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The "Shaanxi Village" in Kazakhstan
2004-7-9 11:07:45     CRIENGLISH.com
Sitting in Central Asia near the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, along the two banks of the Qiuhe (autumn river), which is some 1000 kilometers away from China, lives a special group of people.

Looking very different to their neighbours and speaking typical Shaanxi dialect, they call the local government "Yamen" (government office in old China), and sing "Qinqiang", better known as Shanxi Opera (a kind of local opera popular in China's Shaanxi and Gansu Province). These are the Dungan people of the "Shaanxi Village" in Kazakhstan.

 Dungan bride
In the mid 19th century, the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) created havoc and was the greatest war against foreign aggression and feudalism in China's history. Many members of Hui minorities from Shaanxi, Gansu and Ningxia enthusiastically joined the rebellion, known as the "Hui Minorities' War". In 1877, after they failed, some ten thousand survivors were forced to flee. They headed west and crossed the Tianshan Mountain, which runs across China's border to the territory of Kazakhstan. Some 3314 people survived the journey and made it to Central Asia, settling near the Qiuhe river in what was then part of the of the former Russian empire.

The Russian government received them and granted them 70,000 mu (a "mu" equals to 1/15 of a hectare) of nearby fields and exempted them from taxation for 10 years. There, they began to grow crops and vegetables with the seeds they brought from hometown. The Russians called them "Dungan people" (Dungan means the east part of Gansu).

When the former Soviet Union split, the place they used to live respectively belonged to three countries: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Since two of their major villages, Panying and Xinqu remained in Kazakhstan, most of the Dungan people are now Kazakhstan passport holders.

Boasting the largest overseas Hui minority immigration group outside of china, the population of the Dungan people now stands at 120,000.

The Dungan people are a united and diligent group. Farming is their pillar industry. And they grow some 50% of the vegetables and grains of the entire Kazakhstan country. From them, local people were introduced to vegetables like leek, celery, and mushrooms. From this stronghold, Shaanxi-style food spread across Kazakhstan and even the former Soviet Union. In the capital city, Astana, there are over 30 Shaanxi-style restaurants, all doing a thriving business. Besides, trade also plays an important role in their life. Compared to local people, the Dungan are relatively well off as vegetables are expensive all over Central Asian, thus the small fields owned by each family has become the basis of a stable and considerable income. Almost every family owns a car.

Shanxi village head An Husai (right) finds an aunt of his father's family back in Shanxi province.
The Dungans speak Russian and Kazak with local people, and talk with their family in fluent Shaanxi dialect. However, they don't know how to write and read Chinese characters any more. Over the years they have invented a unique writing language of their own, which is probably the only script of its kind¨Cusing Russian script to write in Shaanxi dialect. They have a newspaper as well as a complete series of textbooks from elementary school to high school.

Dungan people have introduced Chinese culture to local people while preserving many of their old traditions. Take marriage for example, they still strictly stick to the old rituals, many of which are rarely seen nowadays in China. First, matchmaking is an indispensable procedure. And the matchmaker must make several visits to the girl's family. Youngsters usually get married in their early 20s. After getting the approval of the girl's parents, the next stage is to set the dowry and bride price. Then the girl begins to prepare the dowry, including embroidered shoes and clothes, and bedding materials, which usually takes several months. The wedding day perhaps is the most dress-up day for a girl's whole life, her hair will be coiled into a Yanyantou (women's hair style in late Qing Dynasty), and she'll wear red silk cloth and red embroidered shoes, which she have learned how to make as a child. The wedding carnival usually lasts two weeks.¡¡

The vocabulary of the Dungan people is in many ways the same as it was more than 100 years ago, which made them sound a little strange when talking with today's Shaanxi people. Therefore, helping their folks to learn classical Chinese becomes a headache for An Husai. The 44-year-old is the Sixth village head of the "Shaanxi Village". His formal title is the Chairman of the Dungan Association of Kazakhstan, a standing committee member of the People's Committee of Kazakhstan, and the Chairman of the Shanxi Group Farm of Zhambyl state of Kazakhstan.

An Husai is a folk hero and leader of the Dungan people, who has had strong feelings for China. Since 1994, he began to return to Shaanxi, until now, he has been back and forth for nearly 30 times. His trips promote their ties with their homeland, and also bring more cooperation and trade between the two countries. He has sent dozens of youngsters back in Shaanxi to learn Chinese.

Over the past 127 years, the Dungan people have made great contributions to Central Asia. Ever since they first arrived, they took an active role in participating local politics. They joined the first and second Great War and contributed many heroes, whose devotion is celebrated by local people as well. The then Russian government even changed the name of Panying village to Ma Sanqi Village in memory of a brave hero with the same name.

Besides fighters, the Dungan people have produced musicians and artists, professors and farmers. These are a people who have made a big name for themselves in their new home. (photos from thebeijingnews.com / by Zhang) 

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