Chinese Muslims in Turkey: The Story of Fatma Wang

For hundreds of years Turkey has been the destination of many Muslim immigrants fleeing their countries for one reason or another. Here is the story of a Chinese Muslim Fatma Wang from Dislocating China.

Three families, three nations (Dru Gladney, Dislocating China, pp181-184)

Fatma Wang — Hui

Fatma Wang came to Istanbul via Taiwan with her family fifty years ago. She, with her husband, a high-ranking Kuomintang official, escaped from Xinjiang in 1949, through the mountains to Pakistan, where they lived for more than four years before relocating to Istanbul, where her husband was appointed as a professor. A Muslim Chinese (known as Dungan in Central Asia, or ‘Hui’ — a term that at one time merely meant Muslim — in China), Fatma has more recent family roots that go back to Sichuan in southwestern China, but she, like many Hui, believes strongly that her earliest ancestors were Persian, and possibly a part of the legendary ‘black-robed’ Muslim force invited to help the Tang emperor suppress a local rebellion in Sichuan. She is thus descended from the hybrid offspring of Arab mercenaries or Persian traders who entered China in service to the empire, married Chinese women, and were later implicated in the empire’s many hegemonies. To this day, Hui are often seen as somehow between Chinese and non-Chinese, distrusted by both sides, the liminal, eternal stranger, inherently useful as mediators, traders, and scapegoats.

Fatma Wang is now the proprietor of the oldest Chinese restaurant in Istanbul, the Cin Lokantasi, on Lamartin Cadessi. While over the years her food has taken on a decidedly Turkish taste, she can still serve up a zesty, spicy bowl of beef noodles. Her sons, Isa Wan Er Shao and Kurban Wang Er Bang, married Turkish women and, like most Istanbulites, practice a secularized version of Islam that honors Muslim holidays an dpractices but is not over-religious. The brothers speak Chinese to their Chinese relatives, but Turkish to their sublings and children. ‘As long as they are Muslims’, Fatma once told me, ‘I don’t care who they marry. The family members tell me that they relate to the Turks not as Turks, but as Muslims: ‘We are Muslim first, Chinese last’. They are neither Turk nor Chinese, but merely Muslim.

Ms. Rosey [Wang] Ma, one of Fatma’s daughters, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, explained to me (pers. comm.) that her mother did not wish her children to marry non-Muslims or even Chinese, but only Muslims, and the German husband of one of her daughters was required to convert to Islam before the marriage was allowed. For Rosey Ma’s insightful history of Muslim Chinese in Malaysia, see Ma, R (2002).

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5 responses to “Chinese Muslims in Turkey: The Story of Fatma Wang

  1. very interesting history .ilike hsitory of chinese muslims mainly gungans and uigurs in xiangian or dog turkestan urumqi , kara may or etc muslim histories in china mainland .thank you
    greetings adnaan dhahar

  2. Pingback: Chinese Muslims in Turkey: The Story of Ramazan Kubilay « Islam in China·

  3. I just saw this documentary called ‘Chinese Restaurants’ on Demand. The Wong Family was on there. It was awesome!

    I don’t think people realize how much history Turkey, Central Asia, and China share. In fact much of Western China was part of an older Turkestan. What an awesome story. I’ve always been curious about how certain ethnicities end up in random countries.

  4. So happy to hear news of my old Friend Isa, hope he is doing well.

    I ate at their restaurant over 30 years ago, will certainly go again if ever I visit Istanbul.

    Best of luck.

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