Population and Language:
Southwest of the Gansu Province, the area of Mt. Jishishan Bonan, Dongxiang, and Salar Autonomous County is home to the Bonan ethnic minority. With a population of just sixteen thousand, they are one of the smallest ethnic minorities in China. They speak a unique Bonan language which is part of the 'Altai' language family descended from Mongolian. Most can also speak and write Mandarin Chinese like the majority Han people.
It is thought that the Bonan ethnic minority developed over a long period of time formed largely by Mongolians who followed Islam. During the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, some people of the Hui, Tibetan, and Tu ethnic minorities were assimilated into the group, often through marriage and in this way the groups influenced each other. The Bonan people did, however, retain most of their Moslem traditions and customs.
The Bonan economy developed rapidly in two periods: the early Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) and after the foundation of modern China. They tend to grow highland barley, wheat and corn. They only eat beef and mutton and refuse to eat non-ruminants and their by-products. The Bonan people boast a thriving handicraft industry as almost everyone is an expert in knife forging on brass, copper or ox bones; creating intricate and durable products. This handicraft industry has a long history of over a hundred years. The Bonan women are especially skilled at paper-cutting and engraving unique flower patterns on furniture, utensils and knives.