Identity In the 1950s the Oroqen were granted status as an official minority group in China. The name Oroqen means "people of the mountain range."
History The Oroqen were originally part of the Bei Shiwei people. It is believed that they broke away and formed their own identity sometime between AD 420 and 589. A Russian invasion of the area in the mid-1600s, followed by the Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 1940s, drove the Oroqen deep into the mountains and forests of China's northern border regions.
Customs For generations the Oroqen lived in traditional tents called xianrenzhu, which they cover with birch bark in the summer and deerskin during the bleak winters, when the temperature can fall below minus 50° Celsius (-58°F). After a death occurs, the Oroqen wrap the corpse in birch bark and hang it at the top of a tree to decompose naturally. The Oroqen are great hunters and fishermen. Oroqen in some areas also raise reindeer. Today, due to the massive migration of Chinese to the northeast hinterlands, the Oroqen culture is being quickly assimilated.
Religion Shamanism is the dominant religion among the Oroqen. They believe in an intricate system of demons and spirits. The Oroqen word for shaman means "agitated" or "frenzied" person. This name originated from the appearance of the shaman when he goes into a demonic trance to contact the spirit world. The Oroqen worship certain animals, especially the bear and the tiger, which they believe are blood relatives. They call the bear amaha, meaning "uncle" and the tiger wutaqi, meaning "old man."
Christianity Because of their reputation for violence and drunkenness, the few efforts to evangelize the Oroqen have met with resistance. In 1994 a Hong Kong-based ministry invited several Oroqen to work for them in southern China. Only one came; the rest chose to steal the train fare. The one who came was soon sent home after he threatened the other workers with a knife. In 1995 the first ever breakthrough among the Oroqen occurred when 30 accepted Christ after hearing the gospel from the newly converted Daur believers in Heilongjiang Province. Recently gospel recordings were produced in the Oroqen language for the first time.
Approximately 9,000 Oroqen are spread over a vast area of the Outer Xingan Mountain range in northeast Inner Mongolia and in neighboring Heilongjiang Province. The Oroqen population has been affected by rampant disease and violence during the twentieth century. By 1953 their numbers had fallen to just 2,200. Despite their small population, the Oroqen live in a vast area measuring 58,000 square kilometers (22,970 sq. mi.), "slightly smaller than West Virginia (which has similar terrain) or Belgium and Holland combined." When the Hulunbuir Prefecture was established in 1951, 774 of the 778 residents were Oroqen. By 1980 the population of 410,000 contained just 1,315 Oroqens. A small number of Oroqen live across the border in eastern Siberia. (Source: Operation China, 2000)