New Yorker on Hui in Yunnan

The New Yorker has an article on the Hui Muslims in China. There is a specially poigenct paragraph on the history of the Muslims in the Yunnan province. Consider the following excerpt.

The history of the Hui in Yunnan is one of seasons of prosperity punctuated by violence. The province wasn’t part of China until the thirteenth century, when Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar al-Bukhari, a Central Asian Muslim who served the imperial court, brought it into the fold. According to Ahmed, an imam at one of Kunming’s mosques, many Hui still revere Sayyid Ajjal, because he demonstrated that Islam could coexist with Chinese philosophy. “Chinese tradition teaches the dao of man, and Islam teaches the dao of heaven—the two are complementary,” Ahmed said. Sayyid Ajjal built Confucian academies alongside mosques and Buddhist temples, infusing foreign religion and culture with domestic ideals of harmony and hierarchy. “This is why Hui can mix with Han, but Uighurs can’t,” Ahmed continued, referring to China’s other significant Muslim minority. “We have Islam with Chinese characteristics.” Nevertheless, relations between the Hui and the Han have not always been peaceful. In the nineteenth century, during the Qing dynasty, tensions between the two groups erupted over how Yunnan’s mineral resources were being apportioned. Qing officials ordered a xi Hui—a washing away of the Hui—slaughtering at least four thousand people in the course of three days in 1856. That massacre sparked a sixteen-year rebellion, which ended with another massacre, this time of at least ten thousand Hui.

After the Shadian incident, as China’s economy opened up, the Hui flourished again. They operated private copper, lead, and zinc mines, some of which outcompeted state-owned enterprises. Wealth brought them relative religious freedom, and with a steady flow of zakat, the Muslim equivalent of a tithe, Shadian’s citizens built mosques and madrassas, giving scholarships to religious students and sending hundreds of Hui on the hajj each year. Seeing potential for Shadian to attract religious tourists from Southeast Asia, provincial authorities began marketing the town as the “little Mecca of the East.” They allowed street signs in Arabic and even a green dome on the local administration building’s roof.

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