The History of the Chinese Muslim Settlement of Karakunuz in Russia

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The History of the Chinese Muslim Settlement of Karakunuz in Russia

Over 100 years, during 1877 – 1878 and 1881 – 1884 CE, some Chinese Muslims known later asDungans migrated from China to Russia. The migration to Russia consisted of two waves, the first being the outcome of the Muslim Rebellions in China. When the Manchus were victorious in Xinjiang and Kashgar fell, there were three groups of Muslim rebels who crossed the Tien Shan Mountains into Russia during winter.

The first group, under the leadership of Ma Da-ren, headed northwest; the second, under Ahung A-ye-lao-ren, eventually settled in Yrdyk, a small village nine miles from Przheval’sk. The third group, from Shaanxi Province and led by one of the Muslim rebel leaders Bo Yan-hu, settled in a small village called Karakunuz.

Most of the Dungans who migrated to Russia were illiterate and extremely poor, peasants or small urban craftsmen. When they arrived in Karakunuz, the Dungans set about cultivating the barren –like land that had been given to them.

Most of our information on the migration and the settling of these Chinese Muslim villages in Russia comes from a handful of Russian books which go into detail about them. Two of the best sources are Tsibuzgin and Shmakov; written 19 years after they had arrived in Karakunuz, their information is crucial to our understanding of the Dungans arrival in Russia.

The village is situated at the foot of the mountains and the village name can be translated as ‘black beetle’, probably after the abundance of black beetles that can be seen during the spring and summer. The Dungans call it Kha-la-gun-gun-fszy [Ha-la-gun-gun-zi], which is the incorrect Dungan rendering of the name Karakunuz, or Ingpan, which means ‘a camp’.

Scholars stated that once the Dungans arrived, the Tsar government gave them the right to self-rule, giving the priests or clergy of the Chinese Muslims great power, both religious and judicial. However, Bo Yan-hu was chosen to govern the Karakunuz Dungans with the help of a specially appointed village chief. However, his power was short lived. There was a power struggle between two factions, originating before the Muslim rebellions in China during the Qing dynasty, and Bo Yan-hu was disposed and replaced. The two factions still exist today.

Tsibuzgin and Shmakov noted many cultural traits of the Dungans in Russia – their religious and social behaviours etc. In recent years, scholars travelled to Russia to study the Dungans and were able compare their recent discoveries and Tsibuzgin and Shmakov’s accounts which were almost the same.

The Dungans are very proud of their history and their home in Russia shows this the moment you step foot in the village and talk to the people.


Rimsky-Korsakoff Dyer, Svetlana & Tsibuzgin, V. & Shmakov, A (1992) Karakunuz: An Early Settlement of the Chinese Muslims in Russia, Asian Folklore Studies, Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture.


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