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Celebrating Qurban in Urumqi, Xinjiang

August 31 | 42 Comments

It’s Qurban Festival in Xinjiang (aka “Corban” or “古尔邦节”) and I decided to take a walk through my local neighborhoods here in Urumqi to capture some photos and a video.

Some cute Uyghur kids dressed up for Corban Festival in Urumqi, Xinjiang

You can watch the video below or scroll further down to read a more thorough description of Xinjiang’s Qurban Festival accompanied by a few photos.

Hopefully you enjoy!

Please Note: this video, although not graphic, may not be suitable for all audiences. If you’re squeamish about the thought of an animal dying, just scroll on down to see the photos instead.

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Qurban (Corban) Festival in Xinjiang

Unlike other parts of China – even other majority Muslim regions like Ningxia, Gansu and others – Xinjiang recognizes Qurban as an official holiday.

When you consider that we’re getting a few days off for Qurban, a few days off for China’s Mid-Autumn Festival and then the October holiday, in total we’re getting about 12-14 straight “official” holidays.

Every year during this time, thousands upon thousands of sheep are hauled into cities all across Xinjiang and sold for sacrifices. Sheep can cost anywhere between 25-50RMB per kilogram, which is a pretty wide range.

Sheep brought in from inland China are considered the cheapest and worst while sheep from Kashgar or Altay regions are the most expensive.

Sheep all gathered in their sheep pen in Urumqi, Xinjiang for the Corban Festival
Sheep sellers gather in Urumqi, Xinjiang to sell during Corban
A sheep pen in Urumqi, Xinjiang during Corban

Every family should purchase their own sheep that they can either slaughter themselves or have slaughtered by a local butcher.

Despite the dirty mess, kids and adults alike get dressed up for the occasion.

Strange thing is, the sheep seem to understand what is going on. Seldom do you see a sheep calmly accepting its fate. Rather, it’s quite humorous to watch the new owners attempt to pull, shove and drag the sheep back home.

Uyghur men dragging a sheep in Urumqi, Xinjiang during Corban
Sheep and Uyghur woman being transported by trailer in Urumqi, Xinjiang

Once the sheep arrive back at the house, the process of slaughtering begins. It’s a bloody mess but is surprisingly quite an efficient process. Very little of the sheep is discarded.

It begins by cutting the throat of the sheep and letting the blood drain (I won’t disgust you with pictures of that, though). They then cut a tiny incision in the leg where they fill the carcass with air.

This can be done with an electric pump, a foot pump or – as in this case – by mouth.

Using the mouth to blow air into a sheep carcass in Urumqi, Xinjiang

In a matter of 10 minutes they can have the sheep skin removed from the body and they then hang the carcass to properly butcher the sheep.

A Uyghur man cuts a sheep carcass in Urumqi, Xinjiang
Uyghur men butchering sheep in Urumqi, Xinjiang

The skin is usually donated to the local mosque (who sell it for profit) and other portions of meat are given to the poor. The remaining portion goes to the house where it is cooked (even the lamb intestines are cooked!) and used as part of the festivities over the next few days.

Even though this is the most important holiday for the Uyghur and Hui Muslims in Urumqi, Xinjiang, I find that it is a very personal affair. Other than prayers in the morning, there’s not a big community gathering.

Families celebrate together on the first day and then go out to visit friends, co-workers and others in the days following.

A sheep being slaughtered in the alley in Urumqi, Xinjiang
Sheep butts in Urumqi, Xinjiang

The End (get it?)

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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  1. What is Josh’s reLigion??

    Josh Summers on September 24th, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    I am a Jesus follower. I have high respect and love for my Muslim neighbors here, though.

    Rassul on September 24th, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    I pay great respect and honor to you, Mr. Josh Summers!!!

    Carl on September 26th, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    I think “Jesus follower” is appropriate. Muslims would understand what you meant. When I lived in Urumqi it was explained to me that I shouldn’t worry as Christians are “People of the Book”, and brothers and sisters of Muslims. Even though I’m not a practising Christian, that was reassuring to hear.

    Nazym on September 12th, 2016 at 7:43 am

    That’s very kind of you. Actually, truly Muslims are also respecting Christians.

    Frank on September 25th, 2015 at 3:41 am

    As you notice uiddi, Josh says he’s a Jesus follower..Not a Christian..I fact I believe Josh is an atheist who absolutely despises Christians..There are plenty like him in western countries…but kudos to Josh, at least he was not hypocritical and called himself a Christian.

    Josh Summers on September 25th, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Frank, this comment seems to be coming out of left field. You’re putting words in my mouth that certainly aren’t there, so I would like to set the record straight here.

    I am 100% NOT an atheist. I do not despise Christians in the least. Even if I had labeled myself as a “Christian” I can see no way in which that would have been hypocritical.

    I specifically chose “Jesus follower” because I want to avoid any stereotypes that come with the word “Christian” in a western context. It is also precisely what differentiates what I believe from that of my Muslims neighbors here. Even though the label “Christian” correctly defines my worldview, most Muslims I meet immediately equate the word “Christian” to being a “westerner,” therefore there are many cases in which I choose to say “Jesus follower” instead. It’s just preference for the sake of clarity, not a political statement.

    I hope that clears things up. Now back to your comment…how does that make me a hypocrite?

    Deniz on September 25th, 2015 at 8:19 am

    I personally think that it is impolite to ask that. and found it disrespectful. You do not really see what Josh wanted to show us and shared with his followers. Here he is presenting something mostly CULTURAL. The point is not to focus on religion.
    I do not care about his or her’s religion, not at all.
    Anyway … THANK YOU SO MUCH Josh ; the pictures are SO BEAUTIFUL I want to be there so bad !!

    Josh Summers on September 25th, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Thank you for the kind words about the pictures, Deniz!

    Honestly, I don’t mind questions like that. i figure if you’re not willing to answer that question and say what you believe, it may call into question the strength of your conviction.

    Nuriye Reheman Mauron on September 13th, 2016 at 3:42 am

    That’s exactly what I would like to say. May be we couldn’t share religion, but culture, yes we can. As an Uyghur muslim who lives in Europe, I’m so thankful to him what he shares with us.

  2. Dear Josh,
    Interesting, educating… and at the same time wild (or unusual?). Provides more understanding about local people. At the same time, it looks like a mix of islamic and nomads traditions, having similarity to beduins in Egypt.

    Josh Summers on September 27th, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Interesting…what similarities do you see with the Beduins?

  3. Josh loving seeing your photos of Qurban. I was in Kashgar this time a year ago with my kids, 15 and 10 years old and we had such an amazing experience. Thanks so much for the advice and reference from your website. The experience of walking down towards to Id Kah Mosque on the morning of Qurban amongst a sea of worshipers, stopping every so often to recite prayers are such special moments. The joyous dancing afterwards, a cultural expression, will warm our kiwi hearts forever. The photos remain to remind us of how lucky we were to be part of this rapidly changing landscape.
    We so enjoy your ability to capture the unique diversity of this amazing place…keep your word and photos coming!
    P.S. Thank goodness for Kiwi kids who not only coped with the sheep, carcasses and skins, but enjoyed their worthy sacrifice. My daughter still talks about the ‘best ever’ lamb dumpling soup made by Ali Tash’s mother – the stuff of legend!

    Josh Summers on September 27th, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Thank you, Kim! I’m so glad that it’s a good memory for your kids…particularly eating lamb meat. I know a number of travelers that just don’t spend enough time here to appreciate it.

  4. Debby, not every Uyghur has read Qoran or Old Testament in Xinjiang or abroad. You would be surprised to know how few of them actually have read Qoran, so people wouldn’t have any clue about “without spot or blemish” you mentioned in your post.

    Carl, I agree with you. That is what vast majority of the Uyghurs believe. I was told exactly same thing in Urumqi by one of my Uyghur associates when I introduced him a few Americans; he is a Turkish citizen, lived in Turkey for long time, is an Hajj, meaning that he made pilgrimage to Mecca, and he owns a few companies in Xinjiang.

    I like Josh’s words about himself being a “Jesus follower,” that separates him from being a religious person. That is what being a true Christian is about, not being a religious person, but being a follower of Jesus’ footstep to spread God’s love, as opposed to those religious people being so quick to judge and to put people in their imaginary boxes. Jesus Himself was often questioned, challenged and persecuted by those religious people when all He did was to spread God’s love.

    Noor on September 30th, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Hello Josh! I just travelling in Urumqi and Turpan couple of the weeks last month. I really proud of you are understanding the Islam. As you know not at all the muslim believer loyal to Islam. The good muslim will respect each other without boundary and prejudice!

    All regarding the ‘Qurban’ you can recite Al-Quran ( Al-An’am :75-76) and (Ash-Shaaffat : 102) Enjoy your reciting!

  5. Nicely written and covered with videos and photos, however the sarcastic end comment ((The End (get it?)) has ruined the whole effort. Shame.

    Josh Summers on September 3rd, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    Seriously? Sorry to hear that. I thought it was quite funny considering the picture of the rear end of the sheep. Not sure how that ruins it all.

  6. (The reply button doesn’t work therefore I am writing a comment). From a muslim point of view it is a very serious religious event which marks the memory of Prophet Abraham (pbuh), so there is nothing funny about what & how you presented / projected. I am sure as a Jesus (pbuh) Follower you should cover such religious festivities with respect, sensitivity and humbly as Jesus (pbuh) taught so. For a Muslim to believe in Jesus is an article of muslim faith i.e no muslim is a Muslim if he doesn’t believe in Jesus (pbuh) and his miracles including virgin birth. Hope my observations are clarified.

    Josh Summers on September 7th, 2017 at 10:03 am

    They are clarified and I appreciate you taking the time to write it out. I’m still perplexed at how anybody could take offense at this, though. I’m not referencing Muslims, the prophet or anything other than, well, a sheep’s rear end. I’ve taken care to be very respectful of this event and the people but I don’t want to take myself too seriously.

    It’s a shame when we live in such a politically correct world that we can’t even laugh over a pun.

  7. Thanks for your comments too, it’s always better to keep in context what you are presenting and the people / faith represented, can’t have a laugh at everything. Anyway it’s a long debate covering freedom of expression too, but where do you draw the line ? that’s the big question.