Dongxiang Ethnic Minority

Dongxiang ethnic minority, inhabiting mainly in Gansu Province in China, boasts a long history and unique culture and customs, due to its rich cultural convergence. Most of the Dongxiang people live in Dongxiang Autonomous County in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province; some others inhabit Qinghai Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The major inhabited places of Dongxiang people in Gansu Province are west of Taohe River, east of Daxia River and south of Yellow River. Those inhabited places are mainly scattered with mountains, hills and gullies. Dongxiang people communicate with Dongxiang language which belongs to the Mongolian Language of the Altaic family. Many of their vocabularies are borrowed from Chinese, and some are from Turkic, Arabian and Farsi, without their own writing form. Now, they mostly use Chinese characters, and most of Dongxiang people can speak Chinese.


Dongxiang ethnic group originated from different ethnic groups who lived together in Dongxiang in the late 14th century, mainly including Mongolians and Semu people whose religion is Islamism.  Before the founding of People’s Republic of China, they were called “Dongxiang Hui”, “”Dongxiang Mongolian”, “Dongxiang Natives” and on the like. They mainly live in Dongxiang Autonomous County in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu Province, and there is a small number of Dongxiang people scattered in Gansu Province (Lanzhou, Yumen, Guanghe, Hezheng, Huining and some other counties or cities), Illi prefecture of Xinjiang, ningxia and Qinghai provinces. They mainly live on farming and are good at growing melons and fruits. They speak Dongxiang language which belongs to the Mongolian Language of the Altaic family.


Dongxiang ethnic people are friendly and hospitable. The elderly will go out of the house and welcome when guests come to visit. When the guests go into the house, Dongxiang people will lead them to the Kang (heatable bed built of bricks) and offer tasteful tea served cover bowls. Sometimes rock candy, dried longan or fried jujubes are added into the tea, which is called Sanxiang Tea. For meals, Dongxiang people like dining guests with chicken, and the grandest meal is Duanquanyang (serving the whole sheep), meaning all parts of the sheep such as neck, rib, foreleg, rear leg and tail are served on the table in proper order.

Dongxiang people are polite and hospitable, respecting the old and taking care of children. They also attach much importance to hygiene. The elderly sit in the seat of honor. During meals, the younger won’t eat until the elderly begin to eat. Except for older women, young women usually do not sit at the same table with men. Guests should take off shoes while sitting the Kang (heatable bed built of bricks), while female guests needn’t taking off their shoes. Dongxiang people usually do not sit at the same table and eat with guests, showing their respect to the guests by serving beside them. Male guests are dined by the host, while female guests by the hostess.


Dongxiang people mainly live on wheat, highland barley, corn, beans and potato. Common pastas include steamed bread, noodles and Youxiang (cake of flour with salt, fried in sesame oil). The most famous are Lahaha (stretched noodles or planed noodles), fried Youxiang, Gajiwa (chicken is cut and classified to serve to people according to seniority), finger mutton and so on, which are important dishes to serve guests. There is something particular about Gajiwa: the whole chicken is divided into 13 parts, and the tail is considered to be the most precious part and is only served to the elderly or respected guests.

The meat of Zhanyang (fat lamb) is very unique. The whole lamb is boiled using only water, and at the same time Fazi (lamb heart, liver and lung are chopped and mixed with condiments) is also steamed above it. Eating Zhanyang and Fazi is a way to ameliorate their diet for Dongxiang people. They also cook clear mutton soup with Zhanyang, which is delicious and nutritious.

Dongxiang people like tea very much. Tea is indispensable for them during every meal. The tea is usually made into cover bowls or small teapots. A Gaiwan (cover bowl) consists of lid, bowl and saucer.

Marriage Customs

For Dongxiang people, their marriages are usually arranged and decided by their parents. Young men and women are not allowed to meet or talk to each other before marriages, and a matchmaker is considered as the communication intermediary. The man’s family will ask the matchmaker to make an offer of marriage. If the woman’s family agrees, the man’s family will send engagement tea as a gift. After that, the formal engagement procedure is formed. The man, together with his father, the matchmaker and other relatives will take betrothal gifts to the woman’s family. There are two kinds of betrothal gifts, including tea, brown sugar and cakes. Besides, there are also clothes, money, earrings, bracelets and so on, which were previously discussed and agreed upon. In some mountainous areas, there is also the custom of giving steamed bread as betrothal gifts. The male party will grind the wheat which is harvested in the same year into flour, and then make steamed bread. It weighs 1 kilogram for each with turmeric applied on top. When the steamed bread is ready, the white bread with turmeric, looking like blooming yellow flower, indicates the wish for a bumper year. They will ask the Iman to read the marriage testimony.

On the day of wedding, the bridegroom with his wedding team will come to the bride’s home so that the marriage is acknowledged by the community. When they come to the gate of the groom’s home, the bride will be carried by the escorting team from the horse cart into the yard. Family members and friends will sing songs to congratulate the couple. When the wedding proceeds to summit, people will jokingly make fun of the groom’s father and other older relatives. They will daub ashes of pan on to their faces, fasten bells on their waists, and tie their arms and legs.


Men usually wear white or black skullcaps. Women wear veiled hats made of silk or sateen. Young girls or newly-wed women are in green, the middle-aged are in cyan, while the older are in white. The veil is usually long enough to cover the waist and the hair. Nowadays, young working women wear white skullcaps for convenience instead of veiled hats.

Dongxiang men are dressed in loose and long robes, white or black skullcaps and wide waistbands, with some stuff fastened on it, such as knives, pouches, snuff box and spectacles. Older people prefer gray or black double-breasted long robes. Women are dressed in big-collared coats and waistcoat is long to the knees. Women’s hats are very beautiful and delicate. Girls wear green or blue round hats with red or green trimmings and colorful tassels or beads on the edge. Unmarried young girls wear hats made of fine and soft green sateen, whose color is changed to black after they get married. Older women like towear white skullcaps.


Dongxiang people do not wash clothes and other stuff or feed the livestock near streams and springs, where the water is used for drinking or bathing. Their religious services are forbidden for non-Muslims. Pictures of people or animals are not allowed to be hung in the living room or the central room. Smoking and drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden. Non-Muslims can visit the mosque, but should not enter the main hall unless they are given permission. Non-Muslims should take off shoes before entering if they are allowed to enter.

Don’t litter used paper, make the draw for fortune-telling, or waste food or water. Men are not allowed to have long hair. Speaking ill of others behind their backs or telling a lie is forbidden. People are also forbidden to eat animals that die of natural causes, pig, horse, mule, donkey, cat, dog and coagulated blood of any animal. Don’t use cooking tools of non-Muslims. Pancakes and steamed bread should be divided instead of eating the whole one. Don’t make jokes about food. Don’t offer cigarettes or wine. Don’t wear decollete in the public. Don’t bring unclean stuff to the graveyard or mosque.

Religious Belief

Dongxiang people are believers of Islamism. Dongxiang communities used to be the center for learning and spreading Islamism in the 13th century. Nowadays, in Dongxiang Autonomous County, there are still some graves of Islamic sages. In the beginning of the 18th century, Islamism gradually became the popular religion of Dongxiang ethnic people. Islamism of Dongxiang is composed of two religious sects, including Qadim (the old) and Ikhwan (the new). There are four major tariqas (Islamic religious order) in Qadim. The Ikhwan has no tariqa, and it claims to resume the orthodoxy of Islamism, thus getting more popular support and advocacy. In the beginning of the 10th century, it was spread to some other provinces of China, such as Ningxia, Qinghai and Xinjiang.

For an authentic travel experience, contact one of our travel advisors. Our local experts are always ready to create a hassle-free tour for you.

 Tailor-made My Trip