2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 135

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Muslim Elites in Republican China: Modernity and Identity - Sponsored by the China and Inner Asia Council (CIAC)

Organizer: Yufeng Mao, Widener University, USA

Chair: James D. Frankel, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Discussant: James D. Frankel, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

As the transitional period between imperial China and the PRC nation-state, the Republican era proved crucial for the Sino-Muslims. Marked by dramatic transformations in the social, economic, cultural, and religious lives of all Chinese, the first half of the 20th century also witnessed changing relations between Sino-Muslims and broader Chinese society as Sino-Muslim elites had to come to terms with the “Chinese nation.” At the same time, contact with the Islamic world dramatically increased, bringing fresh and diverse stimulation for Muslim reformers, altering how Sino-Muslims thought about, taught, and practiced Islam. Relying on newly available sources, these three papers advance scholarly understanding of the multiple roles of modern Sino-Muslim elites. Leila Chérif-Chebbi discusses the Wahhabi-inspired Ikhwan in Northwest China. By building a sophisticated educational system, the Ikhwani movement expanded its influence among rural Sino-Muslims at the expense of formerly dominant Sufi orders. Wlodzimierz Cieciura’s paper describes Sino-Muslim reactions to anti-Muslim media publications in the 1930s. He argues that, through organizing protests and violence against the publishers, Sino-Muslim leaders articulated their beliefs regarding the rightful place of Sino-Muslims in the Chinese nation. Yufeng Mao’s paper analyzes how Sino-Muslim elites’ responded to intellectual trends in the Islamic world. They selectively used their exposure to and knowledge of the Islamic world to serve local agendas in the context of Chinese nation building. Taken together, these three papers deepen our knowledge of the Republican period and strengthen the narrative of Sino-Muslims elites’ participation in creating modern China.

Tradition and evolution in mosque education: The Ikhwan movement in Northwest China
Leila Chebbi, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France

The Wahhabi-inspired Ikhwan movement, already well studied in academic research, may be more subtly analyzed using new materials released by its followers. The Ikhwan reformist movement appeared in Hezhou (now Linxia, Gansu) at the end of the 19th century. Backed by local Muslim warlords, who promoted modern education, it acquired a large audience among rural, culturally backward Muslims. The Ikhwan’s rapid evolution as a popular religious trend took place in a region deeply influenced by well-organized, wealthy, entrenched Sufi orders (Ch. menhuan). How did such successful growth take place? The Ikhwan developed an efficient organization, set up a hierarchy of mosques, and imposed their imams (sometimes by force), thanks to the initial support of Muslim warlords in Gansu and Qinghai (created as a province in 1928). In those same provinces, they developed grassroots education through their own jingtang jiaoyu (“scripture hall education”) with the help of traditional, “illiterate” religious scholars. Those scholars, unable to write religious booklets in Chinese, instead used xiaoerjin—writing vernacular Chinese phonetically, using Arabic script—to disseminate their teachings throughout the northwest. As a result, alongside modern education sponsored by the Muslim warlords for urban elite youngsters, the Ikhwan movement became a strong popular force in China’s northwest, able to survive even when those modern schools were closed by the PRC.

In defense of religion and its people: Hui reactions to anti-Muslim publications in Republican-era mass media
Wlodzimierz Cieciura, University of Warsaw, Poland

This paper discusses how 1930s Sino-Muslim elites and their communities, especially in eastern China, reacted to articles perceived to be “anti-Muslim” in influential Chinese magazines and newspapers. Some of those publications simply mirrored widespread anti-Muslim sentiment borrowed from “the West,” while others clearly resulted from deeply rooted Han hostility towards the Hui, and others still merely reflected common ignorance. Sino-Muslim reactions to those publications provide useful evidence for the Sino-Muslim identity-construction processes of the era. They can also deepen our understanding of the controversial processes that divided Sino-Muslim elites at that historical moment. Taking place in the context of civil war, increasing Japanese encroachment on China, and rising fears of “national extinction,” the protests and organized actions against the publishers and their backers in the government helped Sino-Muslims to realize more clearly their place in the new Chinese nation-state. They also articulated more openly their belief in the central importance of the Hui to the national survival of China and the wider global anti-imperialist struggle. I argue that the “Muslim defamation” incidents were not simply isolated cases of Islamophobic bigotry and Hui overreaction but rather important historical developments that helped to shape modern Sino-Muslim identity.

Sino-Muslims’ selective learning from the Middle East
Yufeng Mao, Widener University, USA

Contacts with centers of modernist thinking in the Middle East provided sources of inspiration and legitimacy for Sino-Muslim modernists in the first half of the 20th century. Chinese students and other travelers brought home Middle Eastern books and periodicals supporting ideas such as modern secular education and nationalism consistent with modernist goals. This paper surveys writings by Sino-Muslim intellectuals about the Islamic world during key moments of Sino-Muslim activism: Muslim educational reform in the late Qing, Muslim efforts to introduce authentic Islamic teaching to China in the early 1930s, and Muslim efforts to empower their communities during the Sino-Japanese war. Drawing on Arabic and Chinese sources, this study addresses the role of bilingual Sino-Muslim intellectuals as the bridge between the Islamic world and Chinese Muslim population in the Republican period. It examines how they reported on their experiences in the Middle East, how they translated Islamic works into Chinese, and how they interpreted religious doctrines. I argue that Sino-Muslim intellectuals carefully edited the content of the knowledge they introduced to their Muslim audience in China in order to advance their modernist and nationalist agenda.