Nomadic Ecological View and Social Order of Kazakh Diet in Altai Region of Xinjiang

Start: Mar 21, 2018 06:10 PM

Location: Room 612, UCL Institute of Archaeology

Nomadic Ecological View and Social Order of Kazakh Diet

Chen Xiangjun (South-Central University for Nationalities, Wuhan) will give the next International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology (ICCHA) China Night Seminar of 2017-18 at the Institute on 21 March.


In order to adapt to the vagaries of climate and diverse natural landscapes in the arid region, the Kazakh nomads in the Altai steppe have formed a grazing pattern of regular movement with the seasons. Due to the barren environment, limited water and grass resources and large-scale seasonal movement, it is a complex issue for such a loosely-organized nomadic group to manage and maintain its social order in an effective way. However, the Kazakh nomads, in their long-term coexistence with the natural environment, have formed a set of rules and taboos that oversee the regulation of people's behaviors and attitudes towards nature and have deeply transplanted these do's and don'ts into their daily production and livelihood.

This talk starts from the Kazakh diet etiquette, analyses the environmental basis and characteristics of their diet, and probes into the nomadic ecological view reflected in their diet and how Kazakh nomads use diet etiquette to maintain social order. At weddings, funerals, traditional festivals and religious activities, food, especially meat, bestowed with various symbolic meanings, is more than something to eat. On these occasions, meat of livestock is generally used to entertain guests. Kazakh nomads endow different symbolic meanings to the meat from different parts of the livestock. For example, in a banquet, the host would share meat from different parts to the most suitable guest, for meat from different parts embodies different age, sex, social status and power. The complicated diet etiquette of Kazakh nomads not only shows their relationship with grasslands, but also explains how one can establish individual self-identity and social status from diet constraints and behavioral regulations, so as to maintain the orderly development of nomadic society.


Dr Chen Xiangjun is presently Visiting Scholar at the Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies
Unit, University of Cambridge, and an Associate Professor of anthropology at the School of Ethnology and Anthropology, South-Central University for Nationalities (SCUN), China.

Dr Chen’s research interests include environmental anthropology, nomadic society and indigenous knowledge, regional climate change, environmental resources and its protection, pastoral urbanization, nomadic oral history & visual anthropology. His research area focuses in Altai Steppes. Since 2005, Dr Chen has been conducting fieldwork in the Kazak pastoral area of Altai Steppes in North Xinjiang region, and has accumulated a large catalogue of video and text data on Xinjiang’s nomadic indigenous knowledge, Kazakh society and environment changes. He has also begun to study of the grassland and nomadic society of Tianshan Mountains and the Pamir Plateau, including the lives of Nomadic Tajik, Kirgiz and Mongolian.

The ICCHA, a joint association between the School for Archaeology and Museology, Peking University and the UCL Institute of Archaeology, is tasked with bringing China's cultural past to western scholars.

Through its China Night seminars and Guest Lecture Series, the Centre endeavours to promote all aspects of Chinese history, archaeology and cultural heritage, and strengthen academic links between China and Europe.

All welcome! Any enquiries about the seminar series may be directed to the ICCHA Administrator.