The Dongxiang ethnic group, numbering about 380,000 in total, can be found mainly in Dongxiang Autonomous County of Gansu Province with the remainder scattered in Qinghai, Ningxia and Xinjiang provinces.
Their ancestral roots can trace back to the Sarta people that lived in the Central Asia. During the Western Expedition of the Mongolian Army in the 13th century, they moved to Gansu province where they settled down. Previously identified by various names such as 'Dongxiang Huis' and 'Mongolian Dongxiang', they were formally named Dongxiang ethnic group after the founding of the People's Republic of China. The name "Dongxiang" was derived from the name of the place where most of them lived. They call themselves Sarta, which means merchants.
Their language, which is basically the same as the Mongolian language, belongs to Mongolia Austronesian of Altai Phylum. Thus, it does not have its own written language. Nowadays, Chinese language and characters are widely used by the Dongxiang people.
The Dongxiang believe in Islam, which itself is divided into three sects - the Old, the New and the Emerging sects.
The Dongxiang mainly engage in agriculture. Livestock rearing, especially of sheep, plays an important role in their economic life. Their major products include potatoes, wheat, maize, hemp, rapeseed and other industrial crops. The Dongxiang's 'three treasures', namely apricot, melon and fruit and date, enjoy good reputation throughout China.
As Muslims, they do not eat porks and meat of dogs, horses, donkeys and mules. Consumption of animal blood and the meat of animals that died of natural causes are also forbidden. Wine and cigarette are also forbidden among Dongxiang people. They have a strong liking for tea and their extensive variety of tea ware is a testimony to this. Tea with crystal sugar and longan will be served when guests come for a visit.
The clothes of this ethnic group vary greatly. Their men often wear soft flat cap in white, black and brown colors, white shirt with black waistcoat on it, and black or blue trousers. In winter, they put on sheepskin leather coat for warmth. Young women love wearing thread-knit colored cap or embroidered fabric colored cap and all the women wear the veil.
The Dongxiang ethnic group has a colorful and rich folk literature, which includes legends, stories, folk songs, riddles and proverbs. Their folk song 'Huaer' (flower) is an example of a traditional form of expression through which hopes for a better life are expressed and opposition to oppression are put forward.
Major festivals of Dongxiang include Korban Festival, Almsgiving Festival and Kaizhai Festival.