Identity The Tatar are the fourth smallest of China's 55 officially recognized minorities. The name Tatar appears to have originated during the Mongol Empire of the thirteenth century. As the Mongol hordes pillaged their way across Asia, the terrified Europeans called them "The People from Hell." The Latin word for hell is Tatarus.
History The Tatar were known in China in the eighth century as Dadan. In the ensuing centuries after the collapse of the Mongol Empire, it seems to have been a favorable practice for various tribes to call themselves Tatar. Because of this, there are many Tatar throughout Russia and Central Asia who should be viewed as separate ethnolinguistic groups.
Customs When a Tatar dies, relatives wrap the body in a white cloth and place a knife or rock on it. The corpse is then placed on a platform and removed from the house, head first. Tatar wedding ceremonies are usually held at the bride's home. The newly married couple drink sweet water from the same cup, to show they will remain a devoted couple to the end of their lives. The bridegroom often lives in his father's home for a time after the marriage, and some do not live with their wife until their first baby is born. Forty days after the birth of a child, the baby is bathed. The water for the bath is fetched from 40 places, representing as many good wishes for the baby's growth.
Religion The Tatars in China are Muslims of the Sunni sect. They worship in mosques along with Uygur and Kazak people.
Christianity Percy Mather was the first missionary to reach out to the Tatar in China in 1914. "He sang at their festivals, and lived a similar life to them, and helped their sick. ... He spent much time in the city of Chuguchak ('the land of flies') and his name was widely regarded among Russian, Tatar, Chinese and Mongolian sections of the city." Although the Tatar in other lands have the New Testament and evangelistic material available in their language, they are not understood by the Tatar in China.
Less than 6,000 members of the Tatar nationality live hidden away in tiny communities in the far northwestern corner of China. The majority live in the cities of Tacheng, Urumqi, and Yining in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The term Tatar is widely used throughout the nations of the former Soviet Union and Central Asia. More than seven million Tatar live in 20 different countries: the majority are spread throughout Russia, from Moscow to Eastern Siberia. Others are located in nations as diverse as Turkey, Afghanistan, Romania, and Finland. Approximately 10,000 Tatar also live in New York and San Francisco in the United States. (Source: Operation China, 2000)