Kazakh Ethnic Minority

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jun. 18, 2021

Kazakh, also called Hasake, Qazaqs or Kazaks, is one of the ethnic minorities of China, mainly inhabiting Altay Prefecture, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Mori Kazak Autonomous County and Barkol Kazakh Autonomous County in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Some inhabit Aksai Kazakh Autonomous County of Gansu Province and Haixi Mongolian and Kazakhs Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province. According to the census in 2003, there are about 1.35 million Kazakhs living in Xinjiang. Kazakhs are mainly engaged in animal husbandry. They are good at needle work, and the embroidery products have been exported to dozens of countries and regions around the world. They speak Kazakh, belonging to the Kipchak (Northwestern) group of the Turkic language of the Altai language family. In the past, they once used Orkhon and Uighur scripts. After the introduction of Islamism, Kazakhs adopted the alphabetic writing based on Arabic letters, and have used it till today. In 1959, a new writing system was introduced, based on Latin letters, which was not widely popularized. In 1982, the existant writing system was re-adopted, and the new characters were kept and used as phonetic symbols.


Kazakhs were one of the early pioneers and dealers of the “Silk Road”, acting positively as far back before Christ in regions of the Altai Mountains, Tianshan, Ili Valley and Lake Issyk Kul in the northwestern part of China. In 60 BC, the government of the Han Dynasty established Duhufu (local government with the highest authority) in West China, aiming to form an alliance with Usun and stand against the Huns together. Therefore the vast area from the east and south of Lake balkhash to the Pamirs were incorporated into China’s territory.

Arts and Culture

Kazakhs have created rich and various arts and culture in their daily lives and during their work time, including myths, legends, folk stories, narrative poems, long love poetry, ballads and proverbs, among which, long poetry is especially outstanding. According to statistics, there are more than 200 long poems for Kazakhs. Their arts and crafts are also plentiful and colorful. Women know how to make yurts, felt products, woolen products, costumes and accessories. Many men know how to make woodware, silverware and bone artifacts. Kazakhs master excellent skills on making accessories which are made of gold, silver, jade and stones. They are fond of music and are good at singing and dancing. The folk musical instrument is tambura (a kind of long-necked stringed instrument).


There are a variety of characteristic festivals for Kazakhs, such as Corban Festival, Id al-Fitr Festival and Novruz Festival. The traditional Novruz Festival is held in celebration of the New Year and the coming of spring. During festivals, holidays and festive occasions, various games and activities are held, such as snatching sheep, horse racing and chasing girls. Most Kazakhs believe in Islamism, and some herdsmen still keep the old traditions of Shamanism.


Kazakhs mainly live on wheaten food, beef, mutton, horse meat, cream, butter, dried milk, milk tofu and crisp cheese. Usually they would like to make flour into fried pastry, pancakes, pastry slices and noodles with soup. Many other kinds of food are made of meat, butter, milk, rice and flour. Their drinks are mainly milk, ewe’s milk and Manaizi. They especially prefer Manaizi, is a kind of fermented horse milk. Tea enjoys an important position in their daily diet. They mainly consume brick tea and Fucha (a kind of fungus growing tea). Milk tea is made by adding milk into tea.


Male like wearing clothes and trousers, which are made of cotton, fleece, corduroy and gabardine. Dark colors, such as black and coffee, are popular. In winter, Kazakhs are mainly dressed in fur coats and chaparajos which are made of materials such as sheepskin, wolf skin, fox skin and skins of other rare animals. For the convenience of getting on and off the horse, trousers are made of sheepskin into baggy-shaped crotches. The trousers are baggy and durable. The shirts are usually made into turtle neck with decorative borders embroidered on it. They wear a short coat outside of the waist jacket which covers the shirt.

Female like to wear in different styles, according to their ages. Young girls like wearing one-piece dresses with wide lower hems and beautiful embroidered flowers on the sleeves; then wear a tight waistcoat with beautiful embroidered images and colorful decorations. Unmarried women like wearing hats such as Takeya, Bie’erke and Tete’er. The hat Takeya is made of colorful satin with wide lower edges. The hat has embroidered images of flowers, trailing beads and a feather of owl stuck on the top. The hat Bie’erke is a round hat made of otter skin. It looks like Takeya, but it has scarf of various colors tied on it in summer. The hat Tete’er is a square headwear with various embroidered images. It is usually folded and tied on the head.

Traditions and Customs

The etiquette of the Kazakhs is of typical characteristics of their nomad lives and Islamic religion. They attach much importance to the birth of new life. After a baby is born, they will hold a three-day celebration, which is called the cradle ceremony.

Kazakhs respect the old. They will politely offer tea or meal firstly to the older people. Usually, the elder members of the family are firstly seated and then the rest will be seated cross-legged or on knees around the table. The best meat is served to the elderly. When guests come to visit, the host will entertain them with the best foods. For highly honored guests or relatives that haven’t net for years, mutton and horse are entertained. Before eating, the host will firstly bring water, kettle and washbasin for the guest to wash their hands, and then serve the plate with sheep head, rear leg and rib meat in front of the guest. The guest should firstly cut out and eat a piece of meat from the sheep cheek and then the left ear, and give the sheep head to the host. Then every one can start eating together.


The Kazakhs live on roving around as nomads have inherited the living habits of their ancestors. The Kazakhs need to rove around on pastures in three seasons, including spring, summer and autumn. Qionglu (yurts) are easy to carry, build and dismantle, so yurts perfectly meet the needs of their daily lives and production. It usually takes only two hours to build a yurt. If the place is considered not suitable for building yurts, the yurts will be moved to another place by several people. It is also easy to dismantle the yurt. The herdsmen can pack, bundle and move the whole yurt and their daily necessities to another place within a short time. Therefore, yurts meet the needs of Kazakhs. 


The wedding ceremonies of the Kazakhs are very complicated, with rich characteristics of the customs of ancient nomads. The wedding ceremonies should be held at the bride’s home for four times. First of all, the male proposes, when the parents or a consigner of the male family bring gifts to the home of the female. If the female’s family agrees, they will accept the gifts, entertain the messenger and agree on a date of engagement. Secondly, engagement, which is the most important ceremony of the wedding, bonds the lives of both parts together. Activities include sending gifts, killing sheep, stamping over water, etc. Thirdly, sending betrothal gifts which are gifts prepared by the female part for marriage, and the numbers of clothes, skirts, quilts and towels should be odd numbers. At last, getting married, on this ceremony, lots of wedding songs are chanted. There are two ceremonies held in the home of the male part. One is gifts showing. The male part should choose an auspicious day to show to the public what he has prepared for the bride. The second one is going to the bride's home to escort her back to the wedding and unveil the wedding veil. The scales of the ceremonies vary, but in each ceremony, there are many entertainment activities held, such as banquets, singing and dancing.


There are lots of taboos in Kazakhs. The following are the main taboos. It is forbidden to eat port, any animals that are not slaughtered or blood of any animal. Animals are usually killed by male. Don’t hold and eat the entire Nang (a kind of crusty pancake) when having meals. It is not allowed to be seated on the bed when in a yurt; instead people should be seated on the floor mat with legs crossed instead of extending the legs. Young people should not drink alcohol in front of old people. When eating or talking with others, it is forbidden to pick noses or ears, spit, yawn, etc.

When visiting, it is provocative or inauspicious if the guest comes rushing to the gate on horse. The guest should slow their horses’ running while approaching the gate. It is considered to be defiant if the guest enters the yurt with horsewhip. The guest should not be seated on the right side of the heating stove, which is the seat of the host. They shouldn’t place food on wooden cabinets or on any daily living goods. The guest should follow the host’s lead. When having meals or drinking milk tea, it is not allowed to stamp on the table cloth or walk over the table. Do not leave until the table is cleaned. If the guest has an emergency and needs to leave, he or she should not walk in front of the host, but rather walk behind people. When the hostess is preparing meals, the guest should not enter the kitchen or the place where food is preparing. The guest should not fiddle with dinnerware or food, nor should they open the pot cover. The guest should drink up the horse milk, and if they don’t drink alcohol, they should at least sip a bit showing gratitude, otherwise, the host will be unhappy. Before and after meals, the host will pour water for the guest to wash hands. Do not slosh after washing hands; wipe hands dry using towels and politely return it to the host. When it is too late and if the host asks the guest to stay for the night, do not refuse to use the bedclothes of the host, otherwise the host will misapprehend.

The Kazakhs believe that Tuesdays and Fridays are inauspicious and they will not go out these days. They pay great attention to odd numbers, especially 7 and 9. The number 7 is the most respected number in their opinion. Number 7 has the most frequent appearance in the folk literary works of Kazakhs. For example, Kazakhs hold cradle and naming ceremonies on the 7th day after the baby is born. Intermarriage is forbidden within 7 generations, while two families who are connected by marriage should be 7 rivers apart from each other.

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