Hui people

From New World Encyclopedia
Hui حُوِ ذَو
回族 (Huízú)
Hui men praying in a mosque in China
Total population
9.82 million (in 2000 census)
Regions with significant populations
Flag of People's Republic of China China
Chinese language
Related ethnic groups
Dungan, Panthay, Han Chinese, other Sino-Tibetan peoples

The Hui people (Chinese: ; pinyin: Huízú, Xiao'erjing: حُوِ ذَو ) are a Chinese ethnic group, typically distinguished by their practice of Islam. The Hui form the third largest of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. They are concentrated in Northwestern China (Ningxia, Gansu, Shaanxi, Xinjiang), but communities exist across the country and significant numbers also live in Anhwei, Liaoning, and Peking. Hui also live on the frontier between China and Myanmar (Burma) and in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia. The Hui are descended from various groups of Muslim immigrants, including merchants and traders before and during the Tang dynasty, and Islamic peoples from Middle Asia, as well as Persians and Arabs, who accompanied the Mongols into China during the early years of the thirteenth century and became the aristocracy of the Yuan dynasty.

Most Hui are similar in culture to Han Chinese except that they practice Islam, and have some distinctive cultural characteristics as a result. They follow Islamic dietary laws and reject the consumption of pork, the most common meat consumed in Chinese culture. They have produced a variation of Chinese cuisine, Chinese Islamic cuisine. Their mode of dress differs in that adult males wear white or black caps and females wear head scarves or (occasionally) veils.

During the Cultural Revolution the Hui people, along with other religious groups in China, suffered unspeakable persecution. After Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese government changed its political strategy and its policies, reinstated the autonomy of the Hui people and began a program to restore mosques. Under the new policies, religions are recognized but are officially controlled by the government.


The name "Huihui" first appeared in the literature of the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127), apparently in reference to the Huihe people (the Ouigurs) who had lived in Anxi in the present-day Xinjiang and its vicinity since the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). These people were forerunners of the present-day Uygurs, who practice Islam but are a distinct ethnic group unrelated to the Hui people.

A traditional Chinese term for Islam is 回教 (pinyin: Huíjiào, literally "the religion of the Hui"), though the most prevalent is the transliteration 伊斯蘭教 (pinyin: 'Yīsīlán jiào, literally "Islam religion").

During the 1930s, the Communist Party used the term "Hui" to refer to Sinophone Muslims and promised them political autonomy, religious freedom and the right to bear arms in return for their loyalty. In 1941, a Communist Party committee of ethnic policy researchers published a treatise entitled “On the question of Huihui Ethnicity (Huihui minzu wenti),” defining the Hui or Huihui as an ethnic group associated with, but not defined by, the Islamic religion; descended primarily from Muslims who migrated to China during the Mongol-Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368); and distinct from the Uyghur and other Turkic-speaking ethnic groups in Xinjiang. The Nationalist government had recognized all adherents of Islam as one of "the five peoples"—alongside the Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans and Han Chinese—that constituted the Republic of China. The new Communist interpretation of Chinese Muslim ethnicity marked a clear departure from the ethno-religious policies of the Nationalists.[1]

The Hui are also known as Hwei, or Hui-hui, T'ung-kan (Wade-Giles), Tonggan (Pinyin), and Chinese Muslims. Hui anywhere are referred to by Central Asian Turks and Tajiks as Dungans. In its population censuses, the Soviet Union also identified Chinese Muslims as "Dungans" (дунгане) and had recorded them as located mainly in Kyrgyzstan, southern Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The Russian census of 2002 enumerated a total of 800 Dungans. In Thailand Chinese Muslims are referred to as chin ho, in Myanmar and Yunnan Province, as Panthay.

In the southeast of China, the term "Qīngzhēn" is in common use for Muslim (Hui) eating establishments and for mosques (qīngzhēn sì in Mandarin).



The Hui Chinese have diverse origins. Some on the southeast coast are descended from Arab and Persian Muslim traders who settled in Chinese cities such as Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Hangzhou, Yangzhou and Chang'an (today's Xi'an) around the middle of the seventh century. Referred to as "fanke" (guests from outlying regions), they built mosques and public cemeteries and gradually intermarried and assimilated into the surrounding population, keeping only their distinctive religion. Nevertheless, the Cantonese-speaking Muslims of the southeastern coast typically resemble northern Asians more than they do their Cantonese neighbors.

A totally different origin is suggested for the Mandarin Chinese-speaking Yunnan and Northern Hui, whose ethnogenesis might be a result of the convergence in this region of large number of Mongol, Turkic or other Central Asian settlers. During the early years of the thirteenth century, when the Mongols undertook their western expeditions, groups of Islamic peoples from Central Asia, as well as Persians and Arabs, migrated to China either voluntarily or under duress. Artisans, tradesmen, scholars, officials and religious leaders, they founded settlements in areas in today's Gansu, Henan, Shandong, Hebei and Yunnan provinces and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and settled down mainly to livestock breeding.[2]. They formed scattered economic and social communities centered around mosques, maintaining their cultural and religious traditions, and were dominant in the military, political and economic affairs of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368). Some served Mongolian aristocrats as house slaves.

It was documented that a portion of these northern nomadic or military ethnic groups were originally Nestorian Christians who later converted to Islam under the sinicizing pressures of the Ming and Qing states.

Muslims, the largest group of non-Chinese peoples during the Yuan dynasty, were referred to as Semu and occupied an exalted position directly below the Mongol nobility in the social hierarchy. Over ten thousand Muslim names can be identified in Yuan historical records.

Southeastern Muslims have a much longer tradition of synthesizing Confucian teachings with the Sharia and Qur'anic teachings, and were reported to have been participating in Confucian officialdom since the Tang Dynasty. Among the Northern Hui, on the other hand, there are strong influences of Central Asian Sufi schools such as Kubrawiyya, Qadiriyya, and Naqshbandiyya (Khufiyya and Jahriyya), mostly of the Hanafi Madhhab (among the Southeastern communities the Shafi'i Madhhab is more dominant). Before the onset of the "Ihwani" movement, a Chinese variant of the conservative reformist Salafi movement, Northern Hui Sufis commonly synthesized Daoist teachings and martial arts practices with Sufi philosophy.

In early modern times, villages in Northern Chinese Hui areas still bore labels like "Blue-cap Huihui," "Black-cap Huihui," and "White-cap Huihui," betraying their possible Christian, Judaic and Muslim origins, even though the religious practices among North China Hui by then were by and large Islamic. Hui is also used as a catch-all grouping for Islamic Chinese who are not classified under another ethnic group.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the Hui began to emerge as a distinct ethnic group. The early Ming policy of establishing independent rural agricultural enclaves brought about changes in the distribution and the economic status of the Hui people. The population of Hui in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces grew as Hui from other areas submitted to the Ming dynasty. Hui garrisons were assigned to remote areas to reclaim wasteland and establish agriculture. Hui officials and scholars traveled around the country, and groups of Hui migrated during peasant uprisings. Wherever they went, the Hui stayed together, settling their own villages in the countryside or creating Hui enclaves in particular areas and streets of the cities.

During the early stage of their eastward exodus, the Hui used the Arab, Persian and Han languages. Gradually they came to speak only the Han language, incorporating certain Arab and Persian phrases. To avoid persecution, the Hui assimilated Han culture and began to wear Han clothing. They continued to use Hui names, but Han names and surnames became common and gradually became dominant.[3]


During the mid-nineteenth century, the Muslims and the Miao people of China revolted against the Qing Dynasty, most notably in the Dungan revolt (1862-1877) and the Panthay rebellion 1856-1873) in Yunnan. The Manchu government suppressed these little-known revolts in a manner that amounts to genocide,[4][5][6][7] killing a million people in the Panthay rebellion,[8][9] several million in the Dungan revolt[9] and five million in the suppression of Miao people in Guizhou.[9] A "washing off the Muslims" (洗回 (xi Hui)) policy had been long advocated by officials in the Manchu government.[10]

Twentieth century

The “Hui Brigade” was active in World War II, in the resistance against the Japanese occupation of China (1937–1945).

After 1949, the Chinese government set up several autonomous regions in Hui-populated areas, including the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Linxia and Changji Hui Autonomous prefectures in Gansu Province, and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Six Hui autonomous counties were established in Zhangjiachuan of Gansu Province, Menyuan and Hualong of Qinghai Province, Yanqi of ppXinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region[[ and Dachang and Mengcun of Hebei Province, and three autonomous counties were set up jointly with other ethnic groups. Hui officials make up a percentage of the administrative bodies in these regions. Hui outside these areas are respected as members of an established ethnic group, and have a number of representatives in the National People's Congress.

After intense religious persecution during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the Hui regained some degree of religious freedom in 1979. By May 1984, 1400 mosques had been restored in Ningxia. An institute for the study of Islamic scriptures was established in 1982, and an Islamic research society was set up. Young Hui are able to study the Islamic classics in Arabic. The government has given permission for Islamic literature to be published and sold.

Industrial and agricultural production in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region has increased continuously since 1979. The Chinese government has initiated projects to fight drought, water logging, deforestation, soil salinization and erosion and sand encroachment of farmland, and to supply water for drinking and irrigation in the course of their protracted struggle against desertification.

Elementary school education has been made universal among the Hui. In Hui-populated areas, the Hui people have set up their own primary and secondary schools in their communities and have Hui professors, engineers, doctors, scientists, writers, artists and specialists. The first college in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region was founded in 1958. Secondary and primary schools for female students have been established in some of the Hui-populated areas.

As one of China's recognized minorities, the Hui enjoy certain privileges such as government food subsidies and exemption from the one-child policy.


Islamic tradition

The religion of Islam has been a major influence on the culture and traditions of the Hui people. Early "jiaofang" or "religious communities," were formed with a dozen to several hundred households around a central mosque. An imam presided over the religious affairs of the community as well as over all aspects of its members’ livelihood, collecting levies and other taxes from them. During the last stage of the Ming Dynasty and the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), as the Hui developed an intensified agricultural economy, some of the more important imams built up considerable wealth, bought land, and began renting it to tenant farmers. A religious aristocracy emerged in Hezhou (Linxia in Gansu Province), Ningxia and Qinghai, as the imams came to resemble secular landlords, exerting tight control over their communities and leaving routine religious duties to lower-ranking ahungs. They were deified by their followers, and shrines were erected over their graves. [11]

The Hui practice many Islamic customs. Soon after birth, a baby is given a Hui name by an ahung. Wedding ceremonies and funerals are also presided over by an ahung. The deceased must be buried promptly, without a coffin, after being washed and wrapped in a white cloth. There is a taboo against wailing at a funeral, because that would be regarded as a form of complaint against the dead. Before meals, the Hui must wash their hands with water, and before attending religious services, they perform either a "minor cleaning" of the face, mouth, nose, hands and feet, or a "major cleaning" of the whole body. Men wear white or black skull caps, particularly during religious services, and women wear black, white or green head scarves.

Outside marriage is not encouraged by the Hui. A non-Hui youth who wishes to marry a Hui must convert to Islam. The marriage feast typically consists of 8 to 12 dishes, the even number symbolizing that the new couple will permanently remain a pair.

Visitors are served infused tea and fruit or home-made cakes, and welcomed by all members of a family. If the guest is from far away, he or she will be accompanied far beyond the boundaries of the village when departing.


The Hui follow Koranic dietary proscriptions and do not eat the meat of pigs, dogs, horses, donkeys, mules, or the blood of animals. Pigeons are considered 'divine birds' that may be eaten only under certain circumstances, with the approval of an imam. Smoking and the consumption of alcohol are prohibited. The cuisine of the Hui varies from region to region. Hui people living in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region prefer foods prepared from flour; in Gansu and Qinghai, foods are based on wheat, corn, barley, and potatoes. Gaiwan tea contains nutritious ingredients such as longan, jujube, sesame, sugar candy, and medlar.


The primary Hui festivals are Lesser Bairam (Kaizhai Festival), Corban, and Shengji Festival.

During the entire ninth month of the Hui calendar, men older than 12 and women older than nine fast from sunrise to sunset. Lesser Bairam is celebrated on the first day of the tenth month and lasts three days. Relatives and friends are served choice beef and mutton, and fried cakes.

Corban Festival is on the tenth day of the last month. The morning of the festival, no one eats breakfast. After attending the mosque, oxen are slaughtered and shared with the poor and with relatives. Selling of oxen on this day is not permitted.

Hua'er is a folk tradition of the Hui people, especially prevalent in Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai. During festivals and the sixth month of the year, there are pageants and joyful singing for six days[12].

Hui outside China

Hui in Malaysia

There is evidence that Chinese Hui migrated to Peninsular Malaysia with the influx of Chinese laborers during the nineteenth and late twentieth centuries. Chinese who have the surname Ma are suspected to have Hui ancestry. A number of them settled in the region of Lumut in Peninsular Malaysia. It is speculated that these Muslims assimilated with the local non-Muslim Chinese and that now most of them are no longer Muslims. Nonetheless, there are those who still maintain their Islamic faith. A famous Chinese Muslim missionary in Malaysia has the surname of Ma.

If they are married to Muslim Malaysian indigenous persons, their offspring are officially accepted as part of the "Bumiputra" (indigenous people or "sons of the land"). Otherwise, the society might treat them as part of the large Chinese minority group. However as Islam is also an ethnic marker in Malaysia, many Chinese converts in Malaysia tend to adopt and assimilate into the indigenous culture. Since the 1900s it has been a trend for Chinese converts to retain their original pre-Muslim Chinese surname, probably to maintain their cultural identity.


Panthays form a group of Chinese Muslims in Burma. Some people refer to Panthays as the oldest group of Chinese Muslims in Burma. However, because of intermixing and cultural diffusion the Panthays are not a distinct group as they once were.


Dungan (Simplified Chinese: 东干族; Traditional Chinese: 東干族; pinyin: Dōnggānzú; Russian: Дунгане) is a term used in territories of the former Soviet Union to refer to a Muslim people of Chinese origin. Turkic-speaking peoples in Xinjiang Province in China also refer to members of this ethnic group as Dungans. In both China and the former Soviet republics where they reside, however, members of this ethnic group call themselves Hui. In the censuses of Russia and the former Soviet Central Asia, the Hui are enumerated separately from Chinese, and are labeled Dungans.


These are surnames generally used by the Hui ethnic group:

  • Ma for Muhammad
  • Han for Muhammad
  • Ha for Hasan
  • Hu for Hussein
  • Sai for Said
  • Sha for Shah
  • Zheng for Shams
  • Koay for Kamaruddin
  • Chuah for Osman

Contribution to Chinese Civilization

During the Yuan and Ming dynasties, large numbers of Hui peasants participated in reclaiming rural wasteland for farming and grazing. Hui artisans produced incense, medicine, leather items and cannons, as well as mining and smelting ore. Hui merchants were active in the economic exchanges between the inland and border regions, and in trade between China and other Asian countries. Hui scholars and scientists introduced the astronomy, calendars, and medicine of Western Asia to China.

Famous Hui:

  • Yuan Dynasty: (1278 – 1361) The astronomer 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 developed a mechanism for shooting stone balls from cannons. The architect Yehdardin studied Han architecture and designed and led the construction of the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, the foundation for the city of Beijing.

Sayyid Ajall Sham Suddin (1211-1279), governor of Yunnan Province, created special areas for peasants to reclaim wasteland and grow grain. He advocated the harnessing of six rivers in Kunming, capital of the province; established a series of communication posts where couriers could change horses and rest; initiated teaching in Confucianism and attempted to improve relations among various nationalities in China.

  • Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644): The Hui navigator Zheng He (鄭和), a Semu Muslim, made as many as seven visits in 29 years to more than 30 Asian and African countries, accompanied by his interpreters Ma Huan and Ha San, also of Hui origin. Ma Huan’s account of Zheng He's travels, Magnificent Tours of Lands Beyond the Ocean, is of major significance in the study of the history of communication between China and the West. This work is published in English translation as Ying-yai Sheng-lan: The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores.
  • Hui scholar Li Zhi (1527 - 1602) of Quanzhou in Fujian Province was a well-known progressive thinker.
  • Hai Rui (1514 - 1587), a politician of the Ming Dynasty, was famous for his righteousness. He remonstrated with Emperor Jiajing about his arbitrariness and spoke out against the evils of the court and inept ministers. Later he became a roving inspector directly responsible to the emperor, enforcing justice and curbing the excesses of local despots.

Hui poets, scholars, painters and dramatists included Sadul, Gao Kegong, Ding Henian, Ma Jin, Ding Peng and Gai Qi.[13]

  • Bai Chongxi (白崇禧), a general of the Republic of China
  • Bai Shouyi (白壽彝), prominent Chinese historian and ethnologist
  • Hui Liangyu (回良玉), a Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China
  • Lan Yu was a Ming Dynasty general who ended the Mongol dream to reconquer China.
  • Li Zhi (李贄), a famous Confucian philosopher in Ming Dynasty, would perhaps be considered a Hui if he lived today because of some his ancestors being Persian Muslims.
  • Ma Dexin (马德新), Islamic scholar in Yunnan
  • Ma Bufang ( 馬步芳), was a warlord in China during the Republic of China era, ruling the northwestern province of Qinghai.
  • Ma Hualong (马化龙), one of the leaders of the Muslim Rebellion of 1862-1877.
  • Shi Zhongxin, mayor of Harbin from 2002 to February 2007, whose ancestors came from Jilin
  • Zhang Chengzhi (張承志), contemporary author and alleged creator of the term "Red Guards (China)"


  1. CHINA'S ISLAMIC HERITAGE, China Heritage Project, CHINA HERITAGE NEWSLETTER, No. 5, March 2006. The Australian National University.
  2. The Hui Ethnic Minority Retrieved August 16, 2008.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Mark Levene. Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2005. ISBN 1845110579), 288
  5. Charles Patterson Giersch. Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China's Yunnan Frontier. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. ISBN 1845110579), 219
  6. Muslim History in China
  7. Michael Dillon. China’s Muslim Hui Community. (Curzon, 1999. ISBN 0700710264), xix
  8. Damsan Harper, Steve Fallon, Katja Gaskell, Julie Grundvig, Carolyn Heller, Thomas Huhti, Bradley Maynew, Christopher Pitts. Lonely Planet China. 9. (Lonely Planet, 2005. ISBN 1740596870)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Jacques Gernet. A History of Chinese Civilization. 2. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 0521497124)
  10. Jonathan N. Lipman. Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China. (Studies on Ethnic Groups in China) (University of Washington Press, 1998. ISBN 0295976446.)
  11. The Hui ethnic minority Retrieved August 18, 2008
  12. Hui Retrieved August 18, 2008.
  13. The Hui ethnic minority.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chuah, Osman, "Muslims in China: the social and economic situation of the Hui Chinese," Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 24 (1) (April 24, 2004) 155-162
  • Dillon, Michael. China's Muslim Hui Community: Migration, Settlement and Sects. London: Curzon Press, 1999. ISBN 9780700710263
  • Gladney, Dru C. Ethnic Identity in China: The Making of a Muslim Minority Nationality (Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology), 1997, ISBN 0155019708.
  • Gladney, Dru C. Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. ISBN 0226297756.
  • Gladney, Dru C. Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic, 2nd ed.,[1991] Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers 1998. ISBN 0674594975.
  • Lipman, Jonathan N. Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1997. ISBN 9780295976440
  • Lonely Planet Publications (Firm), and Damian Harper. China. Hawthorn, Vic: Lonely Planet, 2005. ISBN 9781740596879
  • Ma Huan. (1433) Ying-yai Sheng-lan: The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores. (original 1970) White Lotus Press, 1997. ASIN: B001BKRAOM (in English) (record of Zheng He's world tours)
  • "CHINA'S ISLAMIC HERITAGE" China Heritage Newsletter (Australian National University), No. 5, March 2006. Retrieved August 19, 2008.

External links

All links retrieved January 19, 2018.


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