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Dungan girls in Shor-Tyube, Kazakhstan.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Kazakhstan (1999 census) 36,900
 Russia (2002 census) 801
 Kyrgyzstan (1999 census) 51,766




Related ethnic groups


Dungan (Russian: Дунгане) is a term used in territories of the former Soviet Union to refer to a Muslim people of Chinese origin. Turkic-speaking peoples in Xinjiang Province in China also refer to members of this ethnic group as Dungans. In both China and the former Soviet republics where they reside, however, members of this ethnic group call themselves Hui.

In the censuses of the now independent states of the former Soviet Union, the Dungans, who are enumerated separately from Chinese, can be found in Kazakhstan (36,900 according to the 1999 census[1]), Kyrgyzstan (51,766 according to 1999 census[2]), and Russia (801 according to 2002 census.[3])



Migration from China

The gate of the Dungan Mosque in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. The sign is in Kyrgyz—both in the Cyrillic script and a version of the Arabo-Persian script.

The Dungan in the former Soviet republics are Hui who fled China in the aftermath of the Hui Minorities' War in the nineteenth century. According to Rimsky-Korsakoff (1992), three separate groups of the Hui people fled to the Russian Empire across the Tian Shan Mountains during the exceptionally severe winter of 1877/78:

  1. The first group, of some 1000 people, originally from Turpan in Xinjiang, led by Ma Daren (马大人, 'the Great Man Ma'), also known as Ma Da-lao-ye (马大老爷, 'The Great Master Ma'), reached Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan.
  2. The second group, originally from Didaozhou (狄道州) in Gansu, led by ahong Ma Yusu (马郁素夫)[4], also known as Ah Yelaoren (阿爷老人, 'the Old Man Ah Ye'), were settled in the spring of 1878 in the village of Yrdyk (Russian: Ирдык or Ырдык) some 15 km from Karakol in Eastern Kyrgyzstan. They numbered 1130 on arrival.
  3. The third group, originally from Shaanxi, led by Bai Yanhu (白彦虎; also spelt Bo Yanhu; often called by his followers "虎大人", 'The Great Man Hu', 1829(?)-1882), one of the leaders of the rebellion, were settled in the village of Karakunuz (now Masanchi), in modern Zhambyl Province of Kazakhstan. It is located 8 km north from the city Tokmak in north-western Kyrgyzstan. This group numbered 3314 on arrival.

The next wave of immigration followed in the early 1880s. In accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1881), which required the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the Upper Ili Basin (the Kulja area), the Dungan (Hui) and Taranchi (Uyghur) people of the region were allowed to opt for moving to the Russian side of the border. Many chose that option; according to Russian statistics, 4,682 Hui moved to the Russian Empire under the treaty. They migrated in many small groups between 1881 and 1883, settling in the village of Sokuluk some 30 km west of Bishkek, as well as in a number of locations between the Chinese border and Sokuluk, in south-eastern Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan.


Dungan people
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 東干族
Simplified Chinese 东干族
Russian name
Russian Дунгане
Dunganese name
Dungan Хуэйзў
Xiao'erjing حُوِ ذَو
Romanization Huejzw
Hanzi 回族

In the Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and the post-Soviet states, the Dungans continue to refer to themselves as the Hui people (Chinese: 回族, Huízú; in Cyrillic Soviet Dungan spelling, xуэйзў).

Just like the Hui people in China, who have traditionally emphasized the Middle Eastern (Arab or Persian), rather than Chinese, part of their ancestry,[5] the Dungan people view themselves as a separate ethnicity from the Han Chinese.

The name Dungan is of obscure origin. One popular theory derives this word from Turkic döñän ("one who turns"), which can be compared to Chinese (huí), which has a similar meaning. Another theory derives it from the Chinese 东干 (Dong Gan), 'Eastern Gansu', the region to which many of the Dungan can trace their ancestry; however the character gan (干) used in the name of the ethnic group is different from that used in the name of the province (甘).

The term "Dungan" ("Tonggan", "Donggan") has been used by Central Asian Turkic-and Tajik-speaking people to refer to Chinese-speaking Muslims for several centuries. Joseph Fletcher cites Turkic and Persian manuscripts related to the preaching of the 17th century Kashgarian Sufi master Muhammad Yūsuf (or, possibly, his son Afaq Khoja) inside the Ming Empire (in today's Gansu and/or Qinghai), where the Kashgarian preacher is told to have converted 'ulamā-yi Tunganiyyān (i.e., "Dungan ulema") into Sufism.[6]

Presumably, it was from the Turkic languages that the term was borrowed into Russian (дунгане, dungane (pl.); дунганин, dunganin (sing.)) and Chinese (simplified Chinese: 东干族traditional Chinese: 東干族pinyin: Dōnggānzú), as well as to Western European languages.

Caption: "Shooting exercises of taifurchi [gunners]. Dungans and Kashgar Chinese". A French engraving from the Yaqub Beg's state period

In English and German, the ethnonym "Dungan", in various spelling forms, was attested as early as 1830s, sometimes typically referring to the Hui people of Xinjiang. For example, James Prinsep in 1835 mentions Muslim "Túngánis" in "Chinese Tartary".[7][8] In 1839, Karl Ernst von Baer in his German-language account of Russian Empire and adjacent Asian lands has a one-page account of Chinese-speaking Muslim "Dungani" or "Tungani", who had visited Orenburg in 1827 with a caravan from China; he also mentions "Tugean" as a spelling variant used by other authors.[9] R.M. Martin in 1847 mentions "Tungani" merchants in Yarkand.[10]

The word (mostly in the form "Dungani" or "Tungani", sometimes "Dungens" or "Dungans") acquired some currency in English and other western languages when a number of books in the 1860-70s discussed the Dungan Rebellion in Northwestern China. At the time, one could see European and American authors apply the term Tungani to the Hui people both in Xinjiang,[11] and in Shaanxi and Gansu (which at the time included today's Ningxia and Qinghai as well). Authors aware of the general picture of the spread of Islam in China, viewed these "Tungani" as just one of the groups of China's "Mohammedans".[12]

Marshall Broomhall, who has a chapter on "the Tungan Rebellion" in his 1910 book, introduces "the name Tungan or Dungan, by which the Mohammedans of these parts [i.e., NE China] are designated, in contradistinction as the Chinese Buddhists who are spoken of as Kithay"; the reference to "Khitay" shows that he was viewing the two terms as used by Turkic speakers.[13] Broomhall's book also contains the translation by the report on Chinese Muslims by the Ottoman writer named Abd-ul-Aziz. Abd-ul-Aziz divides the "Tungan people" into two branches: "the Tunagans of China proper" (including, apparently all Hui people in "China proper", as he also talks e.g. about the Tungans having 17 mosques in Beijing), and "The Tungans of Chinese and Russian Turkestan", who still look and speak Chinese, but have often also learned the "Turkish" language.[14]

Later authors continued to use the term Dungan (in various transcriptions) for, specifically, the Hui people of Xinjiang. For example, Owen Lattimore, writing ca. 1940, maintains the terminological distinction between these two related groups: "T'ungkan" (i.e. Wade-Giles for "Dungan"), described by him as the descendants of the Gansu Hui people resettled in Xinjiang in 17-18th centuries, vs. e.g. "Gansu Moslems" or generic "Chinese Moslems".[15] The term (usually as "Tungans") continues to be used by many modern historians writing about the 19th century Dungan Rebellion (e.g. by Denis C. Twitchett in the Cambridge History of China, [16] by James A. Millward in his economic history of the region,[17] or by Kim Ho-dong in his monograph[18]).

Dungan villages in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

The Dungans themselves referred to Karakunuz (Russian: Каракунуз, sometimes Караконыз or Караконуз) as Ingpan (Chinese: 营盘, Yingpan; Russian: Иньпан), which means 'a camp, an encampment'. In 1965, Karakunuz was renamed Masanchi (sometimes spelt as "Masanchin"), after Magazi Masanchi or Masanchin (Dungan: Магәзы Масанчын; Chinese: 马三青), a Dungan participant in the Communist Revolution and a Soviet Kazakhstan statesman.

The following table summarizes location of Dungan villages in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, alternative names used for them, and their Dungan population as reported by Ma Tong (2003). The Cyrillic Dungan spelling of place names is as in the textbook by Sushanlo, Imazov (1988); the spelling of the name in Chinese character is as in Ma Tong (2003).

Dungan villages in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
Village name (and alternatives) Location (in present-day terms) Foundation Current Dungan population (from Ma Tang (2003))
Kazakhstan - total 48,000 (Ma Tang (2003)) or 36,900 (Kazakhstan Census of 1999)
Masanchi (Russian: Масанчи; Kazakh: Масаншы) or Masanchin (Russian: Масанчин; Cyrillic Dungan: Масанчын; 马三青), prior to 1965 Karakunuz (Каракунуз, Караконыз). Traditional Dungan name is Ingpan (Cyrillic Dungan: Йинпан; Russian: Иньпан; Chinese: 营盘, Yingpang) (42°55′40″N 75°18′00″E / 42.92778°N 75.3°E / 42.92778; 75.3 (Masanchi)) Korday District, Zhambyl Province of Kazakhstan (8 km north of Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan) Spring 1878. 3314 people from Shaanxi, led by Bai Yanhu (白彦虎). 7,000, current mayor: Ishar Ussupovich Lou
Sortobe (Kazakh: Sortobe; Russian: Шортюбе, Shortyube; Dungan: Щёртюбе; Chinese: 雪尔秋白, Xuerqiubai) (42°52′00″N 75°15′15″E / 42.8666667°N 75.25417°E / 42.8666667; 75.25417 (Sortobe)) Korday District, Zhambyl Province. On the northern bank of the Chui River opposite and a few km downstream from Tokmok; south of Masanchi (Karakunuz) (Karakunuz group) 9,000
Zhalpak-tobe, (Kazakh: Жалпак-тобе; Chinese: 加尔帕克秋白, Jiarpakeqiubai) Zhambyl District, Zhambyl Province; near Grodekovo, south of Toraz 3,000
Kyrgyzstan - total 50,000 (Ma Tang (2003)
Yrdyk Russian: Ырдык or Ирдык; Dungan: Эрдэх; Chinese: 二道沟, Erdaogou) (42°27′30″N 78°18′0″E / 42.45833°N 78.3°E / 42.45833; 78.3 (Yrdyk)) Djeti Oguz district of Issyk Kul Province; 15 km south-west from Karakol. Spring 1878. 1130 people, originally from Didaozhou (狄道州) in Gansu, led by Ma Yusu (马郁素), a.k.a. Ah Yelaoren (阿爷老人). 2,800
Sokuluk (Russian: Сокулук; Dungan: Сохўлў; Chinese: 梢葫芦, Saohulu); may also include adjacent Aleksandrovka (Александровка) Sokuluk District of Chuy Province; 30 km west of Bishkek Some of those 4,628 Hui people who arrived in 1881-1883 from the Ili Basin (Xinjiang) . 12,000
Milianfan (Russian: Милянфан; Dungan: Милёнчуан; Chinese: 米粮川, Miliangchuan) Ysyk-Ata District of Chuy Province. Southern bank of the Chuy River, some 60 km west of Tokmok and about as much north-east of Bishkek. (Karakunuz group (?)) 10,000
Ivanovka (Russian: Ивановка; Chinese: 伊万诺夫卡) Ysyk-Ata District of Chuy Province. Southern bank of the Chuy River, some 30 km west of Tokmok. (Karakunuz group (?)) 1,500
Dungan community of Osh (Russian: Ош, Chinese: 奥什 or 敖什, Aoshe) Osh City Spring 1878, 1000 people, originally from Turpan in Xinjiang, led by Ma Daren, also known as Ma Da-lao-ye (马大老爷) 800

The position of the Kazakhstan villages within the administrative division of Zhambyl Province, and the total population of each village can be found at the provincial statistics office web site.[19]

Besides the traditionally Dungan villages, many Dungan people live in the nearby cities, such as Bishkek, Tokmok, Karakol.

Present day

In Milianfan village, Chuy Province of Kyrgyzstan

As Hong (2005) notes, "[t]he Dungan people derive from China's Hui people, and now live mainly in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Their population is about 110,000. This people have now developed a separate ethnicity outside China, yet they have close relations with the Hui people in culture, ethnic characteristics and ethnic identity."


The Dungan language, which the people themselves call "Hui language" (Хуэйзў йүян or Huejzw jyian – language of the Hui people), is closely related to the Shaanxi dialect of Mandarin Chinese, but has only three tones instead of four. It contains many loanwords from Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. Since the 1950s, the language is written in Cyrillic script.

Unlike other minority nationalities in Central Asia, such as the local Koreans, nearly all of the Dungan report that they continue to use their ethnic language as their mother tongue. More than two-thirds of the Dungan also speak Russian, and a small proportion can speak Kyrgyz or other languages belonging to the titular nationalities of the countries where they live.[20]


Many restaurants in Bishkek advertise "Dungan cuisine" (Дунганская кухня)

The Dungan are primarily farmers, growing rice and vegetables such as sugar beets. Many also raise dairy cattle. In addition, some are involved in opium production. The Dungan tend to be endogamous.

The Dungan are famous for their hospitality and hold many ceremonies and banquets to preserve their culture. They have elaborate and colorful observances of birthdays, weddings, and funerals. In addition, schools have museums to preserve other parts of their culture, such as embroidery, traditional clothing, silver jewelry, paper cuts of animals and flowers and tools.


The large majority of Dungan are Hanafi Muslim, with a Hanbali minority. Many Dungan villages contain a mosque run by village elders.

Some ascribe the rise of Islam amongst the Dungans to an alleged Arab ancestry. While this may be possible for some Dungans (though not likely), it is more plausible that the prevalence of Islam amongst them is due in part to the freedom Arab preachers were given by Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th Century CE. Also, a more likely cause was the mass conversion to Islam by the Mongols, Berke Khan and the Golden Horde in particular, as well as mass conversions by the populations in their territories.


  1. ^ Aleksandr Nikolaevich Alekseenko (Александр Николаевич Алексеенко), "Republic in the Mirror of the Population Census" («Республика в зеркале переписей населения») Sotsiologicheskie Issledovaniia. 2001, No. 12. pp. 58-62.
  2. ^ Kyrgyzstan National Statistics Office, 1999 Population Census Report, Section 3
  3. ^ Всероссийская перепись населения 2002 года
  4. ^ As per Ma Tong (2003)
  5. ^ Dru C. Gladney, Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic. 1st ed. 1991; 2nd ed., 1996. ISBN 0-674-59497-5.
  6. ^ Lipman, Jonathan Neaman (1998). Familiar strangers: a history of Muslims in Northwest China. Hong Kong University Press. p. 59. ISBN 9622094686. . Lipman's source is: Joseph Fletcher, "The Naqshbandiya in Northwest China", in Beatrcie Manz, ed (1995). Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia. London. 
  7. ^ James Prinsep, "Memoir on Chinese Tartary and Khoten". The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, No. 48, December 1835. P. 655.On Google Books
  8. ^ Prinsep's article is also available in "The Chinese Repository", 1843, p. 234 On Google Books. A modern (2003) reprint is available, ISBN 1-4021-5631-6.
  9. ^ Karl Ernst von Baer, Grigoriĭ Petrovich Gelʹmersen. "Beiträge zur Kenntniss des russischen Reiches und der angränzenden Länder Asiens". Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1839. p. 91. On Google Books (German)
  10. ^ Robert Montgomery Martin, "China; political, commercial, and social; an official report". 1847. p.19. On Google Books
  11. ^ For example, Thomas Edward Gordon writes about the "Tunganis" with taifu wall pieces (small cannons) guarding the walls of Yaqub Beg's capital Kashgar (in today's Western Xinjiang) in his book The roof of the world: being a narrative of a journey over the high plateau of Tibet to the Russian frontier and the Oxus sources on Pamir. A Times journalist in "Russia and China in Central Asia" (reprinted by The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday 8 January 1879) distinguishes "the Tungan Country" (today, eastern Xinjiang) and "Eastern Turkestan" (corresponding to Yaqub Beg's state in today's western Xinjiang). He talks about "the Tungani who had erected in the various cities of Hamil, Barkul, Guchen, Urumtsi, and Manas a confederacy of no mean power".
  12. ^ See e.g. an anonymous article, "Mohammedanism in China", in The Living age, Volume 145, Issue 1876. May 29, 1880. Pp. 515-525. Reprinted from the Edinburgh Review. While using "Mohammedans" as the generic description of Chinese Muslim's throughout the article (including e.g., the Panthays then recently rebelling in Yunnan), the author describes "[a]n insurrection, beginning in Singan-fu, and spreading to Kan-suh in 1862, in which the Tungani (a mysterious race of Mohammedans dwelling in that region, supposed to be the remnant of the armies of Kublai Khan) were the chief actors" (p. 524).
  13. ^ Broomhall, Marshall (1910), Islam in China: a neglected problem, China Inland Mission, p. 147, OCLC 347514, . A 1966 reprint by Paragon Book Reprint is available. Relatedly, the Russian word for China is also Kitai (Китай), and for Chinese is kitaitsy (китайцы), a label that is not applied to the Dungans (дунгане) in an ethnic sense; that is, Dungans and kitaitsi (Chinese) were regarded as different ethnic groups or nationalities.
  14. ^ Broomhall 1910, p. 260
  15. ^ Owen Lattimore. Inner Asian Frontiers of China. Page 183 in the 1951 edition.
  16. ^ Twitchett, Denis Crispin (1978), The Cambridge history of China, Volume 11, Cambridge University Press, pp. 215-242, ISBN 0521220297, . Twitchett's definition (p. 215) is in line with the authors of 1870s-80s, rather than with that of more recent Lattimore: for Twitchett, "Tungans" include the Huis of Shaanxi and Gansu as well, not just of Xinjiang
  17. ^ Millward, James A. (1998), Beyond the pass: economy, ethnicity, and empire in Qing Central Asia, 1759-1864, Stanford University Press, pp. 35 etc., ISBN 0804729336, 
  18. ^ Kim, Ho-dong (2004), Holy war in China: the Muslim rebellion and state in Chinese Central Asia, 1864-1877, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0804748845, 
  19. ^ Population data for Zhambyl Province towns and villages (1999-2002)
  20. ^


  • Allès, Elisabeth. 2005. "The Chinese-speaking Muslims (Dungans) of Central Asia: A Case of Multiple Identities in a Changing Context," Asian Ethnicity 6, No. 2 (June): 121-134.
  • Hong, Ding. 2005. "A Comparative Study on the Cultures of the Dungan and the Hui People," Asian Ethnicity 6, No. 2 (June): 135-140.
  • Svetlana Rimsky-Korsakoff Dyer. 1979. "Soviet Dungan kolkhozes in the Kirghiz SSR and the Kazakh SSR (Oriental monograph series)". Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 0-909879-11-7.
  • Svetlana Rimsky-Korsakoff Dyer. Karakunuz: An Early Settlement of the Chinese Muslims in Russia, with an English translation of V.Tsibuzgin and A.Shmakov's work. "Asian Folklore Studies", Vol. 51 (1992), pp. 243-279.
  • 马通 (Ma Tong), "吉尔吉斯草原上的东干族穆斯林文化" (Dungans' Muslim culture on the grasslands of Kyrgyzstan), Series "丝绸之路上的穆斯林文化" (Muslim Cultures of the Silk Road), 2003-Apr-27. (Chinese). (This article has some details additional to Rimsky-Korsakoff (1992)).
  • Сушанло Мухамед, Имазов Мухаме. "Совет хуэйзў вынщүә". Фрунзе, "Мектеп" чубаншә, 1988. (Mukhamed Sushanlo, Mukhame Imazov. "Dungan Soviet Literature: textbook for 9th and 10th grade". Frunze, 1988). ISBN 5-658-00068-8.

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