The Kirgizes, with a population of 141,549, live mostly in the Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture in the southwest of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tekes, Zhaosu and Emin counties in the north.
With the Pamir Plateau and the Tianshan Mountains in the west, oases on the edge of the Tarim Basin in the southeast and the Kizilsu, Gaizi and Kokshar rivers meandering through from the west to east, the Kirgiz area has good pasturelands on the mountain and by the rivers. In the river valleys, an irrigated farming system is developed. On this fertile land, the nomadic Kirgizes tend their cattle year after year supplemented by farming.
In the Han Dynasty, forefathers of the Kirgizes were called "Jiankun" or "Gekun". In the Northern and Southern dynasties, they were referred to as the Jiegus or Qigus, the Jigas in the Tang Dynasty, the Heqis in the Liao and Jin dynasties, the Jilijis in the Yuan Dynasty, and the Bulute people meaning "mountaineers" in Mongolian Juggar language in the Qing Dynasty. After the founding of new China, they were officially called the Kirgiz Nationality.
The Kirgiz language, comprising the northern and southern dialects, belongs to the Turkic group in the Altaic family. When the Kirgizes converted to Islam, they started to use an alphabetic writing based on Arabic letters. Today, as the Kirgizes come into closer contact with other peoples, many of them can speak both the Uighur and Kazak languages.
The Kirgizes have created distinctive literature and arts. Manass, a famous epic story in 200,000 lines, portrays the Kirgizesl struggle for freedom. It is a precious literary legacy as well as a treasury of music. The Kirgizes use a special three-stringed plucked musical instrument called "Kaomuzi", which produces rich and harmonious sounds. Kirgiz handicraftsmen make exquisite embroidery, carving, brocade, gold and silver vessels. The Kirgizes celebrate their traditional festivals with various sprightly activities.