When Islam Was an Ally: China’s Changing Concepts of Islamic State and Islamic World

By John T. Chen | PhD Candidate in History - Columbia University | Mar 13, 2015
When Islam Was an Ally: China’s Changing Concepts of Islamic State and Islamic World
Ethnic Uighurs at Friday prayers in Xinjiang, May 2014.

This essay is part of the series “All About China”—a journey into the history and diverse culture of China through essays that shed light on the lasting imprint of China’s past encounters with the Islamic world as well as an exploration of the increasingly vibrant and complex dynamics of contemporary Sino-Middle Eastern relations. Read more ...


For many at present, the phrase “China and Islam” connotes conflict and oppression. This is due to a preponderant focus on the security situation in the Muslim-majority northwestern province of Xinjiang.[1] Chinese policies in Xinjiang—particularly restrictions placed on Xinjiang’s Turkic Uighurs regarding beards, veils, and fasting during Ramadan—have been perceived as targeting Muslims as Muslims, exacerbating the security concerns they were meant to address.[2] Moreover, the pursuit of stability in Xinjiang has led the Chinese government to adopt an anti-terrorism rhetoric reminiscent of its American counterpart.[3]

Under these circumstances, it is easy to forget that another major Muslim population, the Hui, or “Chinese Muslims,” has lived in China for centuries, and that China’s rulers actively worked with them to cultivate relations with the broader Islamic world and pursue a variety of national goals. In fact, during the century from the late Qing (1870s-1912) through the Republic (1911-1949) and up to the Cultural Revolution, Islam came to form an important, if underappreciated, component of the self perception and international relations of three different Chinese states.

China’s multifaceted and mutable understanding of the concepts of “Islamic state” and “Islamic world,” forged thanks to the transnational consciousness and activities of the Hui, lent depth to the Easternist and anti-colonialist identity of the late Qing and early Republic, helped the Guomindang wage war against Japan, and laid the groundwork for PRC overtures to the Third World. While the present seems to tell us that the modern Chinese nation state exists in perpetual tension with Islam, the past shows that the genesis and survival of that nation state in fact depended in part on a multifaceted interaction with its fellow non-Westerners in the Islamic world.[4]

Islam, Easternism, and Anti-Colonialism, 1870s-1920s

In the late Qing, a combination of print media and Hui initiatives brought about China’s first encounters with the concepts of Islamic state and Islamic world, which in turn cemented Chinese elites’ identification with colonized people and the “East.”[5] A nascent periodical press cited the Ottoman Empire as a fellow traditional Asian power that had fallen victim to Western intrusions, such as the extraction of extraterritorial privileges through unequal treaties. Chinese media in the 1870s referred to Islamic empires, primarily the Ottoman Empire, as huihui guo, roughly translatable as “Islamic state.”[6] Notably, this designation stressed spiritual affinity over territorial boundaries, employing the same term, “Hui,” used for centuries to refer to China’s own Muslims. In other words, huihui guo implied after centuries of relative isolation that a connection remained between the Chinese Hui and Muslims elsewhere.[7] At a time of rapidly improving transport and communication technologies, the Hui eagerly put that theory into practice.[8] From 1905 to 1907, prominent Hui imam Wang Haoran journeyed to Mecca, Cairo, and Istanbul, and impressed upon Sultan Abdülhamid II (r.1876-1909) the Ottoman and Qing rulers’ similar predicaments while also making a specific appeal for Ottoman aid on behalf of the Muslims of China.[9] In other words, the Hui were giving concrete form to both intra-Muslim and intra-Eastern ties that had been articulated in the abstract in print media.

The First World War, the rise of mass politics, and the intellectual ferment of the early Chinese Republic brought more assertive inflections to Sino-Islamic fraternity as expressed in the burgeoning world of print media. At this time, a multivocal discourse of “Pan-Asianism” or “Easternism” had emerged, holding that Asian countries were morally and spiritually superior to the destructive and materialistic West.[10] Arabic-language Easternist periodicals such as Rashid Rida’s al-Manār and Muhibb al-Din al-Khatib’s al-Fath were crucial sources through which the Hui—much like their Middle Eastern counterparts—absorbed such ideas.[11] Chinese writings on Islam shaped and were shaped by this Easternist discourse. As a result, the new term huijiao guo now appeared in Chinese print media.[12] More fluid than the earlier huihui guo, huijiao guo could mean Muslim countries either individually or collectively, rather than just the Ottoman “Islamic state.”[13] In 1914, Dongfang Zazhi, China’s premier Easternist periodical, published one of the first articles to use the term huijiao guo. This piece, though written in classical Chinese, hinted at direct influences from the Arabic-speaking world, as in its discussion of the “pious forebears” (Ar. al-salaf al-salih; Ch. huijiao jiaozu) or “the founding conquests” (Ar. al-futuhat; Ch. yijiaotu zhengfu).[14] Throughout the 1920s, news and ideas flooded in about everything from Huda Sha‘rawi and the women’s movement in Egypt to famous debates about Islam and science.[15]

Meanwhile, the geopolitical and existential vacuum left by the fall of the Ottoman Empire encouraged a new, multipolar, cultural re-articulation of Islamic community above and beyond the nation state that registered in China. No sooner had the Ottoman “Islamic state” collapsed, than the new term “Islamic world” (huijiao zhi shijie or huijiao shijie) emerged in the Chinese media lexicon alongside huijiao guo.[16] The first instance of huijiao zhi shijie appeared in 1919 in a multipart series in Dongfang Zazhi introducing Chinese readers to Muslim lands through photographs, maps, and text.[17] Again, Hui elites played a leading role in bringing knowledge of such places back to China. Of the “Four Great Imams” celebrated for modernizing Chinese Islam, three—Wang Jingzhai, Da Pusheng, and Ha Decheng—made the hajj to Mecca prior to 1930, each remaining abroad in Egypt, Anatolia, and/or South Asia for an extended period before returning home with newly acquired books, language skills, and business connections. Thus, another Chinese conception of Islam was formed in concert and in contact with Muslims elsewhere. As Yufeng Mao has noted, Sun Yat-sen had realized the potential of these connections at least as early as 1912; once Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang came to power in 1927, opportunities arose to put them to use.[18]

Islam, Asia, and Wartime Cooperation, 1930s-1940s

In the Guomindang era, strengthened Hui connections with Middle Eastern Muslims activated China’s status as an “Asian” country, facilitating diplomacy and the prosecution of the war with Japan.[19] During this period, increased knowledge of the Middle East and wartime geostrategic calculations meant that the Islamic world was seen less as a fluid spiritual affinity and more as a set of bounded territories with which China had to connect and cooperate in order to save Asian civilization from Japanese aggression. Accordingly, the frequency of the terms huijiao guo and huijiao shijie increased dramatically, and their meanings became more fixed: huijiao guo now meant any given Muslim country, and huijiao shijie simply referred to these countries as a collective.[20]

Increased knowledge of the Middle East lent greater texture to the concept of the Islamic world, while also reinforcing China’s ultimate separation from that world. In the early 1930s, the Hui began to read a wider variety of periodicals from Muslim countries and to travel in greater numbers to the Middle East, particularly in scholarly delegations to Cairo’s al-Azhar University.[21] Subjectively, increased connections brought the Hui closer to and farther from the Islamic world at the same time. For example, when the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, convened the General Islamic Congress in Jerusalem in December 1931, the Hui proudly published a copy of his original Arabic invitation in their premier periodical, Yuehua.[22] Two issues later, however, a Hui scholar named Wang Shiming—an Arabic expert, student at the elite Chengda Normal School, and future Chinese Azharite and member of the wartime Chinese Muslim Near East Delegation—criticized the Congress as “no stroke of good fortune, but rather the product of external forces,” meaning that it was influenced by imperialist powers and failed to achieve real Muslim unity.[23] Perhaps Wang was sensitive because the Hui were unable to attend the Congress. In any case, deeper involvement with the Islamic world did not necessarily allay anxieties about the Hui’s place in it.

Such limitations, however, did not diminish the perceived strategic usefulness of the Hui’s connections in the war with Japan, in which a territorialized Islamic world became a sprawling ideological battlefield where the Guomindang and Japanese vied for Muslim hearts and minds. The war pushed Hui organizations to prove their loyalty to the Chinese nation, for example through their famous invocation of the hadith “patriotism is an article of faith” (Ar. hubb al-watan min al-’iman).[24] The Guomindang dispatched new Azhar and hajj delegations, now with the additional purpose of countering Japanese propaganda; they also formed the abovementioned Near East Delegation as well as a Chinese Muslim South Seas Delegation led by the peripatetic polyglot Ma Tianying.[25] The Japanese not only sent a rival hajj delegation to the Hijaz but, in a peculiar twist of fate, also resurrected the concept of huihui guo in an attempt to establish a “Muslim Manchuria” in north China, to be run by an amalgam of Muslim collaborators from China, Central Asia, and even the former Ottoman Empire.[26]

A byproduct of Hui-Guomindang wartime cooperation was the newfound fascination of (Han) Guomindang intellectuals with Islam, a development that symbolically brought the Hui to an even higher level of national prominence.[27] After the Guomindang government and Hui organizations retreated together to Chongqing once Japanese forces had occupied the coastal regions, Guomindang intellectuals formed joint research societies with the Hui, and cast Muslims as a positive force in Chinese history. Outside China, furthermore, Muslims were seen as a body of fellow Asians with values similar to China’s own, with whom China must cooperate to ward off the common Japanese threat.[28] Notably, this cooperation emphasized cultural connections, not just geopolitical imperatives. For example, Ma Songting, fourth of the “Four Great Imams,” returned from a journey to Egypt in 1936 with a gift of Arabic-language Islamic works from the newly crowned King Farouq I. These books soon became the Fu’ad Library of Chengda Normal School, named in honor of Farouq’s father. While this fascinating episode has been written about before, rarely noted is the fact that half of the 27-person preparatory committee was made up of high-level Han Chinese—Guomindang officials, scholars of Islam, and even the accomplished educator and revolutionary Cai Yuanpei.[29] A second, even lesser-known example of this Han interest in Islam comes in a telling statement by Mao Dun—celebrated author and future PRC minister of culture—in the opening issue of the Hui journal Huijiao Wenhua (Islamic Civilization). Mao Dun’s article, after urging China’s minorities to pursue “ethnic culture in form, socialism in content,” went on to praise the Chengda Normal School and the Azhar, Near East, hajj, and South Seas delegations as exemplary “work of Islamic internationalism by the cultural progress societies, which is already off to a glorious start.”[30] It is difficult to tell what additional forms of Han-Hui cooperation may have resulted had the Guomindang and Communists not renewed their conflict after 1945.

Islam, Communism, and Afro-Asianism, 1950s

From the late 1940s to the late 1950s, the Communist victory and the consolidation of the PRC further transformed Chinese concepts of Muslim identity, polity, and global community. The Hui were construed by the state as one of China’s 56 minority ethnic nationalities, or minzu, rather than as a privileged religious group.[31] The Hui reached an accommodation with Chinese Communism in two ways. First, they more or less accepted the new identity categories the state placed upon them, definitively becoming huimin (“the Hui people”) rather than huijiaotu (“followers of Islam”) or other earlier designations.[32] A group of Beijing Hui elites even reorganized their Republican-era periodicals under the new title Huimin Dazhong, or The Hui Masses.[33] On the other hand, vestiges of the Hui’s former cosmopolitanism remained, such as the conspicuously Indonesian-style Islamic architecture of the new state-affiliated Chinese Islamic Association, founded in 1953 by former Chinese Azharites.

Second, postwar decolonization both transformed concepts of Islam (by replacing huijiao guo with the individual country names, and huijiao shijie with its Arabized equivalent, yisilan shijie), and provided the Hui new opportunities to offer their services to the Chinese nation.[34] They played an important symbolic role in China’s overtures to the Third World, such as when the abovementioned imam Da Pusheng accompanied Zhou Enlai to the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung.[35] Zhou expected that presenting China as a Muslim-friendly country, particularly to President Nasser of Egypt, would help garner Muslim votes in the PRC’s quest to oust Taiwan from the China seat in the UN Security Council. Nasser, for his part, had other plans. Soon, for a complex set of reasons, Islam and Afro-Asianism were eclipsed by “revolution” as the dominant paradigm of China’s relations with the Middle East in the 1960s. Nevertheless, here we see Islam and the Hui playing an active role in Chinese foreign relations even into the early People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Selective Memory and More Recent Phases

Chinese views of Islamic polity and Islamic community changed significantly from the late imperial era to the Cultural Revolution, and those views often played a formative role in Chinese self-perceptions and foreign relations. The Easternist anti-colonial affinity, the Asianist wartime cooperation, and even the Third World posturing of those earlier times, however, stands in stark contrast to our own era. As China emerged from the Cultural Revolution, the “pragmatic” atmosphere prevailing after Sino-U.S. rapprochement and Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up policy (gaige kaifang) meant that Islam ceased to be a matter of policy interest, and the Middle East came to be seen as a region of limited opportunities and abundant threats. This new ideological minimalism, focused almost exclusively on security and development, became the norm particularly once China became a net oil importer in 1993, and it continues to be the dominant logic in China’s relations with Islam and Muslims today. As for the Hui, the Deng-era reforms allowed them greater room for self expression as well as opportunities to connect with their coreligionists outside China, both through travel and through the Internet. To be sure, the Hui enjoy greater freedom of movement, dress, and worship than the Uighurs of Xinjiang. Nevertheless, unlike in previous periods, it is doubtful that their improved conditions relative to the Cultural Revolution era will soon produce any shifts in their ethnicized status or in Chinese understandings of Islam.

Of course, that is not to say that traces of those earlier phases are entirely undetectable; it is just that they are being recast from the narrower perspective of the present. Events such as the International Congress on China and the Muslim World, hosted in Beijing in June 2012 by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, show that academic, cultural, and even nominal political interest in Sino-Islamic connections is alive and well. That interest, however, has little to do with real policymaking—which owes to the diminished political role of the Hui. Whether this should be the situation is beyond the scope of this essay. But in an era when war-on-terror rhetoric is ever more naturalized, the question remains as to what lessons China, and others, might glean from the stubbornly complicated past.

[1] “Dodging Peril: Instead of Uniting China and the West, Jihadist Violence Risks Further Dividing Them,” The Economist, January 24, 2015, http://www.economist.com/news/china/21640402-instead-uniting-china-and-west-jihadist-violence-risks-further-dividing-them-dodging-peril.

[2] Edward Wong, “Wary of Islam, China Tightens a Vise of Rules,” The New York Times, October 18, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/world/asia/19xinjiang.html; “China Bans Beards, Veils from Xinjiang City’s Buses in Security Bid,” Reuters, August 6, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/06/us-china-xinjiang-idUSKBN0G60AA20140806.

[3] “Xi Jinping Cooperation Organization Speech,” Xinhua, September 12, 2014, http://news.xinhuanet.com/world/2014-09/12/c_1112464703.htm; “China to Enhance Anti-terrorism Cooperation with Kyrgyzstan: Xi,” Xinhuanet, September 13, 2014, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-09/13/c_126981638.htm; Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom, “For Obama and Xi, Fight against Islamic State a Brief Moment to Agree,” Reuters, November 2, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/02/us-china-usa-islamicstate-idUSKBN0IM03420141102

[4] On the history of the concept of the Islamic world in general, see Cemil Aydin, “Globalizing the Intellectual History of the Idea of the Muslim World,” in Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori, eds., Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 159-186. On Chinese terms for Islam, Muslims, and the Middle East prior to the modern era, see especially Jonathan N. Lipman, Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997) and Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

[5] Rebecca E. Karl, Staging the World: Chinese Nationalism at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 3-4. Karl says: “While noting that the specific linkages [with far-flung emergent nationalist and anti-colonial movements] were ultimately ephemeral…it was a growing Chinese sense of identification with the non-Euro-American world at the turn of the [nineteenth] century that initially made the modern world visible as a structured totality.”

[6] The earliest example I could find from this period is Ding Weiliang, “Ming guo jin shi: tuguo jin shi: tuerqi wei huihui guo zhi zui da zhe,” Zhong-xi wen jian lu 28 (1874): 52-53. Another article by the same author referred to medieval Arab empires with the same term. Ding Weiliang, “Za ji san ze: xiangchuan yalabo huihui guo,” Zhong-xi wen jian lu 21 (1874): 161-64. Use of the term huihui guo in China had a much longer genealogy beyond this, used in the Secret History of the Mongols to refer to the Khwarazm dynasty in Persia (eleventh through thirteenth centuries). Huihui was also used to refer to Uighurs in even earlier times. See Michael Dillon, China’s Muslim Hui Community: Migration, Settlement, and Sects (London: Routledge, 1999), 13-15.

[7] According to scholars, the period of “isolation” from the Middle East began with the Yuan-Ming transition of the late fourteenth century, when the expansive Mongol dynasty was replaced by the Han-ethnocentric Ming, forcing Muslims in China to assimilate to a much greater extent than in the previous seven centuries. See “The Marrano Emperor: The Mysterious, Intimate Bond between Zhu Yuanzhang and his Muslims,” in Sarah Schneewind, ed., Long Live the Emperor!: Uses of the Ming Founder across Six Centuries of East Asian History (Minneapolis, MN: Ming Studies Research Series, 4, 2008), 275-308 and Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, “Follow the White Camel: Islam in China to 1800,” New Cambridge History of Islam, 2011, 421-424.

[8] James L. Gelvin and Nile Green, Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2014).

[9] Françoise Aubin, “Islam on the Wings of Nationalism: The Case of Muslim Intellectuals in Republican China,” in Stephane A. Dudoignon, Komatsu Hisao, and Kosugi Yasushi, eds., Intellectuals in the Modern Islamic World: Transmission, Transformation, and Communication (London: Routledge, 2006), 278-279; Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, “Nine Years in Egypt: Al-Azhar University and the Arabization of Chinese Islam,” HAGAR Studies in Culture, Polity, and Identities 8, 1 (2008): 111; John T. Chen, “Re-Orientation: The Chinese Azharites between Umma and Third World,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 34, 1 (May 2014): 36-38.

[10] On the transformation of publics in Republican China, see especially Eugenia Lean, Public Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the Rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007) and John Fitzgerald, Awakening China: Politics, Culture, and Class in the Nationalist Revolution (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996).

[11] Prasenjit Duara, “The Discourse of Civilization and Pan-Asianism,” Journal of World History 12, 1 (April 2001): 99-130; Selçuk Esenbel, “Japan’s Global Claim to Asia and the World of Islam: Transnational Nationalism and World Power, 1900-1945,” American Historical Review 109, 4 (October 2004): 1140-1170; Çemil Aydin, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).

[12] Israel Gershoni and James P. Jankowski, Redefining the Egyptian Nation, 1930-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Matsumoto Masumi, “Rationalizing Patriotism among Muslim Chinese: The Impact of the Middle East on the Yuehua Journal,” in Dudoignon, Hisao, and Yasushi, eds., Intellectuals in the Modern Islamic World, 137-63; Benite, “Nine Years in Egypt,” 108; Chen, “Re-Orientation,” 37.

[13] There was at least one pre-Republican instance of this term in the Chinese press: “Lun Moluoge nei luan: Feizhou dalu xibei you huijiao guo,” Waijiao bao 4 (1903): 29.

[14] Importantly, by incorporating the character jiao (“teaching,” “faith,” “religion”), it also embodied a new valence in the concept of religion that had been emerging in multiple global contexts for at least two decades, particularly since the 1893 Chicago Parliament of the World’s Religions.

[15]  Zhang Xichen, “Huijiao guo xianshi zhi tancha [A Survey of Major Trends in Muslim Countries],” Dongfang Zazhi, 10, 10 (1914): 25-30. According to Jonathan Lipman, Ma Wanfu (1853-1934) was largely responsible for the initial importation of a new wave of Arabic-language Islamic vocabulary into China, particularly those informed by Wahhabi “scripturalist fundamentalism,” due to his more than four years of study in Mecca. See Lipman, Familiar Strangers, 201-204, 209.

[16] On the women’s movement, see Qi Senhuan, “Huijiao guo de funü wenti [The Woman Question in Muslim Lands],” Chen bao fukan 11 (1922): 53-54 and Yi Xian, “Huijiao guo de funü yundong [The Women’s Movement in Muslim Lands],” Funü Zazhi 9, 1 (1923): 213-219. On science, see Ma Zicheng, “Yisilan zhi wuli bian [Islam’s Debate over Physics],” Yuehua 4, 2 (1932). In addition, Zhang’s “Survey of Major Trends in Muslim Countries” (see note 14) also contains a section on “Islam and Science” (huijiao yu kexue). This topic was informed not only by the famous debate by that same title between Ernest Renan and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, but also by a longer cultural memory—also absorbed from Arabic sources—of Islamic scholars’ pre-modern scientific achievements and those achievements’ impact on China. For a thought-provoking discussion of debates on science in Egypt and China, see Marwa Elshakry, “When Science Became Western: Historiographical Reflections,” Isis 101, 1 (March 2010): 98-109.

[17] These appeared in issues 16/11 and 16/12 of Dongfang Zazhi. Egypt, India, Jerusalem, and Afghanistan were the main destinations depicted.

[18] Yufeng Mao, “A Muslim Vision for the Chinese Nation: Chinese Pilgrimage Missions to Mecca during World War II,” Journal of Asian Studies 70, 22 (May 2011): 378.

[19] This conceptual evolution was at first largely driven by the expansion of the Hui press. By the 1930s, news flowed in not only from the perennial centers of Egypt, Hijaz, Anatolia, and India, but also from a host of (to Chinese and Chinese Muslims) less familiar places such as Iraq, Syria, and Palestine, where the imposition of territorially bounded League of Nations mandates and the related emergence of nationalist movements within those territorial containers drew attention to their individuality.

[20] These delegations were supported by the Guomindang and Egyptian governments. See Mao, “Muslim Vision.” The recurring advertisement sections in Yuehua reveal that the Hui gained access to new periodicals such as al-‘Ālam (Tunis), al-‘Irā‘ al-Mustaqīm (Baghdad), al-Hudā (Singapore), and Pembela Islam (Java) in the early 1930s.

[21] “General Islamic Congress” (Ar. al-mu’tamar al-islāmī al-‘āmm) was translated into Chinese as shijie yisilan dahui, laying greater stress on “world” than the Arabic original.

[22] Wang Shiming, “Shijie yisilan dahui yu yisilan minzu yundong [The General Islamic Congress and the Movement of the Islamic Nations],” Yuehua 3, 34 (1931). On the Near East Delegation (zhongguo huijiao jindong fangwentuan), see Mao, “Muslim Vision,” 381-385. We should not lose sight of the fact that conflicts of interest and identity troubled the Arab participants in the Congress as well. See Martin Kramer, Islam Assembled: The Advent of the Muslim Congresses (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). See also Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997, 2009) and The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007).

[23] Masumi, “Rationalizing Patriotism,” 145-146.

[24]  Proficient in Arabic, English, French, and Turkish in addition to Chinese, Ma Tianying served as a translator and diplomat in France during the First World War, at the Turkish embassy in Beijing from 1931 to 1937, and in the Near East and South Seas delegations, the latter of which he led. During the same period, he wrote several articles in Yuehua and elsewhere. After 1949, he moved first to Singapore and then to Malaysia, where he authored a number of books on Islam. Hai Zhengzhong, ed., Gujin huizu mingren (Yinchuan: Ningxia renmin chubanshe, 2008), 273-276.

[25] Esenbel, “Japan’s Global Claim,” 1161-1162.

[26]  For the broader context of the Guomindang’s use of “Easternism,” see Duara, “Discourse of Civilization and Pan-Asianism,” as well as Brian Kai Hin Tsui, “China’s Forgotten Revolution: Radical Conservatism in Action, 1927-49,” Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 2013.

[27]  Gu Jiegang’s interest in Islamic history, Fan Changjiang’s travels in China’s Muslim northwest, and Lao She’s and Guo Moruo’s participation in the Islamic Culture Research Society (huijiao wenhua yanjiuhui) are already known. See Aubin, “Islam on the Wings of Nationalism,” 266-267 and Yufeng Mao, “Muslim Educational Reform in 20th-Century China: The Case of the Chengda Teachers Academy,” Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident 33 (2011):163. The Islamic Culture Research Society was chaired by General Bai Chongxi, the highest-ranking Hui in the Guomindang government.

[28] “Chengda shifan tushuguan luocheng [The Completion of the Chengda Library],” Yuehua 8, 25 (1936); Cai Yuanpei et al., Beiping Chengda shifan xuexiao Fude tushuguan zhengshu qi [A Letter Kindly Requesting Books for the King Fu’ad Library of the Chengda Normal School] (n.p., 1938?); Ben-Dor Benite, “Nine Years in Egypt,” 112; Mao, “Muslim Educational Reform,” 27. In addition to Cai Yuanpei, particularly well-known Han members of the preparatory committee included Tao Xisheng (Peking University historian and head of the Guomindang Propaganda Department), Chen Yuan (comparative religions scholar and Beijing Normal University professor), Feng Youlan (philosopher), and Li Jinxi (linguist, script reformer, and friend of Mao Zedong). Prominent Muslim members included imam Ma Songting, historian Bai Shouyi, and Yuehua editor Zhao Zhenwu, who was responsible for bringing the first set of Arabic printing press type from Egypt to China in 1932.

[29] Mao Dun chaired the Xinjiang Cultural Association from March 1938 to April 1940. See Mao Dun, “Tan Xinjiang ge huimin de wenua gongzuo [On the Cultural Work of the Hui Minorities of Xinjiang],” Huijiao Wenhua 1, 1 (1941): 4-6. The name of the journal Huijiao Wenhua was also given in Arabic as al-aārah al-islāmiyyah, hence my English translation “Islamic Civilization” rather than “Islamic Culture,” which would otherwise be more in keeping with the typical translation of wenhua. As for “ethnic culture in form, socialism in content,” this is a truncated translation of the original Chinese phrase, which was yi minzu wei xingshi, yi liu da zhengce wei neirong. Liu da zhengce refers to the six policies of anti-imperialism (fan di), friendship with the Soviets (qin su), equality of ethnic nationalities (min(zu) ping(deng)), peace (heping), national development (jianshe), and freedom from official corruption (qinglian). On Chengda and the various delegations, the original sentence was zhiyu ge (min)zu wenhua cujinhui de huijiao guoji zuo lianluo de gongzuo, yijing shi hen guangrong de kaishi le.

[30] On the ethnogenesis of the Hui, see Dru C. Gladney, Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991, 1996) and Lipman, Familiar Strangers. On the construction of the 56 minzu in general, see Thomas S. Mullaney, Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011).

[31]  Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Zhongguo daibiaotuan chuxi 1955 nian yafei huiyi [The Chinese Delegation Attends the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference] (Beijing: Shijie zhishi chubanshe, 2006), 38.

[32] On this later period, see Fred Halliday, Arabia Without Sultans: A Political Survey of Instability in the Arab World (New York: Vintage, 1975) and Revolution and Foreign Policy: The Case of South Yemen, 1967-87 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Hashim S.H. Behbehani, China’s Foreign Policy in the Arab World, 1955-1975: Three Case Studies (Boston: Kegan Paul International, 1981) and China and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen: A Report (Boston: Kegan Paul International, 1985); Lillian Craig Harris, China Considers the Middle East (London: I.B. Tauris, 1993); Kyle Haddad-Fonda, “An Illusory Alliance: Revolutionary Legitimacy and Sino-Algerian Relations, 1958-1962,” Journal of North African Studies (2014):1-20. For context, see Yezid Sayigh and Avi Shlaim, The Cold War and the Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Jian Chen, Mao’s China and the Cold War (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Matthew Connelly, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

[33] The significant shifts in this more recent period are discussed in John Calabrese, China’s Changing Relations with the Middle East (New York: Pinter, 1991) and Jon B. Alterman and John W. Garver, The Vital Triangle: China, the United States, and the Middle East (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2008).

[34] OIC Research Centre for Islamic History, Art, and Culture, “International Congress on ‘China and the Muslim World: Cultural Encounters,’” http://www.ircica.org/international-congress-on-china-and-the-muslim-world-cultural-encounters/irc902.aspx; Ben Simpfendorfer makes clear that this new culturalism, rather unlike that of the past, is almost entirely business-driven. Ben Simpfendorfer, The New Silk Road: How a Rising Arab World is Turning Away from the West and Rediscovering China (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[35] The discovery that the Hui are significantly fewer in number than was once thought—about half of the 20 million Muslims in China today, as opposed to a figure of 50 million that was regularly offered during the Republican period—has certainly played an important role in this shift.


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