Dungan in Kyrgyzstan

Map Source:  People Group location: IMB. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
People Name: Dungan
Country: Kyrgyzstan
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 74,000
World Population: 153,800
Primary Language: Dungan
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 0.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.00 %
Scripture: Portions
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: No
People Cluster: Hui, Dungan
Affinity Bloc: East Asian Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Dungan originated in the Kansu and Shensi provinces of northwestern China. Today, there are people from Kansu living in the mountains and valleys of Kyrgyzstan, and people from Shensi living in Kazakhstan. The Dungan arrived in Central Asia as poor peasants after their loss to the Chinese Emperor in the Dungan Revolt (1862-1877).

Russians refer to the Dungan as Dugane. Culturally, the Dungan are Chinese; their language is greatly influenced by Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. As a rule, many Dungan speak the Kazakh language in addition to their own, and the young people also speak Russian. Their language, Dungani, is Mandarin Chinese but uses the Cyrillic script. It has only three tones instead of four.

The Dungan have a mixture of Chinese, Muslim, and Russian cultures. They are a proud, hospitable, nationalistic, and conservative people. Although they have completely cut their ties to China, they refer to themselves as Hui-Zu, or "Chinese Muslims." The Hui of China are still one of the largest unreached minority groups.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Dungan are primarily farmers, growing rice and vegetables such as sugar beets. Many also raise dairy cattle. In addition, some are involved in growing opium. Farmers live on kolkhoz, or collective (community) farms, with Dungan chairmen, doctors, and teachers. A large kolkhoz has produced the garlic needed for all of Kazakhstan! Very few Dungan live in the cities, but those that do have found jobs as writers, linguists, historians, poets, and newspaper editors.

The Dungan are considered more wealthy than other ethnic groups, as they have plenty of meat and vegetables. They enjoy meals of fried vegetables, lamb, chicken, and oriental noodles, all lavishly seasoned with garlic and vinegar. Most still eat with chopsticks.

The Dungan especially love to keep flower gardens and greenhouses and take great pride in doing so. Dungan settlements are concentrated in the river valleys. A village may contain two or more collective farms and have a population of thousands. Each village has a council that manages the farm. Farms, which are basically small cities, have electricity, running water, and gas for cooking. The Dungan who do not live on the collective farms live as extended family households in comfortable homes.

In each collective farm village, there are one or two schools, and all subjects are taught in Russian. Children may also receive instruction in Dungan for two hours a week. Each farm has day nurseries, general stores, a hospital, and a post office. Some also have tobacco factories, evening schools, dairies, bathhouses, and machine repair shops.

The Dungan tend to be endogamous, meaning they marry within a certain specified group. The Dungan in Kazakhstan are more conservative than those in Kyrgyzstan and do not permit their girls to marry Dungan from any other place. The Dungan believe in having as many children as possible, with the average family having eight. It is easy for the Dungan to travel, because they have relatives in many villages.

The Dungan are famous for their hospitality and hold many ceremonies and banquets to preserve their former culture. They have elaborate and colorful observances of birthdays, weddings, and funerals. In addition, schools have museums to preserve other parts of their culture such as embroidery, traditional clothing, silver jewelry, paper cuts of animals and flowers, and tools the Dungan used many years ago.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Dungan in Kazakhstan are more committed to Islam than are those in Kyrgyzstan. They are virtually all Hanafite Muslim. The older people strictly observe Islamic law. The younger Dungan are more indifferent to Islam, generally not turning to religion until the age of 40. There are still village mosques run by elders. These clergymen receive an income from property taxes and the financial support of the faithful.

What Are Their Needs?

Kazakhstan's cultural and religious diversity makes this land strategic for evangelizing most of the Central Asian peoples. Although the Communist suppression of religion has given way to greater toleration, the Dungan have had little opportunity to hear the Gospel. They remain nominally Muslim. There are not even 100 known Christians among the Dungan of Kazakhstan. Church planters are needed to teach the Word of God, as well as to begin churches among the Dungan.

Prayer Points

Pray that God will give creative strategies and ideas to win the younger Dungan generation who are open to change.
Ask the Lord to send forth laborers to work among the Dungan.
Pray that the Scriptures will be distributed and many house churches planted among the Dungan.
Ask God to save key leaders among the Dungan who will boldly declare the Gospel.
Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Kazakstan through worship and intercession.
Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Dungan.

Text Source:   Bethany World Prayer Center / GAAPNet