Tajiks of Xinjiang

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chinese Tajiks
A Chinese Tajik farmer in Tashkurgan
Regions with significant populations
 China (Xinjiang)50,265[1]
Sarikoli (majority), Wakhi (minority)
Shia Islam (Nizari Ismailism)
Related ethnic groups
Iranian peoples
Chinese name
Sarikoli name
Sarikoliتۇجىك / Tujik

Chinese Tajiks (Chinese: 中国塔吉克族; pinyin: Zhōngguó Tǎjíkèzú) are ethnic Pamiris who live in the Pamir Mountains of Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, in Xinjiang, China. They are one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the Chinese government. Most Chinese Tajiks speak an Eastern Iranian language; the vast majority speak Sarikoli while a minority speak Wakhi.


Despite their name, Chinese Tajiks are not ethnic Tajiks but ethnic Pamiris, a different Iranian ethnic group who speak the Eastern Iranian Pamiri languages.

Early 20th-century travelers to the region referred to the Chinese Tajiks as "Mountain Tajiks",[3] or by the Turkic exonym "Ghalcha".[4] Sarikoli- and Wakhi-speaking Chinese Tajiks were also referred to as "Sarikolis" and "Wakhis", respectively.[5][6]


Early history[edit]

The Pamiri peoples are believed to be the descendants of the Saka-Scythians who inhabited modern-day Xinjiang.[7][8] The Pamiri languages are descended from various Scythian languages.[8]

The town of Tashkurgan was the capital of the Sarikol Kingdom (色勒庫爾) in the Pamir Mountains.

Xinjiang and its eastern Iranian-speaking peoples underwent gradual Turkification following the region's conquests and settlements by Turkic peoples such as the Uyghurs and Qarakhanids. By the Mongol period, most of these eastern Iranian peoples had assimilated into the Turkic community. The Chinese Tajiks claim to be descended from the remaining eastern Iranians who still resided in the Pamir Mountains of Xinjiang. This claim is supported by medieval Chinese literature, documents and modern archaeological evidence.[9]

Conversion to Nizari Ismailism[edit]

According to oral tradition, Nasir Khusraw led a mission to the region with four of his disciples: Sayyid Hassan Zarrabi, Sayyid Surab Wali, Sayyid Jalal Bukhari, and Jahan Malikshah. Khusraw purportedly told some of his disciples to settle down in the area to continue to aid and preach to the local converts about Ismailism. Many contemporary pirs (holy men) claim descent from these early disciples.[9]

Qing dynasty[edit]

The Chinese Tajiks were administered by the Qing under a system of Begs (chiefs) like the rest of Xinjiang. The Qing claimed suzerainty over the Taghdumbash Pamir in the southwest of Xinjiang, but permitted the Mir of Hunza to administer the region in return for their tributes. The Hunzas were tributaries and allies to Qing China, acknowledging China as suzerain from 1761 onward.[10][11]

The Chinese Tajiks practiced slavery, selling some of their own as a punishment. Submissive slaves were given wives and settled with the Tajiks. They were considered property and could be sold anytime. Their slaves came from numerous sources; for example, Sunni captives such as the Kyrgyz were enslaved in retaliation for Kyrgyz slave raids against the Chinese Tajiks. Sunni slaves were also brought from Hunza (also known as Khujund), Gilgit, and Chitral. Slaves from Chitral and Hunza passed through the Pamir Mountains on their way to Bukhara, present-day Uzbekistan. The Chinese Tajiks were labelled "Rafidites" by the Sunnis, who did not consider them Muslims as enslaving fellow Muslims is contrary to Sharia law.[12]

There were hundreds of slaves sold by Chinese Tajiks. Most foreign slaves in Xinjiang were Chinese Tajiks; they were referred to by Sunni Turkic Muslims as "Ghalcha".[13] Chinese Tajiks made up the majority of slave trafficked and sold in Xinjiang to the Sunni Muslim Turkic inhabitants and they were seen as foreigners and strangers. Serfs were treated in a "wretched" manner.[14]

An anti-Russian uproar broke out when Russian customs officials – three Cossacks and a Russian courier – invited local Uyghur prostitutes to a party in January 1902 in Kashgar. This caused a massive brawl between several Russians and local Uyghurs, the latter acting on the pretense of protecting Muslim women. Qing officials quickly dispersed the crowd and sought to end tensions immediately to prevent the Russians from building up a pretext to invade Xinjiang.[15][16]

After the riot, the Russians sent troops to Tashkurghan and demanded that local postal services be placed under Russian supervision. The Russians attempted to negotiate with the Begs of Tashkurgan, but the Begs feared that the Russians would not stop at their demands of the postal services and would aim to seize the entire area from the Qing. Tashkurgan officials even went as far as to petition the Amban of Yarkand to evacuate the local population to Yarkand so they could avoid being harassed by the Russians.[17][18]

Republic of China[edit]

In the mid-1940s around 9,000 Chinese Tajiks lived in Xinjiang, while others moved to other Central Asian countries and provinces of China.[19] During the Ili Rebellion from 1944 to 1949, Uyghur forces butchered the livestock of the Chinese Tajiks as they advanced south.[20] Uyghur rebels who were backed by the Soviets destroyed Chinese Tajik crops and acted violently against Chinese Tajiks and Kyrgyz.[21]


Chinese Tajik women on the Karakoram Highway from Tashkurgan to Khunjerab Pass

The population of Chinese Tajiks in Xinjiang numbered 41,028 in 2000 and 50,265 in 2015.[1] Sixty percent of the Chinese Tajik population reside in Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County. As of 2016, more than 4,000 Chinese Tajiks lived in nearby Poskam County (Zepu).[22][1] Some Chinese Tajiks live in Kokyar (Kekeya) and Kargilik County (Yecheng).[23] Tar Township in Akto County, Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture, is a Chinese Tajik township.


The languages of the Chinese Tajiks have no official written form.[24] The vast majority speak the Sarikoli language, which has been heavily influenced by Chinese, Uyghur, and Wakhi.[25] A minority speak the Wakhi language.[26] Sarikoli and Wakhi are Iranian languages, commonly classified in the Pamir or Eastern Iranian areal groups.[27]


The Chinese Tajiks are adherents of Nizari Ismaili sect of Shia Islam and are still a little isolated from the rest of the worldwide Ismaili community, though their communication with other Pamiri (Ismaili) peoples has never stopped. The Chinese authorities allow a few Ismaili religious buildings to function in Tashkurgan, the clerics of whom are appointed by the secular Chinese authorities. Restrictions by the Chinese government bar foreign Ismaili preachers from openly working among the Chinese Tajiks. The religious leader of the Nizari Ismaili sect, the Aga Khan, was once barred from conducting business with Ismailis in China.[28]

From 2 to 4 April 2012, Aga Khan IV paid an official visit to Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang, at the invitation of the then governor of Xinjiang, Nur Bekri. Delegations of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the Xinjiang government met to discuss future cooperation. Bekri agreed to collaborate in several thematic areas of mutual interest, including poverty alleviation, education, investment in tourism, and financial services.[29] The Aga Khan IV had last visited China in 1981.

Chinese Tajiks have been caught up in the China's crackdown on Muslims that has taken place since 2017, despite the fact that they have tended to be not politically active. Only a single mosque is allowed to operate in Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, and children under 18 are not permitted to attend it.[30]


Family life[edit]

At least three generations of relatives live under the same household in a traditional Chinese Tajik family. Each family has a familial hierarchy determined by a family member's age and sex, with the senior male acting as the head of the family. The responsibilities of the men tend to be providing for the family and looking after the children and elderly. The women's responsibilities are to raise the children, attend to household duties, and care for the elderly. The senior male is in charge of managing the entire household and the family's wealth through consulting with the rest of the men in the house. The young men are discouraged from seeking an independent life outside the household unless they receive collective consent from the family. Failure to do so can forfeit them from inheritance.[9]

Rites of passage and life cycles[edit]

Marriages are usually arranged by the parents of the prospective groom and bride from the asking of the daughter's hand up to the wedding. The families of the couple also decide on the dowry amount, plan the engagements and wedding dates, and choose who can attend. About three days before the wedding, the families come together and initiate a feast for the people in the area who have lost relatives in the last year or so. These people then approve of the celebration by tapping on a hand drum.[9] Funerals are conducted by first doing the Islamic rites of cleansing the body and praying for the deceased. This is followed by the family who burn incense and close any room or ceiling windows as this is believed to purify the path for the deceased. Every family member is expected to attend the funeral or make up for it with a visit to the family. For forty days after the burial, the closest relatives of the deceased will begin to abstain from personal comforts like by keeping their hair unkempt or uncut. On the last day, friends and family come together to bathe and clean the mourners and to convince them to return to their daily lives.[9]

Festivals and rituals[edit]

The two main celebrations of the Chinese Tajiks are Nowruz (the Persian New Year; ched chader in Sarikoli, meaning "cleaning the house") and the Pilik festival. Right before Nowruz begins, families rigorously clean their homes and sprinkle the inner walls with putuk (wheat flour) to wish for a successful year. Each household bakes a cake for the occasion to share with guests. The guests are welcomed on the doorstep by dusting some putuk on their right shoulder. Meanwhile, Pilik is dedicated to commemorating the dead. Families light candles and pray for the souls of the dead while circling the light and pulling the flame towards their face. This ritual lasts two days. On the first day, families light candles inside the house. On the second day, they visit the local cemetery and light a candle for each deceased relative and place it on their graves.[9]

Seasonal rituals such as Zuwur zoht (irrigation) and Teghm zuwost (seed sowing) used to be commonplace but presently a pir (a local religious master) or khalifa (a religious functionary who is trained under a pir) blesses the agricultural implements in the fields by reciting verses from the Quran.[9]


A Chinese Tajik herder in Tashkurgan

Because of the harsh and scarce environment in which the locals live in, Chinese Tajiks mostly rely on cultivating whatever arable land is available and engage in small-scale animal husbandry. Other types of subsistence also include selling traditional embroidery, clothes, hats, and other arts and crafts. However, this is only a seasonal operation. There are also a few governmental wages available but salaried jobs are few and the demand is very high.[9]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 3-7 各地、州、市、县(市)分民族人口数 (in Simplified Chinese). شىنجاڭ ئۇيغۇر ئاپتونوم رايونى, 新疆维吾尔自治区统计局 Statistic Bureau of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. 15 March 2017. Archived from the original on 11 October 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  2. ^ Pam Arlund (2000). "Research on Bilingual Phenomenon of Tajiks in Kashgar Prefecture". Language and Translation. 61 (1): 12. ISSN 1001-0823. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
  3. ^ Through the Unknown Pamirs; the Second Danish Pamir Expedition 1898–99 By Ole Olufsen
  4. ^ Denis Crispin Twitchett, John King Fairbank (1977). The Cambridge history of China, Volume 10. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 0-521-21447-5. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  5. ^ A Journey of Geographical and Archarological Exploration in Chinese Turkestan A Stein – 1904 – [sn] ... 15,800 feet above the sea, into Chinese territory on the Taghdumbash Pamir, using the yaks of the Sarikoli herdsmen ...
  6. ^ The Heart of a Continent – Younghusband – ... an encampment belonging to a Sarikoli, who very kindly asked me to have some refreshment ... (pg 242)
  7. ^ Kreutzmann, Hermann; Watanabe, Teiji (25 January 2016). Mapping Transition in the Pamirs: Changing Human-Environmental Landscapes. Springer. p. 246. ISBN 978-3-319-23198-3.
  8. ^ a b Kuzʹmina, Elena Efimovna (2007). The Origin of the Indo-Iranians. BRILL. pp. 381–382. ISBN 978-90-04-16054-5.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Saidula, Amier (2011). "The Nizari Ismailis of China in Modern Times". In Daftary, Farhad (ed.). A Modern History of the Ismailis: Continuity and Change in a Muslim Community. London and New York: I.B. Tauris. pp. 77–91. ISBN 9781845117177.
  10. ^ Oriental Institute (Woking, England), East India Association (London, England) (1892). The Imperial and asiatic quarterly review and oriental and colonial record. Oriental Institute. p. 74. Retrieved 23 January 2011.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ The Draft History of Qing, volume 529, Revised Edition, 1977, Zhonghua Book Company.
  12. ^ Sir Thomas Douglas Forsyth (1875). Report of a mission to Yarkund in 1873, under command of Sir T. D. Forsyth: with historical and geographical information regarding the possessions of the ameer of Yarkund. Printed at the Foreign department press. p. 56. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  13. ^ Ildikó Bellér-Hann (2007). Situating the Uyghurs between China and Central Asia. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-7546-7041-4. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  14. ^ Situating the Uyghurs Between China and Central Asia. Routledge. 2016. p. 20. ISBN 978-1351899895.
  15. ^ Pamela Nightingale; C.P. Skrine (5 November 2013). Macartney at Kashgar: New Light on British, Chinese and Russian Activities in Sinkiang, 1890-1918. Taylor & Francis. pp. 124–. ISBN 978-1-136-57616-4.
  16. ^ Sir Clarmont Percival Skrine; Pamela Nightingale (1973). Macartney at Kashgar: new light on British, Chinese and Russian activities in Sinkiang, 1890-1918. Methuen. p. 124. ISBN 9780416653908.
  17. ^ Pamela Nightingale; C.P. Skrine (5 November 2013). Macartney at Kashgar: New Light on British, Chinese and Russian Activities in Sinkiang, 1890-1918. Routledge. pp. 125–. ISBN 978-1-136-57609-6.
  18. ^ Sir Clarmont Percival Skrine; Pamela Nightingale (1973). Macartney at Kashgar: new light on British, Chinese and Russian activities in Sinkiang, 1890-1918. Methuen. p. 125. ISBN 9780416653908.
  19. ^ Andrew D. W. Forbes (1986). Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: a political history of Republican Sinkiang 1911–1949. Cambridge, England: CUP Archive. p. 6. ISBN 0-521-25514-7. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  20. ^ Eric Shipton, Jim Perrin (1997). Eric Shipton: The Six Mountain-Travel Books. The Mountaineers Books. p. 488. ISBN 0-89886-539-5. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  21. ^ Andrew D. W. Forbes (1986). Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: a political history of Republican Sinkiang 1911–1949. Cambridge, England: CUP Archive. p. 204. ISBN 0-521-25514-7. Retrieved 28 June 2010.
  22. ^ 泽普概况. 泽普政府网 (in Simplified Chinese). 17 July 2017. Archived from the original on 26 January 2020. Retrieved 10 April 2020 – via Internet Archive. 2016年末,全县总户数(含塔西南勘探开发公司)65684户,其中县属户数59804户;总人口208950人(含塔西南勘探开发公司),其中,维吾尔族175686人,占84.1%,汉族27131人,占13%,塔吉克族4463人,占2.1%,其他民族1670人,占0.8%。
  23. ^ 柯克亚乡简介. 叶城县人民政府网 (in Simplified Chinese). 17 August 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2020. 有维吾尔族和塔吉克族等2个民族。
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  26. ^ Felmy, Sabine (1996). The voice of the nightingale: a personal account of the Wakhi culture in Hunza. Karachi: Oxford University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-19-577599-6.
  27. ^ James Stuart Olson (1998). An ethnohistorical dictionary of China. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 319. ISBN 0-313-28853-4. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  28. ^ UNHCR Refworld, CHINA: Xinjiang's Ismailis cut off from international Ismaili community [accessed 13 May 2009]
  29. ^ "The Aga Khan visits Western China | Aga Khan Development Network".
  30. ^ Foltz, Richard (2019). A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East. New York: I.B. Tauris. p. 185. ISBN 978-1-83860-446-2.

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