Salar ethnic minority (Sa La Zu in Chinese language) is one of the 56 ethnic minorities, which is recognized officially by the Chinese government. Salar people believe in Islamism, and they mainly inhabit in Xunhua Salar Autonomous County and Hualong Hui Autonomous County of Qinghai Province, as well as Jishishan, Dongxiang and Salar Autonomous County of Gansu Province. Some Salar people inhabit in Xining City, Huangnan Prefecture, Haibei Prefecture and Haixi Prefecture of Qinghai Province, Xiahe County of Gansu Province, Urumqi City and Yining County of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Salar people have their own language, Salar language. They don’t have their own written scripts; instead, they mainly use Chinese characters. People of Salar ethnic minority believe in Islamism which has a great influence on Salar people’s historical development, politics, economy, culture and many other aspects. According to the fifth national population census in 2000, Salar ethnic minority has a population of 104,503. They mainly engage in agriculture and their horticulture is developed. Salar people use Salar language, which belongs to Oghuz group of the Turkic language family.
Salar people call themselves “Salar”, or with the short form of “Sala”. Some people think that Salar people are descendants of the Salur tribe which belonged to the Oghuz Turks tribe of the Western Turkic Khaganate. Legend has it that Salur is the grandson of Uyghus Khan. The word “Salur” means “people who wave swords, hammers and spears everywhere”. They lived within China’s border during the Tang Dynasty and then moved west towards Central Asia. During the Yuan Dynasty, they moved through Samarkand and went back to China and settled down near Xining. According to their legends, their ancestor Karaman had opposite opinions with the King, so he left Samarkand with some of the tribe members, bringing white camels carrying water, soil and the Koran. They moved towards the east and came to Xunhua. They saw that Xunhua is vast and abounds with fertile grasslands and dense forests, so they decided to settle there. After that, these people intermarried with the local people of Hui, Tibetan, Han and some other minorities, and eventually formed the Salar people. Salar ethnic minority has a history of around 700 years.
Men wear white or black round caps or hexagonal hats with no brim, white clothes with green waistcoat, and a red belt around the waist. The clothes are either short and loose, or long and fitting. Older people wear long robes, which is called “Dong” in Salar language. When they attend religious activity at the mosque, they will tie to their heads “Dasi Da’er”, a long white cloth. Salar women like wearing bright colored clothes with big images of flowers in the front and a black waistcoat. They like wearing accessories like long-string earrings, rings, bracelets and beads. Women usually wear hats with long veils influenced by Islamic culture. In Hualong area, some of their costumes have the characteristics of Tibetan style.
They mainly live on wheat, highland barley, buckwheat, potatoes and various kinds of vegetables. During festivals or the occasions of receiving a visitor, they cook fried pastries, boiled mutton, steamed sugar buns and many other food to celebrate the festival or serve the guests. Milk tea and barley tea are the favored drinks loved by all the Salar people. Every household has tea wares such as pots, bowls and covered bowls. They like eating beef, mutton and chicken. They are forbidden to eat pork, donkey meat, mule meat, horse meat, blood and animals that die naturally.
Salar people are gregarious. They like to live in their own communities, no matter big or small. Their houses are mainly built of wood and mud with flat roof, and they are surrounded by adobe walls on four sides to form a yard. Inside the house, there are usually Arabic calligraphies in Kufi script pasted on the wall, looking simple, elegant and solemn. They place white stones on the top of the corner of the yard walls, which is similar to what the local Tibetans do.
Salar ethnic people mainly attach much importance to three festivals, including Lesser Bairam, Corban Festival and Muhammad 's Birthday. In addition, they are some other festivals. Lailah al-Barat Festival is celebrated on the 15th night before the month of fast. Every household will invite the iman to chant the Koran in their homes. Fatima Festival is held on the 12th day of the month of fast in memory of Fatima who is the daughter of Muhammad, during which, only adult women can attend. Every 7 people get together and celebrate the annual Fatima Festival together. Laylatul-Qadr Festival is held on the 27th day of the month of fast. People will prepare wheat germ rice, fried pastries, steamed buns and many other foods. They will also invite iman and manla to their houses to chant the Koran, and make preparations for the end of Ramadan.
Salar people believe in islamism. During the period after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, they started to devide religious sects. There are many religious sects. Though there are old sect, old new sect, new sect and new sect, there is not much difference in their fundamental belief, with only varying etiquette and explanations to doctrines and disciplines
The literary art of Salar people is unique with its own features, mainly including folk literature of ‘talking and singing’. For ‘talking’, Salar ethnic minority boasts stories, myths, legends, fables, proverbs and jokes with rich materials and humorous and implicit content. For ‘singing’, Salar people have Salar songs, banquet songs, flowers songs and other kinds of songs. Salar songs are sung in Salar people’s own language to express their emotions, consisting of many short verse lets with independent meanings. Flowers songs are folk songs (sung in the fields during or after work) sung in Chinese language. There are usually four lines of lyrics; under the influence of Tibetan language, the tones are melodic and pleasant with vibrato. The only musical instrument of Salar people is “Kouxian”, a kind of mouth organ made of bronze or silver, with the shape of horse's hoof. The most popular dance among the Salar people is “camel dance” performed by four people. Usually it is performed on wedding ceremonies. The movements are simple, and the tempo is mild.
When visiting Salar people’s home, the guest should hold the tea bowl when the host serves tea. When eating steamed bread, they should split it into pieces firstly and then begin to eat, instead of eating the whole. When Salar people are attending religious ceremonies, it is forbidden to walk in front of them. It is not allowed to wash clothes near wells and ponds. When talking with others, it is not polite to cough or blow the nose.