Chokan Valikhanov

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Shoqan Shynghysuly Walikhanov
BirthplaceKushmurun fort in Kostanay Province
Scholar, Historian, Ethnographer and Folklorist, Officer in Asiatic Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Known for First Russian-educated Kazakh historian, ethnographer, and civil servant

Valikhanov, Chokan Chingisovich


Born in 1835, in Kushmurun locality, now Semiozernoe Raion, Kustanai Oblast, Kazakh SSR; died in October 1865, in Altynemel’ locality, now in Taldy-Kurgan Oblast, Kazakh SSR. First Kazakh scholar. Democratic educator, historian, ethnologist, and folklorist.

Valikhanov’s father was a grandson of Khan Ablai. He graduated from Omsk military school in 1853. Served in the Western Siberian governorship.

Valikhanov participated in a number of expeditions to Middle Asia and China. In 1858, disguised as a Muslim merchant, he crossed the Tien-Shan. He lived in Kashgar, where he collected materials on the ethnology of eastern Turkestan and the history of Altyshar. Living in St. Petersburg in 1860-61, he became closely acquainted with the ideas of the Russian revolutionary democrats, and he associated with representatives of the progressive democratic intelligentsia (G. N. Potanin, I. N. Berezin, A. V. Vasil’ev, A. N. Beketov, F. M. Dostoevsky, and S. F. Durov).

Valikhanov was the first Kazakh artist. He made a great number of ethnologically accurate genre, portrait, and landscape sketches to illustrate his scientific and travel diaries. He also did easel drawings and water-colors (Kazakhs of the Great Horde, Sartai of the Family of Sara Bagish, and others).

Valikhanov’s scholarly interests were notably many-sided. He left valuable studies of the history and culture of the peoples of Middle Asia, Kazakhstan, and western China: Sketches of Dzungaria (1861), The Kirghiz (the Kazakhs were then known under this name; published in 1958), Ablai (1861), Notes on the Judicial Reform Among the Kirghiz of the Siberian Department (1904), The Western Region of the Chinese Empire and the City of Kul’dzha (published in 1958), On the Condition of Altyshar, or Six Eastern Cities of the Chinese Province of Nan Lu (Lesser Bukharia) in 1858-59, Excerpts From the Account of Lieutenant Valikhanov’s Journey to Kashgar, and unpublished diaries of 1854-59. He was the first to write down and translate into Russian a portion of the Kirghiz heroic epos Manas. Of great interest are his opinions on the characteristics of the improvisational art of the akyny (folk poets and singers) and the types of songs and rhythmics of Kazakh verse. Valikhanov wrote down the epic folk poem Kozy-Korpesh and Baian-slu.

Valikhanov condemned the arbitrariness of the Kazakh feudal lords and the colonizing policy of tsarism, and he propagandized for the Kazakhs to shift to a settled way of life and farming. He fought for the people to overcome their social cultural backwardness by access to Russian culture and pointed out the reactionary role of religion. Overrating the role of education and partial reforms, Valikhanov believed that governmental measures could aid in the reconstruction of the life of the nomadic auly (villages). Although he remained an idealist in his concept of social life, Valikhanov believed that the ultimate goal of the historical process was the “improvement of material well-being” and that “all human incentive and motivations are conditioned by the total influence of physical and social conditions” (Stat’i: Perepiska, Alma-Ata, 1947, p. 42). Valikhanov’s ideas were developed in the works of Altynsarin, Abai Kunanbaev, and other Kazakh enlighteners.


Sobr. soch. v piati tomakh, vols. 1-4. Alma-Ata, 1961-68. [Introductory article by A. Margulan.]


Segizbaev, O. A. Mirovozzrenie Ch. Valikhanova. Alma-Ata, 1959.
Zabelin, I. M. Chokan Valikhanov. Moscow, 1956.
Chokan Valikhanov v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov. Alma-Ata, 1964.
Chokan Valikhanov: Annotirovannyi ukazatel’ literatury. Alma-Ata, 1967.
Fetisov, M. I. Literaturnye sviazi Rossii i Kazakhstana. Moscow,1956.
References in periodicals archive ?
A border city on the eastern frontier defended by Cossacks, Semey was home to the Russian writer Dostoyevsky, who spent a five-year period of exile in the city and developed a significant friendship with Chokan Valikhanov, who would, at Dostoyevsky's urging, write the first ethnography of his people.
The Smithsonian online exhibition Discover Kazakhstan: The Expeditions of Chokan Valikhanov, which highlights the life and work of one of Kazakhstan's most revered explorers and ethnographers, was unveiled at the reception.