The Dongxiang population stood at 373,872 in 1990, having increased rapidly over the previous twenty years. The majority of Dongxiang live in Gansu Province, and a smaller number in Xinjiang Province. They live among Han, Hui, Tibetan, Tu, and Salar peoples. The Dongxiang language is Mongolian, belonging to the Altaic Language Family, although it contains many Han loanwords. Dongxiang can be written by very few people, who use Arabic or Roman letters; most written communication is carried out in Chinese. Prior to the Communist Revolution, the Dongxiang were known as the "Dongxiang Hui" and as the "Mongolian Huihui." The term "Dongxiang" is Chinese, meaning "eastern area," the part of Gansu province formerly known as Hezhou, in which they lived. One view of the ethnogenesis of the Dongxiang is that they are descendants of Mongol garrison soldiers mixed with others living in or passing through the area.
The Dongxiang rely primarily on agriculture, raising wheat, maize, and especially potatoes, as well as hemp, beans, sesame seed, and rapeseed, which are sold for cash. Recently, the Chinese government has assisted in the planting of trees and grass in the area to help prevent soil erosion, which has long been a severe problem. Factories for making tiles, farm tools, generators, flour, bricks, and cement have also been erected recently.
The Dongxiang are Muslims. Prior to the Communist Revolution, two-thirds were Sunni and the majority of the rest were Shiite; a very few were adherents of the Wahhabiyaa sect. Despite their small numbers, members of the New Teaching sect politically dominated Dongxiang areas prior to the Revolution. Immediately before the Revolution, there were 595 mosques in the Dongxiang territory, one for every thirty households.
Ma Yin, ed. (1989). Chinas Minority Nationalities, 109-112. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
National Minorities Questions Editorial Panel (1985). Questions and Answers about China's Minority Nationalities. Beijing: New World Press.
Schwarz, Henry G. (1984). The Minorities of Northern China: A Survey, 97-106. Bellingham: Western Washington University Press.