Advent of Islam to China
It remains an open question when Islam was first introduced into China. For a long period of time, many scholars have been working on this matter, and reached different conclusions. A popular theory advanced by well-known contemporary historian Chen Yuan indicates that it was in the second year ofYonghui of the Tang Dynasty (651 A.D.). He found out actual records in "History of Tang" and "Cefu Yuangui (Guide to Books)": In the second year of Yonghui of Emperor Gaozong of Tang, the third Caliph of Arabia Othman (on the throne in 644-656 A.D.)dispatched diplomatic envoys to Chang'an, capital city ofTano, to pay an official call to Emperor Gaozong, introducing to him the caliphate, their customs and Islam. For historic purposes most of scholars have acknowledged this year as the symbol of Islam's advent into China.
It is through two routes that Islam was introduced into China: the Sea Route and the Land Route. Since Zhangqian (?-114 A.D.) was sent as an envoy to the Western Region (A Han Dynasty term for the area including now Xinjiang and Central Asia) in the Han Dynasty, the transportation and communication between China and the countries to the west had started. In the 9th year of Yongyuan of Emperor Hanhe of the Han Dynasty, Ganying reached the Arabian Peninsula in person when he was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Western Region. In the Tang Dynasty, the transportation and communication between China and the west was further developed. The Land Road starting from Southwest Asia, via Persia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Tianshan Mountains and Hexi Corridor, to Chang'an, capital of Tang, was an important passage linking China and the west. A great number of Muslim traders made long and arduous journeys into China to do business. In accordance with "Zi Zhi Tong Jian" (History as a Mirror), there were over 4000 foreign business in Chang'an in the Tang Dynasty, among which the majority were Arabs and Persians, and the Tang government had to set up a "Trading Department" to be in charge of administration. The Tang Dynasty also had frequent military contacts with the Arab Islamic Empire. In 148 years' period of time from the second year of Yonghui of Emperor Gaozong (651 A.D.) to the 14th year of Zhenyuan of Emperor Dezong (798 A.D.), the recorded Arab envoys' visits to China reached 37. In the middle of the Tang Dynasty, the central authority was weakened by political coiTuption and social problems and the governors in control of outlying prefectures grew stronger. In the winter of 755 A.D., governor An Lushan, who was in control of Pingzhan, Fanyang and Hedong, rebelled in Fanyang (now Beijing), and Shi Shiming, a general under his control, captured a great part of Hebei in the mean time. This is an event historically called "Rebellion of An and Shi", which lasted 7 years and was eventually put down by the Tang government. From then on, the Tang regime became weaker and weaker. To put down "Rebellion of An and Shi", the Tang government asked for military help from the Arab Empire. Emperor Zongyun allowed the Arab soldiers to live in China permanently when the rebellion was over. As a result, Islam was introduced into the Northwest of China by Arab and Persian traders, diplomatic envoys and soldiers.
In the Tang Dynasty, Chinese and Arab traders dominated the sea business passage starting from Persian Gulf and Arab Sea, via the Gulf of Bangladesh, the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea, to Chinese ports like Guangzhou, Quanzhou and Yangzhou. A great number of Arab and Persian traders come to these places to do business, and some of them settled down there. Thus, Islam was introduced into China by sea business.
The Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279 A.D.) were the first periods of Islam in China. Muslims in China at that time were basically composed of traders, soldiers and diplomatic envoys from Arabia, Persia and other countries. They settled down and lived in compact communities when they came to China, keeping their religion and unique way of life. The purpose they came to China was to do business rather than missionary work, therefore, they were not opposed by the Chinese ruling class, and were allowed to settle down and intermarry with local Chinese people. The Muslims who had taken up permanent residence in China were called Zhu Tang (literally means foreigners living China). These Zhu Tangs married local Chinese women and multiplied, and their descendants became native-born Fan Ke (meaning foreigner, actually referring to foreign Muslims). However, Muslims at that time were of small number, concentrating in big cities and ports located along vital communication lines. Due to religious needs and national customs, they built mosques and lived in compact communities with the mosques as center. Today's mosques like the Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou (constructed in the Tang Dynasty), the Qingjing Mosque in Quanzhou (Masjid al-Ashab, translated as Shengyou Mosque, constructed in the Northern Song Dynasty), the Xianhe Mosque in Yangzhou (constructed in the Southern Song Dynasty) and the Fenghuang Mosque in Hangzhou(constructed in the Yuan Dynasty) are called The Four Ancient Mosques in China.
During Tang and Song dynasties, as foreign trade developed, more Arab and Persian traders settled down in China. In the 4th year of Zhenghe of Song, there appeared the 5th generation of local-bom Fan Ke. The Song government specially issued "Heritage Law for the 5th Generation ofLocal-bom Fan Ke" to deal with their heritage matters. To adapt themselves to local society, the native-born Muslims in the Song Dynasty began to receive Chinese cultural education positively. In Guangzhou and Quanzhou where Muslims were concentrated, there appeared special schools run by Muslims themselves-Fan Xue (school for foreigners), which only or mainly recruited native-born Muslims' children. To set up Fan Xue, the local government had to apply to the courts for ratification. The purpose of building Fan Xue was to educate Muslim children with traditional Chinese culture and help them to adapt themselves to the society as soon as possible. The final target of Fan Xue was the imperial examination held by the court, which was the most important way to participate in politics. The Song Dynasty followed the Tang's system of allowing foreigners and their offspring living China to take the imperial examination with the same subjects as native Chinese examinees. Though the imperial examination system for them was not mature yet, the year's quota enabled the outstanding ones to directly engage in politics.
The intermarriage between foreign Muslims living in China and native Chinese became a common phenomenon. Among the first generation of foreign Muslims in China, most came alone. They were wealthy and enjoyed high social status, so intermarriage was not a difficult thing for them at all. They married girls from ordinary, official even royal families as well. Of course, there were some Muslim girls marrying Non-Muslims, but it would never happen unless they converted to Islam, because Islam requires that Non-Muslims, whether men or women, must all embrace Islam when they marry Muslims. As a result, the Muslim population in China increased.
Keeping slaves was another important way to increase the Muslim population. In the Song Dynasty, land annexation prevailed; some of the tenant-peasants who had lost their land sought refuge in official or rich families in order to change their identity or social status, or to escape certain social obligations, and became slaves. It was also a common phenomenon that some of the tenant-peasants sought refuge in Muslim families and embraced Islam at the same time. Keeping slaves was a natural thing for Muslims, because according to Islamic traditions, slaves of this sort were qualified to inherit part, even total estates of the master.
In a word, Muslims in the Song Dynasty became involved in all walks of social life by various means such as running schools, taking imperial examinations, inter-marrying and keeping slaves; resulting in the increase of the Muslim population and leading to the birth of a new ethnic group: the Huis.
The spread of Islam from China's western frontier was connected with the history of the Karakitai Dynasty. After the Tang Dynasty came to an end in 840A.D., the Hui Hus (an ancient tribe believing in Islam) migrated to the west. One group of Hui Hus led by Pangteqin went westwards to the Chu River where the Garluq tribe was in occupation. Pangteqin and his clansmen submitted to Garluq and other Hui Hu tribes later, and built up a new Hui Hu regime which was historically called Karakitai. From the middle of the 9th century to the early 13th century, Karakitai lasted over 370 years. During the same period of time, the central region of China experienced an alternation of several dynasties from the Tang, to the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, to the Northern Song and the Southern Song (7th century to 13th century) dynasties. And at the same time in the north and northwest of China there appeared several other minority groups' regimes: the Western Liao, Jin and Western Xia.
In the early days, the Karakitai Dynasty practiced the double-Khan ruling system. The empire was divided into east and west branches for the elder and the younger sons of Khan. The east branch was under the rule of the elder brother who was chief khan and was known as Arslan Khan (king of lions). The capital of the east branch was located in Barashagon (now Tokmak, Kirghizstan). The west branch was ruled by the younger brother who was vice khan and was known as Boghra Khan (king of male camels). The capital of the west branch was located in Talas (now Dzhambul, Kazakstan). Satuk Boghra Khan, who was the primogenitor of the west branch, was the first khan of the Karakitai Dynasty to embrace Islam, whose Muslim name was Abdal Karim. It is said that Satuk was influenced by the Muslims of the Samanid Dynasty since his childhood, and eventually became a Muslim himself. Having seized power from his uncle by force, Satuk soon established Islamic rule as Arabian countries had done. He was on the throne for 45 years and died in 344 A.H. (955-956 A.D.). The Khanate became Islamic when his son Musa succeeded to the throne. In about 960 A.D, Musa declared Islam as the state religion, and 200 thousand Turk families were converted into Islam. Karakitai was the first minority's regime to take Islam as its state religion in Chinese history.
The Karakitai Dynasty became stronger since it had become Islamic. It conquered Yutian (now Hetian, Xinjiang), and its influence extended to Qiemo and Ruoqiang.
The rulers of Karakitai were extremely pious to Islam and did their best to implement Islamic ruling. Everywhere in the dynasty, Islamic courts were set up, and mosques and Islamic academies were established to foster capable personnel for Islamic causes. Furthermore, a good number of famous Mazars (Arabic transliteration, originally meaning shrine or tombs of saints; here refers to the mausoleums of Muslim high officials) were constructed. In this period of time, large numbers of Turk nomads started to settle down, this helped to accelerate the transformation of the aborigines in the Central Asia into Turks and the Islamization of the nomads. The social economy and sciences further developed and Uighur Islamic culture took shape as a result. Outstanding works such as "Wisdom of Happiness", "Turk Dictionary" and "Basic Knowledge of Truth" are of a good reflection of this.