With a population of 1,462,000, the Kazak ethnic group is distributed mainly in the Xinjiang Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture, Mori and Barkol Kazak autonomous counties. In addition, they also live in the Gansu and Qinghai provinces.
They are the descendants of the ancient Wushu tribes. These tribes were driven from their homelands in the Hexi Corridor, but became an established power in the Ili region by the first century BC, when the Chinese envoy Zhang Qian courted them.
They have their own language and letters which are based on Arabic letters. The Kazaks lived in mixed communities with the Hans, Uigurs and Mongolians. They have assimilated many words from these languages.
Most of the Kazak people engage in stockbreeding. A small number of the population deals with agriculture and trade. They are also good hunters and horse riders.
The Kazak people live in portable yurts. Milk and meat are their staple food. Meat, such as mutton, beef and camel, as well as milk from sheep, cows, and camels are welcomed by the Kazaks. Tea is their favorite drink, especially brick tea. They are also fond of milktea which is the mixture of milk and tea.
Their clothing consists mainly of sheepskin, fox-skin, deerskin, and wolf-skin. The men often wear white fabric shirts with high collars and embroidered edges. They also wear waistcoats with the shirt and with a short jacket. Girls and young women wear dresses with embroidered sleeves and pleated skirts. Middle-aged women wear white fabric veils which are long enough to reach the hips and wide enough to cover the head, shoulders and waist, leaving only the face exposed.
Living a herding life, the Kazaks have created a unique pasture culture. They have created abundant folk literature, in which oral literature is the most developed. A-kengs, scatter throughout the pastures and act as the disseminators of Kazak literature. Kazak dance is characterized by its lightness and liveliness. They play beautiful music with their traditional music instrument, the Dongbula.
The Noroz Festival is the traditional festival of the Kazak nationality. They regard the vernal equinox (around March 22) as the beginning of a new year. On that day, people pay New Year's calls on each other and hold various activities to welcome the New Year.
Most Kazak people believe in Islam. They also celebrate the Corban Festival, Almsgiving Festival and Kaizhai Festival, as do other nationalities of Islamic faith.