The small Uzbek population in China, which was counted at 14,592 in 1990, is but 1 percent of the total worldwide Uzbek population, most of whom live in Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks in China live in Xinjiang Province, primarily in Uzbek communities in cities adjoining the Russian border (Yining, Qoqek [Tacheng], Kashgar, Urumqi, Yarkant, and Kargilik [Yecheng]). The Uzbek language belongs to the Turkic Group of the Altaic Family; it is closely related to Uigur. Uzbek has many loanwords from Farsi (which was once spoken by Uzbek intellectuals), Russian (due to the proximity of Russia), and Chinese (during the twentieth century). The Xinjiang Uzbeks use the Uigur (Arabic) script; in the 1930s the Soviets attempted to replace it with a Cyrillic-based writing system.
The Uzbeks of China originated in Central Asia. Some Uzbeks moved east to Xinjiang as long-distance traders of silk, tea, porcelain, and other goods. Some settled there, becoming silk weavers, farmers, craftsmen, and, eventually, entrepreneurs. The Uzbek migration to Xinjiang has continued into the twentieth century, as has migration out of Xinjiang. Competition from Russian long-distance traders later forced many into local trading, handicraft production, and laboring.
In the past, as today, the Uzbeks of China were primarily an urban people. Less than 30 percent are farmers or herders today; most are factory workers, technicians, and traders. Their literacy levels are the highest of any population in Xinjiang.
The few Uzbeks making their living as herders do so in northern Xinjiang, where they live among Kazaks. In the cities, most live in adobe houses with flat roofs, though some have distinctive round, pointed roofs.
Since there are so few Uzbeks in China, and since they are so widely dispersed, they frequently intermarry with Uigurs and Tatars. In fact, it is very difficult to distinguish Uzbeks from Uigurs. One visible marker is the shape of hat that they wear; Uzbeks wear round hats, while Uigur wear square hats. Another marker is the embroidery designs on men and women's clothing.
The Uzbeks are Muslims. The Muslim prohibitions on eating pork and drinking alcohol are increasingly violated by younger Uzbeks. The medrese, (religious schools located in mosques) have been closed since Chinese public education was introduced.
When an Uzbek dies, the mourning period lasts one week. At 40, 70, and 100 days after death, the ahung (Muslim priest) performs a memorial service.
See also Uzbeks in Part One ,
Ma Yin, ed. (1989). China's Minority Nationalities, 185-189. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
Schwarz, Henry G. (1984). The Minorities of Northern China: A Survey. Bellingham: Western Washington University Press.