About 70 percent of the 87,697 (1990) Salar people live in Xunhua Salar Autonomous County, Qinghai Province. Most of the remainder live in Hualong County, Qinghai Province, and in Linxia County, Gansu Province. The Salar language belongs to the Turkic Branch of the Altaic Language Family and is closely related to Uigur and Uzbek. Salar is an unwritten language; since the Communist Revolution, the Salar have learned Han and use it in written communication. The Salar appear to be descendants of a Turkmen tribe originating in the Samarkand area. The Salar were under Mongol domination in the thirteenth century and were somewhat less restricted under the Ming dynasty. They revolted against the Qing dynasty, but were defeated in 1781 with considerable casualties.
The largest units of Salar society are the villages, each with its own mosques and cemeteries. The Salar build adobe-walled courtyards around their often two-story adobe houses. Within the courtyards they plant fruit trees, a practice that is apparently a survival from their earlier Samarkand roots, where it also continues.
The mainstay of the Salar economy is agriculture. They produce wheat, highland barley, buckwheat, potatoes, walnuts, vegetables, and fruits such as melons, apples, grapes, and apricots. The basic diet is steamed buns, noodles, and vegetable soup. The Salar also raise sheep for wool and for mutton and many work as lumberjacks.
Traditionally, Salar parents picked their children's mates, using a matchmaker in negotiations. A bride-price of between one and four horses, along with cloth and sugar, was usual. The wedding ceremony took place outside of the bride's house, with the bride herself listening to the ceremony from inside the house. The wedding was conducted by the village ahung (Muslim priest). The bride then went to live with her husband's family. Divorce was solely the prerogative of the husband, who had only to say "I don't want you any longer," to send his wife from the house. No woman could divorce her husband; if she left him without his consent, she could not remarry.
The Salar are devout Hafani Muslims; they converted in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The Salar have participated in several Muslim revolts since then. The national government removed the clergy (mullahs) in 1958; religious activity, forbidden during the Cultural Revolution, has revived since 1980. The government has also prohibited the practice of polygyny.
The deceased are buried in cemeteries without coffins. Relatives toss money, tea leaves, salt, and other goods into the grave. There is a funeral feast three days after burial.
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Schwarz, Henry G. (1984). The Minorities of Northern China: A Survey. Bellingham: Western Washington University Press.
Zeng Qingnan (1984). "The Sala Nationality." China Reconstructs 33(9): 66-68.