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Sino-Muslims in Qing China Zhang, Shaodan


Sino-Muslims in Qing China refers to Chinese-speaking Muslims who were natives in China proper and regular subjects of the Qing state. Their history can be traced back to the Tang dynasty (618-907) when Arabic and Persian merchants began to sojourn in China’s southeastern coastal area for trade. Many stayed and became Chinese subjects. After the Mongol invasion, large numbers of Middle Eastern and Central Asian Muslims further entered China proper during the Yuan period (1271-1368) through military campaigns and commercial activities. By the Qing (1644-1911), after several hundred years of reproduction, intermarriage, adoption, conversion (very limited), and internal migration, Muslims in China proper were already widely dispersed in villages and towns, in counties, prefectures, and provinces throughout the territory. In 1910, they had an estimated population of four to seven million. Dwelling together with their non-Muslim (mostly Han Chinese) neighbors for long, these Muslims spoke Chinese, pursued Confucian social values, and embraced local customs practiced by Han Chinese. The Qing state found it too difficult to grant them with territory-based legal autonomy like what they did to Turkic Muslims and other ethnic minorities in borderlands. They were also not recognized by the state as a distinct category of imperial subjects, and were classified sometimes into the Han Chinese majority, and sometimes into Turkic Muslims. In occasions needing differentiation, the state might vaguely call them neidi huimin内地回民 (Muslim subjects in China proper) or hanhui汉回 (Han Chinese Muslims). For convenience of analysis, contemporary scholars refer to them as “Sino-Muslims.” Despite their acculturation and their murky visibility in the state, Sino-Muslims in Qing China did not forsake or conceal their Islamic distinction in daily practices. They built mosques and Islamic schools throughout China proper. They travelled around in China proper and formed various types of transregional networks with co-religionists. They also widely published and disseminated Islamic scriptures and books written in the Chinese language. By the early 19th century, dispersed Sino-Muslims had been sharing common memory, knowledge, and discourse, etc. which contributed to a sense of collectivity rising among them, transcending regional differences within China proper. It distinguished them not just from non-Muslims in China proper, but more substantially from Muslims outside China proper. In terms of religious affiliation, most Sino-Muslims in Qing China belonged to Gedimu (the traditional Hanafi school of Sunni Islam in China). A small number of them (primarily in the northwest) began to be converted to Sufi sects since the early Qing period when Sufism was coming into China.

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