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Source: Index >> Culture History >> Religions

(Tianshannet) Updated: 2010-August-4 17:56:19

1. Ten Minority Groups and Two Systems
The coverage of Islam expanded widely in China as it had spread and developed in the Tang (618-907 A.D.), Song (960-1279 A.D.), Yuan (1206-1368 A.D.) and early Ming (1368-1644 A.D.) dynasties. After the middle of the Ming Dynasty, fundamental changes took place to the conditions for Islam to spread and develop in China. First of all, the Hui Huis' political status changed, reduced to that of being ruled from that of being second highest class in the Yuan Dynasty. Secondly, the Ming rulers pursued a policy of favoring agriculture and restricting trade, so the Hui Huis lost their advantage on trading, and it led to the decline of their economic and social status. Thirdly, the distribution structure of the Hui Huis' population characterized by "big dispersion and small concentration" obstructed the contacts among the communities in different places. Furthermore, the Ming Dynasty pursued broad national assimilation and put restriction on marriage within the same race. It forced the Hui Huis to use [he Chinese language, and their national language lost its value of practice gradually. Fourthly, Jiao Fangs (Muslim settlement) that appeared as Islam developed in China began to play an important role at that time. They gathered the dispersed Hui Huis into groups with similar features, and by Islamic belief and traditions made them a new national community which had common values, ethics and customs.

Affected by the above factors, the Hui Hui community in China evolved into ten ethic groups and two systems: the Uighurs, the Kazaks, the Khalkhas, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks and the Tatars living mainly in The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and the Huis, the Salas, the Dongxiangs and the Bao'ans living mainly in the Chinese inland.


"Uighur" literally means "unite" or "ally". The ethnic origin of the Uighurs can be traced back to the 3rd century B.C. Their ancestors believed in Shamanism, Manicheism, Nestorianism, Mazdaism and Buddhism. The Uighurs are distributed mainly in The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, while a small portion live in Hunan and Henan Provinces. The present population of the Uighurs is about 7.2 million. In the middle of the 10th century, Islam was introduced to Xinjiang as Satuk Boghra (910-956 A.D.), khan of the Karakitai Dynasty embraced Islam. Kashgar, Yirqiang and Kuche became Islamic one after another after. After the 14th century Islam spread to the north of Xinjiang, and by the 16th century, the whole region became Islamic. The Eidkah Mosque in Kashgar, the Mazar of Afaq Khwadja, the tomb of the Uighur King in Hami and the Emin Minaret in Turufan all are Islamic constructions dating from early times. The Uighur Muslims are hospitable and adept at singing and dancing. Their beautiful folk art works, including the epic poem "Fu Le Zhi Hui" (wisdom and happiness) and the music and dance divertimento "Shi Er Mu Ka Mu" (twelve Mukams) are still popular at present. The Uighurs are engaged mainly in agriculture, being experienced in gardening and cotton growing.They are also adept at carpet weaving, Uighur cap and knife making.


The Kazaks are distributed mainly over Yili, Tacheng and A'ertai in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region with a population of 1.2 million. It is an amalgamation of several ancient minority groups living in the north of China. By the middle of the 15th century when the Kazak Khanate was founded, the Kazaks came into being as an ethic group. Islam was introduced to the Kazak Grassland rather early, and spread widely after the 18th century. The Islamic ioctrine was written in "Tou Ke corpus Juris", the national corpus juris of the Kazaks. There appeared in the history a number of Kazak mullahs and scholars who were well versed in both Islam and Arabic. The Kazaks are affluent in folklore, with the outstanding epics "Alpamis", "Kobuland" and "Salih and Saman". They like music, and are adept at singing and dancing. Donbura is their representative musical instrument. The Kazaks are engaged mainly in animal husbandry and a little agriculture as well, and some of them are engaged in industry and commerce.


The Khalkhas is also an ancient ethnic group living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, who allied with the Uighurs, the Kazaks and the Mongols and cooperated with the army of the Qing Dynasty to put down the rebellions of the Elder and Younger Khwajas, and maintained the union of China. They live mainly in the Ke'erlesu Khalkhas Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang with a population of 140,000. They are engaged mainly in animal husbandry and a little agriculture as well. They have very beautiful folklore, legends and vivid sayings with unique national characteristics. The famous epic poem "Manas" is a treasure of their folk art. The Khalkhas women are adept at handicraft such as embroidery, carpet and mural production.


The Uzbeks are scattered in places such as Urumchi, Kashgar, Yining and Tacheng in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, with a population of about 15,000. Around the 15th
century, they settled down in China and embraced Islam. They use phonetic letters based on Arabic, which makes it much easier For them to study [slam. The Uzbeks lave built some large mosques in Kashgar, Shache, Yili and Qitai. Most of the Uzbeks are engaged in commerce. The Uzbeks in southern Xinjiang are very skillful at silk weaving while the ones in northern Xinjiang are adept at animal husbandry.


The Tajiks have a population of about 33,000, being of European origin- They are concentrated in the Tashkurkan Tajik Autonomous County, east of Pamir, and a small number live in Shache, Zepu, Yecheng andAketao. In the llth century, their ancestors were converted into sect Ismail of Shiah, and they still abide by the law of this sect now. The Tajiks are engaged mainly in animal husbandry and farming. They have literature with a long historic tradition. "Shah Nameh" (book of kings) by the famous Persian classic poet Firdawsi still spreads among them. As the Tajiks live on plateaus, their literature works always concern hawks.


The Tatars are the descendents of several Turki nomadic tribes subjected to the Turki Khanate Empire during the Tang Dynasty. Around the 1820's and 1830's, they moved to Xinjiang from the Sino-Russia border. Most of the Tatars are businessmen, while some are engaged in Islamic education in places such as Yining and Tacheng. The population of the Tatars is 5-6,000. Those of the Tatars living in city mainly engage in business,medical care and education, while the ones in the countryside are engaged in farming, especially beekeeping. The Tatars are comparatively well educated with the highest percentage of intellectualization among all the nationalities in China. The Tatar School in Yining is the earliest new type ethic school. The literature works of the Tatars are characterized by that of the Uighurs, Russians and Uzbeks. They are adept at singing and dancing, having many types of musical instruments.


The ancestors of the Huis are the Arab and Persian Muslim envoys, traders and travelers who came and settled down in China in the period of the Tang and Song dynasties, who first brought Islam to China. As early as the beginning of the 13th century, many people in Central Asia came to China along with the Mongol army. They scattered all over the country as garrison troops, craftsmen, traders or scholars, being called Hui Hui then. The Huis began to use Chinese from the Ming Dynasty, but Imams still spoke Arabic when presiding over religious services and this tradition has been in practice up till now. The Huis are not considerably distinguished from the Hans in dress. The Huis in the countryside live mainly on farming and take commerce and handicraft industries as sideline industries, while the ones living in towns and cities are mainly engaged in small businesses such as catering trade, coat processing.

The Huis have a population of 8.6 million, being one of the minority groups with largest population and coverage. They are scattered almost in every province, city and autonomous region, while many more are concentrated in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, Gansu Province, Shaanxi Province, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Yunnan Province, Hebei Province, Henan Province, Shandong Province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. There is one autonomous region, namely the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, two autonomous prefectures and eleven autonomous counties for the Huis in the whole country.


The Salas live in the Xunhua Sala Autonomous County, Qinghai Province, with a population of 900,000. They have their own national spoken language, but no written language. Their ancestors were a branch of the Saruks who lived in the 13th century, belonging to the west Turki Oguz tribe in Samarkand. A chieftain named Kharmang led the clan men believing in Islam eastwards to Xunhua, Qinghai, and settled down there and lived and intermarried with the local Tibetans and Hans and multiplied, and becoming an ethnic group. The Salas are mainly engaged in farming and take animal husbandry and gardening as sideline industries. They have preserved much beautiful folklore. Duiwina (camel game), a traditional game showing how their ancestors came to Xunhua from Central Asia, is very popular among the Salas.


The Dongxiangs live in the Dongxiang Autonomous County in Linxia prefecture of Gansu Province with a population of 370 thousand. The main body of their ethnic origin is Se Mu (one of the four classes into which China's population was divided in the Yuan Dynasty, including Central Asian allies of the Mongols, mostly Uighurs and other Turks.) who came with the Mongol army to China in the 13th century and settled down in Dongxiang. They are also related to the Huis, the Mongols and the Hans in blood. There are comparatively more sects and Menhuans (Sufist sects in China) among the Dongxiangs, each having its own mosque. The doctrine and tradition of each sect and Menhuan is Implemented in the daily life of the Dongxiangs. They still Bye-very well the transcript of the Holy Qur'an brought from gntral Asia by their ancestors. The Dongxiangs are engaged E|un farming. They are affluent in folklore, with epics Eand Girl Mazhilu" and "Pu Tao E Er" (grape moth).Like the iuis, the Dongxiangs are fond of singing Hua'er (a kind ing, popular in Gansu, Qinghai and Ningxia).


"Bao'ans are also called Bao'an Huis. They have their feaiional spoken language, but no written language. They are concentrated in Jishishan County in Linxia Prefecture with a population of 15,000. Their ancestors were the Mongols and the Hui Huis in Central Asia who came to China around the later period of the Yuan Dynasty and early Ming Dynasty. They were sent to garrison the frontier in Tongue, Qinghai at first, and settled down there and intermarried with the local Tibetans and Hans, and eventually became an ethnic group. There are mosques in every village where the Bao'ans live. They have similar customs to the Huis, Dongxiangs and Salas. The Bao'ans live on farming, and Bao'an Knife making is their traditional handicraft industry. They are dressed similarly with the Huis living in the Northwest.

All the above ten minority groups who take Islam as their national religious belief are members of the Chinese nation without exception. By combining Islam with their national traditions and culture, they have made the Chinese Islamic culture more diversified. This new phenomenon of religious culture has raised intense interest among social scientists both home and abroad.

To adapt themselves to Chinese culture, the Muslims in China evolved into ten ethnic groups with different characteristics.The Muslims of the Huis, Salas, Dongxiangs and Bao'ans were the descendants of the traders who came to China by the Silk Roads both over land and sea, and the soldiers and craftsmen who came inland with the Mongol army or the Muslims who migrated from the Western Region. They either lived in China engaging in business or were arranged in compact areas, intermarrying with other ethnic groups and multiplying. Islam, as a life style and faith, was spread to various places in a peacefully way along with the Muslims' movement from one place to another. Islam played a very important role in the births of the above nationalities and was the core factor in their
development. Among the Huis, Salas, Dongxiangs and Bao'ans, the Huis have the largest population and coverage, and highest mobility. After the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), six major regions where the Huis lived in compact communities came into being, namely the south of the Yangtze River with Nanjing and Suzhou as center, Gan Ning Qing (Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai) area with Hezhou, Didao and Xining as center, Guanzhong (Shaanxi) area with Chang'an as center, Yunnan area, Ji Lu Yu (Hebei, Shandong and Henan) area with Beijing as center and other area.

The Uighurs. Kazaks, Khalkhas, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Tatars live mainly in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. This is a place with a large area, many ethic groups and many religions. Xinjiang is related to neighboring Islamic countries in many aspects such as ethnic origin, religion, economy, culture and customs, but has never broken away from the central authority in any way. It was by various means such as the Da'wah, religious war against Buddhism and political support here, that Islam spread. Compared to the places where Huis and other nationalities live. the conditions, method and manifestation for the spread and development of Islam are completely different here.

First of all, the rise and decline of Khwaja (a large family in Xinjiang then)-Ishan (a sect of Islam in Xinjiang then) power exerted direct influence on the regime of Xinjiang practicing a system of combining religion with politics. Around the 13th century, the descendents of Shuzauddin, a mullah in Bukhara exiled to Karakorum by Jenghis Khan, and the ancestor of Mullah Khwaja Osiddin came to Luobu Quetai (located between Turufan and Yutian) to spread the doctrine oflshan. In later years, Khwaja-Ishan power continued to grow, and gradually developed from a religious power into a secular regime, which existed until Xinjiang was reunified by the Qing Dynasty. Compared to that of the Chinese inland, this was a completely different precondition for Islam's existence and development.

Secondly, Khwaja-Ishan worship prevailed. The Khwaja family enjoyed the status of Ishan, while Ishan bore the identity of Khwaja. Due to the vigorous support of the Khwaja family. Ishan obtained full development in Xinjiang and received much more secular power and allowed Islam to penetrate into all aspects of the Uighurs' social life as a result. In the 15th-17th century, Ishan became the main pillar of the serf system practiced in the Uighur region. As the main content of Khwaja-Ishan worship, building and worshiping Mazar (mausoleum) prevailed here. Xinjiang is well known in the Islamic world for its Mazars with a wide coverage, large number and amazing diversity, and also for the mystical legends of the buried and the complicated content ofMazar worship. Khwaja-Ishan combined saint worship with Mazar worship, making Mazar a shrine and an important religious site. However, the real reason why they did this was simply to induce believers to pay stronger worship to the living Khwaja- Ishan and achieve their actual economic and political interests. It was in these circumstances that Khwaja-Ishan power was secularized and feudalized.

Thirdly, religious education achieved unprecedented development. Early in the 10th century, the first Islamic institution of higher learning in Chinese Islamic history was set up in Kashgar. In subsequent dynasties, 10 Islamic institutes were built and some older historic institutes were renovated. These institutes were of considerable scale, offering courses such as Arabic, Persian, Qur'anic annotation, dogmatics, Islamic Law, Islamic history, logic, Arabic grammar, poems of Sufism and works of Islamic philosophers. A large number of religious professionals and literary talents were produced in these institutes and the influence of Islam continued to expand as a result.

During this period of time, the King of Hami and his family practiced temporal-religious administration over the Uighur Muslims within his territory, similar to that of khans and Khwaja- Ishan regime.

After Tuhiru Timur and his 160,000 Mongol subjects embraced Islam, all the khans after him were Muslim. They forcibly ejected other religions out ofTurufan and Islam occupied the spiritual world of the Uighurs. By the early 16th century, Islam had taken the predominant position in Hami, symbolizing that the entire nation of the Uighurs in Xinjiang had by then embraced Islam. After the mid and late Ming Dynasty period, peoples such as the Kazaks to the north of Tianshan Mountain accepted Islam one after another.

The two systems of Islam in China (Islam in the inland with the Huis as representative, and Islam in Xinjiang with the Uighurs as representative) differed considerably from each other during this early period. Until the mid and late Qing Dynasty, as the policy of separating religion from politics was put into practice, the two systems tended to develop in pace with each other. As many Huis moved to Xinjiang as garrison troops or migrants, and economic contacts between the farming area in south Xinjiang and the pasturing area in north Xinjiang became closer, their economy tended to grow at the same pace. As Islam itself changed and religion became separated from politics, the function of Shariah (Islamic law) changed as well. As Khwaja-Ishan power declined, the differences between major sects vanished, and peoples such as the Uighurs became Muslims, the two systems of Islam in China tended to be identical in pattern of sects in the early 20th century.

Of course, Islam in both Xinjiang and the inland will continue to develop in ways of their own, so far as the influence of comparatively stable factors such as ethnic background and geography is concerned.

(SOURCES:China Intercontinental Press)Editor: zhaoqian
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