Tu ethnic minority, known for their simplicity and industriousness,
lives in the northwestern part of China -- to the east of Qinghai
Lake and south of Qilian Mountain Range and along the banks of the
Huangshui and Datong rivers. It is concentrated mainly in the Huzhu
Tu Autonomous County in Qinghai Province, and also in the counties
of Minhe and Datong. Others are scattered in Ledu, Menyuan and the
Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County in Gansu Province.
The language of the Tu people belongs
to the Mongolian branch of the Altaic language family. Its basic
vocabulary 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. The Tu people do not have a written language of their
own; they use that of the Hans instead.
The costumes and personal adornments
of the Tu people are strikingly unique. Men and women alike wear
shirts with delicately designed embroidered collars whose colors
are bright and well blended. Men like to dress in cloth robes, putting
on high-collared fur gowns with waist belts in winter. They often
dress up in felt hats with brocade brims. For women, jackets are
tilted in the front with sleeves made up of five different kinds
of cloth. Sometimes they slip on a sleeveless garment done in black,
indicating formal attire. They used to be very particular about
hairstyles, which numbered seven or eight different varieties. But
this custom was suppressed under the Kuomintang regime before the
founding of the People¡¯s Republic in 1949. Nowadays, simple hairstyle
topped by a brocaded felt hat has become fashionable among Tu women.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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
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.
In September 1949 the Tu people ushered
in their liberation with great jubilation. With the help of the
central government in Beijing, they did away with the reactionary
social system and set up an administration of their own. This was
followed by a struggle to eliminate bandits and bring down local
despots, which paved the way for the final successful drive for
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.
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
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.
The traditional practice of cremating
the dead persists in most parts of the Tu-populated areas.
Birth of Industry
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.
Over 1,00 hectares of irrigated farmland has been newly developed,
along with the construction of 60 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.
People of the Tu ethnic group are renowned
for their talent for singing and dancing. Ballads with beautiful
melodies, as well as oral literature with stirring plots can be
heard everywhere in the Tu populated areas. A traditional ballad-singing
festival is held once a year, when thousands upon thousands of singers
and young people gather from all over the area to get together and
sing to their hearts' content.