Chapter 9: Islamic Culture in China by Dawood C. M. Ting
(Dawood C. M. Ting is Consulate of the Republic of China, Beirut, Lebanon)
Historians are not agreed as to when Islam came to China. There is no record of the event in Arab history and only a brief mention in Chinese annals. The Ancient Record of the T’ang Dynasty notes that in the second year of the rule of Yung-wei (31; A.D. 651) an emissary from Arabia came to the royal court bearing gifts. The emissary claimed that his state had been established thirty-one years before, which would mean that he reached the T’ang court during the Caliphate of Uthman. According to the traditions of the Muslims of China this is considered to be the first time that Islam was brought to China. The leader of this delegation was Said Ibn Abi Vaqqas, one of the noted Companions of the Prophet. His party included fifteen persons who had traveled together by way of the Indian Ocean and the China Sea to the port of Kwangchow in south China, going overland from there to the capital city, Ch’ang-an, where they paid their respects to the emperor.
The emperor, after searching inquiries about the religion of Muhammad, gave general approval to the new religion -- which he considered to be compatible with the teachings of Confucius -- but he felt that five daily prayers and a month of fasting were requirements too severe for his taste, and he was not converted. He gave Said and his delegation freedom to propagate their faith and expressed his admiration for Islam by ordering the establishment of the first mosque at Ch’ang-an, an important event in the history of Islam. This mosque still stands in excellent condition in modern Sian after ages of repairs and restorations.
Years later when Said was advanced in age and in ill health, he received permission to return to his homeland, but unfortunately he died on the way and was buried at Kwangchow. The mosque built at the site of his grave, in memory of the holiness of Muhammad, is still preserved today, the second historic mosque in China. Some of his followers died in China and others returned to their homeland. There is no agreement between Chinese and foreign historians as to whether Said Ibn Abi Waqqas died in China or Arabia. Chinese historians of Islam believe he died in Kwangchow, pointing to his grave as evidence, while Arab historians insist that he died in Medina and was buried there. Chinese pilgrims who visit Medina after the pilgrimage to Mecca are shown the reputed grave of Said there. This point is still in doubt and all that can be said is that one grave is real while the other is only symbolic.
The first Muslim visitors to China came by the sea route, following the example of the visit and preaching of Said and his party which laid the foundation stone of Islam in China. Many Arab and Persian visitors came to China for commercial and religious reasons, both under the Umayyads and the Abbasids. The Arabians who came in the time of the Umayyads were known in China as the White Robed Tashi and when relations between China and the Muslim empire further improved under the Abbasids, their emissaries were known as the Black Robed Tashi. The Umayyads and Abbasids sent five or six delegations to China, ranging from a few to a score of persons in each party, bringing precious gifts to the Chinese emperors. These delegations were cordially received by the Chinese and laden with gifts to carry back to the Caliphs, indicating the continuing friendly relations between China and the Muslim rulers.
In the century and a half between 31 and 184 (A.D. 651-800) a considerable number of Arab and Persian businessmen came to China by the sea route. Initially they settled in Kwangchow but slowly began to push their way along the coast to the main cities and even as far north as Hangchow. Wherever they went they gathered contributions and built mosques as centers for their religion, mosques which were relatively large and well-built, attesting to the substantial economic position of the traders. Many of those historically Important mosques are still preserved, but in some places the converts have dwindled through the ages and the mosques remain today as historical ruins. During this period a growing number of Arab and Persian businessmen settled down in the southern provinces of China, many of them marrying Chinese women. Because of the differences in religion and customs, these people lived apart in their own communities where they could follow the religious injunctions of Islam in their living habits, marriage and funeral rites, and other ceremonies. They had their own courts in which they handled cases concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other problems of Islamic law, evidence of the influence and power of Islam in China at that time.
The Arabs and Persians who came to China by sea exercised great influence in trade with a virtual monopoly of the import and export business. By the time of the Sung dynasty (349-678; A.D. 960-1279) a foreign quarter and bazaar had been established in Kwangchow. The office of Director General of Shipping was created to take charge of the movement of commodities through the port and to supervise customs and other commercial matters -- a post which was always held by a Muslim. further evidence of the strength and social position of Muslim merchants of the time.
While the Muslims who came by sea were settling in the south along the coast, Islam was introduced into northwest China by the overland route. For some time the Hsiung Nu tribes of northwest China had caused constant border disturbances. After they were conquered by the Arabs these tribes were gradually converted to Islam. During the T’ang dynasty, in 138 (A.D. 755), Emperor Hsuan Tsung was faced with a rebellion which forced him to take refuge in Szechwan. He sent emissaries to ask for assistance from the Muslims of northwest China and they sent eight thousand soldiers who aided him in his struggle with the rebels. In recognition of their valuable services Hsuan Tsung gave the soldiers the choice of returning to their homes laden with gifts or of remaining in China. When they all elected to remain they were settled on farm land and given eight thousand young women in marriage. Thus they were provided with land, homes, and an opportunity to live in peace and happiness. These new settlers became the founding fathers of the Muslim communities of northwest China.
The improved relations with the Hsiung Nu tribes brought greater numbers of their people into China proper for business, many of whom chose to settle there. Still later Iranian and Afghan traders came through the northwest to Ch’ang-an, continuing the introduction of Islam to China by the overland route.
The Rise and Fall of Islam in China
During the T’ang dynasty (ended 295; A.D. 907) and the Sung dynasty (349-678; A.D. 960-1279) foreign trade grew steadily as Arabs and Iranians took silk, art objects, Chinese porcelain, and other commodities to the Middle East and to Europe, returning with herbs, spices, pearls, and other products of those areas. They became middlemen in a most profitable trade which attracted ever greater numbers for commerce and the propagation of their faith, and as the new traders came to China many Muslim communities were established in the southeast and northwest parts of the country. These Muslim communities became a strong force in Chinese society. Because the Muslims were law-abiding and self-disciplined citizens of high economic status they were received with respect and friendship by the Han (Chinese) people and were given the confidence and protection of the government. During the T’ang and Sung dynasties there was no anti-foreign feeling on the part of the government, and the Muslim population was able to increase steadily and move inland. Thus the Chinese and Islamic cultures lived together in harmony and tolerance.
The Yuan dynasty was considered a foreign dynasty because it started under Genghis Khan, whose Mongol forces occupied China, Central Asia, Iran, Arabia, and parts of Eastern Europe. When these areas were divided Into various kingdoms, Kublai Khan became the ruler of China and Mongolia, and the founder of the Yuan dynasty. Of the other areas which were for a time under Mongol control, the kingdoms of Central Asia were converted to Islam. Throughout the whole area the freedom of travel maintained by the Mongols encouraged great crosscurrents of peoples and cultures -- the Chinese into Central Asia and the Arabs, Turks, and Iranians into China -- which brought an influx into China of Muslim merchants and also Muslim doctors, scholars, astronomers, astrologers, and high-ranking warriors who were attached to the Mongol army as advisors, military aides, and staff officers. Although the Yuan dynasty was Mongolian, Muslims enhanced their standing by holding positions of military and civil power, and the propagation of the faith was greatly facilitated. According to the eminent Chinese historian Professor Ting-hsueh Wu, over thirty Muslims were high officials at the royal court in Peking, and the governors of nine provinces were Muslims.
Of the many important Muslims at the royal court of the Mongols, Sayyid EdjelI was the most prominent. Rising through a series of high offices, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Mongolian Expeditionary Forces in Szechwan and was appointed the governor of the province in 671 (A.D. 1272). Two years later he was transferred to the governorship of Yunnan where his enlightened and glorious rule spread Chinese culture into the southwest, bringing the people Chinese law, education, and improved agriculture. He did this without prejudice as to race or religion and without forced conversion of the people to Islam -- on the contrary, he was the first to establish Confucian temples in Yunnan. Many of the cultural patterns of the present day are due to this great governor whose name is still revered by the people of Yunnan. Were it not for his religion, he would long since have been worshiped in the temples.
The great Iranian historian, Rashidu’d-Din Fadlu’llah, in his remarkable history Iami’u’t-Tawarikh -- the first volume of which deals with the history of the Mongols -- tells us that "China during the Mongolian dynasty of Kublai Khan was administered in twelve districts, with a governor and vice-governor in each. Of these twelve governors, eight were Muslims. In the remaining districts, Muslims were vice-governors." Thus we can imagine the status and importance of Muslims in China during the Yuan dynasty
The Yuan dynasty lasted for roughly ninety years (678-770; A.D. I 279-1368) until it was overthrown and the Ming dynasty was established. During the Ming dynasty -- which ruled almost three centuries, from 770 to 1054 (A.D. 1368-644) -- the Muslims made many great contributions to the life of China, and Islam gained its rightful place as a popular religion.
By the beginning of the Ming dynasty Islam had been in China for seven centuries. The considerable number of Muslims who had settled in China had laid a secure foundation for Islam, but during those seven hundred years the Muslims had retained their alien status as a special class which preserved its own language, customs, and manners and was never fully integrated with the Han people. Under the Ming dynasty, however, with the retreat of foreign influence and the cessation of the migrations, the Muslims in China slowly lost their alien status and became Chinese citizens, and their manner of living was gradually Sinicized.
The most striking example of this process of integration was the adoption of Chinese surnames. Many Muslims who married Chinese wives adopted the name of the wife. In most cases Muslims picked Chinese names which sounded closest to their original names. For example, the surname Ma belonged to a prominent Chinese family and many historical figures were named Ma. Many Muslims whose names started with the letter M took the name Ma, partly because of the similarity in sound, and partly because the Muslims loved horses and the character Ma stands for horses. Thus so many Muslims of northwest China bear the surname Ma that there is a common saying, "Nine Ma in ten Muslims." The Chinese surnames Mo, Mai, and Mu have been adopted by Muslims whose names were Mohammed, Mustafa, Murad, Masoud. Many Muslims who found no existing common Chinese surname sounding like their names simply used the Chinese character sounding closest to their name -- Ta for Daoud and Tahir; Ha for Hassan; Ho for Hussein; Ting for Jelaluddin, Shamsuddin, Ghamaruddin; Sai for Said and Saad; Na for Nasser and Naguib; Sha for Salem, Salih, Sabih; Ai for Issa and Amin.
Muslim customs concerning food and clothing were also Sinicized, but these changes in food did not involve the breaking of religious admonitions concerning the use of pork or wine. In education, Muslim children started speaking Han dialects and reading Chinese books. In a relatively short time the Muslims in China became almost totally Sinicized so that, except for those religious tenets which were retained as necessary to their Islamic faith, the Muslims could not be distinguished from other Chinese. Hence the Muslims were respected and accepted without prejudice and enjoyed equal treatment and opportunities in government, business, and agricultural life. There was very little conflict or friction.
The Ming dynasty may be called the golden age of Muslims in China, for long years of peace and prosperity brought a flowering of art and culture in which the Muslims participated. Prominent Muslims had taken part in the establishment of the Ming dynasty, and later, in the reign of Yung Lo from 808 to 836 (A.D. 1405-32), the eminent Muslim statesman Cheng Ho was sent by the monarch to establish friendly relations with the countries of the South Pacific and with India, Arabia, and East Africa. During the Ming dynasty Muslims continued in positions of power, some historians even going so far as to say that the Ming was a dynasty of Muslims. There is even evidence for the claim that Ming T’ai Tsu, the founder of the dynasty, was a Muslim. It is pointed out that the wife of T’ai Tsu, Empress Ma, was a Muslim, that many of his responsible officials were Muslims, that he never worshiped in a temple after his accession, that he forbade the drinking of wine, that he composed the hymn of praise of one hundred words to Muhammad which may still be found inscribed in the main mosque in Nanking, and that historians mention his strange facial features, which may have been due to foreign blood as a descendant of a Persian or Arab. At any rate, Muslims were well treated during the Ming dynasty and there was harmony between the Muslims and the Han people.
The Ch’ing dynasty ruled from 1054 to 1329 (A.D. 1644-1911). This last imperial dynasty of China was not a dynasty of the Han people, but of an alien minority, the Manchus. The Manchus established by force the Ch’ing imperialism which ruled over the majority of Han, Muslim, Mongolian, and Tibetan people. Their ruthless policy of divide and rule, setting off one group of people against another, meant the beginning of trouble for the Muslims of China. The Ch’ing dynasty, jealous of the influence of the Muslims and fearful of a counterrevolutionary attempt to restore the Ming dynasty, created many incidents to foment anti-Muslim feeling. The Chinese Muslims reacted with violence several times and the Ch’ing dynasty retaliated with their army. Since their armies were led and manned by Han soldiers, these incidents led to Muslim enmity toward the Hans. There were four major rebellions between 1236 and 1293 (A.D. 1820-76)
The loss of life and property as a consequence of these events was severe, and the spiritual and psychological reactions of the Muslims were unfortunate. They developed a hatred for officialdom and the Han people and forbade their own people to study Han books or work for the government. They developed a passive attitude toward life, did not participate in government, took no interest in politics, and derived their chief comfort and satisfaction from their religion. This led to their gradual disappearance from the national political scene and represents the low ebb of the fortunes of the Muslims in China.
With the downfall of the Manchu dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China, the status of Muslims in China entered a new era because the founder of the Republic, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, in his wisdom and foresight, proclaimed that the Republic belonged to the five races of China -- Han, Man (Manchu), Meng (Mongol), Hui (Muslim), and Tsang (Tibetan) -- the five great components of the Republic, with equal status. They were like five brothers of a big family, with the Han peoples acting as the elder brother in leading the others.
Under the Republic the Muslims of China once more regained their former eminence. The passing of the Manchus and the tolerant policies of the Republic led the Muslims to regain their faith in the people and to participate actively in the affairs of the country. The Muslims made great contributions both in money and manpower in the revolutionary wars, the anti-Communist wars, and the Sino-Japanese war. Now that China has unfortunately fallen under the yoke of the Communists the Muslims of China are struggling hand in hand with their Han brethren to regain the freedom of the people. When the mainland was lost the Muslim leaders followed the government to the island of Taiwan. The Chinese Islamic Association, spiritual heart of the fifty million Muslims of China, also moved to Taiwan to continue its struggle. The unfortunate Muslims forced to remain in China are, with few exceptions, still loyal to the Republic even though they cannot openly defy the Communists. Their reasons are not hard to find, for the Communists are anti-religious, denying the existence of a Creator, and the Muslims in China have had personal experience of the deceit and brutality of the Communists. When they have an opportunity they will certainly rise in rebellion, but inferiority in numbers and lack of arms make the Muslims an easy prey to the oppressors. At present the Chinese Communists are following the peaceful offensive of the Kremlin, the policy of conciliation of the Muslims as a strategy to obtain the friendship and sympathy of the Islamic countries -- but these sly maneuvers will not deceive the Chinese Muslims.
The Muslim Community
There are many conflicting figures as to the number of Muslims in China. The 1948 China Year Book, published in Chungking, states the population of Muslims in China as 48,104,000. That official estimate of the government is close to the figure of fifty million which is considered by Chinese Muslims to be the most accurate and reliable figure. Thus, if the total population of China is taken as five hundred million, the Muslims constitute about ten per cent of the people. This makes the Muslims the second largest of the five races comprising the Chinese nation; following the Han race are the Hui (Muslim), Meng (Mongolian), Tsang (Tibetan), and Man (Manchu) minorities, in that order. The recent claim of the Communists that the Muslim population is ten million may be dismissed as pure propaganda. The largest concentration of Muslims is found in the provinces of the northwest and the northeast, followed by Honan, Hopei, and Shantung provinces. In the southwest, Yunnan and Szechwan lead; while in the southeast, in the Yangtse valley Anhwei province leads in the number of Muslims. The coastal provinces of Kiangsu, Chekiang, Fukien, and Kwangtung contain the smallest number of Muslims in modern times, although formerly they had the largest Muslim population. The size of the former Muslim community in that area is indicated by the fact that when the Ming Dynasty established its capital in Nanking there were thirty-six mosques in the city.
According to recent investigations, there were very old Muslim communities in Taiwan, but today only five or six thousand Muslims can be found, mostly fishermen living along the west coast of Central Taiwan. Their forebears presumably came from Fukien. Time, lack of religious leadership, isolation from the Chinese mainland, and Japanese control have reduced this group to apathy. Like sheep who have lost their way and await their shepherd, the only remnant of their religion is their refusal to eat pork.
In the early days the Chinese Muslims were mostly rich merchants; in Yuan times they were high government officials; and in Ming times they were leading intellectuals. In the north they almost monopolized transportation with caravans of donkeys, horses, and camels. Along the Yangtze river and the Huai Ho, and in the provinces along the canal where rice was produced, the Muslims controlled the grain trade and transportation. Evidences of this may be found even today in those areas where Iranian commercial terms and numbers are used in the grain trade, even though the present grain merchants are not Muslim and use the terms without understanding their meanings.
During the Ch’ing dynasty the Muslims lost their grip on commerce and finance. At present the principal trades of the Muslims are the jewelry and curio business, leather-working, the tea business, raising and butchering animals, the operation of restaurants, and agriculture. The collecting of precious pearls, jade, antiques, calligraphy, and paintings is a highly specialized business which caters to royalty and wealthy merchants and requires great skill and experience. At the end of the Ch’ing dynasty Muslims owned nearly all the curio business in Peking and many other cities in China, and even today they are leaders in the field. Recently the Chinese government in Taiwan invited Muslim experts to study the quality of the jewels possessed by the treasury.
In the northwest and northeast of China the Muslims deal in a great variety of furs and leathers. In Yunnan the Muslims are tea planters and carry on a large business with Tibet and Sinkiang as well as with Burma, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan. Tea is transported by donkey and horse caravans to neighboring countries over a difficult and tedious route which serves as a channel of trade on the return journeys. The great plain of the northwest is a good place to raise cattle, sheep, horses, and camels, and since that is home ground for the Muslims they have been deeply involved in raising animals. Because of Muslim rules governing butchering, Muslims have become involved in the butchering business not only in the northwest, but in many other provinces as well. But they do not raise and kill pigs.
In addition to those trades which are restricted to limited areas, Muslims have engaged widely in restaurant-keeping throughout China. Their cooking methods are slightly different from those of the Chinese since they use no pork or lard, and their restaurants are always identified by special signs. Many Muslims are farmers, and in the cities there are many Muslim merchants as well as doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and public workers. Due to their interest in brave deeds, Muslims frequently join the army and follow careers as soldiers and officers. A Muslim will not take a job as a barber, or perform other personal services such as cutting toenails or massaging. Nor will Muslim girls become prostitutes. If a Muslim girl should fall into bad company the local service committee of Muslims would buy her freedom right away and remarry her -- an evidence of the well-organized and closely cooperative Muslim community.
Chinese Muslim Customs.
Chinese Muslim customs are very different from those of the Han, Manchu, Mongol, and Tibetan peoples. This is due to the special ideals of Islam which result in customs different from those of people who come close to believing in no God -- such as Confucianists and Taoists -- or of those who believe m many gods, as do the Buddhists. Although other religions pay no attention to such matters, the rules of Islam forbid the eating of pork, certain sea foods, dead animals, blood, or anything not killed according to the Islamic method, and Muslims must obey. Special customs naturally developed under such circumstances.
To solve many living problems, separate residential areas for Muslims and for Hans were created in large cities where Muslims were dominant. Whether or not the Muslims live in separate quarters there are differences in the homes which are recognizable. At the Chinese New Year the Hans decorate their homes with a pair of door gods on each side of the door and paste posters by the door frames. Muslim residences do not have anything on their doors; they are well-kept, clean, and natural in appearance. In Han homes, you find the gods, the ancestors, and the Heaven and Earth Emperor in their proper place in the living room, with incense burning all year round. There is no such thing in Muslim homes. At the four seasons festivals the Han people hang certain herbs in their homes, but the Muslims never do. Most Muslims have had bathrooms in their homes in order to perform their religious rites, but few Han people had bathrooms; they usually used wooden tubs for bathing. Modern construction and living customs have brought bathrooms to the Hans, so outward differences seem to be decreasing.
The clothing of Chinese Muslims is similar to that of the Chinese except for a few tribes like the Uighurs of Sinkiang and the Kazakhs of the northwest. There are still some differences, however. In the northwest Muslim women wear a face veil when they go out, and in some provinces women wear a turban. Muslim men in the northwest provinces wear flat white hats and men in Sinkiang have colorful embroidered small hats. Some wear white cotton or yellow silk turbans. Muslims in other provinces put on a flat white hat when they attend the weekly service in the mosque. Men, especially religious leaders, generally do not wear silk since it was forbidden by the Prophet as a means of preventing luxurious habits and maintaining the heroic nature of men. Women are allowed to wear silk. Muslim children do not wear a necklace or the "one hundred families" locket which is used in the superstitious belief that it protects children from the devil. Instead of the prayer for longevity around hats, Muslims decorated hats with the Word of Witness in Arabic. Since white stands for purity the Muslims love to use white material for clothing, and because Muhammad’s favorite color was green the Muslims like to use green also. Muslim men did not wear the long hair of the Manchu period and Muslim women did not bind their feet. Muslims in the interior parts of China, where they are in a minority, tend to follow the common practices of their communities.
Islam, for hygienic reasons and in order to form kind and good habits, forbids Muslims to eat pork, animals dead by themselves, animals not killed by Muslims, blood, food given to gods, snakes, poultry which eats meat, and sea food not shaped like a fish, and forbids smoking, drinking, and the use of narcotics. Because of these laws concerning food, Muslims are very careful at home and when they are traveling. It was customary for local governments to provide a certain ratio of cows and sheep monthly to the Muslim community and Muslim butchers prepared the meat. Even chickens and ducks must be taken to the mosques to be killed unless there is someone in the family who knows how to do it properly.
In Muslim restaurants there is no trace of pork, of course, but wine is tolerated because of the many non-Muslim customers. The wine is always served in special cups which can be kept separate. Because Han Chinese love to eat pork and lard the Muslims are very careful not to eat anything cooked by Hans, such as candy, bread, and pastries. In a Muslim community the Muslims have their own stores, bakeries, and restaurants where vegetable oil is used for cooking so every-thing is pure and fragrant. Non-Muslims also like the foods prepared by Muslims. Fried dumplings are a very common and popular form of dessert. They are made of flour shaped into a ball, flavored either salty or sweet, and fried in vegetable oil. They are served on many occasions in the home -- to remember dead relatives, to treat friends after worshiping in the home, and to give to friends. No one knows the origin of this food, but it is very popular.
When traveling in the northwest and Yunnan, Muslim traders customarily formed caravans for mutual help and for convenience in cooking food and worshiping together, but in China proper there was no need to form groups for travel. There are no superstitious preparations before traveling among Muslims, such as the custom of choosing a lucky day to travel by the use of diagrams or by drawing lots. Many Muslims take their own cooking utensils with them to prepare their own food. When they come to a town the first thing they do is to locate a mosque to decide where to stay for the night, for the mosques serve as service centers where the traveler always gets help no matter who he is or where he comes from. Timely aid and brotherly cooperation help to solve difficulties and serve as consolation and inspiration to travelers.
Two kinds of Muslims live in China, the so-called Turbanded Muslims of Sinkiang and the Han Muslims of China proper. In Sinkiang they speak Turkish and most of them can also speak the Kansu dialect. The Han Muslims speak Mandarin and local dialects. But Arabic and Iranian terms, especially Iranian, are used for religious purposes in a mixture which is hard for non-Muslims to understand. There is another secret dialect which is used by some Muslims. Some Muslims who speak Chinese but do not write it use Arabic letters to spell Chinese words.
Muhammad said to his followers, "Teach your children riding, archery, and swimming." All three were necessary for military training in the old days and are still useful as exercise and for sport in modern times. In the Chinese northwest where the Muslims are good at riding and archery because of their surroundings many of the Muslims recruited for the cavalry learned these skills. Chinese Muslims also like swimming, wherever water is available, and for generation after generation they have participated in boxing as a favorite sport.
Islam and Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
China did not produce any religion of her own. Confucianism and Taoism are schools of philosophy and political theory, not religions. The religions of China -- Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity -- were imported and allowed to grow freely and peacefully
Confucius, the great politician, great philosopher, and great educator, did not claim to discover his teachings but said that his ideas came from good and wise scholars of ancient times. "I teach but do not invent," he said. "I believe in the ancients." Confucianism is concerned with the principles of human relations but not with the universe. Confucius taught that to develop good relations between man and man one must start with oneself -- therefore he emphasized self-sacrifice, good manners, cultivating oneself, and trust and reconciliation in relations with others. He stressed loyalty to the ruler and the nation as the path which would lead to utopia. Confucianism has a perfect ethical system based on the five human relations; it teaches that man should faithfully search for reason for human actions and should refine and control himself; should carry on his ancestral traditions and teach them to succeeding generations; should die to preserve his virtue; and should be just without partiality. There are eight virtues, with filial piety ranking first, followed by the subordination of younger to older brothers, loyalty, sincerity, propriety, morality, modesty, and a sense of shame. All of these principles of Confucianism go very well with Islam but they are insufficient because they are related only to material human existence, and Islam goes further and searches the universe. Confucius refused to answer any questions concerning the future. "Since you do not know life," he said, "how do you know death?" Thus we see that he had an ethical philosophy, but not a religion.
Originally Taoism was also a body of philosophical ideas and political theories but not a religion. In Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching the fundamental theory in political relations is "to follow nature in order to obtain perfection," and to follow the principle of "noninterference." Everything is to be allowed to follow its own course. Proper relations between man and man can be attained only by suppression of self and abolition of hatred -- which can be achieved by eliminating desire. Lao Tzu says, "To stop competition, do not honor virtues; to halt stealing, do not value rare objects; and to obtain a peaceful mind, do not develop craving." The philosophy of Lao Tzu is quite similar to Sufism in Islam. Islam agrees with his doctrine of the suppression of self and of enmity. In Islam the purpose of the five daily prayers and the month of fasting is to purify oneself and to decrease desires as a means to the practice of self-control.
Confucianism and Taoism both created temples where images are worshiped -- which is contrary to Islam, for Islam believes in only one God, without form or likeness. So Islam has no intercourse with Confucianism and Taoism but has great respect for Confucius and Lao Tzu as Chinese prophets. In the Qur’an God says, "I have sent native prophets to each race to influence and to teach." Lao Tzu and Confucius were before the Prophet Muhammad, therefore they were prophets sent by God to the Chinese race.
When Buddhism came to China it was easy for the people to accept it because many of its teachings coincided with Confucianism and Taoism. It gained the confidence and protection of the ruling class for generations, and the great books of Buddhism were carefully translated by many first-rate scholars. Buddhism also penetrated to the Chinese public and profoundly influenced the literature and art of China. Its contribution to Chinese literature and art has not been equalled by either Islam or Christianity. There was no relation between Buddhism and Islam because the Buddhist belief in passiveness, in idols, and in rebirth is absolutely contrary to Islam. True Muslims studied the books of Confucius and Lao Tzu, but very few touched the Buddhist classics.
The Muslims of China lost connections with other Muslim countries for a long time and were influenced unconsciously by Confucianism and Buddhism in several ways -- for instance, they call the worship place shih, the Buddhist word for temple, rather than mosque as in Islamic countries. The mosques constructed in China look exactly like Confucian and Buddhist temples from the outside. The responsible personnel in the mosques held ranks similar to those of the head priest, priest, and monk in Buddhist temples and lived in the mosque and received alms and performed all religious duties. At a wedding or a funeral the religious leaders of Islam were asked to say prayers and recite passages, just as the Buddhist monks did in the temples. Just as the Buddhists emphasized silence and meditation, so also the Sufis among the Muslims stressed similar practices and shared the belief that meditation would finally give power to perform miracles. The men who gained such powers were called Shaikhs by the Muslims. The Shaikhs and Buddhist monks often had contests in magic, which the Muslims frequently won.
The good characteristic of the Chinese, summarized in the phrase "to let live," paved the way for all religions in China. In recent years the four great religions of China -- Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam -- founded a "Religious Friends Association" to unite in the fight against communism.
Religious Organization of Chinese Muslims.
Mosques in China, as centers for spiritual inspiration and social activities, are used as a place of worship, prayer, and chanting -- and also used as a meeting place, a school, a place to perform Islamic ceremonies, a funeral home, and a judicial court. In former times there were women’s mosques in some parts of China, used as religious and charitable centers for women and led by women religious teachers. Now both men and women share the same mosque but meet in different rooms for praying and religious rituals, coming together for discussions and conferences. In appearance the mosques look like Confucian or Buddhist temples because during the monarchic period no foreign-style buildings were allowed. The graceful domes and pointed minarets which characterize the stone mosques of other countries are not found in the wooden mosques of China. The interior of Chinese mosques is divided into a lecture hall, a dormitory, conference rooms, the office of the leaders of the mosque, a bathroom, and the "dead man s room" for washing the deceased. The endowments of the Chinese mosques are held chiefly in real estate. The yearly income of some mosques is more than enough to support a technical college or a light industrial factory, but because there is no central organization -- such as a Ministry of Waqfs -- to look after the budget, much that could be done to advance the cause of Islam is not accomplished.
The chief religious leader in the mosque is called the Ahund (or Ahung), which means scholar, or teacher of religion. He is assisted by the Imam whose duties are to lead the congregation in worship and in prayers. The Khatib preaches at the Friday service, which is usually of a religious nature but is also sometimes political, and is also responsible for religious ceremonies in engagements and weddings. The mu’ezzin gives the call to prayer five times a day. There is also in some mosques an "unclassified Ahund" who knows some Arabic and has a little training in religion but is not sufficiently educated to be a real Ahund. He is responsible for chanting, praying, and arranging funerals. The educational activities of the mosque are cared for by the Ahund. The administration of the income and property of the mosque is the responsibility of a committee of from three to seven members who are elected for a year and serve without pay.
The Muslims of China are all Sunnis and followers of the school of Hanafi in jurisprudence. They differ from other Muslims in some details -- notably in the chanting of the Qur’an -- because Chinese Muslims lost contact with other Muslim countries due to difficulties of communications. During the long period of isolation when few of the Ahunds could read either Chinese or Arabic, the practice of handing down the teachings orally led to misinterpretation of doctrines and the development of different circles in the Muslim community. With the coming of the Republic it became possible to take the water route to the Middle East, and many Muslim scholars made the pilgrimage to Mecca and visited the educational organizations in Egypt and Turkey. They were inspired by what they learned and brought back many books which served as the basis for careful studies of the fundamentals and consequences of Islam. As a result a great cry for reform was raised. The Muslim community was divided, with one side favoring reforms and becoming known as the New Sect, and the other opposing changes and known as the Old Sect. Each side suspected the other and accused it of heresy. It was a shame to have such a break develop.
The New Sect was limited to a few large cities while the Old Sect was dominant throughout the rest of China. As communications improved and the number of pilgrims to Mecca increased, many more Ahunds and intellectuals recognized the differences between Chinese and other Muslims and the New Sect grew in strength. Before the end of the SinoJapanese war the Old Sect died a natural death and the problem of half a century was solved without a break. The struggle between the Old and New Sects made Islam a laughing stock in China, for the differences were not over fundamentals but over trivial matters. A listing of some of those differences gives an illuminating picture of the problems faced by Chinese Muslims after the restoration of communication with the rest of the Islamic world.
It was customary in the old days to give a Qur’an to those who attend a funeral, as atonement for the deceased, but the New Sect said that only cash should be given; actually, only God can forgive and neither the Qur’an nor cash should be given for atonement. The Old Sect followed the Chinese tradition of wearing white mourning garments, while the New forebade wearing special clothes of mourning; Islam has no rules governing this custom. During Ramadan, on the twenty-seventh night, the Old Sect bowed one hundred times, but the New Sect did not. It was formerly the custom to give money to the leader after chanting and praying, but the New Sect opposed the custom. The New Sect introduced the custom of pointing the forefinger in the middle of worship to indicate that God is One. The New Sect also insisted that the style of chanting the Qur’an should conform to the standard of other Muslim countries. There were also differences as to the proper way to kill poultry, and the New Sect insisted that on the basis of the Hadith it is permissible to eat crabs but not seals or dolphins. These are indicative of the differences between the sects.
Except for those minor differences, there was only one sect which was a disturbing element in China, the Jahriyah, a word which means to pray aloud. The Jahriyah was originally a Sufi sect whose ritual included the practice of praising God aloud in a high voice. The members of the sect gather in a circle, holding hands and praying so loudly that they can be heard outside the mosque. Following their leader, they start by turning the body to the left, then to the right, with their feet moving lightly, their eyes closed, their heads shaking as they walk and chant. The chanting goes faster and faster with the bodily movements keeping pace with the tempo of the chanting. Finally they are chanting only one phrase -- Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah -- and they keep on until they are too tired to continue. Some even faint. That is why the Chinese call the Jahriyah the "shaking head" religion.
The headquarters of this sect was originally in Kansu province under a leader whose position was hereditary. In the great earthquake of 1338 (A.D. 1919) their leader was killed, and his followers spread to Sinkiang, the northwest provinces, Shantung, and Yunnan. Because of the peculiar customs of the Jahriyah sect, which are judged to be superstitious, they are regarded as heretical by the other Muslims. The result has been bad relations between the Jahriyah sect and other Muslims which have caused frequent conflicts and have even led to killing. The members of this sect are striving for virtue, but not many have arrived there. Beside this sect there are no other Sufi sects in China, although there are Muslims with Sufi tendencies.
Since the founding of the Republic there have been three organizations which sought to unite all the Muslims of China for the good of Islam. The first of these was the Muslim Progressive Society of China which was founded in Peking in 1332 (A.D. 1913) by Ahund Wang Hao-nan after his pilgrimage to Mecca and his visits to Turkey and Egypt. Inspired by the new ideas aroused during the Chinese revolution and by the cultural advancement he had seen in other Muslim countries, he felt deeply the need for education among the Chinese Muslims. Therefore, he founded a national organization to unite the manpower, material strength, and talents of the Muslim community to raise their standard of living and improve the level of education. His proposal was enthusiastically accepted. His first aim was to add a few hours of teaching in Arabic and Islamic interpretation to the instruction in the elementary schools in the mosques. Although his aims were purely religious, political interests penetrated the movement and the united Muslims showed strong potential political power. But three years after the movement was started the organization was ill-used by Yuan Shih-kai in an attempt to become emperor, and when he was defeated the organization disappeared.
The Chinese Muslim’s Association was founded in 1357 (A.D. 1938) at the start of the Sino-Japanese war when the Central Government ordered a Muslim general in the armed forces to form a nationwide organization which would unify the Muslims of China in support of the government and obtain support from Muslim countries. This is the only Muslim organization initiated by the government in Chinese history. Its five thousand local units carried on both religious and political activities. During the war it united Muslims in the fight against the Japanese. It trained more than two thousand men in its military academy for service in the armed forces and organized visiting committees in the northwest to give medical aid and comfort to wounded soldiers and officials. In the field of education it established a religious research committee to translate the Qur’an and print religious books and pamphlets, and it established schools in the northwest and gave scholarships which enabled outstanding Muslim students to study in the universities of Turkey and Egypt. Three different times it sent delegations to Southeast Asia and the Middle East to stimulate friendship and understanding and to encourage cultural exchange. When the constitutional government was established by the Republic of China it represented the Muslim people as one of the five races of China.
A third national organization was the Muslim Literary Society of China, founded in 1345 (A.D. 1926) in Shanghai by Hajji Jelaluddin Ha Teh-cheng, a famous scholar who had studied in India and Egypt and knew Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and English. The Society was organized to encourage scholarly study of the Qur’an and Hadith, to improve and extend Islamic education, to increase cultural exchanges with Muslims of other countries, and to improve the social position of Muslims in China. It avoided politics. One of its first undertakings was the translation of the Qur’an into Chinese, using Chinese quotations and literary language -- a task which is unfortunately unfinished due to the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war. The Society published the Chinese Muslim Monthly -- later changed to a quarterly -- and gave public lectures and courses on Islam as part of its educational program. It established a normal school and a primary school, constructed a Muslim library and public reading room, assisted Muslim students in Shanghai universities, and provided scholarships for promising young men and women.
Chinese Muslim Religious Practices.
Muhammad taught that Islam is based on the Five Virtues, the Five Pillars, which are the repetition of the Word of Witness, praying, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage. Every Muslim, man or woman, must chant the Ching Tseng Yen and Tso Chung Yen once in his or her life. The Ching Tseng Yen is, "All things are not God. Only Allah is the God. Muhammad is God’s special Prophet." The Tso Chung Yen is, "I witness that all things are not God. Allah is the only One. I also witness that Muhammad is God’s Messenger and His Prophet." In the early days the Muslims of China knew Arabic and could chant in Arabic but because of the unstable times they lost the ability and today less than twenty per cent of the people can chant in the original language. Now they chant in Chinese. Very few people in China can read the Qur’an in Arabic.
In the beginning the Chinese Muslims were very serious about practicing the five daily prayers, but in recent years, due to the influence of materialism, unsettled conditions, difficulties of obtaining a livelihood, and the distance from mosques, only the Ahunds and country people of strong faith observe the five daily prayers. Others observe only two or three prayers and make the rest up at home and others go to the mosque only for the Friday service, but the largest group go to the mosque only for the two great festivals. Some Muslims never go to the mosque except for a relative’s funeral and then they disappear as soon as the ceremonies are finished; this is a large group. Not many men go to the mosque to worship and even fewer women go.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan changes the daily schedule of the people throughout the whole Muslim world, and so it used to be in China. There are several kinds of fasting observed by Muslims in China -- some keep the whole month, some fast on the first ten days or the last ten days, some observe only the Gadar fast which begins on the twenty-seventh night. When Ramadan is a thirty-day month there are three full days of fasting, but when it is a twenty-nine day month there are only two days. This is not the right way, since the Holy Command is for a full month of fasting. Of course, even two or three days of fasting shows that the person has an interest in religion, but if the full thirty days is interrupted it should be made up later.
Almsgiving, zakat, is the requirement that two and one-half per cent of the total yearly income should be given to charity. It is the duty of rich people. Some Chinese Muslims are rich but most of them are poor, and some are very poor, so more people would receive zakat than would give it. Many of those who can afford to give alms lack any interest in religion and are misers so actually their giving approaches the zero point. This is true in every country of the Muslim world. Zakat is a special characteristic of Islam which encourages social cooperation, helps to balance the rich and the poor, stabilizes society, and is the best weapon against communism. Unfortunately, religious leaders do not seem to recognize the importance of zakat, and political leaders in the Muslim world do not seem to have much interest in religious teaching, especially in almsgiving. Now that we are facing the pressure of communism we ought to wake up and rethink the importance of zakat.
The pilgrimage to Mecca is such a long trip and so costly that very few Chinese are able to go. Before the second World War not more than two or three thousand were able to make the pilgrimage each year, chiefly from the northwest and Yunnan. Some went by boat from Shanghai or Hong Kong to Jidda, while others went overland to India and then by boat. After the mainland was locked behind the iron curtain Chinese Muslims were not allowed to leave the country, so the number of pilgrims in recent years has been quite small. Recently when a Muslim committee from Free China visited Mecca the first question asked by King Saud of Saudi Arabia was why no Chinese Hajjis had come from the mainland in the last few years. When he learned that the Communists would not allow them to make the pilgrimage he expressed his pity and prayed God to help all Chinese Muslim brothers to be free men. There are now about fifteen thousand Chinese Hajji refugees in Saudi Arabia, all strong anti-Communists. The Saudi government, guided by the spirit of Islam which recognizes all Muslims as one family, allows the refugees to live there and to support themselves.
Marriage ceremonies may differ in Muslim countries according to local customs, but the basic principles of Islam must be obeyed: the bride and groom must be of the same faith, consent must be given by both parties, there must be two witnesses, and betrothal money must be paid by the man’s family. Chinese Muslims have been so scattered that each province adopted its own customs, with only the Muslims in the northwest able to keep close to Muslim practices. A Chinese Muslim wedding is very complex, but it avoids all superstitions such as the reading of the horoscopes of the betrothed persons. Some ask the Ahund to read the Arabic wedding rite on the wedding day or the day before. If one of the parties is not a Muslim, the Ahund admits that one into Islam one or two days before the wedding so both may be of the same faith. Betrothal money was not taken seriously since it looked like a business transaction. Now it is customary to give clothing or jewelry, or a small amount of money is given and looked upon as only a symbol. Marriage is based on love, which shows that Chinese Muslims are comparatively progressive. This change should be introduced to other Islamic countries as a means of solving the problem of the decrease in marriage due to the heavy betrothal price.
The old type of Chinese wedding ceremony is now out of date except among poor people in the country. According to the old custom the parents of the concerned parties monopolized the whole affair. The new type follows the teaching of Islam and gains the consent of both parties. Islamic wedding customs are progressive and rational and at the same time are timeless, for they follow rules laid down more than thirteen hundred years ago. Emphasis on agreement between both parties, especially the consent of the girl, shows the Islamic stress on the rights of men and the protection of the rights of womanhood.
The ceremonies of engagement and marriage are quite similar for Chinese Muslims and non-Muslims except that the Muslims celebrate the event with a religious and a general ceremony, and they do not use old Chinese music or gongs or fire crackers since they consider them to be superstitious. The religious ceremony is held a day before or just preceding the general ceremony. At present Muslims hold the marriage ceremony in the mosque. In modern times Western music has been adopted for marriages since it is not associated with the worship of other gods. Chinese Muslims obey the Civil Law of China by practicing monogamy almost everywhere except in the frontier provinces. There is no Muslim court to take care of divorce, adoption, and inheritance, as in other Muslim countries; all these matters are now handled in the general courts.
The Chinese Muslims follow Islamic rites strictly in the funeral but follow Confucianism in mourning and in dressing because of its fitness in the surroundings. When a sick person reaches his last moments of life the family ought to keep calm so there will be no disturbance of the emotions which could cause the dying person any loss of faith in the last moments. During that period the relatives stay with the dying person and remind him all the time to chant, "All things are not God. Only Allah is God. Muhammad is His special Prophet." This keeps the sick person close to his Islamic faith as he returns to his Maker. This short and delicate moment is very serious and ought to be emphasized.
Right after death it is necessary to close the mouth and eyes, to straighten the hands and feet, and to cover the face with a cotton towel. Then the family can start to mourn but must not cry aloud nor curse the Creator. The family moves the dead body out of the room to place it on the death bed and then passes the sad news around. They remove the clothing and cover the body with a white cloth, and burn incense at the feet. Experienced relatives should be around taking care of details so the burial can be carried out within twenty-four hours if possible, and not later than three days. They start digging the grave and getting the necessary articles, and then wash the body. Men wash a dead man and women wash a dead woman. Before starting the last bath they walk around the death bed seven times with burning incense. Washing is done strictly in order -- the dirty parts first and then the head, face, neck, shoulders, back, and so on; the top first, the bottom later; right first, left last; front first, and back later. This is done three times. One person washes, one pours water, and a third turns the body around, then they dry it gently with a soft white cloth and put on three coverings -- underwear, a small sheet, and a large sheet. There is a headdress for a man and a turban veil and brassiere for a woman. Powder with medical perfumery is used on the forehead, nose, mouth, hands, feet, and knee-cap to discourage insects. Then the body is put in a coffin and covered and a blanket spread over the coffin, which is then placed in the great hall or the yard until the funeral service. At present in China all Muslims, rich and poor, use the mosque as the center for all these procedures.
The funeral ceremony consists only of raising the hands and standing up. The men who attend the funeral stand in line and follow the Ahund in worship -- they pray by raising the hands, bowing, and chanting aloud, "God is Greatest," chanting it again as they bow the head; then they shake the head right and left and say, "Salam." This funeral service is very important. If a man is not buried with a religious funeral his family is to blame, of course, but all Muslims in the locality are to be blamed as well.
According to Islamic customs the funeral march begins when four men place the coffin -- head first -- on their shoulders and walk slowly; every few minutes another four men take over. Everyone walks after the coffin, without music or talkmg, and with heads bowed in meditation, thinking that just as death has come to this person it will come to everyone. At the grave the host inspects the grave and perfumed powder is spread in the four corners. Then the body is taken from the coffin by three or four men and placed in the grave face up, head to the north, with the uncovered face toward Mecca. It is covered with a stone or a thick board and then with a rectangular mound of earth while the Ahund recites the first chapter of the Qur’an. All the mourners follow the Ahund and raise their hands and pray. The tombstone and plantings are private matters of the family, but the religious regulations forbid too much decoration on a tomb.
After the funeral the family keeps on mourning and visits the cemetery according to schedule, also inviting the Ahund or other religious leaders to pray for the dead. The prayers should be said on the funeral day, the seventh day, and the second, third, and seventh week. Some keep the seventh day, the fortieth day, the hundredth day, the first year, and the third year. After that chanting is carried out only on the anniversaries of birth and death. The best way is to pray for one’s own dead relatives on Fridays and chant the Qur’an. If one invites the Ahund or religious leaders to chant at the home, the host provides food after the service, and money wrapped in red paper must be given to the Ahund and to the poor in the name of the dead.
Chinese Muslims regard the funeral as important because it relates to the everlasting happiness of the dead. At the time of funerals the whole community tries to help. Even members who are not religious ordinarily come to the mosque to help at this time and often they are impressed by the greatness of religion and the closeness of friendship among Muslims and are brought back into the community. In weddings Chinese Muslims have modified their practices according to local customs, but in funerals everything is done by the Islamic method with no single trace of change, for they recognize its importance.
There are three important festivals, one at the end of the month of Ramadan, one when the pilgrimage at Mecca reaches the peak of Arafat, and one on the birthday of Muhammad. Id al-Fitr, the feast at the end of the fast of Ramadan, is celebrated throughout the Muslim world as the Little Festival.
Id al-Adha, also called Id al-Qurban, the festival at the end of the pilgrimage, is the Great Festival at which Muslims from all over the world gather at the mosques to worship and then kill animals to memorialize the story of Abraham and Ishimael and their willingness to obey the authority of God. According to Muslim rule five men kill one camel, three one cow, and one person kills one sheep; then they divide the meat among the poor and their relatives, saving a small portion for themselves. Chinese Muslims turn the two festivals around, making the Ramadan feast the large festival and the pilgrimage festival the small one, which shows wrong teaching.
The Holy Birthday of Muhammad follows the Arabic lunar calendar, which means that every three years it is advanced one month, so it can be at any season. On this day every Muslim dresses in his best clothes and gathers with the others at the mosque to chant the Qur’an and the praises of Muhammad under the leadership of the Ahund. Then they listen to the Ahund speak about Muhammad’s good deeds and teachings, and are inspired by what he says. Soon after the worship sweets are distributed to adults and children, and some mosques even have banquets. In recent years Muslims have broadcast inspirational talks about Muhammad on his birthday and have even distributed leaflets by chartered airplanes.
There is also a Fatimah memorial day which is a festival for women.
Education and culture of Chinese Muslims.
The old style of religious education in China was patterned after the Arabic and Iranian methods of the Middle Ages in which there were several specialists who lectured and the students chose their lectures according to their inclinations. But in China there were only special schools of this kind in three centers and there one Ahund would handle all courses. There was no schedule, no definite standard, and no required length of schooling since everything depended on the will of each Ahund. Such a system had serious drawbacks because the teaching materials were several centuries old, the study of Arabic -- and no Chinese -- was inadequate, so the students could read only a limited amount and could not speak the language, there was no general educational background for the religious courses, and the freedom allowed to the students often led them to form bad habits.
After the founding of the Republic, in response to the progressive demands of the period, several new style schools were founded for religious education, of which the three best were the Cheng.-tai Normal School at Peking, the Islam Normal School at Shanghai, and the Ming-teh High School at Kunming. Unfortunately, the schools at Peking and Shanghai were forced to move inland during the Sino-Japanese war, and although it was hoped that they could be revived after the war, there has been no news of them since the Communists took over the mainland. Before the war these three schools had sent twenty-eight students to study at Al Azhar in Cairo, the first time in its thousand years that it had received students from China.
Under the Republic the Muslims also founded more than a thousand primary schools and several well-known high schools for general education. They lacked the funds to found colleges and universities, but there were special classes in Islam and the Arabic language at Peking University, the Central University, Yunnan University, and Chung San University. At present in Taiwan the Taiwan University and Tsun-Chi University also give such courses for Muslims and others who are interested.
In the short period of just over thirty years between the founding of the Republic and the Sino-Japanese war Chinese Muslims did their utmost to advance the culture of their people. Several local magazines and papers were published, both of a political and a religious nature, but there is still need for national publications which will reach all Muslims in China. As a means of reaching a wider group the Chinese Islamic Association obtained permission after the Sino-Japanese war to broadcast Islamic lectures once a week. Many scholars broadcast on these programs, which were well received by the public. Their talks were also published as pamphlets and distributed widely. The Taiwan broadcasting station continues this practice.
For more than a thousand years after Islam came to China there was no translation of the Qur’an or the Hadith, nor were there books which touched on Islam’s philosophy, history, science, and literature. The work of providing such literary and historical materials began to be accomplished shortly before the war but then suffered serious interruption; however, a new translation of the Qur’an was recently published in Taiwan. The Education Bureau of Taiwan has recently invited Arabian, Iranian, and Turkish scholars to become members of a World Literature Committee to transalate Arabian, Iranian, and Turkish books into Chinese. This is a most significant development.
The majority of Chinese Muslims were descendants of Arabian, Iranian, or Turkish parents who intermarried in China and adopted Han customs. This led to a mixture of both cultures, which is shown in their appreciation for the cultures of both areas, and led also to some interesting cultural contributions in China. During the Ming dynasty Muslims began to make cloisonné vases, plates, and bowls covered with colorful blues and with delicate Arabian and Persian designs or with writings from the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Tradition. They are found today among the Chinese national treasures and in museums and the homes of wealthy collectors.
Chinese artists of Muslim background also made contributions to the art of calligraphy by forming first the outline of a Chinese character and then filling it with the Muslim creed, or proverbs, or poems. At a distance it is a big Chinese character meaning "tiger" or "long life" but on careful examination it is seen to be filled with Arabic phrases. Another form of calligraphy was the writing of Arabic words in the Chinese running hand; in appearance it is Chinese writing, but it can be read only by those who know Arabic. In painting, also, Muslim artists made their contribution, but they painted only vases, water containers, or flowers, and never mountains, water, birds, or animals. Art of this kind is a combination of Arabian and Chinese forms, a new contribution to art which symbolizes the contribution to Chinese culture made by the Muslim people who settled in China.