¡¡¡¡The Kirgiz ethnic
minority, with a population of 160,823, finds 80 per cent of its
inhabitants in the Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture in the southwestern
part of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The rest live in the
neighboring Wushi (Uqturpan), Aksu, Shache (Yarkant), Yingisar,
Taxkorgan and Pishan (Guma), and in Tekes, Zhaosu (Monggolkure),
Emin (Dorbiljin), Bole (Bortala), Jinghe (Jing) and Gonliu in northern
Xinjiang. Several hundred Kirgiz whose forefathers emigrated to
Northeast China more than 200 years ago now live in Wujiazi Village
in Fuyu County, Heilongjiang Province.
Origins and History
The Kirgiz language belongs to
the Turkic subdivision of the Altaic family of languages. It borrowed
many words from the Chinese language after the 1950s, and a new
alphabet was then devised, discarding the old Arabic script and
adopting a Roman alphabet-based script. The Uygur and Kazak languages
are also used by the Kirgiz in some localities.
The forefathers of the Kirgiz lived
on the upper reaches of the Yenisey River. In the mid-sixth century
A.D., the Kirgiz tribe was under the rule of the Turkic Khanate.
After the Tang Dynasty (618-907) defeated the Eastern Turkic Khanate,
the Kirgiz came into contact with the dynasty and in the 7th century
the Kirgiz land was officially included in China's territory.
From the 7th to the 10th century, the
Kirgiz had very frequent communications with the Han Chinese. Their
musical instruments -- the drum, sheng (a reed pipe), bili (a bamboo
instrument with a reed mouthpiece) and panling (a group of bells
attached to a tambourine) -- showed that the Kirgiz had attained
quite a high level of culture. According to ancient Yenisey inscriptions
on stone tablets, after the Kirgiz developed a class society, there
was a sharp polarization and class antagonism. Garments, food and
housing showed marked differences in wealth and there were already
words for "property," "occupant," "owner"
During the Liao and Song dynasties
(916-1279), the Kirgiz were recorded as "Xiajias" or "Xiajiaz".
The Liao government established an office in the Xiajias area. In
the late 12th century when Genghis Khan rose, Xiajias was recorded
in Han books of history as "Qirjis" or "Jilijis,"
still living in the Yenisey River valley. From the Yuan Dynasty
(1206-1368) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Jilijis, though
still mainly living by nomadic animal husbandry, had emigrated from
the upper Yenisey to the Tianshan Mountains and become one of the
most populous Turkic-speaking tribal groups. After the 15th century,
though there were still tribal distinctions, the Jilijis tribes
in the Tianshan Mountains had become a unified entity.
In the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911),
the Kirgiz, who had remained in the upper Yenisey River reaches,
emigrated to the Tianshan Mountains to live together with their
kinfolk. Many then moved to the Hindukush and Karakorum Mountains.
At this time, some Kirgiz left their homeland and emigrated to Northeast
China. In 1758 and 1759, the Sayak and Sarbagex tribes of Eastern
Blut and the Edegena tribe of Western Blut, and 13 other tribes
-- a total of 200,000 -- entered the Issyk Kul pastoral area and
asked to be subjected to the Qing.
The Kirgiz played a major role with
their courage, bravery and patriotism in the defense of modern China
against foreign aggression.
The Kirgiz and Kazaks assisted the
Qing government in its efforts to crush the rebellion by the nobility
of Dzungaria and the Senior and Junior Khawaja.
They resisted assaults by the rebellious
Yukub Beg in 1864, and when the Qing troops came to southern Xinjiang
to fight Yukub Beg's army, they gave them assistance.
However, under the pretext of "border
security," the Kuomintang regime in 1944 ordered the closing
of many pasturelands, depriving the Kirgiz herdsmen of their livelihood.
As a result, the Puli Revolution broke out in what is now Taxkorgan
Tajik Autonomous County and part of the Akto area, and formed a
revolutionary government. This revolution, together with uprisings
in Ili, Tacheng and Altay, shook the Kuomintang rule in Xinjiang.
More than 7,000 people took part in the Puli Revolution, the majority
being Kirgiz, Tajiks and Uygurs.
Past Socio-economic Conditions
Before the founding of the People¡¯s
Republic of China in 1949, the Kirgiz derived their main revenue
from livestock breeding, which was entirely at the mercy of nature.
About 15 per cent of the population engaged in farming, which was
done in a very primitive way: a slash-and-burn method, without deep
ploughing and fertilizer application. The handicraft industry was
undeveloped and remained but a household undertaking. There were
workshops making horse gear, carpets, felt cloth, fur hats and knitting
wool. Cooking utensils, knives, tea, tobacco and needles had to
be bought with animals or animal by-products. Hunting was another
important sideline occupation.
The long-standing feudal patriarchal
system left a deep impact upon Kirgiz economic life. Before 1949,
10 per cent of the population owned 70 per cent of the livestock.
The masses of herdsmen owned very few or none of the domestic animals
and had to work for the herd owners and farm landlords.
Once a man was hired, his whole family
had to graze domestic animals, milk cows, shear wool, weave and
cook for the herd owner in return for only two or three sheep a
year plus food and clothing.
In the farming area, the landlord class
plundered the poor peasants through labor hiring, land and water
rent, and usury. Exploitation by religious leaders was also severe.
The land owned by the Islamic clergy had to be tilled by peasants
without pay and the taxes exacted by them accounted for 20 per cent
of an average peasant's annual income.
The Kirgiz tribal organization at that
time was as follows: a major tribe had a number of sub-tribes, not
necessarily herding in the same locality; each sub-tribe was composed
of a number of "Ayinle," or clans; an "Ayinle"
of five to ten families was a production unit as well as a traditional
social organization; within the "Ayinle" there were customary
relations of exploitation under the cover of "mutual clan assistance."
The ties between tribes were
very loose, and there were generally no relations of dependence.
The tribal chiefs, mostly big herd owners, wielded a certain degree
of political power. The rulers of the Chinese dynasties throughout
history invariably tried to accelerate and worsen the contradictions
among the tribes so that they could "divide and rule."
In the first half of the 18th century,
most of the Kirgiz in Xinjiang believed in Islam. Those in Emin
(Dorbiljin) County in Xinjiang and Fuyu County in Heilongjiang,
influenced by the Mongols, upheld Lamaism while retaining some Shamanistic
legacies: Shamanistic "gods" were invited on occasions
of sacrificial ceremonies or illnesses and the Shamanistic Snake
God was worshipped.
The Kirgiz material life is still closely
related to animal husbandry; garments, food and dwellings all distinctively
Men wear white round-collared shirts
trimmed with lace and covered by a sheepskin jacket or a blue collarless,
long cloth gown. Some wear camel wool fabrics with the sleeves in
fringed black cloth. Normally, a rawhide belt is worn at the waist,
attached to which is a knife and a flint for making fire. Some sport
jackets with a standing collar and front buttons. They wear loose
trousers and high boots. A characteristic Kirgiz shoe is made of
rawhide. Throughout the year, all men, old or young, wear round
corduroy caps in green, purple, blue or black and covered by a high,
square-topped animal skin or felt hat with a rolled-up brim. The
inside of the animal skin hat is bordered with black velvet.
Kirgiz women wear loose collarless
jackets with silver buttons down the front. The long, pleated skirt
is bordered with fur. Some wear dresses with the skirt pleated in
the lower part, and covered with a black vest. Young women like
red dresses and skirts, red velvet round caps or red otter skin
hats decorated with pearls, tassels and feathers. While young women
prefer red or green scarves, the elderly ones like white kerchiefs.
Some of women's high boots are embroidered. Unmarried girls wear
their hair in many small plaits, reduced to two after marriage.
The pigtails are decorated with silver chains, coins or keys interlinked
with a chain of pearls. Bracelets, earrings, necklaces and rings
are made of silver. Girls in some areas wear on their chests round
silver pieces carved with patterns.
The diet of the Kirgiz herdsmen mainly
consists of animal byproducts, with some cabbages, onions and potatoes.
They drink goat's milk, yogurt and tea with milk and salt. Rich
herdsmen mainly drink cow's milk and eat beef, mutton, horse and
camel meat, wheat flour and rice. They store butter in dried sheep
or cattle stomachs. All tableware is made of wood.
The tents are made of felt, generally
square in shape, fenced around with red willow stakes. The tent
frame is first covered with a mat of grass and then a felt covering
with a one-meter-square skylight, to which a movable felt cover
is attached. The tent is tied down with thick ropes to keep it steady
in strong winds and snowstorms.
The nomad Kirgiz live on the plains
near rivers in summer and move to mountain slopes with a sunny exposure
in winter. The settled Kirgiz mostly live in flat-roofed square
mud houses with windows and skylights.
The Kirgiz family is generally composed
of three generations, with married sons living with their parents.
Marriage used to be arranged by the parents, sometimes even before
birth -- this was called "marriage arrangement at pregnancy."
Traditional courtship starts when the bridegroom calls on the bride's
family with a roasted sheep. The relatives of the bride then tie
the couple to posts in front of the tent. They will be released
only after the father and brothers of the bridegroom ask for "mercy"
and present gifts. The wedding is presided over by an imam who cuts
a baked cake into two, dips the pieces in salt water and puts them
into the mouths of the newly-weds as a wish for the couple to share
weal and woe and be together for ever. The bridegroom then takes
the bride and her betrothal gifts back to his home.
There is distinct division of labor
at home: the men herd horses and cattle, cut grass and wood and
do other heavy household chores, while the women graze, milk and
shear the sheep, deliver lambs, process animal by-products and do
household chores. Before liberation, the male was predominant and
decided all matters of inheritance and property distribution. When
the son got married, he was entitled to a portion of the family
property which was usually inherited by the youngest son. Women
did not have the right to inherit. The property of a childless male
was inherited by his close relatives. When there is a funeral, all
relatives and friends attend, wearing black clothing and black kerchiefs.
The Kirgiz are very hospitable and
ceremonial. Any visitor, whether a friend or stranger, is invariably
entertained with the best -- mutton, sweet rice with cream and noodles
with sliced mutton. Offering mutton from the sheep's head shows
the highest respect for the guest. At the table, the guest is first
offered the sheep tail fat, shoulder blade mutton and then the mutton
from the head. The guest should in the meantime give some of what
is offered back to the women and children at the dinner table as
a sign of respect on the part of the visitor. Anyone who moves his
tent is entertained by his old and new neighbors as tokens of farewell
In the Kirgiz calendar, similar to
that of the Han people, the years are designated as years of the
rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, fish, snake, horse, sheep, fox, chicken,
dog and pig. The appearance of the new moon marks the beginning
of a month, 12 months form a year and 12 years is a cycle. At the
beginning of the first month of the year, the Kirgiz celebrate a
festival similar to the Spring Festival. There are also Islamic
festivals. On major festivals and summer nights, old and young,
men and women, gather on the pasturelands for celebrations: singing,
dancing, ballad-singing, story-telling and games which include competing
to snatch up a headless sheep from horseback, wrestling, horse racing,
wrestling on horseback, catching objects from racing horses, horseback
shooting, tug-of-war and swinging.
The Kirgiz are renowned singers and
dancers. The songs with rich content include lyrics, epics and folk
songs. There are many kinds of musical instrument. A three-stringed
instrument is uniquely Kirgiz.
Many poems, legends, proverbs and fables
have been handed down among the Kirgiz for centuries. The epic,
"Manas," is virtually an encyclopaedia for the study of
the ancient Kirgiz. It has 200,000 verses describing, through the
deeds of several generations of the Manas family, the bravery and
courage of the Kirgiz in resisting plunder by the nobles of Dzungaria
and their aspirations for freedom. It is also a mirror of the habits,
customs and ideas of the Kirgiz of the time.
Kirgiz paintings and carvings feature
animal horn patterns for decoration on yurts, horse gear, gravestones
and buildings. The Kirgizs like bright red, white and blue colors.
So their decorative art is always brightly colored and eye-pleasing,
and full of freshness and vitality.