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The Kazak ethnic minority (5)

(People's Daily)

11:13, August 08, 2011

Economic Life

The Kazaks have accumulated much experience in stock raising over a long period of history. However, under the feudal system, their production level was very low and, being conservative in technical matters, the nomads made little effort to improve their expertise and depended entirely on the natural growth of the stock. As they had no means to resist natural disasters, great numbers of animals died in snowstorms in winter and spring. Disease also took its toll of the herds.

Kazak handicrafts were basically a family undertaking. Blacksmiths and carpenters were not specialized, they were herdsmen with expertise in these fields. The making of buttered tea, milk products and felt, tanning animal skins and tailoring furs were all done by women. Though Kazak animal husbandry provided wool, hides and skins and livestock, the commodity economy was not developed. In the pastures barter trade was in vogue, with sheep as the standard of the price. The herdsmen exchanged their stock for food grain, tea, cloth, daily utensils and handicrafts. In remote Altay, they bartered a sheep skin for only 100 to 150 grams of tea.

A minority of rich Kazaks in the early 20th century owned thousands of head of cattle, sheep, horses and camels, while the majority of herdsmen kept very little stock and that was for subsistence. Though the pastures were owned by the whole tribe, they were in fact the property of clan chieftains and big herd-owners, the winter pasturelands in particular.

As commerce developed in Xinjiang after the 19th century, Kazak animal husbandry economy grew closer ties with markets. The merchants, the privileged Russian merchants in particular, plundered the herdsmen through unfair exchange of commodities. Usury came into being, too. Such ruthless exploitation made the head of animals drop drastically and Kazak stock breeding virtually struggled on the brink of bankruptcy on the eve of liberation.

The Kazaks began farming in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The main farm implements include katuman (a kind of mattock), sickles, ploughs and grinding stones. In some localities, seeds were sown from horseback before ploughing. Flood irrigation was used, weeding was never done and fertilizers were not applied. As they were short of production means, the poor Kazaks who switched to farming had to be hired hands. In the Kazak rural and semi-rural areas, the herd-owners and herd-owner-landlords monopolized the farmland, irrigation facilities, draught animals and farm implements.

Of all the feudal practices, "partnership farming" was the most common. "Partnership farming" was a form that incorporated labour rent and rent in kind. The landlords or rich peasants offered land, seeds and farm implements, and the tenants sold their labor, sometimes bringing with them some of the seeds and farm implements. The harvest was divided up 50 to 50, or two-thirds for the landlords. Exploitation through hiring of labor was also a very common practice. The pay was either in cash or in kind, all very low. Water and farm implements were leased by the landlords, who made use of feudal privileges to force peasants to toil for them without pay or exercised political persecution, sometimes even to the extent of enslaving the peasants, for the purpose.

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