Tatar peoples living in China represent only 1 percent of all Tatar peoples. The Tatar population in China was 4,837 in 1990, up from 4,300 in 1957. Most Tatars live in the cities of Yining, Qoqek, and Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, though until the early 1960s a number of them herded livestock, also in Xinjiang. The Tatar language belongs to the Turkic Branch of the Altaic Family. The Tatar have no writing system of their own, but rather use Uigur and Kazak scripts.
In the earliest Chinese references to the Tatars, in records dating to the eighth century, they are called "Dadan." They were part of the Turk Khanate until it fell apart in approximately 744. Following this, the Tatar grew in strength until they were defeated by the Mongols. The Tatar mixed with Boyar, Kipchak, and Mongols, and this new group became the modern Tatar. They fled their homeland in the region of the Volga and Kama rivers when the Russians moved into Central Asia in the nineteenth century, some ending up in Xinjiang. Most Tatar became urban traders of livestock, cloth, furs, silver, tea, and other goods as a result of the trading opportunities created by the Sino-Russian treaties of 1851 and 1881. A small minority of Tatar herded and farmed. Perhaps one-third of the Tatar became tailors or small manufacturers, making things such as sausage casings.
The urban house of a Tatar family is made of mud and has furnace flues in the walls for heating. Inside, it is hung with tapestries, and outside there is a courtyard with trees and flowers. Migratory pastoralist Tatar lived in tents.
The Tatar diet includes distinctive pastries and cakes, as well as cheese, rice, pumpkin, meat, and dried apricots. They drink alcoholic beverages, one made of fermented honey and another a wild-grape wine.
Though Muslim, most urban Tatar are monogamous. Tatar marry in the house of the bride's parents, and the couple usually lives there until the birth of their first child. The wedding ceremony includes the drinking of sugar water by the bride and groom, to symbolize long-lasting love and happiness. The dead are buried wrapped in white cloth; while the Koran is being read, attendants throw handfuls of dirt on the body until it is buried.
Ma Yin, ed. (1989). China's Minority Nationalities, 192-196. 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, 69-74. Bellingham: Western Washington University Press.