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Dongxiang minority student.jpg
A Dongxiang student in school
Total population
Regions with significant populations
621,500 (2010 census) in Gansu
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Hui, Bonan, Salar

The Dongxiang people (autonym: Sarta or Santa (撒尔塔); simplified Chinese: 东乡族; traditional Chinese: 東鄉族; pinyin: Dōngxiāngzú, Xiao'erjing: دْوݣسِيْاݣذُ) are one of 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. Most of the Dongxiang live in the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture and surrounding areas of Gansu province in Northwestern China. According to the 2010 census, their population numbers 621,500.

Origin and development[edit]

The Dongxiang are closely related to other Mongolic peoples like the Monguor and Bonan. Scholars[who?] speculate that their identity as an independent ethnic group arose through contact with Central Asians, due to whom the Dongxiang converted to Sunni Islam in the 13th century.

They are believed to be descendants of Mongolian troops posted in the Hezhou area by Genghis Khan (1162-1227 AD) during his journey westward, mixed with Sarts from Central Asia. Another possibility is that they could be a mixture of many peoples including Mongolian, Han and Tibetan groups.[1] Another theory states the Dongxiang's origin lies in the thirteenth century when Mongol soldiers were stationed to garrison the Linxia and western Gansu region during the Mongol's conquests of northern China.[2]

The American Asiatic Association published an account of the Dongxiang's origins in the "Asia, Volume 40". A Muslim Mongol, Ma Chuanyuan, who was the supermagistrate of five districts, was interviewed, and gave a story on his people's origins. The conversion to Islam by a clan descended from Genghis Khan angered their relatives, who drove them all the way to Eastern Linxia. This occurred at the twilight of the Yuan dynasty. East Linxia was described as a land of "thorns and yellow earth". The author estimated a number of 100,000 Mongolian Muslims. They spoke Mongolian but were all illiterate. The account described them as a community of one hundred thousand, Mongol by race, Islam by religion and Chinese by culture. The majority of them were monolingual.[3][4]

Dongxiang were also known as Santa (San-t'a) people, it was reported that many of them served in the army of the Hui General Ma Fuxiang.[5] It was even said that Ma Fuxiang himself was of Santa descent, who had assimilated into the Hui community.[6]

Their autonym, sarta, may also provide a contradictory clue to their origin: a similar word Sart was formerly used in Central Asia to refer to Arab traders[citation needed], later to the local (mostly) Turkic-speaking city dwellers. Their official name of Dōngxiāng meaning "eastern villages" stems from the fact that their settlements are east of the major Han Chinese settlements.

Like other Muslims in China, the Dongxiang served extensively in the Chinese military. It was said that they and the Salars were given to "eating rations", a reference to military service.[7]

Hui, Baoan and Dongxiang troops served under Generals Ma Fulu and Ma Fuxiang in the Boxer Rebellion, defeating the invading Eight Nation Alliance at the Battle of Langfang. Ma Fulu along with 100 Dongxiang and Hui troops died in fierce combat at Zhengyang Gate in Beijing against the Alliance forces as they fought to the death to hold the Alliance at bay.[8]

Hui, Baoan, Dongxiang, Salar and Tibetan troops served under Ma Biao in the Second Sino-Japanese War against the Japanese.[9][10]


The Dongxiang have Mongol, Han Chinese, Hui and Tibetan surnames.[11] Dongxiang with Han Chinese surnames such as Wang, Kang, Zhang, Gao and Huang claim descent from Han Chinese. Those with surnames such as Ma and Mu are descended from Hui.[12][13]

Many of the Muslim descendants of Confucius are descended from the marriage of Ma Jiaga (马甲尕), a Muslim woman and Kong Yanrong (孔彦嵘), 59th generation descendant of Confucius in the year 1480 and their descendants are found among the Hui and Dongxiang peoples.[14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

Some Dongxiang have said that, in the rare instances that they do marry with other people, it is only with Hui and Han, but not Tibetans.[24]

A town called Tangwangchuan (唐汪川) in Gansu had a multiethnic populace, the Tang (Chinese: ) and Wang (Chinese: ) families being the two major families. The Tang and Wang families were originally of non-Muslim Han Chinese extraction, but by the 1900s some branches of the families became Muslim by "intermarriage or conversion", while other branches of the families remained non-Muslim.[25] People in the area have changed their ethnicity by marrying members of other groups or converting to their religion. The Tang and Wang families are now composed of all three different ethnic groups, with Han Chinese, Hui and Dongxiang people. The Dongxiang and Hui are Muslims.[26] Tangwangchuan and Hanjiaji were notable for being the lone towns with a multiethnic community, with both non-Muslims and Muslims.[27]

The cuisines of various ethnicities have spread across boundaries in the area of Hehuang, with different groups such as Mongolians, Hui, Dongxiang and Tibetan eating each other's cuisines, such as mutton and milk tea.[28]


The base of the economy of Dongxiang is agriculture. The main products are potatoes, corn, barley, millet and wheat.[29] They are also recognized craftsmen, specializing in the elaboration of traditional carpets.


Common Dongxiang cuisine includes the use of a potato mash that is used for noodles, snacks, alcoholic drinks, and more.[29]

Traditional Dongxiang dress for men includes buttoned robes and a broad waistband. These waistbands are sometimes used to hang knives, snuff bottles, or small bags on them. A vest over a white shirt, trousers, and a beret like cap makes up the rest of the traditional outfit. Seasonal clothing like sheepskin coats are also worn during the winter. Dongxiang women wear embroidered outfits which include wide sleeved shirts and trousers. Older women wear kerchiefs and younger women tend to wear bright decorated cotton caps and silk veils. On special occasions, women wear embroidered shoes with a medium heel.[29]

Language and education[edit]

The Dongxiang speak the Dongxiang language, a member of the Mongolic family.[30] The language has distinct features resembling archaic Mongolian and has many foreign loan words borrowed from Arabic, Chinese, Persian, and a few Turkic languages.[2] The Dongxiang people also have a rich tradition of oral literature and use the Arabic alphabet.

As a result of the language shift, some 20,000 people in several villages in the northeastern Dongxiang County now speak the so-called "Tangwang language": a creolized version of Mandarin Chinese with a strong Dongxiang influence, in particular in its grammar.[31]

Government statistics show that the Dongxiang are among the poorest and least literate of China's minorities, with most Dongxiang having completed only an average of 1.1 years of schooling, a problem aggravated by the lack of a written language.

In 2004, the Ford Foundation provided US$30,000 in grant money for a pilot project to promote bilingual education in Mandarin and Dongxiang, in an effort to reduce school drop-out rates. The project is credited with the publication of a Dongxiang-Chinese bilingual dictionary as well as recent rises in test scores.


The East Asian O3-M122 Y chromosome Haplogroup is found in large quantities in other Muslims close to the Hui like Dongxiang, Bo'an and Salar. The majority of Tibeto-Burmans, Han Chinese, and Ningxia and Liaoning Hui share paternal Y chromosomes of East Asian origin which are unrelated to Middle Easterners and Europeans. In contrast to distant Middle Eastern and Europeans whom the Muslims of China are not related to, East Asians, Han Chinese, and most of the Hui and Dongxiang of Linxia share more genes with each other. This indicates that native East Asian populations converted to Islam and were culturally assimilated to these ethnicities and that Chinese Muslim populations are mostly not descendants of foreigners as claimed by some accounts while only a small minority of them are.[32]

Distribution of Y-chromosome haplogroups in Dongxiang:[33]











In another study in 2010 found that the majority of the Dongxiang belonged to Haplogroup R1a (R1a : 54%).[34]

Famous Dongxiang people[edit]


  1. ^ Jim Yardley (March 7, 2006). "Poor, illiterate and unaware they're in China". THE NEW YORK TIMES. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  2. ^ a b Dillon, Michael (1996). China's Muslims. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press. pp. 13. ISBN 0195875044.
  3. ^ American Asiatic Association (1940). Asia: journal of the American Asiatic Association, Volume 40. Asia Pub. Co. p. 659. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  4. ^ Hartford Seminary Foundation (1941). The Moslem World, Volumes 31-34. Hartford Seminary Foundation. p. 182. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
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  13. ^ Richard V. Weekes (1984). Richard V. Weekes (ed.). Muslim peoples: a world ethnographic survey, Volume 1 (2, illustrated ed.). Greenwood Press. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-313-23392-0. Retrieved 17 July 2011.(Original from the University of Michigan )
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  •  This article incorporates text from The Moslem World, Volume 10, by Christian Literature Society for India, Hartford Seminary Foundation, a publication from 1920 now in the public domain in the United States.

External links[edit]