Dru C. Gladney
There are almost twenty million Muslims in China, constituting a diverse community that is both multi-ethnic and, within Islam, multi-religious. There are ten official Muslim nationalities of China, namely, Uyghur, Kazak, Dongxiang, Kyrgyz, Salar, Tadjik, Uzbek, Bonan, and Tatar. With the exception of the Hui, all these Muslim nationalities do not speak Chinese as their native language and are derived more from Central Asian than Chinese origins. The Hui are spread across the length and breadth of the country, but they often share nothing in common with each other except Islam, or the memory of it as handed down to them by their ancestors. While it also might be argued that most of the other Muslim minorities are on the borders of China proper and are historically and culturally more attuned to the regions and peoples outside of China, the Hui are unique in that they inhabit every city, town, and 97 percent of all counties in China. This article examines Islamic communities in China, focusing on Islam among Muslims classified by the state as Hui.
Christianity in China is a relatively new import from the West. During the seventeenth century, European missionary orders, especially the Jesuits and Dominicans, entered China and began impressive missionary efforts. However, a bitter “rites controversy” emerged between the Jesuits and the Dominicans over how much the Christian faith could be adapted to correspond to Chinese culture. In the early eighteenth century, the pope sided with the Dominicans, who rejected any compromise with Chinese religious practices. As a result, the emperor expelled missionaries and proscribed Christianity. The legacy of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century imperialism still affects Chinese Christian churches. A second important legacy of Christianity in contemporary China is the history of persecution under the Communist regime. Since Catholicism is heavily dependent on an ordained clergy, its growth in China is inhibited by the shortage of clergy. Various forms of Protestantism grow much more rapidly because they can depend on lay preachers.
In China, much of religious activity has been practiced outside the institutional forms of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and other major religions. This activity has been characterized as “diffused,” rather than institutional, in the sense that it permeates existing social units (family, village, state) instead of having its own specifically religious forms. Its leaders have been family patriarchs, members of village temple committees, mediums, astrologers, geomancers, and so forth. To these we must add those who have led syncretic lay sects in recent centuries, providing religious alternatives to the major religions. These popular forms of religion have created tensions within mainland China where the state attempts to maintain a tight control on social order. In general, the story of folk religion in China has been one of state suppression followed by popular revival. This article focuses on popular religion in mainland China and discusses family rituals as well as divination (fengshui), deity worship and village temples, and popular lay sects (Falun Gong).
Traditional Chinese religious society is not limited to the geographical boundaries of China and Taiwan or to the billion and a quarter people who live in those areas. For centuries, traditional Chinese religious customs were spread by émigrés, first throughout East and Southeast Asia and then beyond, to Europe, Africa, and North and South America. However, it is not easy to describe the contours of religion in these communities, nor to define what is meant by “traditional Chinese religion.” Most scholars regard Chinese “religion” as encompassing not only the better-known traditions of Confucianism, Daoism (also romanized as Taoism), and Buddhism, but also the equally important popular traditions ranging from shamanism and spirit writing to fengshui (geomancy) and the cults of local deities. This characterization is complicated by long-standing cultural preferences that define certain traditions, particularly Confucianism, as “philosophy” or “family tradition” rather than as “religion.” Other practices, such as divination and spirit possession, tend to be relegated to the realm of “superstition.”