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Сегодня 14 August 2022 г.
21 October 2011

Tuvans in China

Zhanna Yusha, Tuvinskaya pravda. Translated by Heda Jindrak

Tuvans in ChinaTuvans in China live in the Altai aimak of Xinjiang -Uighur autonomous region of Chinese People's Republic, in picturesque mountains and steppes of the Altai Mountains. This territory borders in the north with Russia, in the west - Kazakhstan, and  east - with Mongolia.

Representatives of various ethnic backgrounds mingle in the Altai aimak: Chinese, Kazakhs, Dunkans, Mongols, Uighurs. Many Kazakhs can be counted in the compact Tuvan settlements (Ak-Khaba, Khanas, Khom, Ala-Khaak, Kok-Dogai). Tuvan families also live in towns Altai, Burchin, and Khaba.

Igor Irgit, who was the head of State committee for foreign economic connections at the time, was the first one to visit the Chinese Tuvans in 1992, and Marina Mongush, the scholar - ethnographer, visited them in1993.

In June of 2009, when I was working at Stambul University,  a trip to the Chinese Tuvans was planned, and the airplane tickets had already been  purchased. However in the middle of July, in Urumchi, the administrative center of  Xinjiang, the famous conflict between the Uighurs and the Chinese started.  Emergency situation was declared in that part of the country. The trip had to be postponed.

I got to the Chinese Tuvans only in 2010. For two weeks I visited the populated areas which were especially densely inhabited by Tuvans. My task was to learn about the language, folklore, and ethnography of Tuvans of China.

Native language is Monchak

Currently the Tuvan population in China is approximately 2300 people. These Tuvans refer to themselves as Kok-Monchak, Monchak, or Altai Tuvans. Because there are so few of them, in their passports they are registered as Mongols.  For that reason most of them have Mongol names,  much less often Tuvan or Kazakh, or Chinese. The other ethnicities living in the area consider  Chinese Tuvans Monchaks or Mongols. There are nine clan-family groups: Khoyuk, Irgit, Chag--Tyva, Ak-Soyan, Kara-Sal, Kara-Tosh,  Kyzyl-Soyan, Tandy, and Khoyt. In its turn, each of these groups is subdivided into smaller sub-groups.

The carriers call their native language Monchak or Tuvan. The sphere of use of the native language is quite narrow - it is used in the family circle and with  others of the same group. Tuvans of China, beside their native language, also speak Kazakh, Mongolian and Chinese. However, the number of old people who speak and write Chinese well is small. I was pleasantly surprised that some representatives of  neighboring Kazakhs and Mongols speak Tuvan well and can communicate in it with our relatives with ease.

In every  inhabited area with compact Tuvan population, the chairman of organs of local administration, as a rule, is Chinese, and his second-in-command is Tuvan.

The Tuvans do not have their own writing, their children learn in Kazakh or Mongol schools with mandatory study of the state language - Chinese.  Lessons begin with learning  these languages. In Mongolian schools, children are taught Old Mongolic writing. And, in the Tuvans' opinion,  the Old Mongolic is much better suited to use for the sounds of Tuvan language in comparison with Kazakh. In these schools, the teachers are predominantly Tuvans. But in some villages, for example Ala-Khaak and Kok-Dogai, there are only Kazakh schools.

Tuvans have to know Chinese language and writing very well to get education and find good jobs. For that reason lately parents begin teaching their children simple ideographs and mathematical equations at early age.

Tuvans who live in the mountain area of Altai aimak live by animal herding. They keep cows, sheep and goats, and breed horses. They say with pride that the "live only by cattle". In steppe areas, beside herding, Tuvans also are involved in agriculture, and grow corn, potatoes, and legumes.

Tea with milk is the Tuvans' favorite beverage. They drink it in the fall and wither, from the tiny to the old. They like to add melted butter into the tea. From Tuvan cuisine, they make boorzak, dalgan, khoitpak (beverage from soured milk), aarzhy (type of dried curds), kurut (dried cottage cheese).

But in their daily menu, there are many adopted foods from Kazakh, Uighur, Chinese and Mongolian cuisine. With pleasure they eat lagman, choza, karala.  They always use chopsticks to eat. As they say, it is inconvenient to eat with spoons and forks. Children are also taught to use chopsticks from early age.

In the summer, they distill milk araka, and the technology of distillation is the same as our traditional method. The Tuvans call store-bought Chinese 40-45 proof vodka  "black araka" in the sense of "bad, strong". The locals do not recommend this vodka for drinking during national holidays and rituals.

Hunting has been, together with herding, a very significant part of subsistence until recent times. Men hunted wolves, bears, marals, and traveled on homemade skis (khaak).  however, since 2000 the areas of their habitation have been declared as nature reserves, and hunting is strictly forbidden.


"Pareen" is translated as "varenie" ("marmalade")

Russian Old Believers moved to this area in the '20's and '30's of the 20th century, and they lived as neighbors until 1956. In that time span, Tuvans learned from them to build houses, grow wheat, and  hitch horses to sleighs. Since that time, felt yurts have been exchanged for log houses.

As a result of these contacts, some Russian words have been adopted into Tuvan vocabulary. For example, pilyan (plan), megeezin (magazin), nol (zero) rumka (shot glass), kartosh (potato) pareen (marmalade), and others.

In the years of the cultural revolution during Mao Tse-tung's rule, it was prohibited to carry out ethnic ceremonies and rituals. However in the reminiscences of the old peole,, Tuvans secretly disregarded the prohibition and carried out  domestic rituals such as  meeting of the New Year, celebrations in honor of  a birth of a baby, hair-cutting at three tears of age,. Only in the 1980's  the various ethic peoples of China received the right to celebrate their national holidays.

In the history of Chinese Tuvans, there are times of grief associated with repressions. In 1958 the government of  People's Republic of China , considering that Tuvans of Ak-Khaba and Khanas did not accept the idea of socialism, deported them to Khayatan and Chungur  in the same aimak. And here the nomadic Tuvans, who since time immemorial have been herders, were put into a commune and made to sow wheat and grow vegetables. According to many of the Tuvan informants, they worked every day from the first light until night. They were not paid for the work, only fed three times a day and necessary seasonal clothing was issued to them.  Hundreds of innocent people, including children and old people perished from the difficult conditions of life and existence and from the hard work. In 1963 they were accused again, now of trying to escape to USSR. They were resettled again this time to Khaar-Oi…

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