Chinese-Speaking Muslims’ Responses to Islamic Intellectual Trends from West, South and Central Asia during the Nineteenth Century

Visiting Scholar Talks

Jan 26, 2022 | 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

Event Registration


Tatsuya Nakanishi | Associate Professor, Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2021-22


Ali Asani | Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, Harvard University

Co-sponsored with the Asia Center, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, and The Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program

Held via Zoom – registration required

This presentation will discuss the intellectual history of Chinese-speaking Muslims who were historically called “Hui,” the Chinese term which meant “Muslim” generally. People whom I indicate by the term “Hui” here are not only Muslims who daily spoke in Chinese but also those who could use Chinese along with their mother languages to have contacts with other Chinese-speakers including Muslims.

I have studied how the Huis adapted Islam to China in order to survive there. More specifically speaking, my research question is how the Huis negotiated their religious belief, practice, and identity with their various “others” in response to various historical situations. The “others” included not only non-Muslim Chinese people such as the Chinese majority called “Han,” but also Muslims whom the Huis regarded as different from themselves in any point. For now, I am particularly working on how Hui scholars during the nineteenth century adjusted Islam to Chinese milieus, and how they in this process responded to new Islamic intellectual trends imported from West, South and Central Asia. The “new trends” included vindication of Ibn ʿArabī (d.1240) and re-evaluation of Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328).

In this presentation, I would like to focus on the following two Hui scholars in the nineteenth century. One is Ma Dexin (d.1874) who almost lived in Yunnan province, the Southwest China, except that he traveled in the Middle East and other regions from 1842 to 1849. This travel inspired him with critical views against a part of discourses and practices of Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. The other is Yūsuf (d.1866) who lived in Gansu province, the Northwest China. He was affiliated with a Sufi order (brotherhood of Muslim mystics/ arīqa in Arabic) inheriting a branch of a spiritual lineage (silsila in Arabic), that is, a lineage of successions from a master to a disciple. In other words, through his affiliation with the Sufi order (called Beizhuang), Yusuf linked to this spiritual lineage called Mujaddidiyya which originated from South Asia and developed in Central Asia. I would introduce some results and prospects in my study of the two Hui scholars around the above-mentioned research question, that is, how they responded to new Islamic intellectual trends from West, South and Central Asia in the context of adaptation of Islam to China. Thereby, I am going to provide a new perspective for the study of the intellectual history of the Hui.