Fieldwork Notes pre-1st year: 2016
I took a field trip to Chengdu in November 2016. I visited the two mosques in the downtown, Huangcheng 皇城 and Gulou 鼓樓, which are not surrounded by the Hui neighborhoods, and the other two in the northwestern suburb, Upper Tuqiao 土橋上寺 and Down Tuqiao 土橋下寺, which are next to the Hui communities.
Chengdu, like other metropolitan cities in China, has been under reconstruction in the “new classical” style for tourist attraction for the past two decades. Therefore, her traditional Hui quarter in the downtown disappears and the original Muslim residents have dispersed somewhere else. But the traditional Hui communities survive in the suburb and the countryside of Chengdu, which usually include the Daoist temple-style mosques, the halal restaurants and meat shops, and the grocery stores for religious needs.
I learned from historical works of the Sufi order in China that the founder of the Qadiriyya 嘎迪林耶 in China, Qi Jing-yi 祈靜一 (1656-1719), built up a Sufi mausoleum (Baba Temple 巴巴寺) in Langzhong 閬中, North Sichuan, to memorialize his Shaikh from the Middle East.
Later on Qi Jing-yi and his disciples widespread the Qadiriyya teachings to the Hui communities in Gansu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan. This indicates that the Sichuan Muslims had been a part of the network of the Northwestern Muslim communities from the late Ming era on.
Fieldwork Notes 1st year: 2017-2018
Since the Hui communities of Chengdu have still been a part of the network of the Northwestern Muslim communities and also inherit the historical legacy of the Silk Road, it is important to research the “internationalist” nature of border-crossing economic and cultural exchanges and religious plurality on the Silk Road.
In late summer 2017, I took a field trip to Gansu and searched the traces of the early Muslim settlements along the Silk Road, through which Chinese Muslims’ ancestors immigrated from the Middle East and Central Asia into China. The provincial capital of Gansu, Lanzhou 蘭州, hosts a Muslim quarter and its mosque is built in the modern Middle Eastern style, not the traditional Chinese one.
Fieldwork Notes 2nd year: 2018-2019
My second trip was to Xi’an, so to investigate and contexualise Sichuan Islam in relation to the Silk Road. Xi’an had been the cosmopolitan terminus of the Silk Road, through which Hui Muslims’ ancestors (as envoys, traders, and missionaries) travelled from the Middle East and Central Asia into China.
The golden age of Xi’an and the Silk Road was the Tang dynasty (618-907); during that period, a multi-ethnic group made of foreign missionaries (including Buddhist, Jewish, Manichaeist, Nestorian, Zoroastrian and Muslim) left the legacy of religious pluralism in the imperial capital. From then onwards, those religions of foreign origins have lived mostly in harmony with the two native Chinese traditions, Confucianism and Daoism. Afterwards, such a model of religious pluralism became duplicated (even if in a smaller scale) in other imperial and provincial capitals in latter dynasties.
Despite the decline of the international trade on the Silk Road since the 15th century, the Hui Muslims inherited the legacy of their ancestors’ long-distance trade, and have played a significant role for inter-provincial and cross-border trades through the late imperial and modern periods. Due to her strategic location in the intersection of the Northwestern, Southwestern and Eastern regions, Xi’an became the hub of the economic and social networks of Hui Muslims in Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644-1911) eras.
Up to the mid-18 century, the “seven mosques, thirteen blocs” (七寺十三坊) was used in official documents to refer to the Hui Muslim quarter of Xi’an, in which roughly thirty thousand Hui Muslims lived. Nowadays, the “seven mosques, thirteen blocs” quarter is the major tourist attraction of downtown Xi’an, and the living model of Muslims acculturated to Chinese society.
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