the People's Republic of
China is a unitary multi-ethnic state,comprising the han people and
over fifty ethnic minorities .
With a sizable population of 8.61 million, the Hui ethnic group is one of China's largest ethnic
minorities. People of Hui origin can be found in most of the counties and cities throughout the
country, especially in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Gansu, Qinghai, Henan, Hebei,
Shandong and Yunnan provinces and the X
injiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It referred to the Huihe people (the Ouigurs) who lived in
Anxi in the present-day Xinjiang and its vicinity since the T
ang Dynasty (618
-907). They were
actually forerunners of the present-day Uygurs, who are totally different
from today's Huis or
960 - 1127)
During the early years of the 13th century when Mongolian troops were making their western
expeditions, group after group of Islamic-oriented people from Middle Asia, as well as Persians
tradesmen, scholars, officials and religious leaders, they spread to many parts of the country
and settled down mainly to livestock breeding.
who were also called
ancestors to today's Huis.
Earlier, about the middle of the 7th century, Islamic Arabs and Persians came to China to trade
and had children who came to
be known as
part of the Huihuis, who were coming in great numbers to China from Middle Asia.
(12 71 - 1368),
The Huihuis of today are therefore an ethnic group that finds its origins mainly with the
above-mentioned two categories, which in the course of development took in people from a
number of other ethnic groups including the Hans, Mongolians and Uygurs.
It is generally acknowledged that Huihui culture began mainly during the Yuan Dynasty.
Warfare and farming were the two dominant factors of this period. During their westward
invasion, the Mongols turned people from Middle Asia into scouts and sent them eas
military missions. These civilians-turned-military scouts were expected to settle down at
various locations and to breed livestock while maintaining combat readiness. They founded
settlements in areas in today's Gansu, Henan, Shandong, Hebei and Yunnan provinces and
the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. They later were joined by more scouts sent from the
west. As time went by they became ordinary farmers and herdsmen. Among the Islamic Middle
Asians, there were a number of artisans and tradesmen. The majority of these people settled
in cities and along vital communication lines, taking to handicrafts and commerce. Because of
these activities a common economic life began to take shape among the Huihuis. Scattered as
they were, they stuck together in relative concentration in settlements and around mosques
which they built. This has been handed down as a specific feature of the distribution of Hui
population in China.
The Huihui scouts and a good number of Huihui aristocrats, officials, scholars and merchants
sent eastward by the Mongols were quite active in China. They exercised influence on the
establishment of the Yuan Dynasty and its military, political and economic affairs. The
involvement of Huihui upper-class elements in the politics of Yuan Dynasty in turn helped to
promote the development of Huihuis in many fields.
Generally speaking, the social position of Huihuis during the Yuan Dynasty
was higher than
that of the Hans. Nevertheless, they were still subjected to the oppression of Yuan rulers. After
going through the hardships of their eastward exodus, they continued to be in the hands of
various Mongolian officials, functioning either as herdsmen or as government and army
artisans. A fraction of them even were allocated to Mongolian aristocrats to serve as house
Being people who came to China from places where social systems, customs and habits
differed from those in the east, the Huihuis began to cultivate their own national consciousness.
This was caused also by their relative concentration with mosques as the center of their social
activities, by their increasing economic contacts with each other, by their common political fate
and their common belief in the Islamic religion.
It was during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that the Huihuis began to emerge as an ethnic
Along with the nationwide restoration and development of the social economy in the early Ming
Dynasty years, the distribution and economic status of the Huihui population underwent a
drastic change. The number of Huihuis in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces increased as more
and more Huihuis from other parts of the country submitted themselves to the Ming court and
joined their people in farming.
Other factors contributed to their dispersion: industrial and commercial exchanges,
assignment of Huihui garrison troops to various areas to open up wasteland and grow food
grain, nationwide tours by Huihui officials and scholars, and especially the migration of Huihuis
during peasant uprisings. They still managed, however, to maintain their tradition of
concentration by setting up their own villages in the countryside or sticking together in
suburban areas or along particular streets and lanes in cities. The dislocation of military scouts
dating from the Yuan Dynasty had enabled the Huihuis to extricate themselves gradually from
military involvement and to settle down to farming, breeding livestock, handicrafts and
small-scale trading. Thus they established a new common economic life among themselves,
characterized by an agricultural economy.
During the initial stage of their eastward exodus, the Huihuis used the Arab, Persian and Han
languages. However, in the course of their long years living with the Hans, and especially due
to the increasing number of Hans joining their ranks, they gradually spoke the Han language
only, while maintaining certain Arab and Persian phrases. Huihui culture originally had been
characterized by influences from the traditional culture of Western Asia and assimilation from
the Han culture. However, due to the introduction of the Han language as a common language,
the tendency to assimilate the Han culture became more obvious. The Huihuis began t
clothing like the Hans. Huihui names were still used, but Han names and surnames became
accepted and gradually became dominant.
The Islamic religion had a deep influence on the life style of the Hui people. For instance, soon
after birth, an infant was to be given a Huihui name by an ahung (imam); wedding ceremonies
must be witnessed by ahungs; a deceased person must be cleaned with water, wrapped with
white cloth and buried coffinless and promptly in the presence of an ahung who serves as the
presider. Men were accustomed to wearing white or black brimless hats, specially during
religious services, while women were seen with black, white or green scarves on their head
a habit which also derived from religious practices. The Huis never eat pork nor the blood of
any animal or creature that died of itself, and they refuse to take alcohol. These taboos
originated in the Koran of the Moslems. The Huis are very particular about sanitation and
hygiene. Likewise, before attending religious services, they have to observe either a
requires a thorough bath of the whole body.
Islamism also had great impact on the political and economic systems of Hui society.
as well as an economic system. According to the system, a mosque was to be built at each
location inhabited by Huis, ranging from a dozen to several hundred households. An imam was
to be invited to preside over the religious affairs of the community as well as to take
responsibility over all aspects of the livelihood of its members and to collect religious levies
and other taxes from them. A mosque functioned not only as a place for religious activities but
also as a rendezvous where the public met to discuss matters of common interest. Religious
communities, operating quite independently from each other, had thus become the basic social
units for the widely dispersed Hui people. Following the development of the Hui's agricultural
economy and the increase of religious taxes levied on them, some chief imams began to build
up their personal wealth. They used this to invest in land properties and engag
e in exploitation
through land rents. The imams gradually changed themselves into landlords. Working in
collaboration with secular landlords, they enjoyed comprehensive power in the religious
communities, which they held tightly under their control. They left routine religious affairs of the
mosques to low-rank ahungs.
The last stage of the Ming Dynasty and the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) saw
the emergence of a new system of religious aristocracy among the Huis in Hezhou (today's
Linxia in Gansu Province). It came into existence as a result of intensified land concentration
which exceeded the boundaries of one single religious community. This made certain imams
rulers of a whole series of religious communities, turning them into Islamic aristocrats. They
were deified. Kiosks were erected in their cemeteries for Moslems under their jurisdiction to
worship. Their position was seen as hereditary. They enjoyed a series of feudalistic privileges
as well as absolute authority over their people. The system had been in existence, however,
only in some of the Hui areas in Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai. The Huis in hinterland China had
always functioned under the religious community system.
Contribution to Chinese Civilization
The Huis are an industrious people. Their development and progress have been facilitated,
however, by adopting the Han language and living with the Hans. Since the Yuan and Ming
dynasties, large numbers of Hui peasants joined the Hans and people of other nationalities in
reclaiming wasteland, farming and grazing in the hinterland and along border regions. Hui
artisans were famous for their craftsmanship in making incense, medicine, leather and
cannons, as well as in mining and smelting of ore. Hui merchants played a positive role
economic exchanges between the hinterland and border regions and in trade contacts
between China and other Asian countries. Hui scholars and scientists made outstanding
contributions to China in introducing and spreading the achievements of Western Asia in