China - Land of Diversity

Part 7
Case Study - The Hui

[IMAGE] In Chinese, Hui are known as Huihui, Huihui minzu ("Huihui people" or "Huihui nationality") and Huizu (a contraction of Huihui minzu). Traditionally they have also called themselves Huijiaoren ("Hui-religion - Islam - people"), Mumin (from the Arabic mu'min) and Jiaomen (a term meaning something like "people of the Teaching"). Today the Chinese government promotes the use of "Musilin" (Muslim") to denote Hui (and others) who actively believe in Islam as distinct from Hui in general, a portion of whom no longer practice the religion. In other countries Hui are called by such names as Panthay and Dungan. In English the Hui have often been referred to simply as Chinese Muslims, a term that has caused much confusion because it also rightly includes the other nine Muslim ethnic groups in China.

To outsiders they are virtually indistinguishable from Han Chinese, although many Han will say they can spot a Hui and Hui say they can recognise each other. Unlike the Turkic communities, the Hui are not concentrated in one part of the country but are spread throughout the whole of the PRC with substantial communities in the major cities. Although they are so numerous and accessible, they have been the subject of considerable controversy and it is still not possible to say with any degree of certainty precisely how many Hui there are in China. It is generally agreed that they are by far the most numerous of Muslim groups in China, and official statistics in 1990 gave the figure of 8.6 million for the total population of Hui. There has been much dispute over whether the Hui are simply Han Chinese who adhere to the Islamic faith. This article concentrates on the Hui communities and examines their origins and what makes them distinctive in China today.