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Population and Distribution

The Tu ethnic group, with a population of about 191,624, is concentrated in the Minhe and Datong counties and the Huzhu Autonomous County in the eastern part of Qinghai Province. Others live sparsely in Ledu and Menyuan in Qinghai Province and in the Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County in Gansu Province.


The Tus call themselves "Mongguer", "Chahan Mongguer", and other names. There are different versions regarding the origin of the Tus, but most people believe that the Tus evolved from the Tuguhun people in ancient times. During their long history, they formed their own unique group by absorbing members of the Han, Tibetan, Mongolian, and other neighboring tribes.


The Tu people have their own spoken language. Their language, which is comprised of three dialects, belongs to the Mongolian branch of the Altaic language family. The Tu people have no written alphabet. Chinese and Tibetan alphabets are in common use, although a new written system based on the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet was created for them in 1979.


In ancient times, the Tu people engaged in sheep ranching and other animal husbandry. In the late Yuan Dynasty and early Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), farming developed very quickly and the Tu people transitioned to farming with animal husbandry as a secondary form of livelihood. Major crops include wheat, highland barley, and potatoes.


As a result of generations of close contact with the Tibetans and Mongolians, most Tus practice Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism). Under the influence of the Han people, they also worship their ancestors and believe in the God of Wealth, the kitchen god, the door-god and others. The Family God is also revered in all households as the family protector.


The Tus eat three meals per day. Ranchers enjoy meat and dairy products as their staple food while farmers mainly live on highland barley, buckwheat, and potatoes. The Tus enjoy noodles fried in butter, pan-fried steamed buns, and meat eaten with their fingers. They are also fond of drinking milk-tea, oil-tea, and homemade wine from highland barley.

The Tus are especially hospitable. All guests, including passersby and anyone that should ask for an accommodation, are welcomed with open arms. Traditionally, guests are treated to a five course meal. The first course consists of buttered tea (made by mixing tea with butter and salt in a churn), deep fried buns, and steamed twisted rolls made of flour. The second course includes fried puffy shredded dough (or deep fried noodles) with stewed beef ribs. The third course includes a variety of stuffed buns, followed by the fourth-course of meat eaten with the fingers. The meal isn't complete without the last course of the Tus' speciality of homemade long noodles.


Tu villages are close-knit communities made up of extended families. Most villages are located at the foot of hills and near rivers. Every household is constructed of rooms surrounding a quadrangular called Ma, on three sides. Characteristic of the traditional style of the houses in China's Northwest, it is distinguished by high walls, four strikingly angular caves, and white stone pillars erected to "subdue the evil spirits." The main part of the house, where elder members of the family live, face south towards the courtyard gate, and the kitchen lies in the east or the northeastern corner of the compound. The family shrine is usually erected against the wall just opposite the door of the main-room.


The clothes of the Tu people are unique in their colors and styles. Both men and women wear delicately embroidered clothes with high collars.

Tu men like to wear dark robes on top of a white short gown, with a green waistband and a felt hat. Felt hats with brocade brims are popular.

Women's clothes are more colorful than men's. Their usual costume is a short jacket with buttons down the side, with a black sleeveless garment worn outside. Their jackets have sleeves made up of cloth in the five colors of the rainbow: red, yellow, green, blue and violet. Young women often wear colorful skirts in reds while middle-aged women prefer blue ones.

The Tu people used to be very particular about their hair, limited to seven or eight particular styles. However, nowadays any simple hairstyle topped by a brocaded felt hat is accepted among Tu women.


Ceremonious festivals of the Tu people include the Spring Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Nadun Festival, and others.

The Nadun Festival, also known as "July Meeting", is popular among the Tus living in the Minhe County in Qinghai. It lasts nearly two months, from July the thirteenth to early September and is said to be the longest lasting festival in the world. The festival originally was held in memory of a carpenter well known for his wit, but it has now become a carnival celebrating good harvests. Throughout the festival, the entire Tu nationality celebrates, and all the villagers enjoy themselves by singing and dancing to the lively rhythm of drums.

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