During the 1940s many Chinese Muslims fled China to escape the unrest caused by the civil wars and settled in what is now Pakistan. Some of these people did not go back to China. At one time there was even a mosque in Lahore called the Chini Masjid (Chinese Mosque). I do not know what happened to the Chinese Mosque since the only people who have ever mentioned it to me are people of South Asian extraction who were quite young at the time. if there is anyone from Lahore reading this post and knows about the Chinese Mosque then please let me know and I will post the information for everyone’s benefit. Now back to the topic, some of the Chinese Muslims intermarried with the locals and got assimilated. According to this article, the Chinese community of Pakistan is dwindling as many Pakistanis of Chinese origin are either going back to China or going to other countries for better economic prospects. Here is a relevant excerpt from the news story.
Apart from the Chinese who fled communist China for better economic prospects and settled in Pakistan, there is another category of Chinese who mainly left south-western China for the newly born Pakistan seeking to establish their roots in the tribal areas. Syed Arif Shah is one such Pathan by genetic origin but his maternal roots can be traced to China. Perhaps it is his mustache that enhances his Pakistani background on his very innocent Chinese face.
His septuagenarian grandfather, Lee Chen or Syed Shahjahan, decided leaving civil war-torn China for the newly born Muslim majority state of Pakistan in 1948. “My great grandfather was from the tribal areas. He studied medicine in Bombay and moved out to south-western China as a doctor. He married a local Chinese Muslim lady,” says Shah, who has been an amateur boxer besides being a martial arts buff.
On his death bed during World War II, Lee Chen said his father wished to be buried in his ancestral village in the tribal areas. His wish could not be honoured. However, young Chen and his family landed in Karachi, and being an engineer, contributed to the infant textile industry of Pakistan. He restored his ancestral linkages in Pakistan by arranging his elder daughter’s marriage to a Pakistani Pathan.
Arif Shah, a 27-year-old masters in public administration, is one of his four children. “During my school days, we used to go to Chinese gatherings, where almost 70 per cent of the conversations were in the Chinese language,” says Shah comparing past diplomatic functions with those of today. “Now the ratio has been reversed. The majority of Chinese guests, including the consul general, use Urdu as to communicate.”
This is indeed a sign of assimilation rather than isolation of the local population of Chinese origin. But even then, the majority of Lee Chen’s family, including the ailing Chen himself, is now settled in England. “Being Chinese Muslims, we always found ourselves safe and sound here but economic prosperity dictated its own terms and now most of my family members are settled abroad,” Shah maintains.