“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Meet the People of the Silk Road
Asia’s Silk Road regions have been a meeting point for trade and cultural exchange for over 2000 years. In these areas, diverse peoples live alongside one another, like a living mosaic of cultures. Read about them here to discover more about their lifestyles and pray for them to know God’s joy. We’ve included statistical information on these people groups who reside in China, but also some notes on those in urban areas around the world. Many populations have migrated due to urban and economic development, and you may have noticed them in your local community too. (Learn more about the Silk Road: www.britannica.com/topic/Silk-Road-trade-route)
HAN • population 1.2 billion / language Mandarin Chinese
As 92 percent of the country’s population, the Han are the largest ethnic group in China and the largest ethnic group globally. Education is important to them, and so they strive to bring honor to their family through personal success. Pray for the Han Chinese as their influence grows in our world. Pray for them not only to come to know Christ, but then also to thrive in their interactions with those from different cultures and backgrounds.
HUI • population 10.5 million / language Mandarin Chinese
The Hui are a diverse people group, skilled in trade. Hui people are scattered across China. One of their traditional snacks is sanzi, skillfully hand-pulled noodles that are then folded together and deep fried. Prolific and popular, Hui-run noodle restaurants can be found in cities throughout China, as well as in cities throughout Asia. Thank God for the trade skills that he has given to Hui people. Pray for their business deals to be blessed with justice and compassion.
UYGHUR • population 10.1 million / language Uyghur, related to Turkic
An ethnically Turkic people who have traditionally been farmers and traders throughout China’s northwestern regions. The changing culture and economy in that region is leading to rapid changes to Uyghur lifestyle and identity. About 80% of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs live in the southern half of Xinjiang, while the remainder are mostly in the capital city, Urumqi. Outside of China, Uyghurs have also settled in Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. Pray for wisdom and grace for Uyghur people as they attempt to find their place in the fast-paced society of modern China.
KAZAK • population 1.5 million / language Kazak, a Turkic language
Although many Kazaks now live in towns, their hearts are most at home in the hills. They are traditionally nomadic herders who live in yurts made of felt. They place special value on their lineage—so much so that even today, Kazaks can usually recite their family tree spanning seven generations; they can also tell you which of the three hordes (tribes) their family belongs to. Praise God for the shepherding heritage of Kazaks. May they see this as a picture of the pastoral heart of God and Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
DONGXIANG • population 622,000 / language Dongxiang, Mongolian
The Dongxiang have a combined heritage from Mongolians, Han, and Tibetans who intermarried after converting to Islam around 800 years ago. They are Mongolian by ancestry, Chinese by culture, and Islamic by faith. Dongxiang communities are sometimes viewed distinctly because of their difference in educational background. Pray for God’s blessing on government initiatives to bring development to Dongxiang areas.
KYRGYZ • population 187,000 / language Kyrgz, a Turkic language
Semi-nomadic herders who settled in China’s northwest mountainous regions. Today, many Kyrgyz are moving to urban cities in China and abroad. If you were a special guest in a Kyrgyz home, you might have a chance to try Olobo, a special dish of sheep’s lungs marinated in milk and spices. Pray for the Kyrgyz who are adjusting to working in cities as they make a transition to urban life.
SALAR • population 131,000 / language Salar, related to Turkmen
The Salar people emigrated to China from Central Asia in the 14th century. Their traditions tell of an epic origin story, explaining how their ancestors followed a white camel carrying a hand-copied Qur’an. This Qur’an is China’s oldest and is now on display in a museum in the Salar hometown. Pray for Salar people to find a good balance between holding on to their ethnic heritage and adapting to modern life.
TAJIK • population 51,000 / language Sarikol, Wakhi and Tor
Semi-nomadic herders who live in the mountains in the far west of China. The majority of Tajiks in China speak the Sarikol language, which is related to Persian, but it has yet to have its own written script. Pray for good communication among the different ethnic groups along Asia’s Silk Road. Mandarin Chinese is China’s national language, but other people groups often struggle to use it fluently. This can lead to frustration and misunderstanding.
BONAN • population 20,000 / language Bonan, related to Mongolian
The Bonan people converted to Islam from Buddhism in the 18th century. They moved east within China to find new territory to settle in. They are famous in China for their hand-made knives. Pray for the Bonan as they adapt to the changing economy in the region. Their traditional skills often need to be adapted or changed completely, in order to survive. Pray for wisdom and guidance for those who are struggling to make a living.
UZBEK • population 10,500 / language Uzbek
Silk Road traders who settled in China around 500 years ago, having left their origins in Central Asia. Chinese Uzbeks speak the same language as Uzbeks in Uzbekistan but use some different vocabulary. With their strong literacy, Uzbeks in China have traditionally been city dwellers, and today, they still live in cities as traders or businesspeople. Pray for good relationships between Uzbeks and other Silk Road people groups within China, as well as with national territories in Central Asia. Pray that these countries will also understand each other well.
TATAR • population 3,500 / language Tatar, a Turkic language
A group of mixed Russian and Mongolian ancestry, the Tatars moved to China in the 19th century. They came to engage in business or to find new freedom. Each spring, there is a famous “Plough Head Festival,” where they enjoy sports competitions and feats of athleticism. Give thanks for how God has woven together this living mosaic of different cultures. Pray for opportunities for Silk Road peoples to discover his abundant love.
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