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China

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    China

    With 1.2 billion people, China is the most populous country in the world. Its civilization and culture are thousands of years old. Over the millennia, China has drawn people of many different backgrounds to settle within its borders. In 1978 China recognized 55 minority nationalities, groups who view themselves as non-Chinese and who speak the same language, live in a particular area, and share common values. Chinese Muslims represent ten ethnic groups and number about 20 million. The Hui comprise more than one-half of the Muslims in China.

    The Golden Age of Islam.

    According to ancient records of the T'ang dynasty, in 650 a Muslim emissary traveled from Arabia to China to pay tribute to Emperor Yung-Wei. Although the emperor did not embrace Islam, he honored the religion by building China's first mosque at Ch'ang-an. Muslims consider this event the beginning of Islam in China. Fourteen centuries later, this mosque still stands.

    Following the emissary's visit, Muslims traveled to China for trade. Many settled there and formed small, independent communities. By the time of the Sung dynasty ( 960 – 1279 ), Muslims had gained firm control over the import/export business in China. Because of the prosperity they brought to the country, they enjoyed a friendly relationship with the government and the people.

    At the start of the Ming dynasty ( 1368 – 1644 ), Muslims were fully integrated into Chinese society. Many had intermarried with the Chinese, discarded their Muslim last names and blended their customs with those of the Chinese. Nevertheless, they maintained their dress code and dietary restrictions.

    Conflicts Arise.

    During the Ch'ing dynasty ( 1644 – 1911 ), life became increasingly difficult for Muslims. The Ch'ing emperors spread anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the country. In 1911 the Republic of China replaced the ruling Ch'ing dynasty. Sun Yat Sen, the leader of the republic, declared that the country belonged equally to the Chinese, the Muslims, the Mongols, and the Tibetans. Relations between these groups and the government improved over the next several decades, but any progress that had been made quickly disappeared during the communist revolution in 1949 . Chinese leader Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China. During Mao's many years as head of the Chinese communist government, Muslims suffered terrible persecution. The violence peaked during what is known as the Cultural Revolution ( 1966 – 1976 ), when the communists sought to eliminate all traces of religion, including Islam, in China. The government closed Muslim schools and mosques and tortured and executed hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

    Muslims in China Today.

    After the death of Mao in 1978 , the Chinese government changed its policies toward Islam. New laws gave Muslims and other minority groups the right to practice their religion and to observe their traditional customs. Religious freedom has its limits in China, however. Muslims must worship in government-approved mosques, and imams are not allowed to criticize the government's communist policies. See also Communism and Islam; Trade.

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