In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islam in China

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Collected Source Materials
  • Journals

Chinese Studies Islam in China
Jo Smith Finley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 November 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0121


Islam was transmitted to China during the Tang and Song dynasties (618–1279) via the overland and maritime Silk Roads. Arabian and Persian traders built tombs and mosques (combining traditional Arab and Chinese architectures), intermarried with local Chinese, and raised the first generation of Chinese-speaking Muslims. Sino-Muslim scholars of the Ming and Qing dynasties were conversant in Islam, Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. In Xinjiang, the picture was a little different. There, local peoples underwent a gradual process of Turkicization and Islamization. In the 10th century, the Qarakhanid kingdom of Kashgar (قَراخانيان; 喀喇汗王朝) was the first Turkic dynasty to convert to Islam. However, the kingdom of Qocho or Qarakhoja (قاراغوج; 高昌) in Turpan remained mainly Buddhist until the 15th century. It was only after the Chagatayid khan Tughluq Tömür (图格鲁格铁木耳) converted to Islam and his son conquered Qocho in the 1390s that the Buddhist Uyghurs began to convert to Islam. In this way, the Mongol conquests played an important role in spreading the Islamic faith. At the end of the Ming, Sufi migrants from Central Asia formed menhuan (门环) in northwestern China (ishan in Uyghur), networks that revolved around a religious leader. In Xinjiang, rival factions of the Sufi Naqshbandi order, the Aqtaghlik Khojas (白山和卓) and the Qarataghlik Khojas (黑山和卓), seized control in the Tarim Basin and Turpan in the 17th century. While the histories of the Sinitic and Turkic Muslims in China are largely separate, they did converge briefly during the Qing, when Muslims from Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan rose against the state in the “Muslim Rebellions.” Since the late 1980s, global flows of Islam have impacted on both communities, inspiring a new wave of Islamic reformism. Prior to 1949, both Sinitic and Turkic Muslims were referred to in Chinese sources as “Hui” (回) or “Hui-hui” (回回). It was only in the 1950s that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) identified ten Muslim groups, which it subdivided into four language families: Sino-Tibetan (Hui), Turkic-Altaic (Uyghur, Kazakh, Dongxiang, Kyrgyz, Salar, Uzbek, and Tatar), Turkic-Mongolian (Bao’an), and Indo-European (Tajik). To further complicate matters, the ethnonym “Uyghur” (ئۇيغۇر;维吾尔) previously used by the Buddhist Uyghurs had fallen into disuse from the 17th century until the 1920s as a result of the Islamic conversion. Use of the terms Uyghur and Hui in the pre-20th century context are thus anachronistic. Finally, one encounters a significant blurring between the “religious” and the “ethnic” when considering Chinese Islam, for that religion is not confined to the realms of theology; rather, it also informs a wide range of everyday practices. Therefore, titles that deal with China’s Muslims holistically are included alongside those that focus specifically on religion.

General Overviews

This section includes three sublists of works that provide a general overview of Islam in China. Chinese-Language Works includes the major secondary sources published in Chinese, English-Language Works includes those published in English, and Works in Other Languages lists those published in other languages.

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