Chinese Scholar Discloses Unrecorded Kirgiz History

A Chinese scholar has discovered records of the history of the Kirgiz ethnic group that has not so far been recorded in any history books.

Zhang Yonghai, an expert on the "Kirgiz epic Manass", said the classic is an accurate record of 300 years of the history of the Kirgiz people in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

China has 150,000 Kirgiz people, 80 percent of whom live in the Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang. They are descendants of an ancient nomadic tribe in northern China and many of them are engaged in traditional animal husbandry in the Tianshan Mountains and on the Pamir Plateau.

Zhang Yonghai said that the authentic "Brief History of the Kirgiz People" and "History of Relations between China's Northern Ethnic Groups" lack records of the Kirgiz people from the 10th to the 12th centuries.

Zhang said that careful comparisons between the "History of the Liao Dynasty" (a state founded by the Khitans, AD 916-1125) and the epic have helped to fill the gap.

"Manass", which took shape in the first half of the 11th century and the length of which is 15 times that of the Homeric epic the Iliad, tells the story of a Kirgiz hero, Manass, and his descendants in a narrative poem that contains myths, legends, ritual songs and proverbs.

The epic was handed down in the oral tradition from one generation to the next, and was sung at important ceremonies and festivals. Over time it grew to 230,000 lines.

Zhang said recent studies of the epic have placed the grassland to the north of Tianshan, where tombs of the heroes portrayed in the epic tale have been found, as the place of origin of the story.

He added that "Manass" reveals there was a moat around the alternate capital of the Khitans. The 1962 discovery of the moat in the remains of that capital in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is strong proof that the epic is a truthful record of the Kirgiz people at that time.

Scholars at the "Manass" Research Institute said that Zhang's hypotheses are very important for the further study of Kirgiz history.

"Manass" is one of three most famous epics in China, the other two being the Tibetan King Gesser, and the Mongolian Jangariad.

(China Daily February 19, 2002)

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