ETHNONYMS: Chinese Muslims, Dungan, Hanhui, Huihui, Khojem, Mumin, Musilin, Panthay
With a population of 8,603,000 in 1990, the Hui are the most populous of China's Muslim peoples. They are also the most widespread, living in every city, province, and region of China, as well as in 2,308 of China's 2,372 counties. In China, Islam is most often known as "the Hui religion." The Hui are most populous in the following provinces, in declining order: Ningxia, Gansu, Henan, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Hebei; in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, they make up 31.6 percent of the population. Although the Hui may constitute a very small percentage of the population of any one region, they are often by far the largest minority group in the region in which they live. Some 6,000 Hui live in Lhasa, speak Tibetan, and are known as Tibetan Hui. There are also Hui who live in Taiwan.
The Hui differ from the other Muslim peoples of China in that they do not have a language of their own and speak the Chinese dialect of their locality. They are also unlike the other Muslims in that they do not have their own identifying literature or music. They do have a number of visible ethnic markers, which include caps or turbans and beards in some areas for the men and head scarves for the women. Nonconsumption of pork and mosque attendance also serve as ethnic identifiers, as does circumcision where it occurs. The Hui are often called "Chinese Muslims," even though they are regarded as a national minority rather than a religious community. One can be Han Chinese and Christian but not Han Chinese and Muslim.
The Hui are descended from Muslim (including Persian, Arab, and Turkish) traders, soldiers, and officials who came to China from the seventh century through the fourteenth century and who settled and married local Han women. For this reason, it is not uncommon to find the following physical characteristics in the Hui population: hazel-green eyes, beards, high-bridged noses, and light-colored hair. Most Hui can trace their descent line to a "foreign" ancestor. To retain religious purity and group identity the Hui have always segregated themselves socially from other people, in enclaves. The Hui population has been growing rapidly; in the years between 1953 and 1990, it has grown 2.4 percent annually. Although this growth is largely the result of natural increase, it also has to do with Hui marriage practices. Hui women are nearly always forbidden to marry non-Hui, but Hui men may marry Han or other non-Hui women who are willing to follow Islamic practice. When Hui men marry Han women, those Han women change their registration with the government to "Hui," and the children of the union are raised as Hui. Hui consider it impossible for a Hui person to become Han, whereas the reverse is feasible.
In rural areas the Hui tend to reside in villages separate from Han and other groups, though the Hui are in many cases indistinguishable from their non-Hui neighbors in their employment. In the north they are primarily growers of wheat and dry rice; in the south they raise wet rice. City-dwelling Hui are most often laborers or factory workers. Nevertheless, the Hui are famous as traders, and it was their interest in profitable business ventures that led them to be dispersed all over China and even beyond its borders. Today, 29 percent of the Hui work in service industries, the highest proportion of any ethnic group in China.
Hui marriage practices tend toward endogamy in all respects, especially in the northwestern part of China, where the Hui are culturally and religiously conservative. There one finds pronounced village endogamy, surname endogamy, and religious-order endogamy. The prevalence of these types of endogamy has led to some first-cousin marriages, and marriages between those who share a common ancestor within five generations, which is now illegal under Chinese law.
The words qing zhen (pure and true) are often associated with Hui life, in reference to all Islamic ideals. These words are often placed on the signs of Hui establishments and on products in which Islamic ideals of purity are supposedly maintained: restaurants, food stores, bakeries, ice cream stores, candy wrappers, mosques, incense packages, and Islamic literature. In the case of food, qing zhen means that the food is free of contamination by pork and other unclean foods and is ritually purified.
The majority of Hui are Sunni, Hanafi Muslims; many have never heard of Shiite Muslims. Hui Islam has been greatly influenced by Sufism since the seventeenth century, and currently about 20 percent are in Sufi orders. The Sufi movement caused the Hui to organize themselves into religious orders, each of which adheres to a school of thought established by a Sufi saintly leader. In addition, mosque leaders have allegiance to their shaykhs, Sufi elders who lead the orders and who appoint them. Some orders are concerned with adherents' participation in secular affairs, others with saint veneration or scriptural reform, etc. In turbulent times, Hui adherence to their orders provided networks, centralized command, and a means of transmitting political leadership. There have been many schisms in the various orders, leading to the creation of new orders, as different groups have attempted to make Islam more meaningful to the Hui people. In the late nineteenth century, Hui reformers spread the teachings and practice of the Ikwan Muslim Brotherhood (Wahhabi). This denomination is very strong in Qinghai and Gansu provinces. Despite this religious and social divisiveness, the Hui and other Muslim peoples sometimes function together, as was the case when Muslims publicly protested against Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses and against the publication of a Chinese book, Sexual Customs, which they believed denigrated Muslim peoples.
There is great variability in the religious conservatism of the Hui. In northwest China the Hui are very conservative and are growing more so. There, leaders and parents have placed a great deal of emphasis on religious education, especially the study of the Quran. Many of these parents also question the value of studying Chinese language, history, and other subjects in public schools. Conservatism has also increased in other respects: in some places smoking and the consumption of alcohol are now prohibited where they were once common. In contrast, in northeastern China many Hui smoke, drink, and eat pork when away from home.
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