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Identification. The Dungans are a small ethnic minority, the descendants of the Chinese Muslims who crossed the Russian border from China over 100 years ago. When the Dungans speak or write in Russian, they refer to themselves (in the plural) as "Dungane" (i.e., Dungans), and when they speak their own language they refer to themselves as "Xueidzu" (Hui-tsu in Chinese; i.e., Muslims).

Location. The Dungans live mainly in the Ch'u Valley of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Kurdai region of the Kazakh Republic. Most of them live on Dungan collective farms, a few in cities such as Frunze (renamed Bishkek), Alma-Ata (renamed Almati), Tokmak, Przheval'sk, and Dzhambul. This whole area, which is near the Tianshan (Tian Mountains), has very hot summers and very cold winters. A small number of Dungans also live in Uzbekistan.

Demography. Over 10,000 Chinese Muslims have migrated to Russia. They have flourished and increased in number in their new home. The 1979 Soviet census recorded 26,661 Dungans living in Kirghizia, 22,491 in the Kazakh Republic, and around 3,000 in the Uzbek Republic (over 52,000 people in all); by 1985 it was estimated that there were about 70,000 Dungans living in the Soviet Union. The main reasons for the growth of the population are that the Dungans have six to eight children per family, and, being hardworking and industrious peasants, they have made a success of their collective farms and have adjusted to their new life.

The small group of Dungans living in Uzbekistan have lost their identity. They are usually referred to as "the Osh group" (see "History and Cultural Relations"). After the migration from China, the forebears of this group of Dungans scattered in Uzbekistan. They adopted Uzbek tools for agriculture and the Uzbek language. As most of them were men, they took Uzbek women as wives. Although there are some Dungan families living in this area now, they are isolated; some of them have partially forgotten the Dungan customs and language.

Linguistic Affiliation. Generally speaking, the Dungans who live in Kyrgyzstan speak the Kansu dialect, and those who live in Kazakhstan speak the Shensi dialect. Dungan scholars usually divide the Dungans into the Frunze-Ch'u Valley Group, who speak the Kansu Dungan dialect, and the Tokmak Group, among whom the Shensi Dungan dialect is spoken. For example, those who live in the city of Frunze and the large villages (selo ) of Miianfan, Aleksandrovka, Kyzyl-Shark, and Yrkyk of the Kyrgyz Republic and Alma-Ata of the Kazakh Republic belong to the Frunze-Ch'u Valley Group. Those who live in Tokmak and selo Ken-Bulun of the Kyrgyz Republic and selo Masanchin and selo Shor-Tiube of the Kazakh Republic belong to the Tokmak Group. The two groups differ in language, culture, customs, and life-style. For example, Kansu Dungans pronounce "to lay an egg," "a tooth," "a rat," and "to speak" as çia tan, ia, lots'u, and fs xua, whereas Shensi Dungans pronounce these as xa tan, nia, lofu, and e xua.

The Kansu dialect is the official language of the Dungans. Radio broadcasts; the newspaper Siiyeti ts'i (October Banner); textbooks; dictionaries; and publications on Dungan language, literature, history, ethnography, poetry, and art are all in the Kansu dialect. The two Dungan dialects are similar, grammatically and phonetically, to the Kansu and Shensi dialects in China. The Dungan language has three tones. In most cases, the Mandarin first and second tones become the first tone in Dungan, and the Mandarin third and fourth tones correspond to the Dungan second and third tones, respectively.

As the Chinese Muslims who crossed the Russian border were mostly poor, illiterate peasants or small urban craftsmen and tradesmen, most of them could not read or write Chinese. After they settled in Russia they tried first, unsuccessfully, to create an alphabet based on the Arabic script, which was familiar to them from the Quran. From 1929 on they adopted the Latin alphabet and published many works, including poetry and textbooks, in that alphabet. The present Dungan alphabet, which is based on the Cyrillic alphabet plus five additional letters, was adopted at a series of conferences in Frunze in the early 1950s.

At present, not one Dungan can read or write Chinese characters. Some Dungans have read a small number of Chinese literary works in Russian translation.

Most of the Dungans are trilingual: they know Dungan, Russian, and, depending on where they live, either Kyrgyz or Kazakh. Many claim to know Tatar, Uzbek, or Uighur. (The Dungans seem to have a special affinity with the Uighurs and their language.) Their native speech, however, is sprinkled with Russian words and common expressions. The young generation prefers to read books in Russian, whereas some old Dungan men and some young and old Dungan women on the collective farms can speak only Dungan and very little Russian.

History and Cultural Relations

The Dungans crossed the Russian border first as defeated Muslim rebels from Kansu and Shensi provinces from 1877 to 1878 and then as settlers from the Ili region from 1881 to 1884. Their first migration was the direct outcome of the defeat of the Muslim rebellions in northwest China (18621878). After the fall of Kashgar and the final victory by the Manchu in Xinjiang, three groups of Muslim rebels crossed the Tianshan into Russia during the exceptionally severe winter of 1877. Many of these desperate refugees, especially old people and children, perished during this crossing. Both during the crossing and after their arrival, they were assisted by the Russians, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs. General Kolpakovsky, the governor of Semirechenskaia Oblast, was instructed to accept these refugees and to give them land. One of the main reasons for this was that Russia had recently occupied the area where Kyrgyz and Kazakhs lived and did not want to alienate these Muslim minorities by refusing to help the Muslims from China. Of the three groups, about 1,000 settled near Osh, 1,130 settled near Przheval'sk, and 3,314 near Tokmak. Their descendants still reside in these settlements.

The second migration of Muslims from China occurred after the signing of the Treaty of St. Petersburg on 12 February 1881. The Ili region was occupied by Russian troops in 1871 and was under the jurisdiction of the Russian governor-general of Turkestan until 1881. According to the treaty between China and Russia, Russia was to return Kul'ja to China with the provision that a consulate should be established there, and Russia was to recognize Chinese rule over Kashgaria. The population of the Ili region could now make a choice: either they could stay under the much-hated, oppressive Manchu rule or leave behind the work of generationshouses, fields, and vegetable gardensand move to Russia.

The Russian government was in favor of this migration. From the political point of view, the Muslims were bitter enemies of the Manchu, which would make them trustworthy and loyal Russian subjects. As experienced farmers, they were welcomed in the Semirechie area. On 20 June 1881 Kaufmann, the governor-general of Turkestan, sent a telegram giving the Muslims permission to send representatives to select locations for settlement along the Chilik River and the right bank of the Ili River. Eventually a small village called Sokuluk (located 30 kilometers west of Frunze, the present capital of the Kyrgyz Republic) was selected. The relocation took place between 1881 and 1884. The official number of Chinese Muslim settlers from Kul'ja is estimated at 4,682 people in all. Unlike the first migration, which was a headlong flight of desperate people chased by an enemy as they crossed the formidable Tianshan, the second migration occurred in times of peace and good weather. Those who intended to move had time to gather in the harvest, sell their houses and some of their possessions, and purchase provisions, horses, and carts for the long journey. Another difference was that, whereas the refugees in the first migration fled to and settled in the Semirechie area in three compact groups, the settlers from the Ili region came in small parties and settled all along the 1,000-kilometer route that stretched from the Chinese border to the appointed final destination of Sokuluk.

The main differences between the Dungans and the Chinese Muslims are that the Dungans have a higher standard of living than do the Chinese Muslims, and the Chinese Muslims are much more religious than the Dungans. Because the first Dungans arrived in Russia either because of the Muslim revolts against Manchu rule or the ill treatment of Muslims by Chinese and Manchu in general, the present-day Dungans are nationalistic and insist that they are not "Chinese Muslims" but "Dungans" and that they speak the Kansu Dungan dialect and the Shensi Dungan dialect, which are related to but differ somewhat from the Shensi and Kansu dialects in China. In addition, they refer to their food as "Dungan" food and to the stories they brought from China as "Dungan" stories. They also have the tendency to refer to all the Muslims in the world as "Dungans."


Dungan refugees and settlers were given land and settled in compact settlements. After the October Revolution, these settlements were reorganized into kolkhozy and selo; one collective farm can cover an area of several villages, or one large village can contain two or more collective farms. One place might be better known, and more often referred to, because of its collective farm, whereas another place might be referred to more often by the name of the village. For example, Sokuluk is now known as the selo of Aleksandrovka, and at present it contains two collective farms, Druzhba and Besh-Oruk. Most of the Dungan villages or collective farms are flourishing and well-run enterprises. Each has a population of 6,000 to 11,000, with 750 to 1,300 households and 1,200 to 2,600 workers. Each collective farm has a chairman who is a Dungan. A collective farm usually has two to three kindergartens and schools, one or two hospitals, and one cultural center (Russian: dorn kul'tury ), which in most cases houses a library, several shops, and a post office. Some collective farms also have such enterprises as forestry departments, veterinary clinics, dairies, and hothouses. Most of the people who work in the schools, hospitals, and libraries are Dungans. Some Kyrgyz and Kazakhs are present, but very few Russians.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Most of the original refugees and settlers were farmers. They introduced the cultivation of rice to Central Asia, but they also cultivated wheat, barley, oats, corn, peas, lentils, flax, colza, millet, and sorghum. They grew such fruits and vegetables as watermelons, melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, potatoes, radishes, beetroot, cabbages, capsicums, eggplants, onions, and garlic. During those early days in Russia, some of the Dungans were in the carrier trade; some were carpenters, blacksmiths, silversmiths, or horse veterinarians; and some ran restaurants or small factories that processed linseed or colza oil, vermicelli made of pea flour, or sweets made from rice or millet. In short, they practiced the skills, such as repairing of chinaware, that they had practiced earlier in China. All this has changed since the creation of the collective farms after the Revolution. Now the main product of all the Dungan collective farms is sugar beets, along with some other vegetables, milk, and beef.

Division of Labor. Although some Dungans living in cities work as scholars at the Academy of Sciences in Frunze and a few are university lecturers, doctors, or artists, most live on the collective farms as farmers, mechanics, doctors, nurses, schoolteachers, librarians, pensioners, and children. (Out of 10,000 people on Druzhba, 2,200 work as collective farmers.)

Land Tenure. In the Soviet era, the collective farms belonged to the government, but each family had about one-quarter of a hectare of private land on which to keep sheep and cattle and grow vegetables for their own use. They also grew such products as garlic and tobacco for sale at the private markets. Druzhba had 5,130 hectares of land and owned 110 tractors, 48 modern combines, and 75 cars for public use. The main product of this collective farm was vegetables (10,000 tons per year). The collective farm also produced 2,000 tons of maize per year, 3,500 liters of milk, 530 tons of meat, 1 million eggs, and some wheat; it also sold onion and flax seeds. All products were sold to the state. The net profit (2,500 rubles in 1985) was used to build and maintain such facilities as clinics, schools, kindergartens, and the water-supply system. Many collective farmers, including teachers and people working in other professions, owned their houses: they could borrow the purchase price for ten to fifteen years. They could also borrow money to buy, for example, a cow. Today, privatization is rapidly altering the land-tenure system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The Dungans tend to marry other Dungans and as a result a considerable number of the Dungans in both the cities and the collective farms are related to one another. (For example, Abdurakhman Kalimov, the only Dungan scholar who has permanently lived and worked in Moscow, and Fatima Makeeva, one of the two female Dungan scholars living and working in Frunze, are related first because the wife of Kalimov's younger brother is Makeeva's maternal auntMakeeva's grandmother had nineteen children and her mother had tenand second because Kalimov's elder brother's son is married to Makeeva's cousin on her mother's side.) Dungans think that one should have as many children and relatives as possible. When the children grow up, they are likely to live near their parents (a widowed daughter and her children would return to her father's home). Relatives visit and help each other.

The general law on mixed marriages is as follows: on the collective farms, all Dungan girls should marry Dungan young men; Kansu Dungan girls could marry Shensi Dungan young men, but Shensi Dungan families, which are regarded as more conservative, prefer their daughters to marry only Shensi Dungans. As for marrying people of other nationalities, Kazakh and Kyrgyz husbands, being Muslims, are acceptable; Russians are not. Similar but less strict rules apply to Dungan young men. Kansu and Shensi Dungan young men can marry either a Kansu or Shensi Dungan woman; occasionally they also marry Kazakh or Kyrghyz women, but not Russian women. All these rules are observed less often in the city, where a small number of Dungans have Russian wives. Non-Dungan wives, both on the collective farms and in the cities, are Dunganized: they speak the Dungan language at home, cook Dungan food, and eat with chopsticks.

Domestic Unit. The Dungans always had large families. During the early days after their migrations to Russia, whole sections of their settlements were occupied by large families with as many as seventy members. Such families usually consisted of a father, his two wives, the sons from both wives, and their wives and children. The head of a family determined the workload of each member and allotted equal amounts of money for the clothing allowance of each couple. Only some Dungans practiced polygamy, mainly because the settlers were too poor. Even rich Dungans had only two wives, the first wife always being a Dungan. The second wife could be non-Dungan, but she had to be a Muslim. The saying that "a Dungan girl prefers death to the disgrace of being a second wife" occurs repeatedly in Dungan folklore.

Polygamy and the custom of kalym (bride-money) were abolished in 1921. Divorce was very rare among Dungans; the main reason, if it did occur, was that the wife could not bear children. Only in the beginning of the twentieth century did the large families start to break up. At the present time, the average Dungan family on the collective farms has about six or more children, but families in the cities are often quite small, with two to four children. Women on the collective farms come and go while they serve food but do not usually sit down with the guest, even when the guest is a female.

Socialization. In the Soviet era each collective farm had two to three kindergartens and schools. The kindergartens, which were also day nurseries, cared for young infants and children up to the age of 7. The schools were either from grade one to eight or from grade one to ten. Each school had over 1,000 pupils, around 90 percent of whom were Dungans. The schools were coeducational. Each had about sixty-five teachers, about forty of whom were women. Most of the directors of the schools and the teachers were Dungans. All subjects were taught in Russian. English and German were offered as electives. These two foreign languages were taught for two hours per week in the lower classes and for one hour per week in the higher classes. The Dungan language was taught for three hours per week from the second half of the first grade through the tenth grade. Because the pupils spoke Dungan at home and already knew it when they started school, Dungan classes concentrated mainly on reading and writing, grammar, and selected readings in Dungan literature.

Schools also offered the usual subjects of mathematics, geography, sewing, and cooking. The school year begans on the first of September, and the summer vacation lasted for about three months. The schools (like the cultural centers) are usually impressive buildings with a library, a cafeteria, and large classrooms. Dungan schools have a museumwhich displays Dungan embroidery (now rarely seen in Dungan homes), Dungan clothes and silver jewelry (also out of fashion now), paper cuts of animals and flowers, and old tools of the bygone daysand a Club for International Friendship, its walls decorated with flags and maps of various countries.

Sociopolitical Organization

The Dungan collective farms are run by Dungans. The selo chairmen, kolkhoz chairmen, and school principals, for example, are usually Dungans. Most of the teachers and nurses and some of the doctors are Dungans. Seventy-five to 90 percent of the people living and working on the Dungan collective farms are Dungans. The rest of the population, composed of from fourteen to twenty-four nationalities, are Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Russians, Uzbeks, Uighurs, Tartars, Belarussians, Germans, Chinese, Karachays, Koreans, and Ukrainians. On the surface, at least, the relationship between the Dungans and non-Dungans is fairly harmonious; one sees very few Russians on the Dungan collective farms. The Dungans regard themselves as superior to the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs, who are nomads and, therefore, according to the Dungans, less strict and less devout in religious matters.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Dungans are of the Sunni sect of Islam and Hanifi school of law. Because they lived under the Communist regime, it seems, at least at first glance, that they called themselves "Muslims" only because their ancestors were Muslims. Most of the Dungan scholars and writers and the people with official positions at the Academy of Sciences and the collective farms were party members, who rarely mentioned religion in their publications except to ridicule the teachings of Islam. Young Dungans are either actively against or indifferent to Islam, but there is a tendency among the Dungans to turn to religion after the age of 40.

On closer investigation, however, one finds that Islam does play an important role in the life of the Dungans. Nearly every Dungan settlement has a mosque, which is administered by the ahung, the mosque elders, and some respected members of the laity. The livelihood of the ahungs comes from the zakat (a tax levied on property) and from the financial support of the faithful. A portion of this money is also used for contributions to the main Islamic center in Uzbekistan and for the maintenance and repair of mosques. The Dungan clergy not only conduct prayer services in the mosque but also, if invited, pray and perform religious rites at the homes of the faithful. The religious rites are performed at home, for example, when an infant is given a Muslim name or at circumcisions, weddings, funerals, the memorial services after a burial, and religious holidays. Ahungs have great influence on the faithful, but this influence is restricted to religious rituals and the domestic side of everyday life. The Quran is kept not only in the mosque but also in the homes of many of the faithful. The Quran and other religious publications are obtained from the main Islamic center. The Shensi Dungans are more conservative and follow Sharia (law of Islam) more closely than the Kansu Dungans. Being more orthodox, older Dungans still observe at least four of the five Muslim observancesreading the Quran, prayer five times a day, fasting, payment of zakat, and pilgrimage. Obviously, in the Soviet period the Dungans could only observe the first four of these five "pillars of the faith" because of restrictions on travel. The prayers are in Arabic and the same as elsewhere in the Muslim world. There are special prayers for such occasions as weddings, funerals, housewarmings, and the periodic memorial services after burials.

Dungans still practice circumcision (sunnet ); this is performed when boys are 5, 7, or 9 years of age. Although Dungans do not seem to be an actively religious group, they have, perhaps unconsciously, preserved many Muslim terms and customs in their infants' birthday celebrations and in weddings and funerals.

Ceremonies. The Dungans observe many ceremonies, and they are famous for their hospitality and their banquets. Their elaborate and colorful observances of birthdays, weddings, and funerals are related to several factors: as an isolated and close-knit group, they have preserved the long-forgotten customs that were practiced in China during the second half of the last century, and, because a large number of Dungans are related to one another, they enjoy large functions that are often attended by well over 100 friends and relatives. Shensi and Kansu Dungans, urban and rural Dungansall observe these ceremonies, which tend to differ from each other, but only in some details. Generally speaking, after a Dungan baby is born there are celebrations on the 10th, 40th, and 100th day after his or her birth and again when the child is 1 year old. As for the weddings, they are celebrated over the course of two to ten days, preceded and followed by numerous celebrations accompanied by special Chinese and Muslim customs and many banquets. Three examples will show that the Dungans conduct their weddings according to the traditions that were known to their ancestors in China: although the Dungans do not have arranged marriages any more (the young people decide whom they should marry), the matchmakers still visit the bride's home once a week for at least three weeks; the bride wears a red or pink Manchu-style gown and has the traditional elaborately decorated coiffure; and a "teasing the bride" game, which has long since ceased to exist in China, is played in the bridal chamber during the evening of the main wedding day.

Arts. The Chinese Muslims who crossed the Russian border, although almost entirely illiterate, brought with them, in oral form, their legends, stories, songs, and riddles. Not knowing Chinese characters, and living in Russia, they eventually settled on the Cyrillic alphabet. Although many works have been published, the written language of the Dungans is still close to the colloquial. Their poetry and songs have a rustic charm, reminiscent of village folk songs. Living in Russia, the Dungans have been introduced to pre- and post-Revolutionary Russian literature but not to the literature of other countries. In their tightly knit communities they have preserved Chinese cuisine, the use of chopsticks, and, to a certain degree, Chinese-style housingmost of the collective farmers have Chinese-style courtyards, and some still sleep on heated brickbeds (k 'ang ). Their clothes, with the exception of that of the brides and some Shensi Dungan women, are Central Asian.

Death and Afterlife. Dungan funerals are conducted according to Arabic funeral rites and differ only minutely from the present-day Muslim funerals in China. The corpse is washed, women cannot go to the cemetery on the day of the funeral, and on that day a mullah is hired to say a prayer over the grave each day for the next forty days. During this mourning period, the Shensi Dungans wear white mourning clothes; the Kansu Dungans do not wear mourning clothes. The deceased is remembered on the 4th, 7th, 40th, and 100th day after death, and then each year on the anniversary of the death.


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