The Unreached Peoples Prayer Profiles. China - Land of Diversity


China - Land of Diversity

Part 7
Case Study - The Hui

[HUI Muslim] In Chinese, Hui are known as Huihui, Huihui minzu ("Huihui people" or "Huihui nationality") and Huizu (a contraction of Huihui minzu). Traditionally they have also called themselves Huijiaoren ("Hui-religion - Islam - people"), Mumin (from the Arabic mu'min) and Jiaomen (a term meaning something like "people of the Teaching"). Today the Chinese government promotes the use of "Musilin" (Muslim") to denote Hui (and others) who actively believe in Islam as distinct from Hui in general, a portion of whom no longer practice the religion. In other countries Hui are called by such names as Panthay and Dungan. In English the Hui have often been referred to simply as Chinese Muslims, a term that has caused much confusion because it also rightly includes the other nine Muslim ethnic groups in China.

To outsiders they are virtually indistinguishable from Han Chinese, although many Han will say they can spot a Hui and Hui say they can recognise each other. Unlike the Turkic communities, the Hui are not concentrated in one part of the country but are spread throughout the whole of the PRC with substantial communities in the major cities. Although they are so numerous and accessible, they have been the subject of considerable controversy and it is still not possible to say with any degree of certainty precisely how many Hui there are in China. It is generally agreed that they are by far the most numerous of Muslim groups in China, and official statistics in 1990 gave the figure of 8.6 million for the total population of Hui. There has been much dispute over whether the Hui are simply Han Chinese who adhere to the Islamic faith. This article concentrates on the Hui communities and examines their origins and what makes them distinctive in China today.

  • Ethnic Origin:
    Islam was introduced to China during the flourishing Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-906). Arab and Persian merchants and mariners sailed to and settled in Canton and other southeastern Chinese port cities, bringing the religion just after it was founded. Muslim soldiers, brought across Central Asia to help China's emperor quell a rebellion in A.D. 757, introduced Islam to the interior. Many of these Arabs, Persians and Central Asians, nearly all men, married local Han Chinese women and remained in China, speaking Persian and Arabic as their lingua francas. They lived in special districts (called "barbarian settlements"), where they were held responsible for maintaining law and order according to the customs of their homelands. The Muslims increased in numbers as the children of mixed Muslim and Han marriage were raised as Muslims and as foreign Muslims continued to settle in China for several more countries. Another major Muslim influx came with the Mongols, who conquered China in the thirteenth century and imported thousands of Central and West Asian artisans, scholars and administrators to help them rule China. Muslims directed the financial administration of the empire and were appointed to other high positions in the central and provincial governments.

    While the Muslims remained a distinctly foreign minority during their first seven centuries in China, during the next five centuries they had relatively little contact with the rest of the Muslim world. When the Han Chinese overthrew the Mongols in 1368, they sought to wipe out the much-resented foreign influence and thus prohibited the use of foreign languages, foreign names and foreign clothing and restricted foreign travel. European capture of the Asian sea trade from the Arabs also contributed to halting Muslim migration to China. It was during this period that the Muslims in China became sinicized, acculturating to Han Chinese ways through the adoption of Han surnames, clothing and food habits and through speaking Chinese as their everyday language. The continued in-marriage of Han women, as well as the adoption of Han children and occasional conversion of Han adults, further contributed to the increase in the number of Muslims and, at the same time, to their becoming increasingly similar, physically as well as culturally, to the Han. Muslims ceased being referred to as Arabs, barbarians and foreigners and came to be known instead by a new name, Huihui.

    The next phase of Muslim history in China was one of violent ethnic conflict between the Han and the Hui. From the sixteenth to early twentith century, Muslims of northwest China (Hui, Salars and others) and Hui in Yunnan in southwest China rose against both local Han and the government in series of rebellions said to have claimed as many as 10 million lives. Exacerbating the ethnic conflict were intense factional cleavages within the Muslim communities themselves, notably that between the so-called New Teaching adherents inspired by Naqshbandi fundamentalism and ideas of reform and Old Teaching adherents who clung to established practices of Chinese Islam.

    With the founding of the Republic of China in 1912, the Hui were formally recognised as one of China's "five great peoples" (usually translated "races" in English), part of the new Western-inspired government's attempt to win over the independent-minded minorities who dominated more than half of China's territory. Many Hui, following trends among the Han, became actively engaged in reform movements. During the civil war between the Chinese Communists and Nationalists, both sides actively sought to win Hui loyalties. After the Communist victory and establishment of the PRC in 1949, several thousand Hui fled with the Nationalists to Taiwan, while the majority remained on the mainland. There the Communist leaders developed a Soviet-inspired minority policy that formally identified major ethnic groups as "minority nationalities" (shaoshu minzu) and promised them rights of autonomy and self-government in exchange for their support. The Communist party has recognised 55 ethnic groups as minority nationalities and established 107 so-called autonomous governments at three levels - 5 at the provincial level, 30 at a middle (prefectural) level and 72 at the county level. Twelve of these bear the name "Hui."

  • Language:
    An intriguing and still under-researched area of Hui life is the language of the community. Some scholars speak of a Huihui hua, a "Muslim vernacular" of Islamic terms which distinguishes the Hui from their Han neighbours. According to the official history of Hunan's Hui community, the original languages of the Hui as they moved east were Arabic, Persian and Chinese used together, but Chinese became the lingua franca as Muslim and Chinese communities intermingled. However, even today, Hui people in Hunan use certain Arabic and Persian words in their daily contact with other Hui. On meeting they will use the Arabic and universal Muslim greeting of seliamu (salaam 'aleikum) and Muslim are addressed as duosity from the Persian word for friend 'dust'. Arabic or Persian words are used for 'halal' and 'haram' (pure and unclean), for ritual baths and for words needed in dealing with the deceased. Chinese characters representing the Arabic names for feast days and seliamu can be seen on banners at these times in cities such as Xian.

    Interest in Arabic, the language of the Qu'ran and the lingua franca of Islam worldwide has increased steadily in China's Muslim communities. After the programme of reforms was introduced in 1978, contact between China and the Islamic world, which had been important in the 1950s but had decreased during the Cultural Revolution, was again promoted and this provided further stimulus for the study of Arabic. Although the Hui people have used Chinese as their main means of communication for centuries, classical Qu'ranic Arabic is used in the mosques, although for many worshippers it is probably just intoned rather than understood. In the Great Mosque in Xian, bilingual Arabic and Chinese stone tablets bear witness to the use of the language there over the centuries and Imans today can be seen reading journals in Arabic. Arabic has also developed in Hainan in supplementary schools in the mosques.

  • Culture, Society, and Customs:
    In the past, the "Ahong" (or Iman) picks Huihui names for newborns, presides over weddings and funerals. Every aspect of life is influenced by the Islam religion, especially in the diet and food. The Hui are prohibited to eat pork and they don't eat animal blood or animal which are not properly slaughtered. These were the religious laws handled down by the Qu'ran, and have gradually become the custom of the Hui through the ages. The trade and industry run by Hui are usually connected to their unique customs, presently many parts of China have state-owned and privately-owned Hui restaurants and the Hui food stores.

    Among the Hui in Ningxia as well as those in some parts of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, there are quite a few farmers. Most Hui, however, have been city dwellers for generations. They are mostly shopkeepers and artisans and, increasingly since the 1950s, factory workers and civil servants. Before the advent of higher hygienic standards, Hui butchers in the cities had earned the reputation of selling the best and creanest meat.

    The diet requirements of the Hui are explicitly derived from the doctrines of Hanafism. In cuisine, the Hui, incorporating the culinary methods of the Han, created the famous "Muslim Dishes" which are favoured by other nationalities in China as well as Muslims from other parts of the world. On the occasion of traditional activities and solemn rallies, men of the Hui nationality customarily wear round-topped and brimless caps made of white or black cotton cloth or wool fabric. The women wear black, white or green kerchiefs made of silk or cotton cloth. Three major festivals of Islam, namely Lesser Bairam (breaking the fast), Corban (sacrificial festival) and Molid Nabawi (birthday of the Prophet Muhammad), have over years, been the traditional festivals of the Hui. On festival days, each family usually fries oil cakes and other deep-fried dough food for celebrations and for entertaining visting relatives. On the festival of Corban, a sacrificial ceremony is held solemnly as part of the celebrations.

    The Hui men's formal wear is the long gown and it is topped with a white cloth skullcap. The women's costumes are different in diffrent locations. The Hui women in Hainan Island's Ya county wear clothing which distinguishes them from the local Han, Li, and Miao women. They like to wear blue or green gown which is long to the knee with trimmed cuffs, and the sides often have an inch-wide fringe, which is mainly black in color. Everyone hangs over their head a black apron which is fastened to the waist. The Northwest Hui women often wear a cape-like turban, and it is green for unmarried girls, black for those married but who are not yet a grandmother, and those who have attained granmother status wear white colour turbans. The other costumes are not dissimilar to that of the Han and other ethnic groups.

    © Copyright 1997
    Bethany World Prayer Center
    This article (which first appeared in "Frontiers Focus" Vol 4 #3 and 5 #2, and is used by permission)
    may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
    as long as it is not altered, bound, published
    or used for profit purposes.

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