With a sizable population of 9,816,802,
the Hui ethnic group is one of China's largest ethnic minorities.
People of Hui origin can be found in most of the counties and cities
throughout the country, especially in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous
Region and Gansu, Qinghai, Henan, Hebei, Shandong and Yunnan provinces
and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
The name Hui is an abbreviation for "Huihui," which first appeared
in the literature of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It referred
to the Huihe people (the Ouigurs) who lived in Anxi in the present-day
Xinjiang and its vicinity since the Tang Dynasty (618-907). They
were actually forerunners of the present-day Uygurs, who are totally
different from today's Huis or Huihuis.
During the early years of the 13th century when Mongolian troops
were making their western expeditions, group after group of Islamic-oriented
people from Middle Asia, as well as Persians and Arabs, either were
forced to move or voluntarily migrated into China. As artisans,
tradesmen, scholars, officials and religious leaders, they spread
to many parts of the country and settled down mainly to livestock
breeding. These people, who were also called Huis or Huihuis because
their religious beliefs were identical with people in Anxi, were
part of the ancestors to today's Huis.
Earlier, about the middle of the 7th century, Islamic Arabs and
Persians came to China to trade and later some became permanent
residents of such cities as Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Hangzhou, Yangzhou
and Chang'an (today's Xi'an). These people, referred to as "fanke"
(guests from outlying regions), built mosques and public cemeteries
for themselves. Some married and had children who came to be known
as "tusheng fanke," meaning "native-born guests from outlying regions."
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), these people became part of
the Huihuis, who were coming in great numbers to China from Middle
The Huihuis of today are therefore an ethnic group that finds
its origins mainly with the above-mentioned two categories, which
in the course of development took in people from a number of other
ethnic groups including the Hans, Mongolians and Uygurs.
It is generally acknowledged that Huihui culture began mainly
during the Yuan Dynasty.
Warfare and farming were the two dominant factors of this period.
During their westward invasion, the Mongols turned people from Middle
Asia into scouts and sent them eastward on military missions. These
civilians-turned-military scouts were expected to settle down at
various locations and to breed livestock while maintaining combat
readiness. They founded settlements in areas in today's Gansu, Henan,
Shandong, Hebei and Yunnan provinces and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous
Region. They later were joined by more scouts sent from the west.
As time went by they became ordinary farmers and herdsmen. Among
the Islamic Middle Asians, there were a number of artisans and tradesmen.
The majority of these people settled in cities and along vital communication
lines, taking to handicrafts and commerce. Because of these activities
a common economic life began to take shape among the Huihuis. Scattered
as they were, they stuck together in relative concentration in settlements
and around mosques which they built. This has been handed down as
a specific feature of the distribution of Hui population in China.
The Huihui scouts and a good number of Huihui aristocrats, officials,
scholars and merchants sent eastward by the Mongols were quite active
in China. They exercised influence on the establishment of the Yuan
Dynasty and its military, political and economic affairs. The involvement
of Huihui upper-class elements in the politics of Yuan Dynasty in
turn helped to promote the development of Huihuis in many fields.
Generally speaking, the social position of Huihuis during the
Yuan Dynasty was higher than that of the Hans. Nevertheless, they
were still subjected to the oppression of Yuan rulers. After going
through the hardships of their eastward exodus, they continued to
be in the hands of various Mongolian officials, functioning either
as herdsmen or as government and army artisans. A fraction of them
even were allocated to Mongolian aristocrats to serve as house slaves.
Being people who came to China from places where social systems,
customs and habits differed from those in the east, the Huihuis
began to cultivate their own national consciousness. This was caused
also by their relative concentration with mosques as the center
of their social activities, by their increasing economic contacts
with each other, by their common political fate and their common
belief in the Islamic religion.
It was during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that the Huihuis began
to emerge as an ethnic group.
Along with the nationwide restoration and development of the social
economy in the early Ming Dynasty years, the distribution and economic
status of the Huihui population underwent a drastic change. The
number of Huihuis in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces increased as more
and more Huihuis from other parts of the country submitted themselves
to the Ming court and joined their people in farming.
Other factors contributed to their dispersion: industrial and
commercial exchanges, assignment of Huihui garrison troops to various
areas to open up wasteland and grow food grain, nationwide tours
by Huihui officials and scholars, and especially the migration of
Huihuis during peasant uprisings. They still managed, however, to
maintain their tradition of concentration by setting up their own
villages in the countryside or sticking together in suburban areas
or along particular streets and lanes in cities. The dislocation
of military scouts dating from the Yuan Dynasty had enabled the
Huihuis to extricate themselves gradually from military involvement
and to settle down to farming, breeding livestock, handicrafts and
small-scale trading. Thus they established a new common economic
life among themselves, characterized by an agricultural economy.
During the initial stage of their eastward exodus, the Huihuis
used the Arab, Persian and Han languages. However, in the course
of their long years living with the Hans, and especially due to
the increasing number of Hans joining their ranks, they gradually
spoke the Han language only, while maintaining certain Arab and
Persian phrases. Huihui culture originally had been characterized
by influences from the traditional culture of Western Asia and assimilation
from the Han culture. However, due to the introduction of the Han
language as a common language, the tendency to assimilate the Han
culture became more obvious. The Huihuis began to wear clothing
like the Hans. Huihui names were still used, but Han names and surnames
became accepted and gradually became dominant.
The Islamic religion had a deep influence on the life style of
the Hui people. For instance, soon after birth, an infant was to
be given a Huihui name by an ahung (imam); wedding ceremonies must
be witnessed by ahungs; a deceased person must be cleaned with water,
wrapped with white cloth and buried coffinless and promptly in the
presence of an ahung who serves as the presider. Men were accustomed
to wearing white or black brimless hats, specially during religious
services, while women were seen with black, white or green scarves
on their head -- a habit which also derived from religious practices.
The Huis never eat pork nor the blood of any animal or creature
that died of itself, and they refuse to take alcohol. These taboos
originated in the Koran of the Moslems. The Huis are very particular
about sanitation and hygiene. Likewise, before attending religious
services, they have to observe either a "minor cleaning," i.e. wash
their face, mouth, nose, hands and feet, or a "major cleaning,"
which requires a thorough bath of the whole body.
Islamism also had great impact on the political and economic systems
of Hui society. "Jiaofang" or "religious community," as once practiced
among the Huis, was a religious system as well as an economic system.
According to the system, a mosque was to be built at each location
inhabited by Huis, ranging from a dozen to several hundred households.
An imam was to be invited to preside over the religious affairs
of the community as well as to take responsibility over all aspects
of the livelihood of its members and to collect religious levies
and other taxes from them. A mosque functioned not only as a place
for religious activities but also as a rendezvous where the public
met to discuss matters of common interest. Religious communities,
operating quite independently from each other, had thus become the
basic social units for the widely dispersed Hui people. Following
the development of the Hui's agricultural economy and the increase
of religious taxes levied on them, some chief imams began to build
up their personal wealth. They used this to invest in land properties
and engage in exploitation through land rents. The imams gradually
changed themselves into landlords. Working in collaboration with
secular landlords, they enjoyed comprehensive power in the religious
communities, which they held tightly under their control. They left
routine religious affairs of the mosques to low-rank ahungs.
The last stage of the Ming Dynasty and the early years of the
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) saw the emergence of a new system of religious
aristocracy among the Huis in Hezhou (today's Linxia in Gansu Province).
It came into existence as a result of intensified land concentration
which exceeded the boundaries of one single religious community.
This made certain imams rulers of a whole series of religious communities,
turning them into Islamic aristocrats. They were deified. Kiosks
were erected in their cemeteries for Moslems under their jurisdiction
to worship. Their position was seen as hereditary. They enjoyed
a series of feudalistic privileges as well as absolute authority
over their people. The system had been in existence, however, only
in some of the Hui areas in Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai. The Huis
in hinterland China had always functioned under the religious community
Contribution to Chinese Civilization
The Huis are an industrious people. Their development and progress
have been facilitated, however, by adopting the Han language and
living with the Hans. Since the Yuan and Ming dynasties, large numbers
of Hui peasants joined the Hans and people of other nationalities
in reclaiming wasteland, farming and grazing in the hinterland and
along border regions. Hui artisans were famous for their craftsmanship
in making incense, medicine, leather and cannons, as well as in
mining and smelting of ore. Hui merchants played a positive role
in the economic exchanges between the hinterland and border regions
and in trade contacts between China and other Asian countries. Hui
scholars and scientists made outstanding contributions to China
in introducing and spreading the achievements of Western Asia in
astronomy, calendars, medicine and a number of other academic and
cultural developments. These helped to promote the wellbeing and
productive activities of the people of China as a whole. Chinese
history has seen not a few outstanding Huis representing their people
in the fields of politics, economy and culture.
During the Yuan Dynasty, the astronomist Jamaluddin compiled a
perpetual calendar and produced seven kinds of astroscopes including
the armillary sphere, the celestial globe, the terrestrial globe
and the planetarium; Alaowadin and Yisimayin led the development
of a mechanized way of shooting stone balls from cannons, which
exercised an important bearing on military affairs in general; the
architect Yehdardin learned from Han architecture and designed and
led the construction of the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, which laid
the foundation for the development of the city of Beijing.
During the Ming Dynasty, the Hui navigator Zheng He led massive
fleets in making as many as seven visits to more than 30 Asian and
African countries in 29 years. This unparalleled feat served to
promote the friendship as well as economic and cultural exchanges
between China and these countries. Zheng He was accompanied by Ma
Huan and Ha San, also of Hui origin, who acted as his interpreters.
Ma Huan gave a true account of Zheng He's visits in his book Magnificent
Tours of Lands Beyond the Ocean, which is of major significance
in the study of the history of communication between China and the
West. Hui scholar Li Zhi (1527-1602) of Quanzhou in Fujian Province
was a well-known progressive thinker in Chinese ideology history.
A number of outstanding politicians emerged among the Huis. Sayyid
Ajall Sham Suddin (1211-1279) of early Yuan Dynasty was one of them.
During his late years when he was serving as governor of Yunnan
Province, he laid stress on agriculture, setting up special areas
for peasants to reclaim wasteland and grow food grain. He advocated
the harnessing of six rivers in Kunming, capital of the province;
established communication posts extensively for couriers to change
horses and rest; initiated teaching in Confucianism and made strong
efforts in harmonizing relations among various nationalities. All
these benefitted political, economic and cultural developments in
Yunnan, helping to bring closer relations between the province and
the central government.
Hai Rui (1514-1587), a politician of the Ming Dynasty, was upright
throughout his life. He had the courage to remonstrate with Emperor
Jiajing about his fatuousness and arbitrariness that brought the
nation and the people to calamity. Hai also lashed out at what he
considered to be the evils of the court and inept ministers. Later
during his term of office as roving inspector directly responsible
to the emperor and as chief procurator of Nanjing, Hai enforced
discipline, redressed mishandled cases and checked local despots
in a successful attempt to boost public morale.
Since the Yuan and Ming dynasties, a great number of established
Hui poets, scholars, painters and dramatists emerged. These included
Sadul, Gao Kegong, Ding Henian, Ma Jin, Ding Peng and Gai Qi.
Life in the 20th Century
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.
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.
Huis that live scattered across the country have the similar right
to enjoy ethnic equality and to direct their own affairs. Their
identity as members of an established ethnic group is respected.
The political status of the Hui people has been greatly raised.
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.
The majority of Huis believe in Islamism. Their religious freedom,
customs and habits are respected and guaranteed. Since 1979, the
policies on ethnic minorities and religion have continued in Ningxia
Hui Autonomous Region and elsewhere in the country after disruptions
caused by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). By May 1984, 1,400
mosques had been restored in Ningxia. This has made it possible
for Moslems throughout the autonomous region to normalize their
religious activities. An institute for the study of Islamic scriptures
was established in 1982. It takes in students from among the ahungs
every year. An Islamism research society also was set up to conduct
academic and research activities on Islamism. In recent years, many
young Huis have made efforts to learn Islamic classics in Arabic.
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
The social and economic situation among the Hui people has undergone
fundamental changes during the last three decades. The Democratic
Reform in the early 1950s and the subsequent socialist transformation
put an end to the system of class oppression within the ranks of
the Huis. This made it possible for them to join hands with the
other ethnic groups of China in embarking on the road of socialism.
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
The production and livelihood of the Huis in the countryside have
improved continuously. 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. 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.
Mechanization of farming has progressed in Hui villages. Farming
methods and cultivation techniques, too, have undergone marked improvements.
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
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.
Numerous fetters that had been forced 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.