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 Xinjiang
Uygur Autonomous Region.
The name Hui is an abbreviation for "Huihui,"
which first appeared in the literature of the 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 Tang Dynasty (618-907). They were actually forerunners
of the present-day Uygurs, who are totally different from today's
Huis or Huihuis.
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 and Arabs, either were forced to move or
voluntarily migrated into China. As artisans, tradesmen, scholars,
officials and religious leaders, they spread to many parts of
the country and settled down mainly to livestock breeding. These
people, who were also called Huis or Huihuis because their religious
beliefs were identical with people in Anxi, were part of the
ancestors to today's Huis.
Earlier, about the middle of the 7th century,
Islamic Arabs and Persians came to China to trade and later
some became permanent residents of such cities as Guangzhou,
Quanzhou, Hangzhou, Yangzhou and Chang'an (today's Xi'an). These
people, referred to as "fanke" (guests from outlying
regions), built mosques and public cemeteries for themselves.
Some married and had children who came to be known as "tusheng
fanke," meaning "native-born guests from outlying
regions." During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), these people
became part of the Huihuis, who were coming in great numbers
to China from Middle Asia.
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
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 eastward on 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 slaves.
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 group.
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.
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
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.
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 to wear clothing
like the Hans. Huihui names were still used, but Han names and
surnames became accepted and gradually became dominant.
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
"minor cleaning," i.e. wash their face, mouth, nose,
hands and feet, or a "major cleaning," which requires
a thorough bath of the whole body.
had great impact on the political and economic systems of Hui
society. "Jiaofang" or "religious community,"
as once practiced among the Huis, was a religious system 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 engage 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 in the 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 astronomy, calendars, medicine and a number
of other academic and cultural developments. These helped to
promote the wellbeing and productive activities of the people
of China as a whole. Chinese history has seen not a few outstanding
Huis representing their people in the fields of politics, economy
During the Yuan
Dynasty, the astronomist Jamaluddin compiled a perpetual calendar
and produced seven kinds of astroscopes including the armillary
sphere, the celestial globe, the terrestrial globe and the planetarium;
Alaowadin and Yisimayin led the development of a mechanized
way of shooting stone balls from cannons, which exercised an
important bearing on military affairs in general; the architect
Yehdardin learned from Han architecture and designed and led
the construction of the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, which laid
the foundation for the development of the city of Beijing.
During the Ming
Dynasty, the Hui navigator Zheng He led massive fleets in making
as many as seven visits to more than 30 Asian and African countries
in 29 years. This unparalleled feat served to promote the friendship
as well as economic and cultural exchanges between China and
these countries. Zheng He was accompanied by Ma Huan and Ha
San, also of Hui origin, who acted as his interpreters. Ma Huan
gave a true account of Zheng He's visits in his book Magnificent
Tours of Lands Beyond the Ocean, which is of major significance
in the study of the history of communication between China and
the West. Hui scholar Li Zhi (1527-1602) of Quanzhou in Fujian
Province was a well-known progressive thinker in Chinese ideology
A number of
outstanding politicians emerged among the Huis. Sayyid Ajall
Sham Suddin (1211-1279) of early Yuan Dynasty was one of them.
During his late years when he was serving as governor of Yunnan
Province, he laid stress on agriculture, setting up special
areas for peasants to reclaim wasteland and grow food grain.
He advocated the harnessing of six rivers in Kunming, capital
of the province; established communication posts extensively
for couriers to change horses and rest; initiated teaching in
Confucianism and made strong efforts in harmonizing relations
among various nationalities. All these benefitted political,
economic and cultural developments in Yunnan, helping to bring
closer relations between the province and the central government.
Hai Rui (1514-1587),
a politician of the Ming Dynasty, was upright throughout his
life. He had the courage to remonstrate with Emperor Jiajing
about his fatuousness and arbitrariness that brought the nation
and the people to calamity. Hai also lashed out at what he considered
to be the evils of the court and inept ministers. Later during
his term of office as roving inspector directly responsible
to the emperor and as chief procurator of Nanjing, Hai enforced
discipline, redressed mishandled cases and checked local despots
in a successful attempt to boost public morale.
Since the Yuan
and Ming dynasties, a great number of established Hui poets,
scholars, painters and dramatists emerged. These included Sadul,
Gao Kegong, Ding Henian, Ma Jin, Ding Peng and Gai Qi.