People of the Oroqen ethnic minority group
dwell in the forests of the Greater and Lesser Hinggan Mountains
in Northeast China which abound in deer and other wild beasts the
Oroqens hunt with shot-guns and dogs. The Oroqens, who lived in
a primitive communal society four and a half decades ago, have leap-frogged
several historical stages to a socialist society in the years following
the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
With no written script of their own, the Oroqens have a spoken
language belonging to the Tungus branch of the Manchu-Tungusic group
of the Altaic language family. Most of them have learned to read
and write the language of the Hans, the biggest ethnic group in
The Oroqen population, which stood at 4,000 in 1917, dropped to
3,700 in 1943. A census taken in 1953 showed that their number had
plummeted to 2,250. The population has started to grow slowly but
steadily since, and the census in 1982 showed that their number
has reached 4,100. The 1990 national census showed 7,000.
Most of the Oroqens live in the 55,000-square-kilometer Oroqen
Autonomous Banner in the Greater Hinggan Mountains. Others have
their home in several localities in Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang
Province. Situated in Inner Mongolia's Hulunbuir League, the Oroqen
Autonomous Banner is 97 per cent forested land. The seat of the
autonomous government is Alihe, a rising town with highways, railways,
cinemas, hotels, department stores, restaurants, electric lighting
and other modern amenities.
For generations the Oroqens had lived a life of hunting and fishing
in the forests. They went on hunting expeditions in groups, and
the game bagged was distributed equally not only to those taking
part in the hunt, but also to the aged and infirm. The heads, entrails
and bones of the animals killed were not distributed but were cooked
and eaten by all. Later, deer antlers, which fetched a good price,
were not distributed but went to the hunters who killed the animals.
On the eve of the founding of the PRC in 1949, polarization was
quite marked in some localities where horses, on which Oroqens rode
on hunting trips, belonged to individuals. The rich owned a large
number of horses and the poor owned a few. Horses were hired out
to those hunters who needed them, and payment took the form of game
sent to horse owners. Such a practice gradually developed into rent
and exploitation of man by man.
The Oroqens are an honest and friendly people who always treat
their guests well. People who lodge in an Oroqen home would often
hear the housewife say to the husband early in the morning: "I'm
going to hunt some breakfast for our guests and you go to fetch
water." When the guests have washed, the woman with gun slung over
her shoulders would return with a roe back. The Oroqens are expert
hunters. Both the males and females are sharp shooters on horseback.
Boys usually start to go out on hunting trips with their parents
or brothers at the age of seven or eight. And they would be stalking
wild beasts in the deep forest all on their own at 17. A good hunter
is respected by all and young maidens like to marry him.
Horses are indispensable to the Oroqens on their hunting expeditions.
Hunters ride on horses, which also carry their family belongings
and provisions as well as the game they killed over mountains and
across marshes and rivers. The Oroqen horse is a very sturdy breed
with extra-large hooves that prevent the animal from sinking into
Oroqen women, who also hunt, show marvelous skill in embroidering
patterns of deer, bears and horses on pelts and cloth that go into
the making of head gears, gloves, boots and garments. Oroqen women
also make basins, bowls, boxes and other objects from birch barks.
Engraved with various designs and dyed in color, these objects are
artistic works that convey the idea of simplicity and beauty. Taught
by their mothers while still very young to rub fur, dry meat and
gather fruit in the forest, Oroqen girls start to do household work
at 13 or 14. Pelts prepared by Oroqen women are soft, fluffy and
light, and they are used in making garments, hats, gloves, socks
and blankets as well as tents.
The Oroqens, who led a primitive life, used to have many taboos.
One prohibited a woman from giving birth in the home. She had to
do that in a little hut built outside the house in which she would
be confined for a month before she could return home with her newborn.
The Oroqens are a race of dancers and singers. Men, women and
children often gather to sing and dance when the hunters return
with their game or at festival times.
With a rich and varied repertory of folk songs, the Oroqens sing
praises of nature and love, hunting and struggles in life in a lively
rhythm. Among the most popular Oroqen dances are the "Black Bears
Fight" and "Wood Cock Dance," at which the dancers execute movements
like those of animals and birds. Also popular is a ritual in which
members of a clan gather to perform dances depicting events in clan
"Pengnuhua" (a kind of harmonica) and "Wentuwen" (hand drum)
are among the traditional instruments used. Played by Oroqen musicians,
these instruments produce tunes that sound like the twittering of
birds or the braying of deer. These instruments are sometimes used
to lure wild beasts to within shooting range.
The Oroqens have many tales, fables, legends, proverbs and riddles
that have been handed down from generation to generation.
Being Shamanists or animists, the Oroqens worship nature and their
ancestors, and believe in the omnipresence of spirits. Their objects
of worship are carefully kept in birch-bark boxes hung high on trees
behind their tents.
The Oroqens have a long list of don'ts. For instance, they never
call the tiger by its actual name but just "long tail," and the
bear "granddad." Bears killed are generally honored with a series
of ceremonies; their bones are wrapped in straw placed high on trees
and offerings are made for the souls of dead bears. Oroqens do not
work out their hunting plans in advance, because they believe that
the shoulder blades of wild beasts have the power to see through
a plan when one is made.
Wind burials are practiced by the Oroqens. When a person dies
his corpse is put into a hollowed-out tree trunk and placed with
head pointing south on two-meter high supports in the forest. Sometimes
the horse of the deceased is killed to accompany the departing soul
to netherworld. Only the bodies of young people who die of contagious
diseases are cremated.
Monogamy is practiced by the Oroqens who are only permitted to
marry with people outside their own clans. Proposals for marriage
as a rule are made by go-betweens, sent to girls' families by boys'
The Oroqens originally peopled the region north of the Heilong
River and south of the Outer Hinggan Mountains. But aggression and
pillaging conducted by Tsarist Russia after the mid-17th century
forced the Oroqens to migrate to the Greater and Lesser Hinggan
Mountains. There were then seven tribes living in a clan commune
society. Each clan commune called "Wulileng" consisted of five to
a dozen families descended from a male ancestor. The commune head
was elected. In the commune, which was then the basic economic unit
of the Oroqens, all production tools were communally owned. The
commune members hunted together, and the game bagged was equally
distributed to all families.
The introduction of iron articles and guns and the use of horses
during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) raised the productive forces
of the Oroqens to a higher level. This gave rise to bartering on
a bigger scale and the emergence of private ownership. That brought
about profound social, economic changes. Individual families quit
the clan commune and became basic economic units. The clan commune
had disintegrated, though members of the same clan did live or hunt
together in the same area. Organized under the Qing Dynasty's "eight
banner system," the Oroqens were compelled to enlist in the armed
forces and send fur to the Qing court as tributes. Most soldiers
sent to fight in Xinjiang, Yunnan, Taiwan and other places lost
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 came the rule of warlords
who effected some changes in the administrative setup of the "eight
banner system." Oroqen youths were dragged into "forest guerrilla
units," and Oroqen hunters were forced to settle down to farm. Most
of them later fled back to hunt in the forests. A few whom the warlords
had made officers became landlords who hired Oroqen, Han, Manchu
and Daur laborers to open up large tracts of land for crops.
The Japanese troops, who occupied northeast China in 1931, pulled
down the cottages and smashed the farm implements of the remaining
Oroqen farmers and drove them into the forests again. Oroqen youths
were press-ganged into "forest detachments" officered by Japanese.
The Japanese occupationists introduced opium smoking to ruin the
health of the Oroqen people, some of whom were used in bacteria
experiments. All this, coupled with incidence of epidemic diseases,
had so decimated the Oroqen population that only some 1,000 of them
remained at the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945.
Over a long period of time, the Oroqens had fought alongside other
ethnic groups in China against Tsarist Russian and Japanese aggression
to safeguard national unity.
New Life After the Founding of PRC
The Oroqen ethnic group was saved from extinction and a new life
began to dawn for this ethnic minority in the years following the
conclusion of the Anti-Japanese War in 1945. Shot-guns, cartridges
and supplies of food-grain, clothes, cooking oil and salt were sent
to the Oroqens by the government in the early days after the establishment
of the People¨s Republic of China. People sent by the government
helped them to raise production as well as to set up local government.
Following the inception of the Oroqen Autonomous Banner on October
1, 1951, several autonomous townships were set up in places where
the Oroqens live in compact communities. By 1981, government allocation
for construction in these places had already amounted to 46 million
yuan. Working at leading bodies at various levels are Oroqen functionaries.
While helping the Oroqens to promote hunting, the government made
efforts to help them switch over to a diversified economy and to
lead a settled life.
The building of permanent housing for the Oroqens got started
in 1952 with government allocations. A dozen villages were built
in the Heihe Area for 300 families that used to lead a wandering
life in 51 widely-scattered localities. Another three villages were
built for 150 families in 1958.
Taught by Han and Daur farmers, the Oroqens began to grow crops
in 1956. And by 1975, the people in the autonomous banner became
self-supporting in food-grain for the first time in Oroqen history.
With no industry whatsoever in the past, the autonomous banner
has now established 37 factories and workshops turning out farm
machinery, electric appliances, flour, powdered milk, furniture,
leather, fur and candies. The banner also has built schools, department
stores, hospitals, banks and cinemas.
All school-age children are enrolled in primary and middle schools.
Every year a number of youngsters enter institutions of higher learning.
The Oroqen people also have their own song and dance troupes, film
projection teams, broadcast stations and clubs.
Diseases took a heavy toll in the old days and 80 per cent of
the women suffered from gynaecological troubles due to the lack
of doctors and medicine and ignorance. They have been put under
control with the help of mobile medical teams sent by the government,
the launching of disease-prevention campaigns and the popularization
of the knowledge of hygine. As a result the Oroqen population increased
to 4,100 in 1982.