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Tu Ethnic Minority

Last updated by fabiowzgogo at 2015/6/11

With a population of nearly 200 thousand, Tu ethnic minority has the smallest population among all the ethnic minorities. In Qinghai Province, most of the Tu people mainly inhabit in Huzhu Tu Autonomous County, Minhe Hui and Tu Autonomous County, Datong Hui and Tu Autonomous County, Tongren County, Ledu County and Menyuan County. Besides, more than 20 thousand Tu people now inhabit in Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County, Sunan Yugur Autonomous County, Yongdeng County and other places in Gansu Province. The population of Tu people living in Qinghai Province accounts for 85% of the total population of the Tu ethnic group.

The Tu people are mainly engaged in agriculture, and they are also engaged in stock farming. People of Tu ethnic minority use Tu language, which belongs to Mongolian branch in Altaic language family. In the past, all of the Tu people used Chinese language. In recent years, Tu language which is in the form of Latin words has been created and is in trial implementation. People of the Tu ethnic minority mainly inhabit in Huzhu County, Minhe County, Datong County and other areas in Qinghai Province. Besides, some of them live in Ledu County, Menyuan County and Gansu Province.


Tu ethnic minority has close relations with Mongolian ethnic minority. It is said that the ancestor of Tu people who inhabit in Huzhu County is from the Mongolian. The Mongolian married the local Hor person, and gradually the Tu ethnic minority formed. In the past, the Tu people took Kereltu as their ancestor and worshipped him. According to the historical books of Han people, it was recorded that Mongolian troops of Genghis Khan once came to Xining. According to local stories, Huzhu County used to be under the control of Xining at that time. In the Ming Dynasty, the Mongolian people living in Anding area were attacked, so they moved to the place which is known as Huzhu Tu Autonomous County nowadays. Hor people are the general name of the nomadic people living in the northern Tibetan area. But, it is agreed recently that tmost of people of the original Tu ethnic group is Tuyuhun people and Tu ethnic group is the combination of the Qiang people (an ancient ethnic group in China, living in Sichuan), the Tangut people, the Tibetan people, the Mongolian people and the Han people.

Culture and Folk Art

With colorful folk literature and folk art, the Tu people are good at both singing and dancing. The folk literature is passed from mouth to mouth, and most of the literary works can be sung. Among them, one of the famous narrative poems has been adapted for stages. Some senior Lama and monks write their own books as well. There is a large variety of songs, including "An zhao" and "Hua er". The songs include two types: family song and folk song. The tune of the songs has words to make up the tone, with end rhyme which is long, gliding, deep and meaningful. The family songs include paean, antiphonal songs, wedding songs, waltz and many other styles of songs. At the wedding, Tu people are used to celebrating with each other with songs and dance. The wedding dance is usually performed by two relatives wearing long white gown. Others will accompany the singer. The movements of dances in one area are quite different from that of other areas.

In addition, the local embroidery of the Tu people is quite famous with beautiful patterns, such as elegant birds, flowers and animals. The most popular patterns are plum blossom with five petals, pomegranate blossom, moire flowers, humble bird on plum blossom, peacock playing with peony, lion playing with ball and many other famous patterns. The exquisite and beautiful embroidery is the creation of the Tu women, which is an eye-catching symbol in the traditional culture of Tu ethnic minority as well.


Tu ethnic minority has its own unique style of costume. The upper outer garment of both men and women has a tall collar with embroidery on it. The Tu men usually wear a coat with a small collar and slanted lapel. There is a picture of a Tu man in traditional costume on the stamp. The man on the stamp wears a long gown with black edge. An embroidered belt is tied around his waist. The trousers he wears has a loose crotch with two embroidered belts on both sides. A puttee with a black top half and a white bottom half are tied on each of his legs. He wears a felt cap and a pair of moiré cloth shoes. The elderly usually wear black waistcoats out of the long gown. Women of Tu ethnic group wear costumes with small embroidered collar and slanted lapel. The two sleeves are made of five-color cloth. They also wear waistcoats outside, with black, blue and purple edge. A colorful silk belt or a wide embroidered belt is tied around the waist, on which there may be a colorful handkerchief, a colorful purse, a small bag, a brass bell and other small adornments. The trousers of the Tu women have blue and black edge. The embroidered shoes they wear look like boots. The women often wear a kind of headwear called "Niu da" in various styles.


People of Tu ethnic minority mainly live on highland barley and wheat. They only eat a few vegetables, ranging from 10 to 20 kinds, including radish, Chinese cabbage, green onion, garlic, asparagus lettuce and some other kinds. They also like to eat pickled Chinese cabbage with some meat. The Tu people are fond of drinking tea with milk and eating butter noodles. During festivals, members in each family of Tu ethnic group will make various kinds of fried food, boiled pork and boiled lamb. The male of Tu ethnic group are fond of drinking and they mostly drink home-brewed barley wine. The Tu people attach much importance to food safety. When they have meals, everyone has his or her own bowl and chopsticks. It is also the same while entertaining a guest.


Tu ethnic group attach much importance to rites. They show great respect to the elderly. For example, they will get down from a horse and say hello if they come across the elderly they know. Tu people are all enthusiastic, friendly, faithful and trustworthy. When a guest comes over, the host usually says "a guest comes and the luck comes". The guest will be seated on the kang (the bed built of bricks which is heatable) covered with red woolen felt. He or she will be invited to drink a cup of strong tea with green salt in it. Then, they will be served with a "Kong Guo Mo" which is as big as a watermelon. If the guest is quite distinguished, one more dish will be entertained, which is fried noodles together with butter. Besides, there are also much boiled lambs served with a 15-centimeter-long knife inserted in it. On the wine pot ties a tuft of white wool. When drinking, the host will firstly propose a toast to the guest, including three bowls of wine, which is called "three bowls of wine as soon as you get on a horse". If the guest cannot drink, he or she could just dip three drops of wine and flip the drops to the sky.

Religious Belief

In the past, most people of Tu Ethnic minority believed in polytheism, and some of them believed in Taoism. After the period of the Yuan (1279 A.D.-- 1368 A.D.) and Ming dynasties (1368 A.D.--1644 A.D.), most of the Tu people began to believe in Lamaism. However, there were still some different folk beliefs. In the area where Tu ethnic minority lives, there are more than 40 lamaseries, such as the well-known You Ning Lamasery and Guang Hui Lamazery. Many famous monks are from You Ning Lamasery, such as Zhangjia, Tuguan and Huabu, who are still influential today. The lamaseries cover huge areas of land. In Huzhu County, 15 lamaseries cover an area of 69,200mu (equal to about 4,613 hectares). As the cultural center of the Tu people, lamaseries have contributed a lot to spreading and development of Buddhism. When they lived in eastern Liaoning, Tuyuhun people, ancestor of the Tu people, believed in Shamanism. Even now, there are some Shamanism customs kept by the Tu people. Some of the religious activities of Shamanism passed on include holding a memorial ceremony for Aobao, offering sacrifice to white tiger and selecting divine goat. At the end of the 8th century, Bonpo was introduced to Tu ethnic group, but it declined in the 14th century. Nowadays, only in some Tu villages in Huzhu County and Datong County, there remain a small number of religious believers of Bonpo.


Mid-Autumn Festival is a taboo in Tu ethnic minority. At the night of Mid-Autumn Festival, people will sprinkle a handful of grass ash to the moon. But many modern Tu people also celebrate mid-autumn Festival. The mooncakes of the Tu people are home made, which are both big, round and in various kinds. The patterns on the mooncakes are unique and colorful. It is not allowed to eat the meat of donkey, mule, horse and dog. When visiting a Tu family, the guest should not relieve himself or herself in the places where livestock is located. They should not count the number of the livestock either, for it is believed that counting the number of the livestock can affect the growth of the livestock. When sitting on the kang (the bed built of bricks which is heatable) of the host, the guest is forbidden to be seated on the pillow or quilt. Besides, there are some taboos related to the door. When a baby is born, or a new door is equipped, or there is a patient at home, the Tu family will stick a piece of red square paper on the door, or light a fire near the door. At that time, guests are not allowed to enter the yard.