View Full Version : Tajikistan: Funerary Dances on Sughdian Ossuaries

Sunday, May 9th, 2004, 03:56 AM
by Yusefshah Ya'qubshah
translated by Iraj Bashiri

In Tajiki, the word "tanbar" is understood as astudan, ostokhandan, or assuar (ossuary). In general, the Sughdians, Khwarazmians and, perhaps, Aryans of the East have used the word in this sense. The word "tanbar" is written on an ossuary found in Khwarazm in a place known as Taq Qal'a. On the tanbars, the funeral ceremony around the casket is depicted in mourning colors of yellow, liver-color, and jet blue. The body rests in the tanbar, while the mourners pull out their own hair, pull at their cheeks, and beat themselves on the head. The Sughdians and Khwarazmians performed the same funerary rituals. A similar hair and cheek pulling and beating oneself on the head is depicted on the walls of the ruins at Panjkent as well. For this reason, we suggest the word tanbar to be adopted as the Perso-Tajik word for ossuary.

Many different tanbars have been discovered in Khwarazm, Sughdia, Istarafshan, Chach, Ferghana, Takharistan, and Merv. They are a valuable source for understanding the customs, traditions, and the history of the Perso-Tajik peoples. Using the information provided by the tanbars over the last hundred years, researchers have provided ample explanation for many aspects of the religious life of the Sughdians. But there still remain many other complex and obscure aspects to be explored. Our concern here is focused on the funerary dances depicted on tanbars discovered in Kish in Sughdia. As a result of the excavations, in 1965, in the village of Uzqishlaq of the rustic district of Yakabulaq of the Qashqa Dariya region of the Republic of Uzbekistan, several tanbars dating to the 7th and 8th centuries were uncovered. Two of the tanbars, one containing the bones of an adult and the other the bones of a child were brought to the district school. After 1976, both tanbars were given to the Department of Archaeology of Tashkent University. The tanbars are made of ceramic and look like long, domed buildings. On top of the dome they had a lid which has not survived. The towers of the tanbar are attached to the dome with half columns and all around the top the clay is pressed by finger, creating dents. The image, stamped on the side of the tanbar, depicts the funerary dance performed for the benefit of the deceased. The ceremony is performed in what seems to be the verandah of the domed structure; it is depicted as a pleasant place with flowerbeds. Thus, at the foot of the dancers, we see a five-petalled flower and a water jug. From these indications we can deduce that perhaps the funeral had taken place during the Nau Ruz (New Year). Three women and one man participate in the ceremonies.


The first picture depicts a tall woman in a long-sleeved, long robe which reaches her ankles. The same type of robe and belt is worn by the other participants as well. The robes have vertical black and white stripes. This customary mourning robe resembles the dark mourning clothes of present-day Zarafshan, Istarafshan, and Ferghana regions.

According to ethnographic studies, in the wake of a Tajik man, a black or dark robe, a Tajik hat (tupi), and a sash is worn. Among the Tajiks of Bukhara and Samarqand a special mourning attire of black and white or jet black is preferred. Furthermore, according to Aziza Mardanova, from Bukhara, in their funerals, the Iranians of Bukhara wear black and white knit clothing. If what Aziza Mardanova states is correct, then the Sughdians, too, might have worn knit black and white robes. Urban women, including those of Samarqand and Bukhara, have a dress called Munisak, which they wear in funerals and during the mourning period.

Similarly, the participants in the ceremonies wear mourning clothes. The dancer has a kerchief in her hand and, lifting and placing her right leg on the left, is dancing. The second dancer, like the first, is without head cover and has long hair. She is lifting her right arm and moving the left towards her waist. She is dancing on the tip of her toes. The third dancer, like the other two, is tall, bare headed, and has her hair in two long braids. She has a wreath in her right hand, is lifting her left leg while dancing on the toes of the right foot. From the bare legs of the dancers, it seems that they are wearing only the robes. The first two dancers in the picture have handkerchiefs in their hands.

The man, located between the second woman and the third, is bare headed, and is playing the 'ud. The dancers are bare footed and the dance is a special mourning dance.

G. I. Dresvianskaya is mostly correct in her statement that the picture described above resembles the mourning customs of Zarafshan and Sughdia where women mu'bads participate in the ceremonies. We believe, however, that the women are not mu'bads. In Zarafshan the mu'bads are exclusively men.

Furthermore, the ceremony depicted on the tanbar is taking place during the Nau Ruz. It is a family ceremony and is taking place at a family grave site. According to the sources at this time, the Zoroastrians of Sughd, Khwarazm, and other regions of Central Asia celebrated the memorial days of their Farahvashis. About this Abu Raihan al-Biruni says the following in his Asar al-Baqiyah: "At the end of the month of Khushum, the Sughdians cry for their dead ancestors, lament for them, scratch their own faces, and bring the deceased food and wine. The Iranians still follow this custom of their ancestors."

The picture depicted on the tanbar is not different in any way. The mourning ceremony for the benefit of the soul of the deceased ancestors is performed by the living in the graveyard. They are performing the rites wearing special mourning clothes.

According to the recent anthropological analyses, today, too, some of the relatives of the deceased in Tajikistan lament while some near relatives dance. Anthropologist Aziza Mardanova writes that in some regions of Hissar;, Shahr-i Sabz, and Qarataq these dances are known as sadr or sama'. These customs have been observed in the villages of Ab-i Garm, Qala Nav, Yafraq of Ramit, Qarakamar of Kutash, and in Shatrut of Khufar, and Sari Asiya in Uzbekistan. All those dances are performed in accompaniment of daira and rubab instruments and are, in the main, very similar to each other.

Anthropologists have recorded the Heydariqa song in many of the villages of Western Pamir, Darvaz, Shurabad, Dasht-i Jum, Sar-i Khasar, Khavaling, and Kangurt, i.e., the mountainous region of Kulab. Between three and seven individuals participate in the pictures depicting mourning ceremonies. One sings and the others accompany by singing Heydariqa. The lamentations are carried out with the accompaniment of a daira often faces of the participants are blackened. In some of the villages of Pamir and in the village of Yagid of Darvaz, in addition to daira, rubab is also played. The dance is performed in the yard, around the coffin. It begins slowly as the dancer stretches one hand out then the other. Mourning dances are performed according to specific rules and are accompanied by a special type of music.

Mourning songs and dances have survived among the Tajiks in the Qashqa Dariya region where the tanbars were found. In fact, such mourning dances have been a feature of all ancient Tajik wakes. Only after the advent of Islam did some of them disappear. Dresvianskaya believes that there might be a connection between entombing the tanbars and the cult of Siyavosh. Here Siyavosh is the symbol of regeneration when, on Resurrection Day, people rise in the same way that grass grows from the earth. This view, however, is incorrect. The reason for entombing the tanbars is a lack of family dakhmas or towers of silence. The dakhmas required upkeep and incurred expenses that most people could not afford. Therefore, they would put a tanbar in a grave, like a corpse, and cover it with earth. About Siyavosh it can be said only that in the past he was considered to be the ancestor of the Sughdian and the Khwarazmian peoples. According to Narshakhi, however, the Siyavosh legend is three thousand years old. Then there are the Siyavoshiyans, a dynasty in Khwarazm, that remained in power until the fall of the region to the Arabs. Narshakhi attributes the building of the Arg at Bukhara to Siyavosh. Archaeological investigations in the Arg, however, relate it to the fifth and sixth centuries before Christ.

Other archaeological finds, too, confirm that Bukhara is ancient. According to the Shahname of Firdowsi, Siyavoshgird is in the region of Hind and Sind. Afrasiyab brings Siyavosh somewhere else and kills him. In any event, Siyavosh's unjust death at the hand of Afrasiyab was well-known among the Sughdians who, every Nau Ruz, held a mourning celebration in his honor.

The other tanbar that I would like to discuss was given to the students of the village of Darkhan (Yakkabag region) in 1984. Later on it was passed on to the students of Tashkent University. The tanbar is in the shape of a ceramic box (47 cm length, 34 cm width, and 22 cm height). The tanbar is made to resemble a building with a verandah and a dome. The support for the archway of the verandah is held in place by a young man. The youth is supported, in turn, by his right knee and his up-lifted left foot. He is wearing a short tunic and a pair of short trousers. He also carries a kerchief in his hand. The clothes of the youth seem to be made of leather. A strong individual, he wears a hat and earrings. The archways are decorated with depictions of the moon. The space in between the arches is decorated with ivies. In the first archway there is a picture of a man. A woman is depicted in the second archway. The bodies of the man and the woman occupy all the space in the archways.


The first picture depicts a four-armed goddess. She is sitting on a mancha, lifting her right leg, knee high, over her other leg which is dangling. The goddess has a round, chubby face, thick lips, large eyes, and long eyebrows. She wears a diadem and on top of that, a fine shawl that reaches her hands. On her neck, she wears a necklace of pearls or shells and she has earrings in her ears. She is also wearing a short dress and a skirt that reaches her ankles. Around her head is a circle representing her divine descent. In the first right hand of the goddess is a small ax over which is a bird with a long tail and bill-like claws. In her second right hand, she holds a circle that symbolizes the sun. In her first left hand, she holds a pounding instrument, a mortar, and in her second left hand she has a few-days-old moon. In front of the goddess, two men, one with a surnai and another with a double-sided tabla play their music. We must add that the connector between the two tablaks is unusually long and decorated. The other feature of the tablak is that it is dented on one side.

The man sitting underneath the second archway has the same leg posture as the goddess. With his first two hands he is playing an instrument, perhaps a tar. In his second right hand he has a circle and bird ensemble similar to the goddess. In his second left hand he carries a daira over which the picture of a horse is rendered. The god wears a knee-length armor, shoes, and a hat with indentations resembling animal ears. Underneath the helmet, he wears more armor.

The man's armor bespeaks the military nature of his occupation. The 'ud player is sitting on the left side of the deity. Uzbek researchers, Z. Usmanova and S. Dunia, have studied this tanbar and concluded that the four armed deities indicate Hindu influence in Sughdian society. The many arms and the symbols they carry, they say, represent the functions which each god performed. They also believe that the god and goddesses are depicted dancing. Their dance, like the dance of Shiva, represents the everlasting nature of the world. The dance of the gods, therefore, has two meanings: the movement of the planets and the world of the deceased.

The image of a four-armed goddess riding a dragon also appears in the wall paintings of Panjkent. Researchers identify the goddess riding a dragon to be the keeper of the water world from destructions.

On the walls of the palaces of ancient Istarafshan, too, there are depictions of goddesses riding lions. In one of the paintings, in one of her hands the goddess holds an ax with a bird and in her other hand she holds a dragon-looking object. Her two other hands have not survived.

The picture of the second four-armed goddess is better preserved. In two of her hands, she holds the representations of the sun and the moon. In her other hand she holds a scepter and, in her fourth hand, except for the shahlik, the other fingers are closed in a fist, indicating some mystery.

Researchers believe that the image of this goddess has reached Sughdia by way of Hindu Shivaism and Buddhism at the time of the Parthians. Their meaning, however, has changed. Some scholars have identified the four-armed goddess with Nanna-Anahita of the Avesta. A. A. Lelikov, however, is of the opinion that the four-armed goddess is not related to Anahita. As long as the Avesta does not reveal any similar four-armed goddesses, we do not recognize the place of these goddesses in the realm of the dead. The four-armed goddess depicted in Panjkent is participating in the wake of a youth. Like the sun deity, around her head, the four-armed goddess wears a circle that emits light. Unfortunately, of her four hands, only one remains. In that hand she holds a bowl. In addition to the four-armed goddess, there is a deity with a light-emitting circle around his head. The deity's picture, in comparison to the picture of the goddess, is small, indicating his inferior status vis-a-vis the four-armed goddess. The deity is holding a burning flame. This deity resembles Mithra because, on the Kushan coins, Mithra is depicted with a flaming circle. Besides, Mithra is one of the interceding deities at the Chinavat Bridge. The wall painting at Panjkent indicates that the person in the coffin is a very important individual in whose wake deities, family, and Turkish slaves participate.

Ya'kubovskii identifies the youth in the coffin as Siyavosh and explains the ceremony on the tanbar to be related to Afrasiyab's murder of the prince. This kind of idea is frequently found in research on Central Asia. In any case, according to the customs of the Sughdians, the participation of the four-armed goddess indicates that, like Mithra, she too functions as an interceder. We don't, however, know which Zoroastrian deity in Sughd was displaced by this goddess.

Apparently, the Sughdians worshiped a Zoroastrian deity in the image of a four-armed Shiva. That is why some of the attributes of the Avestan Varahran (Bahram) are seen in the depictions of the four-armed deity. To begin with, the ears of his hat resemble the ears of a boar. As is known, Ahura Mazda created Varahran in the form of a boar. The boar's ears, therefore, could be a symbol of Varahran's boar-like chivalry and strength. Second, in the small circle, there is a picture of a horse. A white horse with golden ears is another feature of Varahran. Third, above the circle in his hand, there is the picture of an eagle-like bird. The Yashts inform us that the eagle (Shahin) is another feature of Varahran. We thus have no alternative but to identify the four-armed god as Varahran. This is, however, a Varahran under the influence of Shiva, hence the attachment to music and the four arms. Like Ahura Mazda, Shiva is a major deity capable of giving life and taking it away.

The Tiruvileyadal-Puran says the following about the Shiva dance. The four-armed Shiva is symbolic of two things: the dancers' understanding of the principles of the dance and of communicating those principles correctly to the audience vis-a-vis the audiences' appreciation of that performance. The dancers pay attention to a correct execution of the gestures, the audience concentrates on the import of those gestures. The uplifted, slightly inclined palm indicates protection. The left hand pointing to the foot indicates wealth. The second raised leg indicates blessing. The raised right hand holding a bugle indicates the bang at the beginning of creation. In the raised left hand, fire is the symbol of the destruction of the world. Under the left foot, there is a small demon sleeping, symbolizing the victory of good over evil. Shiva's wife, Durge or Kali, is one of the active fighters against demons.

As it is evident, the gestures of Shiva, and those on the tanbars, do not correspond to each other. Nevertheless, some scholars tend to believe that the man and woman depicted on the tanbar are husband and wife. We cannot either confirm or deny a marital relationship between the two. We can, however, point out that in one of the paintings in Panjkent, there is a depiction of Varahran and Arta (Asha Vahishta).

There, in one hand Varahran is holding a vessel with a camel in it and in the other he carries a sword. As for Arta, in her right hand, she holds a mountain goat (narbuz) and in her left hand a banner. Not all the participants have survived. But two of the survivors are dancing on a carpet. One has a handkerchief in her hand, the other fire. The male angels are sitting on a throne made in the shape of a camel and the female angels are sitting on a throne made in the shape of a mountain goat. The atmosphere seems to be festive. It must be pointed out that Arta is one of the judges at the Chinavat Bridge.

Arta determines the good and the bad deeds. She is one of the high-ranking, ancient angels in charge of paradise. For this reason, perhaps, the four-armed goddess is Arta, welcoming the soul to paradise amidst song and dance. On one of the walls of the tanbar found in Khwarazm, there is a colorful depiction of paradise. On the domed view of the tanbar there are depictions of the sun, the moon, and the symbol of the king, i.e., the abode of the pure, gods, and Ahura Mazda. There is no doubt that paradise is depicted on the tanbars. There is also no doubt that the figure of Arta is painted at the gate of paradise. In the "Yashts," the "Gathas," and in other parts of the Avesta, Arta is referred to variously as powerful, grantor of blessing, reward, benefit, and guardian of wealth. She is also in charge of paradise, house fires, and other things.

To sum up, on the first tanbar we see a mourning dance in memory of the departed souls. It is held in a family tomb structure during the Nau Ruz period. The relatives of the departed souls are the participants in the ceremony.

On the second tanbar, the Avestan angels Asha-Arta and Varahran are depicted at the gate of a building that might be the first heaven. Asha and Varahran are the interceders in the next world.

As can be seen, the Sughdian tanbars can teach us a great deal about the rituals and customs of the ancient Perso-Tajik peoples.

Selected Bibliography

Babaeva, N. I'tiqad va Parastish-i Bastani dar A'in-i Tajikan-i Kuhistan, Dushanbe, 1993.

Belinskii, A.M. Hunar-i Azim-i Penjkent, Moscow, 1973.

Belinskii, A.M. "Masa'il-i Siyasat va Parastish-i Suqd," Naqqashi-i Penjkent, Moscow, 1954.

Biruni, Abu Raihan al-. Asar al-Baqiyah, Irfan Publications, Dushanbe, 1990.

Dresvianskaya, G. I. "Tanbarha-i Qarn-i Vosta-i az Janub-i Suqd," Majalla-i Ulum-i Jam'iyyati-i Uzbakistan, Tashkent, no. 3, 1983.

Lelikov, L. A. "Masa'il-i Barqarari-i Haikalchaha-i Asiya-i Markazi-i Ahd-i Bastan," Soviet Archaeology, Moscow, 1985.

Mardanova, A. Tasavvorat va Ainha-i Dastani-i Hisar, Ain-i Dafn, Doctoral Dissertation, Leninabad, 1989.

Mukhammedjanov, A. R., et al. Amuzish-i Naqsha va Tarh-i Bukhara, vol. 20, IMKU, 1986.

Narshakhi, Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn-i Ja'far. Tarikh-i Narshakhi, Tehran, 1985.

Negmatov, N. "Tahqiq-i Tajikistan-i Shimali dar Salha-i 1970." Hafriyyat dar Tajikistan, vol. 10, Moscow, 1973.

Pourdavud, Ibrahim. The Gathas, Bombay, 1927.

Pourdavud, Ibrahim. Yashtha, vols. 1-2, Bombay, 1952.

Qadirov, R. Folklor-i Marasim-i Pish az Inqilab-i Tajikan-i Qashqadarya, Dushanbe, 1963.

Ravandi, Morteza. Tarikh-i Ijtema'i-e Iran, vols. 1-6. Tehran, 1976.

Tolstov, S. P. Kharazm-i Qadim, Moscow, 1948.

Usmanova, A. and S. B. Lunina. "Tanbarha-i Nadir az Qashqadarya," Ulum-i Jam'iyyati dar Uzbakistan, no. 3, Tashkent, 1985.

Ya'kubovskii, A. I. "Penjkent-i Bastani," Justuju-i Farhangha-i Bastani, Moscow, 1951.

Sunday, May 9th, 2004, 04:10 AM
The Tajik Ethnic Minority

Standing at China's west gate in the eastern part of the Pamirs on the "roof of the world" is the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang, a town built up since 1950s. It is the place where the ancient Tajik ethnic group has lived generation after generation. Most of the 26,500 Tajiks live in compact communities in Taxkorgan, and the rest are scattered over areas in southern Xinjiang, including Shache, Zepu, Yecheng and Pishan. The Tajiks in Taxkorgan live alongside Uygurs, Kirgizs, Xibes and Hans.

Taxkorgan is perched at the highest part of the Pamirs. The world's second highest peak, Mount Qogir, towers in the south, and in the north stands Mount Muztagata, "the father of ice peaks." In addition, several dozen perennially snow-capped mountains, 5,000 to 6,000 meters above sea level, dot the 25,000-square-kilometer county. For centuries, the Tajiks have been engaged in animal husbandry and farming by making use of the luxuriant pasturage and abundant water resources. Every spring, they sow highland barley, pea, wheat and other cold-resistant crops. They drive their herds to highland grazing grounds in early summer, return to harvest the crops in autumn and then spend winter at home, leading a semi-nomadic life.


Over the centuries, the Tajiks have adapted their dressing, eating and living habits to the highland conditions. Men wear collarless long jackets with belts, on top of which they add sheepskin overcoats in cold weather. They wear tall lambskin hats lined with black velvet and decorated with lines of embroidery. The flaps can be turned down to protect ears and cheeks from wind and snow. Women wear dresses. Married women wear back aprons, and their embroidered cotton-padded hats also have back flaps. Women usually tie a white square towel on top of their hats when they go out, but brides like red ones. Both men and women wear felt stockings, long soft sheepskin boots with yak skin soles, which, light and durable, are suitable for walking mountain paths. The Tajik herdsmen enjoy butter, sour milk, and other dairy products, and regard meat as a delicacy. It is a taboo to eat pork and the flesh of animals which died of natural causes.

Most Tajik houses are square and flat-roofed structures of wood and stone with solid and thick walls of rock and sod. Ceilings, with skylights in the center for light and ventilation, are built with twigs on which clay mixed with straw is plastered. Doors, usually at corners, face east. Since the high plateau is often assailed by snowstorms, the rooms are spacious but low. Adobe beds that can be heated are built along the walls and covered with felt. Senior family members, guests and juniors sleep on different sides of the same room. When herdsmen graze their herds in the mountains, they usually live in felt tents or mud huts.

In most cases, three generations of a Tajik family live under the same roof. The male parent is the master of the family. Women have no right to inherit property and are under the strict control of their father-in-law and husband. In the past, the Tajiks seldom had intermarriages with other ethnic groups. Such marriages, if any, were confined to those with Uygurs and Kirgizs. Marriages were completely decided by the parents. Except for siblings, people could marry anyone regardless of seniority and kinship. Therefore marriages between cousins were very common. After the young couple was engaged, the boy's family had to present betrothal gifts such as gold, silver, animals and clothes to the girl's family. All relatives and friends were invited to the wedding ceremony. Accompanied by his friends, the groom went to the bride's home, where a religious priest presided over the nuptial ceremony. He first sprayed some flour on the groom and bride, and then asked them to exchange rings tied with strips of red and white cloth, eat some meat and pancake from the same bowl and drink water from the same cup, an indication that they would from that time on live together all their lives. The following day, escorted by a band, the newlyweds rode on horseback to the groom's home, where further celebrations were held. The festivities would last three days until the bride removed her veil.

Childbirth is a major event for the Tajiks. When a boy is born, three shots will be fired or three loud cheers shouted to wish him good health and a promising future; a broom will be placed under the pillow of a newborn girl in the hope that she will become a good housewife. Relatives and friends will come to offer congratulations and spray flour on the baby to express their auspicious wishes.

The Tajik people pay great attention to etiquette. Juniors must greet seniors and, when relatives and friends meet, they will shake hands and the men will pat each other's beard. Even when strangers meet on the road, they will greet each by putting the thumbs together and saying "May I help you?" For saluting, men will bow with the right hand on the chest and women will bow with both hands on the bosom. Guests visiting a Tajik family must not stamp on salt or food, nor drive through the host's flocks on horseback, or get near to his sheep pens, or kick his sheep, all of which are considered to be very impolite. When dining at the host's, the guests must not drop left-overs on the ground and must remain in their seats until the table is cleaned. It would be a breach of etiquette to take off the hat while talking to others, unless an extremely grave problem is being discussed.

The Tajik spring festival, which falls in March, marks the beginning of a new year, which is the most important occasion for the Tajik people. Every family will clean up their home and paint beautiful patterns on the walls as a symbol of good luck for both people and heads. Early on the morning of the festival, members of the family will lead a yak into the main room of the house, make it walk in a circle, spray some flour on it, give it some pancake and then lead it out. After that, the head of the village will go around to bring greetings to each household and wish them a bumper harvest. Then families will exchange visits and festival greetings. Women in their holiday best, standing at the door, will spray flour on the left shoulder of guests to wish them happiness. The beginning of the Fasting Month marks the end of a year. On this day, every family will make torches coated with butter. At dusk, the family members will get together, have a roll call and each will light a torch. The whole family will sit around the torches and enjoy their festive dinner after saying their prayers. At night, every household will light a big torch tied to a long pole and planted on the roof. Men and women, young and old, will dance and sing through the night under the bright light of the torches. The Islamic Corban festival is another important occasion for the Tajik people.

As a result of frequent exchanges with other nationalities, many Tajiks also speak the Uygur and Kirgiz languages and generally use the Uygur script for writing.


The origin of the Tajik ethnic group can be traced to tribes speaking eastern Iranian who had settled in the eastern part of the Pamirs more than twenty centuries ago. In the 11th century, the nomadic Turkic tribes called those people "Tajiks" who lived in Central Asia, spoke Iranian and believed in Islam. That is how "Tajik" came to be the name of the ethnic group inhabiting this area. So, the Tajik people who had lived in various areas of Xinjiang and those who had moved from the western Pamirs to settle in Taxkorgan at different times were ancestors of the present-day Tajik ethnic group in China.

The ancient tomb of Xiang Bao Bao, found through archaeological excavation in recent years in Taxkorgan, is a cultural relic ever discovered in the westernmost part of the country. Many burial objects found in this 3000-year-old tomb and funeral rites they revealed show that the Tajik ethnic group has been a member of the big family of ethnic groups in China since ancient times.

In the late 18th century, Tsarist Russia took advantage of the turmoil in southern Xinjiang to occupy Ili and intensified its scheme to take control the Pamirs of China by repeatedly sending in "expeditions" to pave the way for armed expansion there. In 1895, Britain and Russia made a private deal to dismember the Pamirs and attempted to capture Puli. Together with the garrison troops, the Tajik people defended the border and fought for the territorial integrity of the country. At the same time, Tajik herdsmen volunteered to move to areas south of Puli, where they settled for land reclamation and animal husbandry while guarding the frontiers.

Social System Before 1949

The Tajik people were mainly engaged in animal husbandry and farming, but productivity was very low, unable to provide enough animal by-products in exchange for grain, tea, cloth and other necessities. The economic polarization resulting from heavy feudal oppression was best illustrated by the distribution of the means of production. The majority of the Tajik herdsmen owned very small herds, so that they were unable to maintain even the lowest standard of living, and still others had none at all. A small number of rich herdsmen not only owned numerous yaks, camels, horses and sheep, but held by force vast tracts of pasturage and fertile farmland.

In the Tajik areas, the chief means of exploitation used by rich herd owners was hiring laborers, who received only one sheep and one lamb as pay for tending 100 sheep over a period of six months. The pay for tending 200 sheep for the herd owner for one year was just the wool and milk from 20 ewes. Herd owners also extorted free service from poor herdsmen through the tradition of "mutual assistance within the clan."

Tajik peasants in Shache, Zepu, Yecheng and other farming areas were cruelly exploited by the landlords. In those areas, "gang farming" was a major way of exploitation. Besides paying rent in kind that took up two-thirds of their total output, tenants had to work without pay on plots managed by the landlords themselves every year, and even the peasants' wives and daughters had to work for the landlords. There was practically no difference between tenants and serfs except that the former had a bit of personal freedom.

There were all kinds of taxes and levies in both pastoral and rural areas. Especially during the 1947-1949 period, the Tajik herdsmen in Taxkorgan were forced to hand in more than 3,000 sheep and 500 tons of forage and firewood a year to the reactionary government. Poverty-stricken under heavy exploitation, the Tajik people were unable to make a decent living, and widespread diseases reduced their population to just about 7,000 when Xinjiang was liberated in December 1949.

Development after 1950

In 1954, the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County was founded on the basis of the former Puli County where the Tajik ethnic group lived in compact communities.

At the time of China?s national liberation in 1949, Taxkorgan had only 27,000 animals, two per capita of the total population in the county; total grain output was 850 tons, 55 kg per capita. Since 1959, the county has been self-sufficient in grain and fodder and able to deliver a large number of animals and quantities of furs and wool to the state each year. Several hundred hectares of new pasture and grassland have been added in recent years. There was no factory or workshop in Taxkorgan before 1949, and even horseshoes had to come from other places. Now more than 10 small factories and handicraft workshops have been built, such as farm and animal husbandry machine factories, hydroelectric power stations and fur processing mills. Mechanization of farming and animal husbandry has expanded. Veterinary stations have been built in most communities. Tajiks have been trained as veterinarians and agro-technicians. Tractors are being used in more than half of the land in the county. One breed of sheep developed by the Tajik herdsmen is among the best in Xinjiang.

Taxkorgan was a backward, out-of-the-way area before 1949, when it would take a fortnight by riding a camel or a week on horseback to reach Kashi, the biggest city in southern Xinjiang. In 1958, the Kashi-Taxkorgan Highway was completed, shortening the trip between the two places to one day.

In the town of Taxkorgan, the county seat, which is perched right on top of the Pamirs, wide streets link shops, the hospital, schools, the post office, bank, bookstore, meteorological station and other new buildings in traditional architectural style and factories under construction. Great changes have also taken place in many mountain hamlets, where shops and clinics have been built. The herdsmen and peasants are enjoying good health with the improvement of living conditions and medical care. Since 1959, schools have been set up in all villages, and roaming tent schools have been run for herdsmen's children. Many young Tajiks have been trained as workers, technicians, doctors and teachers.

The Tajik people's living standards have improved considerably with the steady growth of the local economy. A growing number of herdsman households have bought radios and TV sets.

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