Origins of Yugur Minority

The Yugur ethnic minority can trace its origins to the nomadic ancient Ouigurs in the Erhun River valley during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In the mid-9th century, the ancient Ouigurs, beset by snowstorms, feuding in the ruling group and attacks from the Turkic Kirgiz, had to move westward in separate groups. One of the groups emigrated to Guazhou (present-day Dunhuang), Ganzhou (present-day Zhangye) and Liangzhou (present-day Wuwei) in the Hexi Corridor, the most fertile area in central-western Gansu Province, and came under the rule of Tubo, a Tibetan kingdom. They were called the Hexi Ouigurs. Later, they captured the city of Ganzhou and set up a khanate, so they were also called Ganzhou Ouigurs.

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Photo from baike.baidu.com

The Hexi Ouigurs had all along maintained very close ties with the central empire and regarded these ties as relations of "nephew to uncle." During the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126), the Khan of the Ganzhou Ouigurs often sent special envoys to the imperial capital to present tribute to the emperor, and, in return, the Song court gave "the nephew Ouigur Khan in Ganzhou" special products from central China. The Khan's emissaries went to the capital of the Song Dynasty on several missions to offer camels, horses, coral and amber as tribute to the imperial court in the fifth year (980) of the reign of Emperor Taizong and the third year (1010) of the reign of Emperor Zhenzong.

In the mid-11th century, the Western Xia Kingdom conquered Ganzhou and toppled the Ouigur regime. The Hexi Ouigurs then became dependants of the former and moved to pastoral areas outside the Jiayu Pass. However, their links with the Song court were still maintained. Ouigur envoys came to the Song capital with tribute again during the first year of the reign of Emperor Shenzong (1068) and requested a copy of a Buddhist scripture. According to an envoy in 1073, there were more than 300,000 Ouigurs at that time. In 1227 the Mongols conquered Western Xia Kingdom and put the Hexi Ouigurs under their direct rule.

Part of the Hexi Ouigurs were assimilated by neighboring ethnic groups over a long period of co-existence from the mid-11th to the 16th century, and developed into a community—the present-day Yugurs. They lived around Dunhuang in western Gansu and Hami in eastern Xinjiang.

The Ming (1368-1644) rulers moved many of the Yugurs farther east as the frontier became unsettled.

The Yugurs underwent changes in the mode of economic production after their eastward move. Those in the Huangnibao area, availing themselves of exchanges with the Hans, learned farming and gradually substituted it for animal husbandry, while those in the Sunan area still engaged in livestock breeding and hunting. Thanks to the introduction of iron implements from the Hans, the Yugur peoples' skills in farming, animal husbandry and hunting all improved.

The Qing government (1644-1911), in an attempt to strengthen its rule, divided the Yugurs into "seven tribes" and appointed a headman for each and a powerful chieftain, the "Huangfan Superintendent of the Seven Tribes", over them all.

The Qing government made it a law for the Yugur tribes to offer 113 horses every year in exchange for tea. At first, they got some tea, but later, virtually none. The horses contributed were tribute pure and simple. The tribute demanded by the central government also included stag antlers, musk and furs. The Suzhou Yugurs had to deliver grain or silver.

Lamaism began to get the upper hand in the Yugur area in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Each tribe had its own monastery. The lamas worked closely with the chiefs in important tribal matters; some tribes practiced integration of religion and politics. The Lamaist monasteries had their own feudal system of oppression and exploitation: courts, prisons and instruments of torture. They could order compulsory donations and gratuitous forced labor, and compel children to join the clergy. Some lamas extorted large amounts of money and property out of the common people by way of fortune telling and exorcism. Donations for religious purposes accounted approximately for 30 percent of the annual income of a middle-class family.

All these hardships reduced the ethnic group virtually to extinction. At the time of the mid-20century, its population was less than 3,000.




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