Identity The tiny Teleut group in Xinjiang view themselves as a separate people group and have officially registered their existence with the Chinese authorities. Historically, the Teleut were also known as the White Kalmuck and are called Tielingute by the Chinese. The authorities in China have probably counted the Teleut as part of the Kazak nationality.
History The Teleut were dispersed throughout Russia by political developments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The tiny Teleut group in China are thought to be the descendants of a diaspora group who migrated south into China, probably in the early 1800s.
Customs The Altai region is one of the most inhospitable and harsh in all of China. Temperatures regularly plummet to minus 40 Celsius (-40F) during the long winter months. Rich, virgin forests cover the slopes of steep mountains that rise over 4,000 meters (13,120 ft.) above sea level. Teleut men spend the summer months hunting and fishing to store up supplies for the winter.
Religion The Teleut have long been under pressure from the Mongols, Tuva, and Kazaks who inhabit the Altai area, to convert to Tibetan Buddhism or Islam. The Teleut in Russia practice traditional animism and shamanism. Many have become atheists in recent decades.
Christianity Except possibly among the Russians, there is not a single known church fellowship in the entire Altai region of northern Xinjiang. While a Teleut Bible will greatly benefit the small number of Teleut believers living on the Russian side of the border, the unevangelized Teleut in China are not able to read the Cyrillic script.
Although their numbers in China are reported to be a mere 13 families or approximately 50 individuals, the Teleut speak their own language and have their own historical and cultural identity. They are located in the Altai District in the extreme northernmost point of China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The area, which suffers from extremely cold winters, is situated at the juncture of China, Russia, and Mongolia. The vast majority of Teleut live in Russia, especially in the Kemerovo Oblast, in 4 to 5 villages located just south of Belovo. There are 71,600 speakers of both Northern and Southern Altai on the Russian side of the border. (Source: Operation China, 2000)