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Peoples, Cultures, Languages and Religion
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The native peoples of Siberia represent a diverse range of ethnic groups. Their 17 th century population is thought to be less than 250,000. This was the a limit imposed by their traditional ways, activities based on fishing, hunting and reindeer herding. Europeans arrived in the last decades of the seventeenth century and by 1710 numbered 66,000.

However, opening of this area to the world happened much earlier than perceived by European historians. Mongolian founders of China's Yuan dynasty were aware of the land where their ancestor Genghis Khan was born and buried. Founders of the last Qing dynasty came from Manchurian tribes for whom the Amur river was the northern border of their ancestral homeland.

The ethnic composition of indigenous people is mainly influenced by Mongolian-language tribes in Western Headwaters that today are mainly represented by Buriats, Khalkh, Barga, and Daur groups – all those best adapted to steppe and forest steppe environments. Then north and east is occupied by a wide variety of tribes of the Tungus-Manchurian language groups: Owenk (Evenke), Olunchun (Orochon), Hezhe (Nanai), Udege (Gol'd), Ulchi and other hunters and fishermen of Northeast Eurasia . Many of these tribes are remnants of once mighty kingdoms such as Zhurzhen (Nuzhen) and Bohai.

Beginning in the 17th century both Han Chinese and Russians actively colonized the region and they soon became the most numerous ethnic groups in the parts of the basin occupied by two respective empires.

The most commonly spoken languages of the Amur Heilong River Basin are now Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Mongolian, closely followed by Buriat language – very similar to Mongolian. Local Northeast dialect of Chinese is proudly considered the purest form of the normative language, closely resembling official “Putonghua” Chinese used by central television and governmental officials. The local Russian dialect has incorporated some Chinese words, while the Chinese dialect has several Russian words mostly related to food, dress or local natural phenomena. Despite the trans-border character of the basin, English has not become a common language, so western traveler normally encounters substantial difficulties getting around the area. Knowledge of a neighbors' language is also inadequate since China has more people able and willing to converse in Russian than Russians in Chinese. Mongolians seem to fare better, with the older generation speaking quite good Russian and the younger generation often mastering Chinese. The greatest language diversity is found in Hulunbeier Prefecture of Inner Mongolia where locals often master Mandarin Chinese, Mongolian, and one of local minority languages – Daur, Evenke, Russian, etc.

Shamanism has been the prevailing religion in the region for millennia. All other religions are at the extreme margin of their geographic distribution and have had relatively small influence on local society. Lamaism Buddhism played an important role in Mongolian history and is also widespread among Buriats of Chita Province of Russia. Alkhanai National Park in Aginsky Buriat Autonomy preserves sacred places that are extremely important to Buriat Buddhists and shamanists. Various Buddhist schools are widespread in Chinese part of the basin, but temples are far from numerous. Russian Orthodox Christianity had active missions in the basin starting from 17 century, with churches erected in all major cities. St. Sofia Church in Harbin, now converted into a museum, is the best known symbol of that city. Russian old-believers established small communities in remote areas both in Russia and China's Inner Mongolia. Daoism has had some influence on local Chinese culture, but is much less popular than in inner regions of China. Major cities in Russia and China also have several synagogues and mosques established by migrant Jews and Moslems.

Map collection: Countries & cultures



Amur on the globe

Political map of Amur Heilong River basin

Population of AHRB in 1990s


Photo: Countries & cultures





GIS: Population and administrative division


Forest mushrooms and fish drying at Memorial Palace of Qing Dynasty empress on the bank of Hinggan Gorge in Taipinggou (Photo by E.Simonov)

Also look:

Countries and provinces


Population density and demographic trends

Mongolia Population

China Population

Russia Population


Ethnic groups in Mongolia

Ethnic groups in China

Ethnic groups in Russia

Migration processes in Amur-Heilong


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