The Huis are the second largest Muslim group in China, making up about 40 percent of the 26 million Chinese Muslims, and are the third largest minority in China after the Zhuang and Uyghurs. Largely indistinguishable from Han Chinese in appearance, the Hui are the most widely distributed of China’s minorities. They are concentrated primarily in northern Chinese provinces but are found in every city and every province in China as well as as well as in 2,308 of China's 2,372 counties (in the 1990s) .
Hui (pronounced HOO-ee) are also known as Chinese Muslims, Dungan, Hanhui, Huihui, Mumin, Musilin, Khojem and Panthay. They are descendants of Han Chinese whose ancestors converted to Islam and Muslim traders from the Persian and Turkish empires and the Middle East who came to China during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Because many have non-Chinese blood it not uncommon to see Hui with light hair, hazel eyes and high-bridged noses. The Hui are quite different and more integrated than the Uyghurs, the largest Muslim group in China. The Hui speak Mandarin Chinese and have mixed with regular Han Chinese for centuries while the Uyghurs were more separated. Even so the Hui often live in communities separate from the Han.
The Hui are mainly engaged in agriculture, livestock raising and handicrafts industry. They are also involved in trade and running restaurants and street stalls. For the most part Hui speak the same Chinese dialects as Han Chinese. Some Arabic and Persian words are used in Hui daily life and religious activities. In places where other ethnic groups are concentrated the Hui typically speak their languages too. Many Hui men wear white skullcaps and many Hui women cover their heads with headscarfs. Hui celebrate Muslim holidays such as Lesser Bairam (Eid ul-Fitr), and Corban (eid ul-adha) along with all Muslims around the world. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences]
The Chinese character for hui consists of two squares which literally means "return." According to Chinese Muslim scholars the “outer square means the universality of Islam, whereas the inner square refers to the Ka'bah"—the central symbol of Islam, located in Mecca. Additionally, some Chinese Muslim scholars describe "the religion of the Hui as the religion that returns us to Allah". The term 'hui' was used to describe all Muslims in China before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, even though many belong to separate ethnic group such as the Kazakhs, Uyghurs and Salars. The Communist government identified the Hui People as Muslims who "do not have a language of their own but speak the dialects of the peoples among whom they live". [Source: Ali Osman Ozkan, Fountain magazine, April 2014]
Websites and Sources: Nationalities in Northeast China kepu.net.cn ; Book Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ; Chinese Government Law on Minorities china.org.cn ; Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Ethnic China ethnic-china.com ;Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn Books: Ethnic Groups in China, Du Roufu and Vincent F. Yip, Science Press, Beijing, 1993; An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China, Olson, James, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1998; “China's Minority Nationalities,” Great Wall Books, Beijing, 1984; “A Hui Muslim Township in Yunnan” by “Lesley Turnbull; “Holy Journey for Soul: The Huis” is a booklet put out in 1995 by the Yunnan Publicity Centre for Foreign Countries as part of the a “Women’s Culture series, which focuses on different ethnic groups found in Yunnan province. The series is published by the Yunnan Publishing House.
Hui Population and Where They Live
Hui are the fourth largest ethnic group and the third largest minority in China. They numbered 11,377,914 in 2020 and made up 0.81 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census. Hui population in China in the past: 0.7943 percent of the total population; 10,586,087 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 9,828,126 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 8,602,978 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. A total of 3,559,350 (0.61 percent of China’s population) were counted in 1953; and 4,473,147 (0.64 percent of China’s population) were counted in 1964; and 7,207,780 (0.71 percent of China’s population) were, in 1982.
For a long time the Hui were the largest largest Muslim group in China. Now they are outnumbered by Uyghurs who numbered 11,774,538 (0.84 percent of China's population) in the 2020 census. In the 2010 census there were more Hui than Uyghurs (10,586,087 Hui versus 10,069,346 Uyghurs). The total fertility rate of the Hui according to 2010 census was 1.48 compared to 1.14 for Han Chinese; 2.04 for Uyghurs and 1.26 for Mongols 1.26. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]
The Hui population has been growing faster than the general Chinese population. Between 1953 and 1990, it has grown 2.4 percent annually.This is the result of relatively high birth rates and the fact that Hui women generally don’t marry Han or non-Hui men and adopt their religion while Hui men do marry Han and non-Hui women, who in turn register with the government as Hui and give birth to Hui children.
Hui are most concentrated in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang and to a lesser extent in Henan, Hebei, Shandong and Yunnan provinces. About a third of the people in Ningxia are Hui Muslims. In southern Ningxia they make up more than 80 percent of the population. Although they may be few in number in a particular area they often make up the largest minority there. Several thousand Hui live in Lhasa, speak Tibetan, and are known as Tibetan Hui. There are also Hui who live in Taiwan. There are even Hui in Taiwan.
Daniel Strouthes wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Hui differ from the other Muslim peoples of China in that they do not have a language of their own and speak the Chinese dialect of their locality. They are also unlike the other Muslims in that they do not have their own identifying literature or music. They do have a number of visible ethnic markers, which include caps or turbans and beards in some areas for the men and head scarves for the women. Nonconsumption of pork and mosque attendance also serve as ethnic identifiers, as does circumcision where it occurs. The Hui are often called “Chinese Muslims," even though they are regarded as a national minority rather than a religious community. One can be Han Chinese and Christian but not Han Chinese and Muslim. [Source: Daniel Strouthes, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]
Most Hui can trace their descent line to a “foreign" ancestor. The Hui in Yunnan province in southern China are said to be descendants of 13th century Mongol invaders. To retain religious purity and group identity the Hui have always segregated themselves socially from other people, in enclaves. As a result or the marriage rules described above under population when Hui men marry Han women, the Han women change their registration with the government to “Hui," and the children of the marriage are raised as Hui. Hui consider it impossible for a Hui person to become Han, whereas the reverse is possible. |~|
Some have said that the Hui are the “good” Muslims, while the Uyghurs are the “bad” ones, engaged in terrorism. Matthew S. Erie, an expert on Muslims in China, told the New York Times: “The Hui have had numerous uprisings, most notably during the second half of the 19th century from Yunnan to Gansu and beyond. Not all of these were necessarily against the state. There were a number of local conflicts that often snowballed. They are not submissive lackeys of the state.” [Source: Ian Johnson New York Times, September 6, 2016]
Hui Political Organization
After 1949, the Chinese government has carried out a policy of regional ethnic autonomy in Hui-populated areas. Because Huis differ from place to place, such self-autonomy has taken on various forms. Along with the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Linxia and Changji Hui Autonomous prefectures in Gansu Province and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region came into existence. Also six Hui autonomous counties were established in Zhangjiachuan of Gansu Province, Menyuan and Hualong of Qinghai Province, Yanqi of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Dachang and Mengcun of Hebei Province. In addition, there are three other autonomous counties jointly set up by Huis with people of other ethnic groups. The right to ethnic equality and autonomy has thus been realized among the Hui people. [Source: China.org|]
Officials from the Hui ethnic minority occupy an appropriate percentage in the organs of autonomy at all levels. Most leading positions in the power organs as well as leading positions in various executive departments and professional bodies are taken up by outstanding Huis. Emphasis has been laid on the training of Hui office executives, professionals and technical personnel who are competent in their work and politically progressive. All Hui officials, executives and professionals are expected to work for the advancement of industry, agriculture, animal husbandry, culture and education in accordance with local conditions. Considerable attention has been paid to the various Hui autonomous areas in terms of investment in capital construction and of manpower, material resources and technology. |
An appropriate number of representatives have been elected from the Huis to take part in National People's Congresses. People's Congresses held at lower levels also have Hui representation. Hui officials work in government departments at central and local levels. Patriotic figures from Islamic circles have attended Chinese People's Political Consultative Conferences and People's Congresses at various levels. Many of them have taken up leading positions in government organs. |
Hui Economic and Social Development
Many Hui are farmers who grow wheat and beans. The Hui are regarded and as good businessmen. In many Chinese cities they work as traders and peddlers. Hui businessmen were the target of attacks in the riots in Tibet in 2008. In their home villages they are farmers. Sometimes they work in the cities as laborers.
According to the Chinese government: “The social and economic situation among the Hui people has undergone fundamental changes during the last few decades. The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region has established a number of modern industries, covering such fields as coal, power, machinery, metallurgy, chemicals, light industry, petroleum and electronics. Industrial and agricultural production in the region has risen continuously since 1979.Considerable progress has been made by the Huis in farmland capital construction, construction of water conservancy works and mechanized farming. They also have made efforts to fight drought, waterlogging, soil salinization and erosion and sand encroachment of farmland as well as natural calamities. [Source: China.org |]
In Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu Province, irrigated farmland has been increasing year by year as a result of the construction of large-scale key water control projects at Qingtong and Liujia Gorges on the upper reaches of the Yellow River and a series of reservoirs and irrigation canals. Stripe-shaped fields suitable for tractor-ploughing, irrigation and drainage have appeared in quite a few places. The fields will serve as a foundation for the construction of commodity grain production bases. To improve the situation in the Liupan Mountain area plagued by serious water shortage almost every year, the central government has allocated funds for the construction of pumping projects. These are in Tongxin, Guyuan and Haiyuan and will extract water from the Yellow River and life it step by step onto the age-old dry lands. The projects are expected to solve the problem of drinking water and irrigation water among the broad masses of Hui and Han peoples. |
The Hui people as well as people of other ethnic groups in Ningxia have accumulated rich experience in checking sand erosion by means of afforestation in the course of their protracted struggle against desertization. In 1978, the central government decided to build a large-scale shelter-forest that would run across the length of the autonomous region. The forest belt, when completed, will help control the sand and thus change the climate and other natural conditions of Ningxia. This in turn will speed the modernization of the region's agriculture. |
Since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, elementary education has on the whole been made universal among the Huis. In Hui-populated areas, the Hui people have set up their own primary and secondary schools in their communities. Their children are able to attend schools close to their homes. They also have their own professors, engineers, doctors, scientists, writers, artists and specialists. In 1958 the first college was founded in the autonomous region. Today, specialized personnel of Hui and other ethnic groups are being trained at Ningxia University, Ningxia Medical College and Ningxia Institute of Agronomy. Ending 1982, the autonomous region had more than 5,000 schools at various levels with a student population of about 800,000. |
Restrictions placed upon Hui women over the years have been gradually removed as a result of improved education. Secondary and primary schools for female students have been established in some of the Hui-populated areas. An increasing number of Hui women are attending evening schools and schools arranged during slack winter seasons. Having acquired education at varying degrees, many of them are now skilled workers, and more are officials of various levels, as well as actresses, doctors, teachers and engineers. |
Mass literary, artistic and sports activities have been spreading among the Huis, resulting in the emergence of outstanding artists and sportsmen. The skills of veteran Hui artisans in producing such traditional special handicrafts as carved ivory, cloisonne, Suzhou embroidery, carved bricks and carpets have been carried on and developed. |
Medical and public health establishments have been widely set up in Hui-populated areas. Hui medical workers have been trained in large numbers. In major cities like Beijing and Tianjin, where the concentration of Huis is relatively larger, special hospitals have been provided for them. Mobile medical teams have been organized in some places to tour the countryside and mountainous areas where the Huis live. Many of the local epidemic diseases either have been put under control or eliminated. This, coupled with the improvement of economic and cultural life among the Huis, has greatly raised the general level of their health. |
Huis and Chinese
The Hui are allowed to practice their religion and are generally not repressed like the Uyghurs Even so they are regarded with some suspicion by both non-Muslim Chinese, who regard them as "filthy and superstitious,” and non-Chinese Muslims, who regarded them as too closely associated with the Chinese. The Chinese regard the Hui as a minority rather than a religious group. Han Chinese can be Christians but not Muslims. Hui warlords fought viscously against both the Kuomingtan and the Communist and were among the last to surrender to the Communist before Mao Zedong took power in 1949. During the Cultural revolution some Huis were forced to work as swineherds and pig slaughterers.
Ligaya Mishan wrote in the New York Times: “For centuries, the Hui have lived, for the most part, quietly alongside the Han, although the relationship has never been easy. The American anthropologist Dru C. Gladney has observed that the Hui often experience a degree of “physical and linguistic invisibility” alongside their Han neighbors and are sometimes identified dismissively as “Han who do not eat pork.” Still, that dietary distinction reveals a deeper schism: Pork is considered essential to China’s culinary heritage — Mao declared it a “national treasure,” and the character for jia, meaning “family” or “home,” depicts a pig under a roof, honoring the animal that over millenniums kept many Chinese alive in times of scarcity, surviving off scraps and requiring little land — and rejection of the meat can be read as rejection of China itself.
Under the Mongols, the Hui were privileged over the Han and revered as masters of finance, responsible for a new prosperity. But this holds no sway in more recent historical memory; as the American anthropologist Maris Boyd Gillette has written, Chinese officials tend to portray the Hui as “feudal” and “backward,” with “a racial predisposition to violence,” harking back to a Hui uprising in the northwest in the last half of the 19th century that was suppressed so savagely, it was reported that out of Shaanxi’s 700,000 Hui, no more than 60,000 survived. [Source: Ligaya Mishan, New York Times, May 11, 2020]
Chinese Government Crackdown on Hui Muslims
It has been said that Hui Muslims co-exist remarkably well with the Communist Party. They have been allowed space to openly practice their religion with minimal government hostility and intervention, in stark contrast to restrictions imposed on Uyghurs in Xinjiang. But that isn’t always the case
Emily Feng of NPR reported: “Gold-domed mosques and gleaming minarets once broke the monotony of the Ningxia region’s vast scrubland every few miles...Now, though, virtually every mosque in Ningxia’s countryside has been denuded of its domes, part of a sweeping crackdown on China’s Muslim minorities that has reached Hui strongholds in Ningxia, in central China, and as far inland as Henan province in the east. (Up to now, Gansu province in central China has been able to keep most of its mosques intact.) [Source: Emily Feng, NPR, September 26, 2019]
“The crackdown on Muslims has been most extreme in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where scholars estimate that up to 1.5 million Muslim Uyghurs live...The same restrictions that preceded the Xinjiang crackdown on Uyghur Muslims are now appearing in Hui-dominated regions. Since April 2018, Hui mosques have been forcibly renovated or shuttered, schools demolished, and religious community leaders imprisoned. Hui who have traveled internationally are increasingly detained or sent to reeducation facilities in Xinjiang.
“In August 2018, in Ningxia’s Tongxin county, authorities attempted to demolish the Weizhou Grand Mosque, claiming it lacked the right building permits. Hundreds of furious residents staged a sit-in, sharing videos of their protest through popular Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Kuaishou, a livestreaming app, faster than censors could take them down. Taken aback, officials called off the demolition. But the victory was short-lived. In November, local government work units began visiting every household in Weizhou, pressuring residents to sign letters stating their acquiescence to “renovate” the mosque by removing its main dome and domed minarets. In some cases, Weizhou officials threatened to fire state employees if they did not sign the letter, according to multiple residents.
As of September 2019, Weizhou was guarded by checkpoints on the only road leading in and out of town. The mosque is closed, its main dome and minarets replaced with tiled Buddhist-style pagodas, and its entrances blocked by scaffolding. The domes and minarets of the Weizhou Grand Mosque in Ningxia have been replaced with tiled pagodas. “Of course we are afraid we will become the next Xinjiang,” one Hui man told NPR. Three years ago, he abandoned his family’s property in Xinjiang in order to transfer his residency to Tongxin county. “But what can an individual do? We can only take it year by year.” “We say what we have to say”
Violence Involving Huis
In October 2004, riots broke out near the town of Langchenggang in Henan province between Hui and Han Chinese, leaving seven people dead and 42 injured. According to one version of events the incident began after a Hui taxi driver ran over and killed a young Han girl, and relatives and friends of the girl descended on a Hui village demanding compensation. In another version the fighting began with traffic dispute between a Hui truck drivers and Han villagers blocking the road and escalated after local Han came to the defense of the villagers and beat the drivers and set fire to their trucks. The next day the villagers stopped a bus and set it on fire after asking the mostly Hui passengers to get off.
Fights broke between villagers armed with farm implements. There were reports of looting, burning down homes and alternating raids by members of the two ethnic groups. As word of the clash spread , according to some, Han and Hui in neighboring areas joined the fray. There were reports of 500 people being involved in the fighting .
Muslim family with Amdo Tibetan hats Soldiers from the paramilitary People’s Armed Police were deployed and the region was put under martial law. Thousands of police were eventually deployed. Some fighting broke out between police and village involving iron bars, bricks and stones. There were also reports of a convoy of vehicles carrying thousands of Hui that were intercepted by police, producing a tense standoff Officials denied reports in the New York Times that nearly 150 people were killed, including 28 policemen.
The attacks were blamed on tensions that exist below the surface between Hui and Han Chinese and poverty among the Hui. In 2002, there was a clash between Hui and Tibetans in western of Qinghai . There were reports of injuries but details were sketchy. In 1993, a cartoon ridiculing Muslims led to paramilitary police storming a mosque taken over by armed Hui in the northern city of Xining.
In April 2009, hundreds of Hui clashed with police in Luohe in Henan Province when they surrounded a government office and blocked three bridges in a protests over the way a case was handled involving a Hui pedestrian was who hit and killed by a bus driven by a Han man.
Crowd Fights Chinese Police at Mosque Demolition in Ningxia
In January 2012 a crowd of Muslims fought with police who demolished a mosque in China's northwest, a police employee and the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. The violence erupted in Hexi, a town in the Ningxia region, after the mosque was declared an "illegal religious place" and about 1,000 officers arrived to demolish it. [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, January 3, 2011]
The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said 50 people were injured and more than 100 detained after several hundred members of China's Muslim Hui minority tried to stop the demolition. It cited a villager as saying two people died, but said it could not confirm that.
AP reported an employee who answered the phone at the town police station confirmed that officers had fought with protesters and said about 80 people were detained but denied there were any deaths. Police demolished the mosque after the clash, said the employee, who refused to give her name. She said she did not know how many people were involved or why police demolished the mosque.
Tensions Between Tibetans and Hui Muslims
Tibetans and Muslims, mostly Muslim Huis, are arguably the most bitter enemies in China. They get along even worse than Tibetans and Chinese. Animosity between Tibetans and Muslims was a major contributor to the tensions that produced the riots in March 2008. Many of the shops and restaurants that were attacked in Lhasa were Muslim owned.
Tibetans and Huis have often lived in close proximity and they have a long history of fighting, competing, intermarrying and collaborating. Muslim have traditional done butchering and tanning for Tibetans who eat meat and wear furs but are restricted by Buddhism from killing animals. The Huis also have a reputation for seeking their fortune in remote places that Han Chinese would never go and serving as intermediaries for illiterate Tibetans in markets.
Animosity between Muslims and Tibetans in Qinghai dates back to the 1930s when the Muslim warlord Ma Bufeng tried to establish an Islamic enclave in Qinghai. Tibetans were pushed off their land. Some were killed, or forced to convert to Islam. After the Communist takeover tensions were repressed.
Image Sources: Wiki Commons, Nolls, Mongabey
Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) Chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated October 2022