Kazak ethnic minority, with a population of over a million, mainly
lives in the Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture, Mori Kazak Autonomous
County and Barkol Kazak Autonomous County in the Xinjiang Uygur
Autonomous Region. Some are also located in the Haixi Mongolian,
Tibetan and Kazak Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province and
the Aksay Kazak Autonomous County in Gansu Province.
The Kazak language belongs to the Turkic
branch of the Altaic language family. As the Kazaks live in
mixed communities with the Hans, Uygurs and Mongolians, the
Kazaks have assimilated many words from these languages. They
had a written language based on the Arabic alphabet, which is
still in use, but a new Latinized written form was evolved after
the founding of the People's Republic of China.
Except for a few settled farmers, most of
the Kazaks live by animal husbandry. They migrate to look for
pasturage as the seasons change. In spring, summer and autumn,
they live in collapsible round yurts and in winter build flat-roofed
earthen huts in the pastures. In the yurt, living and storage
spaces are separated. The yurt door usually opens to the east,
the two flanks are for sleeping berths and the center is for
storing goods and saddles; in front are placed cushions for
visitors. Riding and hunting gear, cooking utensils, provisions
and baby animals are kept on both sides of the door.
The pastoral Kazaks live off their animals.
They produce a great variety of dairy products. For instance,
Nai Ge Da (milk dough) Nai Pi Zi (milk skin) and cheese. Butter
is made from cow's and sheep's milk. They usually eat mutton
stewed in water without salt a kind of meat eaten with the hands.
By custom, they slaughter animals in late autumn and cure the
meat by smoking it for the winter. In spring and summer, when
the animals are putting on weight and producing lots of milk,
the Kazak herdsmen put fresh horse milk in shaba (barrels made
of horse hide) and mix it regularly until it ferments into the
cloudy, sour horse milk wine, a favorite summer beverage for
the local people. The richer herdsmen drink tea boiled with
cow's or camel's milk, salt and butter. Rice and wheat flour
confections also come in a great variety: Nang (baked cake),
rice cooked with minced mutton and eaten with the hands, dough
fried in sheep's fat, and flour sheets cooked with mutton. Their
diet contains few vegetables.
Kazak herdsmen are traditionally clad in loose, long-sleeved
furs and garments made of animal skins. The garments vary among
different localities and tribes. In winter, the men usually
wear sheepskin shawls, and some wear overcoats padded with camel
hair, with a belt decorated with metal patterns at the waist
and a sword hanging at the right side. The trousers are mostly
made of sheepskin. Women wear red dresses and in winter they
don cotton-padded coats, buttoned down the front. Girls like
to sport embroidered cloth leggings bedecked with silver coins
and other silver ornaments, which jangle as they walk. Herdsmen
in the Altay area wear square caps of baby-lamb skin or fox
skin covered with bright-colored brocade, while those in Ili
sport round animal-skin caps. Girls used to decorate their flower-patterned
hats with owl feathers, which waved in the breeze. All the women
wear white-cloth shawls, embroidered with red-and-yellow designs.
The Kazak family
and marriage in history fully showed the characteristics of
the patriarchal feudal system. The male patriarch enjoyed absolute
authority at home; the wife was subordinate to the husband,
and the children to the father. The women had no right to property.
The marriage of the children and the distribution of property
were all decided by the patriarch. When the man came of age
and got married he received some property from his parents and
began to live independently in his own yurt. Only the youngest
brother eventually stayed with the family. Herdsmen with close
blood relations formed an "Awul" (a nomadic clan).
Rich herd owners or venerated elders were considered the "Awulbas"
(chiefs of the community).
The Kazak people
usually practiced monogamy, but in the old society, polygamy
was quite common among the feudal lords and tribal chiefs, in
accordance with their Islamic faith.
The feudal mercenary
marriage system deprived young men and women of their independence
in matrimonial affairs and high bride prices were charged. Hence
richer people married up to four wives each and poor herdsmen
were unable economically to establish a family. Among the latter,
a system of "barter marriage" was practiced. Two families,
for example, could exchange their daughters as each other's
daughter-in-law without asking for betrothal gifts. This often
gave rise to a large disparity in age of the matrimonial partners,
let alone mutual affection.
The Kazaks are
warm-hearted, sincere and hospitable. They entertain all guests,
invited and uninvited alike, with the best things they have
-- usually a prize sheep. At dinner, the host presents a dish
of mutton with the sheep's head to the guest, who cuts a slice
off the right cheek and puts it back on the plate as a gesture
of appreciation. He then cuts off an ear and offers it to the
youngest among those sitting round the dinner table. He then
gives the sheep's head back to the host.
The Kazaks are
Muslims. Though there are not many mosques in the pastures,
Islam exercises a great influence upon their social life in
all aspects. Their religious burdens used to be heavy. They
had to deliver religious food grain and animal taxes in accordance
with Islamic rules. If they wanted to invite mullahs for prayers
on occasions of festivals, wedding, burial ceremonies or illnesses,
they had to present given amounts of money or property.
festivals and ceremonies are related to religion. The Corban
and Id El-fitr festivals are occasions for feasts of mutton
and mutual greetings. The Nawuruz Festival in the first month
of the lunar calendar is a grand occasion to say good-bye to
the old, usher in the new, and hope for a better year in stockbreeding.
Every family entertains with "kuji," a food made of
mutton, milk dough, barley, wheat and other delicacies. They
give feasts when there are births, engagements or weddings.
men and women alike, are good horse riders. Young men like wrestling
and a game in which horsemen compete for a sheep. There are
horsemanship displays on the grasslands during festivals. The
young people like to play a "girl-running-after-boy"
game. The boys and girls ride their horses to an appointed place;
the boys can flirt with the girls on the way. However, on the way back, the girls chase the boys
and are entitled to whip them if they can as a way of "vengeance."
Such merry-making more often than not terminates with love and
minority has its own rich literary heritage. As there were many
illiterates, folk literature handed down orally was quite developed.
After liberation, ballad singers, or "Akens," made
great efforts to collect, study and re-create old verses, tales,
proverbs, parables and maxims. Many outstanding Kazak classic
and contemporary works have been published in the Kazak language.
and dance also have their own unique features and are very popular.
The Kazaks like summer the best, terming it merry-making time.
They often sing and dance throughout summer nights on the pastures.
The two-stringed instrument is their favorite.
All Kazaks belonged to definite clans before
1949. They and their area were divided into three hordes (ordas):
the Great Horde, Middle Horde and Little Horde -- or the Right,
Left and Western branches as the Qing government documents referred
to them. The Middle Horde was the most powerful, with the largest
number of people and most complete clan lineage. The Kazaks
in China mostly belonged to the Great and Middle Hordes.
The clans were
formally blood groups of different sizes. The smallest productive
organization and nomadic community within the clan was the "Awul,"
people with the same grandfather or father; sometimes they included
people without any blood ties, mostly dependent poor herdsmen
from without. So, there was a sharp contrast of wealth in the
"Awul" of three, five, a dozen or more families. Owing
to wars, migration or other causes, such internal blood relations
became very loose.
The ruling group
was composed of the nobility, tribal chiefs, herd owners and
"Bis." The Bis generally came from a rich herdsman's
family, were well-versed in the laws, customs and eloquence,
and were generally regarded as qualified mediators. The ethnic
group did not have any written law, but each clan had its own
common law which protected private property, the privileges
of the tribal chiefs, and tribal solidarity and unity. Whenever
there were disputes over property, marriage or other matters,
the "Bi" mediated and handled them in accordance with
the clan law, generally practicing "punishment by nine,"
i.e., compensation of nine head of animals paid by the loser
to the winner of the lawsuit.
The Kazak clan
organization was a combination of the feudal system of exploitation
and the clan patriarchy. The ruling class plundered the people
economically and enjoyed political privileges. The majority
of the poor herdsmen were deprived of all rights whatsoever.
The Kazaks have
accumulated much experience in stock raising over a long period
of history. However, under the feudal system, their production
level was very low and, being conservative in technical matters,
the nomads made little effort to improve their expertise and
depended entirely on the natural growth of the stock. As they
had no means to resist natural disasters, great numbers of animals
died in snowstorms in winter and spring. Disease also took its
toll of the herds.
were basically a family undertaking. Blacksmiths and carpenters
were not specialized, they were herdsmen with expertise in these
fields. The making of buttered tea, milk products and felt,
tanning animal skins and tailoring furs were all done by women.
Though Kazak animal husbandry provided wool, hides and skins
and livestock, the commodity economy was not developed. In the
pastures barter trade was in vogue, with sheep as the standard
of the price. The herdsmen exchanged their stock for food grain,
tea, cloth, daily utensils and handicrafts. In remote Altay,
they bartered a sheep skin for only 100 to 150 grams of tea.
A minority of
rich Kazaks in the early 20th century owned thousands of head
of cattle, sheep, horses and camels, while the majority of herdsmen
kept very little stock and that was for subsistence. Though
the pastures were owned by the whole tribe, they were in fact
the property of clan chieftains and big herd-owners, the winter
pasturelands in particular.
developed in Xinjiang after the 19th century, Kazak animal husbandry economy grew closer ties with markets. The merchants,
the privileged Russian merchants in particular, plundered the
herdsmen through unfair exchange of commodities. Usury came
into being, too. Such ruthless exploitation made the head of
animals drop drastically and Kazak stock breeding virtually
struggled on the brink of bankruptcy on the eve of liberation.
The Kazaks began
farming in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The main farm
implements include katuman (a kind of mattock), sickles, ploughs
and grinding stones.