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The Chinese Tajik of China

[IMAGE] The 35,500 Chinese Tajik represent less than 1% of all Tajik peoples. Nearly two-thirds of the Chinese Tajik reside in China in the Pamir Mountains of the Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County. The rest are scattered over several counties in southern Xinjiang.

Relatively little is known about the history of the Chinese Tajik. They are related to the Shughni, another Pamirian people from eastern Tajikistan. Their roots apparently stem from the Saka, who first inhabited the Pamirian region in the first millennium B.C. Ever since the Silk Road opened trade in the area 2,000 years ago, the Tajik have used their location to develop close relations with the people of central China.

The Tajik language, Sarikoli, belongs to the Iranian group of the Indo-European language family. Because Sarikoli does not exist as a written language, the Uyghur script is used for writing. Most Chinese Tajik use Uyghur or Han Chinese to communicate with people outside their communities.

What are their lives like?
Since time immemorial, the Tajik have eked out a semi-nomadic, semi-agricultural way of life. Their economic activities are dictated by the changing of the seasons. After planting highland barley, wheat, and a few other crops in the spring, the farmers become herders. They take their sheep, horses, yaks, and camels to the highland pastures for the summer. There, they live in felt tents or mud huts. In the fall, they lead the animals to lower altitudes again and then harvest their crops.

Tajik villages are compact and located at high elevations. The houses are made of wood, sod, and stone and have very thick walls and flat roofs. The flat roofs ensure that the houses will be covered by snow in the winter, thereby reducing the amount of fuel needed for heating. The inside perimeter of the house is lined with kangs, or raised, heated adobe platforms that are used for sitting and sleeping. Most Tajik families also have a separate animal shed and another separate building for cooking. All of a family's buildings are surrounded by a stone wall.

The Tajik live in households composed of three generations, with the oldest male serving as the head of the household. Parents generally arrange their children's marriages, and most Tajik do not marry non-Tajik. On rare occasions, marriages might occur with the culturally related Uyghur or Kyrgyz peoples.

What are their beliefs?
The ethnic identity of the Chinese Tajik is based upon religion. Since the eleventh century, they have belonged to the Ismaili sect of Islam. This religious group follows the Aga Khan and is also known as the "Seveners." They believe that important cosmic and historical events occur in series of seven. Their doctrine is very secretive and private, understood by the "select few." Ismailis have no mosques or official clerics, but private houses of prayer and itinerant clergy are numerous. Overall, Ismailis actively labor to gain followers, even to the point of sending out missionaries to other Islamic groups.

Some pre-Islamic, animistic beliefs (based on the belief that non-human objects have spirits) have been intermingled with the Chinese Tajik's Muslim religion. Amulets are used to repel evil spirits that they believe inhabit various natural objects. The amulets consist of bits of paper that have been written on by a pir (Islamic priest). These charms are carried in a box or cloth and are worn as a necklace.

What are their needs?
The Chinese Tajik are perhaps the least reached minority in China, and there are only four known believers among them. Although some have heard the Gospel, their strong opposition to religious change makes evangelism difficult. Few Christian resources are available to them, and no missions agencies are currently working with them. Because the Tajik are the only Iranian-speaking group in China, it is unlikely that they will hear the Gospel in their own tongue. Fervent, sustained intercession is the key to penetrating this group with the Light of the Gospel.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to open the doors of China to the preaching of the Gospel.
  • Pray that the Jesus film and Christian radio broadcasts will be made available in the Sarikoli language.
  • Pray that Jesus will supernaturally reveal Himself as Lord to the Chinese Tajik.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Chinese Tajik to the Gospel message.
  • Pray that God will raise up a viable Christian witness among the Chinese Tajik.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Tajik bound for many generations.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Pray that strong local churches will be established among the Chinese Tajik.

See Also the following Tajik groups:
the Afghani Tajik of Pakistan and Afghanistan;
the Tajik of Kazakstan; Russia; Kyrgyzstan; Iran; China; Tajikistan; and Uzbekistan.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Chinese Tajik
  • Country: China
  • Their language: Sarikoli
  • Population: (1990) 33,600
    (1995) 35,500
    (2000) 37,400
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Ismaili) 99.9%
  • Christian: <1%
  • Church members: 4
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 0
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 4,600 (13%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 1,100 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 3,500 (10%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 30,900 (87%)
  • Country: China
  • Population: (1990) 1,135,043,400
    (1995) 1,199,901,200
    (2000) 1,262,195,800
  • Major peoples in size order: Han Chinese (Mandarin) 67.7%
    Han Chinese (Wu) 7.5%
    Han Chinese (Cantonese) 4.5%
  • Major religions: Nonreligious 55%
    Chinese folk-religionists 17%
    Atheists 12.7%
  • Number of denominations: 42

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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