One and a-Half Million Ethnic Kazakhs Live in China

ASTANA – China is home to nearly 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs, reported the Chinese State Committee for Nationalities during a meeting of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan and National Committee of Chinese People’s Political Board.

“As of today, 1.46 million ethnic Kazakhs live in China. At that, 1.42 million live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” said political board deputy chairman Wang Zhenwei, according to Forbes.kz.

He noted the GDP of the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture ranks first among similar administrative units in China.

“In 2014, the average per capita income in Uyghur Autonomous Region amounted to 11,861 yuan (US$1,862), which exceeds the average for all of China,” said Zhenwei.

Ethnic Kazakhs in China make up approximately 13 percent of all ethnic Kazakhs in the world. Kazakhs composed 9 percent of the population of Uyghur Autonomous Region in the 1940s and account for 7 percent today. The Kazakh population in China represents 0.1097 percent of the nation’s total population, or 1,462,588 people, according to the 2010 Chinese census.

The Kazakh party was represented by Parliament Mazhilis deputies Nadezhda Nesterova and Zuhra Sayapova, board members of Dungan and Uighur Ethnic and Cultural Centres as well as a counselor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department for Foreign Policy Analysis and Forecasting Aida Yermekkaliyeva.

Kazakhs are one of 56 ethnic groups officially recognised by the People’s Republic of China. Kazakhs were among the peoples who moved into the depopulated regions of Dzungar Khanate following its fall.

China has one Kazakh autonomous prefecture – the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture – located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. There are also Kazakh autonomous counties: Barkol Kazakh, Aksai Kazakh in Gansu and Mori Kazakh in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Most ethnic Kazakhs in China are not fluent in Han Chinese and prefer to speak Kazakh.

Today, Kazakhs in China can be divided into two groups. Ethnic Kazakh farmers are engaged in agriculture, while highly-educated intellectuals usually live in big cities and study at the best universities of Beijing, Shanghai and Japan.

A special study was conducted by the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Kazakhs of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have saved a strong ethnic cultural code. 92.5 percent of them got their education in their native language. At that, 89.6 percent of the respondents consider their ethnicity very important. At the same time, 83.2 percent of the Kazakh population of the region is trying to enter into mono-national marriages within their own diaspora. Approximately 90 percent of the interviewed representatives of Kazakh ethnos in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region would like their children to live in Kazakhstan,” said institute director and study author Botagoz Rakisheva.

The history of ethnic Kazakhs in China can be divided into four major phases:

  1. Traditional phase before 1949, when they used the lifestyle of other Turkish tribes of Central Asia.
  2. Communist Revolution from 1949-1966, when the Soviet-style way of life was introduced.
  3. Cultural Revolution from 1966-1977, when ethnic Kazakhs were forced to abandon all vestiges of their past.
  4. Post-Cultural Revolution, when a fair balance between tradition and modernity was created.