twice, in October of 1946 and in September of 1947, looting
and burning the houses of the local people. The Kazaks and people
of other ethnic groups beat him off in the end.