ETHNONYMS: Daguer, Dahuer, Dawoer
The Daur are one of China's northern minorities. They numbered 121,627 in 1990. About 60 percent live in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region in the Molidawa Daur Autonomous Banner District. Established in 1958, the district covers some 31,200 square kilometers. Another 30 percent live in neighboring Heilongjiang Province and most of the remainder are settled near Qiqihar (Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region), descendants of those relocated there in the mid-eighteenth century. There are four distinct dialects of Daur, a Mongolian language. Because of population spread and long association with other ethnic groups, many Daur are bilingual, using Chinese, Uigur, Mongolian, Hezhen, or Kazak. Manchu words appear within the Daur dialects, and during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) the Daur used the Manchu writing system. At that time they played an important role in the commerce between interior China and the grasslands beyond the Great Wall, trading furs and skins and medicinal materials in return for gold and items for daily use. Lumbering and some commercial river fishing were also an important part of the economy. Chinese sources claim different times for their transformation from a relatively egalitarian, lineage-organized society—based on hunting, pastoralism, and simple agriculture—to a more complex one.
Since the 1950s, the local economy has been a mix of agriculture and pastoralism (horses, sheep, and cattle) with hunting on a limited scale. Millet, oats, and buckwheat are the main food crops, eaten as a porridge to which milk, butter, and/or sugar are added. Under socialist planning, the authorities have encouraged the Daur to plant large fields of soybeans, maize, and gaoliang (sorghum). Venison, wild fowl, and fish continue as part of the diet while leather and furs are used for clothing. Big-wheeled oxcarts were in common use for transport until fairly recently, when they were supplanted by railway lines and motor transport.
Daur society is divided into localized patrilineages (mokan ) whose members share a common surname and live in one village. The next highest grouping is the hala, a shared-surname group found in several villages. Spouses must come from outside one's hala. Marriages are parentally arranged with the aid of a go-between, with a preference for matrilateral cross-cousin marriage. Such arrangements in the past were usually made when the prospective spouses were children, or even before birth. The bride was sometimes raised in her future husband's household. Marriage to a mature girl required a bride-price of horses, cattle, wine, and luxury foods. The mother's brother has a lifelong continued interest in his sister's children and assists them economically and socially.
The Daur have not accepted the religions of their neighbors, save for a small percentage who follow Lamaist Buddhism. Religious worship focuses on a number of gods, most importantly a grouping of sky gods (tenger ) to whom annual sacrifices are made. Numerous other gods, represented by paintings or idols, are the spirits inherent in different kinds of natural forces, animals, and objects, and a few gods are borrowed from the Han. An ancestral god, identified as a particular ancestor (often female) is worshiped by each hala and mokan. Shamanism is an important component of religious activities at the household, lineage, and community levels. Every mokan has its own shaman (more frequently female) for dealing with sickness, birth, and domestic problems. The Daur believe that each living creature has a soul that leaves the body at death and can be reincarnated. Exemplary persons might become gods, while the worst remain in hell.
Bender, Mark, and Su Huana (n.d.). Folktales of the Daur Nationality. Beijing: New World Press.
Fan Yumei, et al., eds. (1987). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu fengqinglu (Customs of China's national minorities). Chengdu: Sichuan Nationalities Press.
National Minorities Commission, ed. (1981). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu (China's national minorities). Beijing: Peoples Press.
Schwarz, Henry G. (1984). The Minorities of Northern China: A Survey. Bellingham: Western Washington University Press.