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The Tu ethnic minority (2)

(People's Daily)

15:35, August 28, 2011

Historical Origins

The fact that the Tus claim to be "Mongguer" (Mongolians) or "Chahan Mongguer" (White Mongolians) gives expression to the close relations that existed between the early Tus and the Mongolian ethnic . Popular legends among the Tus of Huzhu Autonomous County have it that their ancestors were Mongolian soldiers under one of Genghis Khan's generals by the name of Gerilite (Geretai). They intermarried with the indigenous Houers of what is now Huzhu County.

Chinese records also tell of Mongolian troops under Genghis Khan making their appearance in Xining (now capital of Qinghai Province), which exercised jurisdiction over Huzhu County during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) founded by Genghis Khan. All historical records have accounts of Mongolian troops having either been stationed in Xining during the Mongolian western expeditions or moved into the place at some point in history.

Especially worth mentioning is the account of Yuan imperial clansman Buyan Tiemuer's troops being attacked and defeated in Andingwei during the reign of Ming Emperor Zhengde (1506-1521). The survivors settled down to the east of Weiyuan City near Xining. The area is now under the administration of the Huzhu Tu Autonomous County. This shows that a portion of the Tu people in Huzhu County are descendants of Mongolians that moved in from Andingwei during the Ming Dynasty.

"Huoer" was long ago a Tibetan name for the nomadic herdsmen who lived in northern Tibet and vast areas north of Tibet (or north of the Yellow River, according to a different interpretation). In modern times the term refers specifically to the Tu people.

Herders and Farmers Economically, the Tu people started off as livestock breeders, especially of goats and sheep. This was due to the abundance of water and grass in the fertile mountainous area that they inhabited. The Tus used to be well known among the locals for their expertise in animal husbandry. According to historical documents, they began to familiarize themselves with farming at least from the early period of the Ming Dynasty.

Also starting from that period, the Tu area fell under the rule of 16 hereditary headmen, whose titles and territories were granted by the Ming Emperor. Since the land tilled by the Tu people belonged to the headmen, the former had to shoulder a multitude of labor services and extortion enforced by the landlords, apart from taxes of various descriptions. The headmen made full use of their "inspection tours" once every three years to exploit their people. It was only in 1931 that the Kuomintang government formally abolished the headman system. The displaced headmen were, however, appointed as deputy county heads, district heads or township heads to continue their function as tools of the regime. Economically, most of them retained their positions as rich landlords and continued to dominate the means of production.

Like elsewhere in China, the Tu area was gradually being reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society when history entered its modern stage. The only difference was that, due to lack of modern means of transportation and the existence of serious feudal separatist tendencies, the Tu society had then more of a feudalistic nature. Nevertheless, the imperialists did manage to rob the Tu people of their wealth by plundering their raw materials and local produce while dumping foreign products on the Tu market. The penetration of foreign influence was also manifested in missionary activities. In the period from 1915 through to the eve of liberation in 1949, seven churches and four church-run primary schools were set up in the area.

Feudal oppression and exploitation in the Tu area was extremely ruthless in the first half of this century. For 38 years, the Tu people toiled under the barbarous rule of the warlords of the Ma family. Just ordinary taxes and corvee in the form of grain as enforced by the Ma family could be of more than 40 different kinds. About half of the peasants' annual income went to the Ma family. This, coupled with forced labor and military service, brought the Tu people to a state of real disaster. In addition to ruthless exploitation through land rent and non-economic extortion in various forms, the practice of usury functioned as another major means of economic plunder. Many poor peasants were heavily in debt as much as several generations on end.

The Ma warlords were also bureaucrat capitalists marked by a strong feudalistic tendency. A commercial enterprise owned by the Ma family, for example, not only had the power to requisition of laborers and means of transportation from the people, but also the right to set up its own court and carry out inquisitions by means of torture. It had its own squad of bodyguards and hired roughnecks equipped with guns and horses. The warlords also ran a number of workshops in the Tu areas, whose workers were mostly poor peasants either requisitioned or arrested by the reactionary regime for not having been able to repay loans. The interest on loans was around 150 per cent and could be as high as 400 per cent.


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