Bonan Ethnic Group

The Bonan people are the 7th smallest of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. A sideline occupation for which Bonans are particularly noted is the making of knives. A cottage industry, the Bonan knives are famous all over China for their beauty and sturdiness.


20,074 (2010)

Main Areas Inhabited by Bonan

The Bonans mainly lived in Gansu and Qinghai province in northwestern China; they are one of the "titular nationalities" of Gansu's Jishishan Bonan, Dongxiang and Salar Autonomous County, which is located south of the Yellow River, near Gansu's border with Qinghai.


Bonans language belongs to the Mongolian branch of the Altaic language family and is close to that of the Tu and Dongxiang ethnic minorities. Due to long years of contacts and exchanges with the neighboring Han and Hui people, the Bonan people have borrowed quite a number of words from the Han language. The Han language is accepted as the common written language among the Bonans.

Bonan Girls

History and Origin

Judging from their legends, language features and customs, many of which were identical with those of the Mongolians, the Bonan minority seems to have taken shape after many years of interchanges during the Yuan and Ming (1271-1644) periods between Islamic Mongolians who settled down as garrison troops in Qinghai's Tongren County, and the neighboring Hui, Han, Tibetan and Tu people. The Bonans used to live in three major villages in the Baoan region, situated along the banks of the Longwu River within the boundaries of Tongren County.

During the early years of the reign of Qing Emperor Tongzhi (1862-1874), they fled from the oppression of the feudal serf owners of the local Lamaist Longwu Monastery. After staying for a few years in Xunhua, they moved on into Gansu Province and finally settled down at the foot of Jishi Mountain in Dahejia and Liuji, Linxia County. Incidentally, they again formed themselves into three villages -- Dadun, Ganmei and Gaoli -- which they referred to as the "tripartite village of Baoan" in remembrance of their roots.

Dahejia in western Linxia County is the place where the Bonans mainly concentrated. The area is thickly wooded and enjoys a moderate temperature supported by plenty of water and lush grass, which make it suitable for farming and stockbreeding. However, until the mid-20th century, under the heavy burden of feudal oppression and exploitation, the place had been bleak and desolate. In Dahejia, Bonan and Hui bureaucrats, landlords and religious leaders owned large tracts of farmland, forests and orchards. They also monopolized the river transport and owned 20 of the 27 water mills. The majority of the people were reduced to tenants toiling under the severe exploitation of land rents and usury. Rent in kind was a form of exploitation widely practiced in the area. In most cases, rentals were as high as 50 per cent. Exploitation by the landlords also took on other forms such as hiring farm laborers on a long-term basis and trading in slave girls.

Bonan Garment


The Bonan share many traditions with the Dongxiang and Hui. Their traditional dress includes elements of Tibetan, Hui and Dongxiang clothing. Married Bonan women wear black veils, while unmarried women wear green veils. Bonan men typically wear black or white head coverings and white jackets.


The Bonan people, mainly Muslims, practice Islam, are divided into two different sects -- the Old and the New. They have five basic beliefs: Faith in Allah; Believe fairy; Belief in scriptures; Believe angel; Faith the resurrection and judgment after death.

Culture and Art

The Bonan ethnic group has a rich store of folk tales and ballads transmitted orally. Bonan people are skilled in singing and dancing, the vast majority of people can sing folk song "Bonan flower". Their dance has absorbed some characeristics of Tibetan dance, the rhythm of the action is bright, lively and vigorous, and the most typical dances are "Keyikahade" and "Bonan Broadsword". Besides, Bonan men like to play silk-and-bamboo music and the women are good at paper cutting.

Bonan Activity


The Bonan people housing for civil structure of the ranch house, which room and courtyard interconnected and located orderly, it is very characteristics.


The Bonan people practice monogamy. Parents is an absolute authority in the family, they arranged marriages for their children. The Bonan people usually practice early marriage.  


Their staple diet consists of wheat, highland barley and corn, and the meat they only eat mutton and beef. The four distinctive foods are: kangguo steamed bun; green barley steamed stuffed bun; Hezhou steamed stuffed bun; pigeon meat porridge.

Bonan House


According to Islamic customs, the dead are buried in the ground with a white cloth wrapped corpse.


Bonan festival mainly has two types, one is religious festival, and the other is traditional festival. The representative festivals are Daerde Festival, Mawlid Festival, Lang Shan Festival, etc.


Bonans fast from pork, dog meat, horse meat, donkey meat, mule meat, snake meat, Turkey and all the meat of fierce poultry and beast. Eating the blood of animals and dead animals are forbidden. Bonans also don’t drink and smoke, etc.

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