People of the Oroqen ethnic minority group dwell in
the forests of the Greater and Lesser Hinggan Mountains in
Northeast China which abound in deer and other wild beasts
the Oroqens hunt with shot-guns and dogs. The Oroqens, who
lived in a primitive communal society four and a half
decades ago, have leap-frogged several historical stages to
a socialist society in the years following the founding of
the People's Republic in 1949.
With no written
script of their own, the Oroqens have a spoken language
belonging to the Tungus branch of the Manchu-Tungusic group
of the Altaic language family. Most of them have learned to
read and write the language of the Hans, the biggest ethnic
group in China.
The Oroqen population, which
stood at 4,000 in 1917, dropped to 3,700 in 1943. A census
taken in 1953 showed that their number had plummeted to
2,250. The population has started to grow slowly but
steadily since, and the census in 1982 showed that their
number has reached 4,100. The 1990 national census showed
Most of the Oroqens live in the
55,000-square-kilometer Oroqen Autonomous Banner in the
Greater Hinggan Mountains. Others have their home in several
localities in Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang Province.
Situated in Inner Mongolia's Hulunbuir League, the Oroqen
Autonomous Banner is 97 per cent forested land. The seat of
the autonomous government is Alihe, a rising town with
highways, railways, cinemas, hotels, department stores,
restaurants, electric lighting and other modern
generations the Oroqens had lived a life of hunting and
fishing in the forests. They went on hunting expeditions in
groups, and the game bagged was distributed equally not only
to those taking part in the hunt, but also to the aged and
infirm. The heads, entrails and bones of the animals killed
were not distributed but were cooked and eaten by all.
Later, deer antlers, which fetched a good price, were not
distributed but went to the hunters who killed the animals.
On the eve of the founding of the PRC in 1949,
polarization was quite marked in some localities where
horses, on which Oroqens rode on hunting trips, belonged to
individuals. The rich owned a large number of horses and the
poor owned a few. Horses were hired out to those hunters who
needed them, and payment took the form of game sent to horse
owners. Such a practice gradually developed into rent and
exploitation of man by man.
The Oroqens are an
honest and friendly people who always treat their guests
well. People who lodge in an Oroqen home would often hear
the housewife say to the husband early in the morning:
"I'm going to hunt some breakfast for our guests and
you go to fetch water." When the guests have washed,
the woman with gun slung over her shoulders would return
with a roe back. The Oroqens are expert hunters. Both the
males and females are sharp shooters on horseback. Boys
usually start to go out on hunting trips with their parents
or brothers at the age of seven or eight. And they would be
stalking wild beasts in the deep forest all on their own at
17. A good hunter is respected by all and young maidens like
to marry him.
Horses are indispensable to the
Oroqens on their hunting expeditions. Hunters ride on
horses, which also carry their family belongings and
provisions as well as the game they killed over mountains
and across marshes and rivers. The Oroqen horse is a very
sturdy breed with extra-large hooves that prevent the animal
from sinking into marshland.
Oroqen women, who
also hunt, show marvelous skill in embroidering patterns of
deer, bears and horses on pelts and cloth that go into the
making of head gears, gloves, boots and garments. Oroqen
women also make basins, bowls, boxes and other objects from
birch barks. Engraved with various designs and dyed in
color, these objects are artistic works that convey the idea
of simplicity and beauty. Taught by their mothers while
still very young to rub fur, dry meat and gather fruit in
the forest, Oroqen girls start to do household work at 13 or
14. Pelts prepared by Oroqen women are soft, fluffy and
light, and they are used in making garments, hats, gloves,
socks and blankets as well as tents.
Oroqens, who led a primitive life, used to have many taboos.
One prohibited a woman from giving birth in the home. She
had to do that in a little hut built outside the house in
which she would be confined for a month before she could
return home with her newborn.
The Oroqens are a race of dancers and singers.
Men, women and children often gather to sing and dance when
the hunters return with their game or at festival times.
With a rich and varied repertory of folk
songs, the Oroqens sing praises of nature and love, hunting
and struggles in life in a lively rhythm. Among the most
popular Oroqen dances are the "Black Bears Fight"
and "Wood Cock Dance," at which the dancers
execute movements like those of animals and birds. Also
popular is a ritual in which members of a clan gather to
perform dances depicting events in clan history.
"Pengnuhua" (a kind of harmonica)
and "Wentuwen" (hand drum) are among the
traditional instruments used. Played by Oroqen musicians,
these instruments produce tunes that sound like the
twittering of birds or the braying of deer. These
instruments are sometimes used to lure wild beasts to within
The Oroqens have many tales,
fables, legends, proverbs and riddles that have
been handed down from generation to generation.
Being Shamanists or animists, the Oroqens
worship nature and their ancestors, and believe in the
omnipresence of spirits. Their objects of worship are
carefully kept in birch-bark boxes hung high on trees behind
The Oroqens have a long list of
don'ts. For instance, they never call the tiger by its
actual name but just "long tail," and the bear
"granddad." Bears killed are generally honored
with a series of ceremonies; their bones are wrapped in
straw placed high on trees and offerings are made for the
ouls of dead bears. Oroqens do not work out their
hunting plans in advance, because they believe that the
shoulder blades of wild beasts have the power to see through
a plan when one is made.
Wind burials are
practiced by the Oroqens. When a person dies his corpse is
put into a hollowed-out tree trunk and placed with head
pointing south on two-meter high supports in the forest.
Sometimes the horse of the deceased is killed to accompany
the departing soul to netherworld. Only the bodies of young
people who die of contagious diseases are cremated.
Monogamy is practiced by the Oroqens who are
only permitted to marry with people outside their own clans.
Proposals for marriage as a rule are made by go-betweens,
sent to girls' families by boys' families.
Oroqens originally peopled the region north of the Heilong
River and south of the Outer Hinggan Mountains. But
aggression and pillaging conducted by Tsarist Russia after
the mid-17th century forced the Oroqens to migrate to the
Greater and Lesser Hinggan Mountains. There were then seven
tribes living in a clan commune society. Each clan commune
called "Wulileng" consisted of five to a dozen
families descended from a male ancestor. The commune head
was elected. In the commune, which was then the basic
economic unit of the Oroqens, all production tools were
communally owned. The commune members hunted together, and
the game bagged was equally distributed to all families.
The introduction of iron articles and guns and
the use of horses during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) raised
the productive forces of the Oroqens to a higher level. This
gave rise to bartering on a bigger scale and the emergence
of private ownership. That brought about profound social,
economic changes. Individual families quit the clan commune
and became basic economic units. The clan commune had
disintegrated, though members of the same clan did live or
hunt together in the same area. Organized under the Qing
Dynasty's "eight banner system," the Oroqens were
compelled to enlist in the armed forces and send fur to the
Qing court as tributes. Most soldiers sent to fight in
Xinjiang, Yunnan, Taiwan and other places lost their lives.
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911
came the rule of warlords who effected some changes in the
administrative setup of the "eight banner system."
Oroqen youths were dragged into "forest guerrilla
units," and Oroqen hunters were forced to settle down
to farm. Most of them later fled back to hunt in the
forests. A few whom the warlords had made officers became
landlords who hired Oroqen, Han, Manchu and Daur laborers to
open up large tracts of land for crops.
Japanese troops, who occupied northeast China in 1931,
pulled down the cottages and smashed the farm implements of
the remaining Oroqen farmers and drove them into the forests
again. Oroqen youths were press-ganged into "forest
detachments" officered by Japanese. The Japanese
occupationists introduced opium smoking to ruin the health
of the Oroqen people, some of whom were used in bacteria
experiments. All this, coupled with incidence of epidemic
diseases, had so decimated the Oroqen population that only
some 1,000 of them remained at the time of the Japanese
surrender in 1945.
Over a long period of time,
the Oroqens had fought alongside other ethnic groups in
China against Tsarist Russian and Japanese aggression to
safeguard national unity.
New Life After the
Founding of PRC
The Oroqen ethnic group was
saved from extinction and a new life began to dawn for this
ethnic minority in the years following the conclusion of the
Anti-Japanese War in 1945. Shot-guns, cartridges and
supplies of food-grain, clothes, cooking oil and salt were
sent to the Oroqens by the government in the early days
after the establishment of the People’s Republic of
China. People sent by the government helped them to raise
production as well as to set up local government.
Following the inception of the Oroqen
Autonomous Banner on October 1, 1951, several autonomous
townships were set up in places where the Oroqens live in
compact communities. By 1981, government allocation for
construction in these places had already amounted to 46
million yuan. Working at leading bodies at various levels
are Oroqen functionaries.
While helping the
Oroqens to promote hunting, the government made efforts to
help them switch over to a diversified economy and to lead a
The building of permanent
housing for the Oroqens got started in 1952 with government
allocations. A dozen villages were built in the Heihe Area
for 300 families that used to lead a wandering life in 51
widely-scattered localities. Another three villages were
built for 150 families in 1958.
Taught by Han
and Daur farmers, the Oroqens began to grow crops in 1956.
And by 1975, the people in the autonomous banner became
self-supporting in food-grain for the first time in Oroqen
With no industry whatsoever in the
past, the autonomous banner has now established 37 factories
and workshops turning out farm machinery, electric
appliances, flour, powdered milk, furniture, leather, fur
and candies. The banner also has built schools, department
stores, hospitals, banks and cinemas.
school-age children are enrolled in primary and middle
schools. Every year a number of youngsters enter
institutions of higher learning. The Oroqen people also have
their own song and dance troupes, film projection teams,
broadcast stations and clubs.
Diseases took a
heavy toll in the old days and 80 per cent of the women
suffered from gynaecological troubles due to the lack of
doctors and medicine and ignorance. They have been put under
control with the help of mobile medical teams sent by the
government, the launching of disease-prevention campaigns
and the popularization of the knowledge of hygine. As a
result the Oroqen population increased to 4,100 in 1982.