Being the Muslim in China
China's other Muslim: The Hui
Located among Beijing's high-rise buildings, Yang Xiangmei,48 years old, just finished her midday praying at the Niujie Mosque, and she was changing the praying robe to her daily wearing clothes. Yang, far away from her hometown —the northwest China's Gansu province, has been a waitress at a halal Mongolian hotpot restaurant at the Niujie block all her alone for seven years. The daily working time of her begins from 9:30 o’clock in the morning and ends at 10 o’clock at night; at between, She get three hours rest( from 2:00pm to 5:00pm), so every day she just seizes this time period and insists to go to the Niujie mosque to pray. "Practicing praying is a kind of relief way after a long day’s weary work for me and provide me with mental support especially, as I’m away from the home", she said.
Since China has implemented the reform and opening-up policy, the increasing social mobility has been witnessed, especially, the metropolis like Beijing. The Niujie block is well known for the Niujie Mosque, the Chinese classical palace architecture style mosque has an over thousand-year history. For Chinese Muslim, they take the mosque as community’s center, so they usually settle around the mosque.
Beijing's Niujie block is the enclave of the Hui Muslim and in the recent decades, many Hui or Muslims from other places come to here to run the halal restaurant, work or live. Walking pass through the Niu jie block every few minutes, there will be a Halal restaurant appear, and the smell of the beef and mutton is often available on the air, for some popular restaurants, the long queue up is always. And besides that, at this Hui Muslim enclave, the Halal supermarket, the Hui schools, the Hui nursing home and hospitals are also available here. In some extent, this block is a microcosm indicates that how the Hui Muslims blend themselves into mainstream Chinese society and keep the Islam tradition at the same time.
From the Islam's firstly spread to China at 7th century by Arabic trader, the Islam has been 1400 years in Chinese land. Currently, across the China, there are about 24000 mosques and about 70 mosques in Beijing. Up to now, there are 10 Chinese ethnic minority groups who believe in Islam, and the China’s Muslim population has reached to about 25million, which account for nearly 2% of China’s population. There are more Muslims in China than there are in every other Middle East Muslim country, except Turkey, Iran and Egypt, and there are about the same number of Muslims in China as in Iraq. The Hui(about 12million) and Uyghur(about 100million) are the numerically largest Muslim groups in China and make up about 90% Chinese Muslim population. However, these two groups are more different than similar.
The Uyghur suffers and The Hui live in relative peace in China. The Uyghur is the Turkish speaking Muslim, they mostly reside in the northwest of China’s Xinjiang province. However, the Hui are scattered all over the China, and its geographical diversification rate is the highest among any other China’s ethnic minority group except the Majority Han Chinese.
The Hui is the third largest China’s ethnic group and they speak Chinese and theirs outward appearance are not distinctly different from Han Chinses. One of the stark features is that they have close connection with Chinese society and accept assimilation.
According to the Pew Research, the world Muslim population will rise from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030, and nearly three-in-ten people living in the Asia-Pacific region in 2030(27.3%) will be the Muslim, the China's Muslim population will be reach to 29.949 million and is projected to be the 19th largest Muslim population nation in the world in 2030.
Chinese's authorities always take the pragmatic policy when it comes to the religion, no matter in ancient china or contemporary Chinese government. Being an ethnic minority, in some cases, the government gives some privileges over ethnic groups , such as the bonus marks for the national college entrance test for ethnic students, or ethnic minority groups can have two kids during the period china rigorously implemented single-child policy.
With the china's growing trade with Muslim countries, and with the Chinese president Xi Jinping proposed "one belt, one road" initiative——the plan hopes to revive China's ancient trade routes with Asia, Europe and the Middle East. And the government is trying to portray the Hui as the business envoy to the Muslim countries, China has built a Hui "culture park" costed 3.6 billion us dollars in Ning xia autonomous region to promote the relationship between the Chinese and the Muslim world.
Lin xia, as an important ancient silk road stop station now also has its role on the play. In order to respond to the Chinese government's advocates and also for the sake of the local economy's developing, In recent years, local government has made great efforts to promote the ethnic customs tourism. The Ba Fang Shi San alley is a typical Hui enclave and has been selected by the local government as the main exhibition window of the Hui's culture, customs of Lin xia. As early as the Tang dynasty, there were merchants, missionaries and religious figures from the states of Dashi(today's Saudi Arabia), Persia and other places trading, preaching and settling in Ba Fang, and constructed eight mosques and formed corresponding Hui communities. And gradually there finally became a Hui enclave where Muslims settle around the Mosque and trade among the Hui community. Ba Fang Shi San alley after through government-lead massive redesign and construction, now by showcasing the Hui's history, culture and dishes to appeal the tourists from outside.
In Lin xia, the governments encourage the Hui-related firms development, governments have set up the special "Muslim products" industrial park and enterprises that enjoy preferential policies from the government. Meanwhile, in recent few years, for the service of the "one belt and one road" initiatives, Lin xia has hosted five times Linxia international food and ethnic products expo so far to strengthen exchanges in trade, halal food and culture between the other Muslim nations. In 2017, the fifth Lin xia ethnic products expo attracted the delegations from Malaysia, Iran and other places to come attend.
On the other hand, China also is taking some grip over the Hui Muslim groups, like the ban of young people receive the religious education in mosques, requiring the mosques hang the Chinese national flag, limiting the construction of the mosques.
Over the thousand years, the survival and thriving of the Hui Muslims in China is largely benefit from the Hui Muslims' self-adaption to the Chinese society. However, with frequent terrorist attacks internationally and some unrest in China’s Xinjiang province, which has fueled the anti-Muslim attitudes in the China and the stigmatization of Islam, especially online. Looking over few typical backlash events toward Muslim or Islam, the ignitors are about the Halal food. There is a term called Pan-halal tendencies in China which defines as Halal labeling beyond food products, like halal toothpaste, halal water.
In recent years, the halal food debate has heated up in China. At some china's flights, especially for those destinations locate at the western of China part where have inhabited huge amount of Chinese Muslim, the flight offer the halal-labelled product to the passenger, which has brought the strong oppositions from the non-Muslim group. In 2016, the Peking university, the top Chinese university, its halal canteen asked the non-Muslim students not take the meals over there as the limited space and meal offering capacity, which incurred the blame from non-Muslim and they claimed it as the racial segregation. In the July of 2017, Chinese biggest food delivery company Mei Tuan launched a service for china’s 25million Muslim group by setting a halal-only food delivery box to separate halal food from the pork and alcoholic, which sparked big backlash online, as for those majority Han, they took it as a discrimination over them and a special treatment for the Muslim. As a result, the Mei Tuan finally withdrew out of this service.
Over the past 14oo years, the Hui Muslim already took the deep root on China's territory, through continuous self-adjustment to in line with the mainstream society, Hui has more successfully intergrated itself into the Chinese society comparing to its counterpart the Uygur. Especially with the recent One Belt And One Road initiative, the Hui seems can be a bridge between China and Muslim world's linkage. On the other hand, due to the impact of international environment about Islam and the lack of knowledge about the Islam, Muslim or the Hui domestically, although the anti-Muslim speech or attitude mainly show online, but the lurking risk of the stigmatization and demonization of Islam also easily put the Chinese Muslim/ the Hui into the vulnerable position.