Population and Distribution
The Salar Ethnic Group with a population of 104,503, mainly lives in the Xunhua Salar Autonomous County in eastern Qinghai Province. There is also a sparse distribution in Gansu, Xinjiang and some other counties in Qinghai province.
The ancestors of the Salar people were the Samarkand people who migrated from central Asia to China during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368). They entered into the eastern Qinghai Province and settled down in the Dunhua area. The continuous integration of the Samarkand people with Tibetans, Huis, Hans, and Mongolians finally gave birth to the present Salar ethnic group.
They call themselves Salar'er. Han people usually call them Sala, Salacu, Salahui, etc. With the founding of the PRC in 1949, following consultation with this ethnic group, the official name of Salar Ethnic Group was established.
They have their own language which belongs to the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family. As a result of frequent contact with the Han, Hui and Tibetan people, the language of the Salar contains quite a number of words taken from the Chinese and Tibetan languages. These days most young and middle-aged can speak Chinese. They don't have written language and Han character is widely used in daily life.
All the Salar people believe in Islam. Like other Muslims, they strictly obey the rules of studying the Muslim scripture, attending religious service, doing tianke, and going on pilgrimages.
The Salar people take agriculture as their mainstay. The area inhabited by them is blessed with a mild climate, fertile land, and sufficient sunshine. The major crops include wheat, barley, potatoes and buckwheat. Fruits such as pears, apricots, grapes, dates, apples, and walnuts are also grown in this area. They are especially famous for the planting of chili and red peppers.
The gardening of the Salar people is well developed. Each family has a garden and the people are adept at horticulture. In addition, some of them also take up animal husbandry.
The Salar people usually have three meals per day. The wheat and highland barley form their staple food which is complemented with beans, buckwheat, potatoes and various vegetables. They like to eat beef, mutton and chicken. The meat of horses, donkeys, mules, dogs and other ferocious birds and animals are also eaten. Animal blood products and animals that have died of natural causes are forbidden at the dining table. For religious reasons they abstain from pork.
According to the teachings of Islam, the Salar people never drink any wine. They do not prepare wine in their banquets either. Tea, including milk tea, Guoye tea (tea made of the leaves of fruit tree) and wheat tea (made from of kernel) is their daily beverage. Each family has its own tea set which includes a heated kettle and covered cup. Everyone pays great attention to the method of making tea and the courtesy of drinking tea.
Deeply influenced by Islam, the dress styles of the Salar people are roughly the same as those of the Huis that live nearby.
Young unmarried women prefer wearing colorful Chinese shirts which button on the right, sleeveless jackets, long trousers and embroidered shoes. They often wear kerchiefs on their heads. Married women may wear veils of black or white. The Salar women also like earbobs, bracelets, rings and other adornments.
Most Salar men have mustaches. They often wear white shirts and blue gilets, with a black or white brimless hat. Older men wear long gowns. With the development of economy, some people prefer uniforms and suits.
Unique Custom - Intra-Sleeve Bargaining
Intra-Sleeve Bargaining is a unique to the Salar people. Traders do not have set prices for their goods. The final price is always based on the bargain between the buyers and sellers. The bargain is always done in a private and secret way to ensure that the price will not leak.
In the past, Salar people often wore leather jackets in winters and long shirts in summers. The sleeves of those coats are very long and wide so that they could be used to block the suggested numbers from anyone outside the bargaining process. These days, with the development of economy, the Salar people prefer uniforms and suits to their traditional costume with long sleeves. So, many Salar people have started to bargain beneath their garments or leather jackets.
The Salar people have a rich and colorful tradition of folklore. They have many legends, stories, fairy tales and songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Their song named Flowers is regarded as an outstanding opus. It combines Muslim banquet music, Tibet folk songs, and the vulgar ditties of the Han nationality, to form a new unique style. Moreover, all singers are able to fill in impromptu words according to whatever happens to strike a chord in their hearts.
The Salar people have no national dance of their own. Their most distinctive musical instrument is the Kouxuan (a kind of stringed instrument), which is made of copper or silver and is often played by women.
Influenced by the Islamic culture, the Salar people mainly celebrate the Corban Festival, Almsgiving Festival and Kaizhai Festival.