Bonan Ethnic Minority

Bao’an (also called “Bonan”) ethnic minority group mainly lives in Jishishan Bonan, Dongxiang and Salar Autonomous County in Gansu Province. Some inhabit in sme counties in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Suihua County in Qinghai Province. According to the 5th national census in 2000, Bao’an ethnic minority group has a population of 16,505. Bonan people live in Bao’an community and communicate with Bao’an language, which is a kind of Mongolian language of the Altaic family. However, most of Bao’an people can speak Mandarin Chinese. The name “Bao’an” was adopted by the ethnic group itself. In the beginning, because of their Islamic faith and similar customs with Hui ethnic group, they were called “Bao’an Hui”. After the founding of People’s Republic of China, the ethnic group was officially named “Bao’an”, according to their own will in 1950.


According to historical records, a place called “Bao’an Village” was established in Tongren County in Qinghai Province in 1371 of the Ming Dynasty. The name “Bao’an” was developed from the name of the place. Bao’an ethnic group is generally considered to be a branch of Mongolian ethnic group, who were Islamic followers in the Yuan and Ming dynasties. During the long process of history, they assimilated some other ethnic groups such as Hui, Tibetan and Tujia, and finally developed into the present group.


Bao’an people mainly live on wheat, barley, beans, corn, potato, buckwheat, highland barley, beef, mutton, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish. They also like to have some kinds of vegetables such as flax and leek. Bao’an people prefer sour and spicy flavors. Thus, vinegar and red chilli oil is indispensable in every meal. Their staple food are usually pastries, such as steamed bread, steamed twisted roll, pancake, steamed stuffed bun, noodle with soup, noodle with minced meat, fried dough twist, cold noodle, sour soup noodle, fried noodle with minced meat, kneaded wheat gluten and noodle paste. As for meat, they prefer beef and mutton. They strictly forbid eating meat from pig, horse, donkey, mule and other beasts. Eating meat and coagulated blood from animals which die naturally is also forbidden.

When guests come to visit, Bao’an people will let the guests be seated in the seat of honor (left side of the heatable bed built of bricks), and then serve them with tea and food. Before having meals, a senior or the host will recite a passage from the Koran, thanking for Allah’s food. People then start eating after the chanting. Staple foods, such as steamed bread and pancakes, should be firstly divided by the host before the guests’ eating. Usually there are three courses during a meal, including pancakes or steamed bread, mutton or chicken eaten with hands and thin thread noodles. If the guest is male, young and middle-aged women are not supposed to appear in front of guests. They should prepare food or have a rest in the kitchen. They will not go into the house until the guests leave.


Men of Bao’an Minority like wearing white or black hats, white shirts and black-cloth waistcoats in their daily lives. In festivals and celebrations, they are dressed in top hats, black long robes with lapel and cardigan front, multicolored belts and cow leather high boots, with a broadsword fastened on the waists. Their robe looks like Tibetan robe, which is only shorter than Tibetan robe and decorated with trimmings of various widths and colors. In winter they wear turndown-collared fur coats which are usually brown.

In daily lives, women wear aubergine or dark green coats with side openings, vest, blue or black handwoven cloth. Some wear over-knee robe with varied decorative trimmings on cuffs of clothes and trousers. Women also like wearing long-veiled hats. Married women prefer white round hats with black veils, while young girls wear green veils and older women wear black veils.

Marriage Customs

Bao’an ethnic people adopt monogamy, and their marriage is usually arranged by matchmakers and decided by parents. To the male, their family asks the matchmaker to introduce a girl and then reward the matchmaker with some money. Parents of both families get together and approve the marriage before wedding ceremonies are held. The betrothal gifts are costly. Wedding ceremonies are mainly held on Fridays (the gathering day of Islamic calendar), or on days with number three, six and nine. In the morning of the wedding ceremony, the groom and dozens of people go to the bride's home to escort her back to the wedding. The groom rides a horse which is decorated with red. When the group of people arrives at the bride’s home, they should first greet and pay respects to the bride’s family before the wedding begins. They also give out walnuts and red dates to every guest coming to participate the wedding. They congratulate the groom’s party by leading them to the courtyard and daub ashes of pan on their faces. After that, some young men in the bride’s family will follow the groom’s group of people to his home and daub ashes of pan to the groom’s father as a form of congratulation.

At the same time, the groom’s father is carried to the bride’s home and asked to take a seat in the courtyard. The bride’s father comes out to greet and kneel in front of the groom’s father, asking for “forgiveness for not having raising the child well” by creeping on the ground. The groom’s father will take the whip prepared beforehand and lash for 20 times before returning home from the bride’s home. When the bride leaves her home, she will throw about five-colored grains behind her, meaning to leave felicity to her parents for raising her up. 


Greater Bairam: It is a religious festival of Islamism. It is also called “Ramadan” or “Roza”, meaning a happy festival. According to Islamic customs, every September in the Islamic calendar, disciples must fast for 30 days, lasting a month. During the Ramadan (the month of fast), disciples eat only before daybreak and eat nothing at all (not even water) for the whole day till sunset after prayers.

Lesser Bairam: The festival was formed gradually after Islamism was introduced and spread among Bao’an people. It is celebrated 70 days after Roza Festival, according to the Islamic calendar. It is considered to be the new year of the Hui calendar; therefore it is celebrated in a larger scale than Roza Festival.

Almsgiving Festival: It is the traditional festival of Bonan people in Gansu Province. They will select an auspicious day in September of the Islamic calendar to celebrate this festival. During the festival, every household will kill cattle and sheep and prepare chicken, oil and joss sticks to the temples to give alms. Muslims will also go to the temples to chant scriptures. All the activities on this day are hosted and arranged by local women.

Langshan Festival: “Langshan” has some meaning of spring outing. Bonan people usually go for an outing from late-May to early-June, bringing oil, meat, flour, pans and tents to the riverside, hill slope or grass slope, and enjoy a whole day out.

Arts and Culture

Bonan ethnic people have created rich and brilliant arts and culture. There are many folk stories, poems, songs, proverbs, jokes, fairy tales and legends spreading among people and the content is mainly about history of the ethnic group and love stories.

Bonan people are fond of singing and dancing. Their songs are usually sung in Mandarin Chinese, and are classified into two categories: flower songs and banquet songs. In flower songs, they have their own Bonan Tune, which was formed by integrating the artistic features of Hui, Han, Mongolian and Tibetan folk songs.

Religious Belief

1. Allah: They believe that Allah is the only divinity who enjoys a unique status. That is to say, there are no other deities who can have the same status as Allah. However, there is no concrete image of Allah.

2. Messengers: Islamism believes that there are a large numbers of messengers with different duties ordered by Allah.

3. Holy Scriptures: It is believed that Allah has sent to each selected prophet a holy scripture. The holy scriptures mentioned in the Koran are the Alcoran, Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms of the Holy Bible.

4. Prophets: Islamism believes that Allah used to send many messengers or prophets to human being to spread the right rules. Mohammed is considered to be the final messenger, and Allah bestows on him His blessing and peace.

5. Resurrection and judgment after death: Like other religions, there are also legends about this life and life after death, but with different parlances.


It is strictly forbidden eating pig, dog, horse, donkey, mule, snake, turkey and any other beasts. Besides, animal’s coagulated blood, animals that die naturally, cattle, sheep and chicken butchered without chanting prayers beforehand are also forbidden. They abstain from smoking and drinking alcohol. The following are also considered taboos: use nose to smell food; marriage with non-Islamic people (in case of inter-marriage, the other party has to change their religion to Islamism); dump leftovers on the ground. Guests and family members must not enter the kitchen when the hostess is making fried food. Women must wear veiled hats while going out, and they are not allowed to keep long fingernails. It is regarded inauspicious to walk over production tools such as axe, sickle and ropes. The bride is forbidden eating meals in her husband’s family in the first three days of marriage. The guests should not leave any leftovers in the meal.

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