Dungans - Orientation



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.


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