Dungan Bride

The Enduring Chinese Roots of Central Asia’s Dungan People

Discover how faith and family have held the Dungan communities of Central Asia together for centuries

For a period of 15 to 20 minutes each Friday night, Milyanfan, a village 45-minutes’ drive outside of Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, comes to a standstill. No cars pass by. The deserted streets are occasionally punctuated with dogs barking and cows mooing. It was Salatul Jumu’ah, or Friday prayer, and the local Dungan men were all at their local mosque while the women pray at home.

Led by the Dungan imam, around 400 men face toward the city of Mecca, 5,000 kilometers away. They listen tentatively to the imam reciting from the Quran. At the end of the prayer, they turn to their neighbor first on the right, and then on the left, saying “Peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of Allah,” before returning to the daily grind of feeding livestock, and trading textiles and vegetables harvested before the winter.

I arrive in Milyanfan one chilly Sunday in October, to witness a festive Dungan wedding. Red paper lanterns hang in the courtyard of the groom’s residence, into which had gathered what looked like the entire village. Men and women were seated separately by gender, amid long tables filled with steaming plates of plov (a Central Asian rice dish), “longevity noodles,” and candy. They’re waiting for the main event: the arrival of the bride.

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The Enduring Chinese Roots of Central Asia’s Dungan People is a story from our issue, “Call of the Wild.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Yam G-Jun is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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