THE SPREAD OF ISLAM Among the People of CHINA
A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim
It was through Arabia, in great measure, that Syria and the ports of the Levant received the produce of the East.
In the sixth century, there was a considerable trade between China and Arabia by way of Ceylon, and at the beginning of the seventh century the commerce between China, Persia and Arabia was still further extended, the town of Siraf on the Persian Gulf being the chief emporium for the Chinese traders.
It was at this period, at the commencement of the Tang dynasty (618-907) that mention is first made of the Arabs in the Chinese Annals; they note the rise of the Muslim power in Medina and briefly describe the religious observances of the new faith.
The Annals of Kwangtung thus record the coming of the first Muslims into China :—
It is most probable that Islam was first introduced into China by merchants who followed the old-established sea route. But the earliest record we can trust refers to diplomatic relations carried on by land, through Persia.
These diplomatic relations between the Arab and the Chinese empires assumed a new importance at the close of this emperor's reign, when, driven from his throne by a usurper, he abdicated in favor of his son, Su Tsung (a.d, 756). Su Tsung sought the help of the Abbasid Khalifa, al-Mansur , who responded to this appeal by sending a body of Arab troops, and with their assistance the emperor succeeded in recovering his two capitals, Si-ngan-fu and Ho-nan-fu, from the rebels.
At the end of the war, these Arab troops did not return to their own country, but married and settled in China. Various reasons are assigned for this action on their part;
The Chinese Muslims have a legend that their faith was first preached in China by a maternal uncle of the Prophet, and his reputed tomb at Canton is highly venerated by them. But there is not the slightest historical base for this legend, and it appears to be of late growth. It doubtless arose from a desire to connect the history of the faith in their own land as closely as possible with apostolic times—a fruitful source of legends in countries far removed from the centers of Muslim history.
But of the existence of Muslims in China, especially of merchants in the port towns, during the Tang dynasty there is clear evidence. The Chinese annalist of this period (a.d. 713-742) says that
An Arab geographer, writing about the year 851, describes these settlements and the mosques which these merchants were allowed to build for their religious exercises; he states that he knew of no Chinaman having embraced Islam, but as he makes the same remark of the people of India, it may be that he was as ill-informed in the one case as the other.
But there is certainly no distinct evidence of any proselytizing activity on the part of the Muslims in China, and indeed very little information about them at all until the period of Mongol conquests, in the thirteenth century. These conquests resulted in a vast immigration of Muslims of various nationalities, Arabs, Persians, Turks and others into the Chinese empire. Some came as merchants, artisans, soldiers or colonists, others were brought in as prisoners of war. A large number of them settled permanently in the country and developed into a populous and flourishing community, which gradually lost its original racial peculiarities through intermarriage with Chinese women.
Several Muslims occupied high posts under the Mongol rulers, e. g.
Abd al-Rahman, who in 1244 was appointed head of the Imperial finances and allowed to farm the taxes imposed upon China,
and Omar Shams al-Din, commonly known as Sayyid Ajall, a native of Bukhara, to whom Qubilay Khan, on his accession in 1259, entrusted the management of the Imperial finances; he was subsequently governor of Yunnan, after this province had been conquered and added to the Chinese empire. Sayyid Ajall died in 1270, leaving behind him a reputation as an enlightened and upright administrator; he built Confucian temples as well as mosques in Yunnan city.
The descendants of Sayyid Ajall played a great part in the establishing of Islam in China; it was his grandson who in 1335 obtained from the emperor the recognition of Islam as the "True and Pure Religion "—a name which it has kept to the present day,—and another descendant of Sayyid Ajall was authorized by the emperor in 1420 to build mosques in the capitals, Si-ngan-fu and Nan-kin.
The Chinese historians of the reign of Qubilay Khan make it a ground of complaint against this monarch that he did not employ Chinese officials in place of the immigrant Turks and Persians.
The exalted position occupied by Sayyid Ajall and the facilities of communication between China and the West established by Mongol conquest, attracted a number of such persons into the north of China, and it was probably as a result of these immigrations that those scattered Muslim communities began to be formed, which have grown to large proportions in most of the provinces of China.
Marco Polo, who enjoyed the favor of Qubilay Khan and lived in China from 1275 to 1292, notes the presence of Muslims in various parts of Yunnan. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, all the inhabitants of Talifu, the capital of Yunnan, are said by a contemporary historian to have been Muslims; and Ibn Baṭuṭah, who visited several coast towns in China towards the middle of the fourteenth century, speaks of the hearty welcome he received from his co-religionists, and reports that "In every town there is a special quarter for the Muslims, inhabited solely by them, where they have their mosques; they are honored and respected by the Chinese." 
Up to this period the Muslims appear to have been looked upon as a foreign community in China, but after the expulsion of the Mongol dynasty in the latter part of the fourteenth century they received no fresh addition to their numbers from abroad, in consequence of the policy of isolation which the Chinese government now adopted; and being thus cut off from communication with their coreligionists in other countries, they tended, in most parts of the empire, gradually to become merged into the mass of the native population, through their marriages with Chinese women and their adoption of Chinese habits and manners.
The founder of the new Ming dynasty, the emperor Hung-wu, extended to them many privileges, and their flourishing condition during the period that this dynasty lasted (1368-1644) is shown by the large number of mosques erected.
The emperors of this dynasty cultivated friendly relations with the Muslim princes on their western frontier, and there was a frequent interchange of embassies between them and the Timurid princes.
One of these is of interest in the missionary history of Islam, inasmuch as Shah Rukh Bahadur in 1412 took advantage of the arrival of a Chinese embassy at his court in Samarqand, to include in his answer an invitation to the emperor to embrace Islam. He sent with his envoy, who accompanied the Chinese ambassadors on their return, two letters, the first of which, written in Arabic, was to the following effect:—
The other letter, written in Persian, makes a more direct appeal, without the rhetorical embellishments of the Arabic:—
It is not improbable that these letters gave rise to the later legend of one of the Chinese emperors having become a convert to Islam.
This legend is referred to, among others, by a Muslim merchant, Sayyid Ali Akbar, who spent some years in Peking at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century; he speaks of the large number of Muslims who had settled in China; in the city of Kenjanfu there were as many as 30,000 Muslim families;
Up to the establishment of the Manchu dynasty in 1644 there is no record of any Muslim uprising, and the followers of Islam appear to have been entirely content with the religious liberty they enjoyed;
but difficulties arose soon after the advent of the new ruling power, and an insurrection in the province of Kansu in 1648 was the first occasion on which any Muslims rose in arms against the Chinese government, though it was not until the nineteenth century that any such revolt entailed very disastrous consequences, or seriously interrupted the amicable relations that had subsisted from the beginning between the Chinese Muslims and their rulers.
The official view of the Chinese Government of these relations is set forth in an edict published by the emperor Yung Chen in 1731:—
About thirty years later, his successor, the Emperor Kien Lung, showed distinguished marks of his favor towards the Muslims by ennobling two Turki Begs who had materially helped in suppressing a revolt in the north-west and Kashgar, and building palaces for them in Peking; he also erected a mosque for the use of the Turki Begs who visited the Imperial court and for the prisoners of war who had been brought to the capital from Kashgar.
Among these prisoners was a beautiful girl who became a favorite concubine of the emperor, and it is stated that for love of her he built this mosque immediately opposite his own palace and erected a pavilion within the palace grounds, from which the concubine could watch her fellow-countrymen at prayer and could join in their devotions.
This mosque was built in the years 1763-1764 and contains an inscription in four languages, the Chinese text of which was written by the emperor himself.
After crushing the revolt in Zungaria, this same emperor Kien Lung, in 1770 transported thither from other parts of China ten thousand military colonists, who were followed by their- families and other persons, to re-people the country, and they are all said to have embraced the religion of the surrounding Muslim population.
Whether such mass conversions occurred in other parts of the empire also, we have no means of telling, but the existence of a considerable Muslim population in every province of China can hardly be explained merely by reference to foreign immigration and the natural growth of population, though the numbers are larger in those provinces in which foreign Muslims have settled.
It is unlikely that the Muslims in China during the many centuries of their residence in this country, in the enjoyment of religious freedom and the liberal patronage of several of the emperors, should have been entirely devoid of that proselytizing zeal which modem observers have noted in their descendants at the present day.
To such direct proselytizing efforts must have been due the conversion of Chinese Jews to Islam; their establishment in this country dates from an early period, they held employments under the Government and were in possession of large estates; but by the close of the seventeenth century a great part of them had been converted to Islam..
Such propaganda must have been quite quiet and unobtrusive, and indeed more public methods might have excited suspicions on the part of the Government, as is shown by an interesting report which was sent to the Emperor Kien Lung in 1783 by a governor of the province of Khwang‑Se. It runs as follows :
This report bears testimony to the activity of at least one Muslim missionary in the eighteenth century, and the growth of Islam, which the Jesuit missionaries noted in the eighteenth century, was probably not so little connected with direct proselytism as some of them supposed.
Du Halde, in one of the few passages he devotes to the Muslims in his great work, attributes the increase in their numbers largely to their habit of purchasing children in times of famine.
A Chinese Muslim, from Yunnan, named Sayyid Sulayman, who visited Cairo in 1894 and was there interviewed by the representative of an Arabic journal, declared that the number of accessions to Islam gained in this way every year was beyond counting.
Similar testimony is given by M. dOllone, who reports that this practice of buying children in times of famine prevails among the Muslims throughout the whole of China to the present day; in the same way, they purchased the children of Christian parents who were massacred by the Boxers in 1900, and brought them up as Muslims.
The Muslims in China tend to live together in separate villages and towns or to form separate Muslim quarters in the towns, where they will not allow any person to dwell among them who does not go to the mosque.
Though they thus in some measure hold themselves apart, they are careful to avoid the open exhibition of any specially distinguishing features of the religious observances of their faith, which may offend their neighbors, and they have been careful to make concessions to the prejudices of their Chinese fellow-countrymen.
The Chinese government, in its turn, has always given to its Muslim subjects (except when in revolt) the same privileges and advantages as are enjoyed by the rest of the population. No office of state is closed to them; and as governors of provinces, generals, magistrates and ministers of state they enjoy the confidence and respect both of the rulers and the people. Not only do Muslim names appear in the Chinese arm; as those of famous officers of state, whether military or civil, but they have also distinguished themselves in the mechanical arts and in sciences such as mathematics and astronomy.
The Chinese Muslims are also said to be keen men of business and successful traders; they monopolize the beef trade and carry on other trades with great success. They are thus in touch with every section of the national life and have every opportunity for carrying on a propaganda, but the few Christian missionaries who have concerned themselves with this matter are of opinion that they are not animated with any particular proselytizing zeal.
Still, many recent converts are to be met with, and the fact that a large number of Chinese Muslims can cite the name of the particular ancestor who first embraced Islam points to a continuous process of conversion.
Apparently the Muslims are not allowed to preach their faith in the streets, as Protestant missionaries do, but (as we have seen above) they do not fail to make use of such opportunities as present themselves for adding to the number of their sect. One of their religious text-books, " A Guide to the Rites of the True Religion " (published in Canton in 1668), commends the work of proselytizing and makes reference to such as may have recently become converts from among the heathen.
The fundamental doctrines of Islam are taught to the new converts by means of metrical primers, and to the influence of the religious books of the Chinese Muslims, Sayyid Sulayman attributes many of the conversions made in recent years.
The Muslim seminary at Hochow in Kansu is said to train theological students who return to their several provinces, at the completion of their studies, to promulgate their faith there, and in upwards of ten provinces centers are said to have been started where mullas are to be trained for Muslim propaganda.
Military officers convert many of the soldiers serving under them, to Islam, and Muslim mandarins take advantage of the authority they enjoy, to win converts, but as they are frequently transferred from one place to another, they are not able to exercise so much influence as Muslim military officers.
Conversions may also occasionally occur, which are not the result of a direct propagandist appeal, e. g. a Turkish traveler who visited Peking in 1895 reported that he found thirty mosques there, among them one that had originally been a temple; this had been the family temple of a wealthy Chinaman, whose life had been saved during the Boxer insurrection by the Mufti Wa-Ahonad (Abd al-Rahman); as a token of his gratitude, he embraced the faith of his deliverer.
Turkish and other Muslim missionaries have in recent years been visiting China and endeavoring to stir up among the Chinese Muslims a more thorough knowledge of their faith and to awaken their zeal, but their efforts seem so far to have borne but little fruit.
In 1867 a Russian writer, in a remarkable work on Islam in China, expressed the opinion that it was destined to become the national faith of the Chinese empire and thereby entirely change the political conditions of the Eastern world. Nearly half a century has elapsed since this note of alarm was sounded, but nothing has occurred since to verify these prognostications. On the contrary, it would appear that Islam has been losing rather than gaining ground during the last century, since the wholesale massacres that accompanied the suppression of the Panthay risings in Yunnan from 1855 to 1873 and the Tungan rebellion in Shen-si and Kan-su in 1864-1877 and 1895-1896,reduced the Muslim population by millions.
The establishment of the new Republic has given to the Chinese Muslims a freedom of activity unknown under any preceding government, but it is too early yet to discover how far they are likely to avail themselves of the opportunities offered by the altered conditions of life. The proselytism that still goes on, restricted as its sphere may be, indicates a still cherished hope of expansion.
Though four centuries have elapsed since a Muslim traveller in China could discuss the possibility of the conversion of the emperor being followed by that of his subjects, it was still possible for a Chinese Muslim of the present generation to state that his co-religionists in that country looked forward with confidence to the day when Islam would be triumphant throughout the length and breadth of the Chinese empire.
 Kanz al-'Ummāl, vol. v. p. 202.
 Bretschneider (2), p. 6.
 On the origin of this name, see Deveria, p. 311; Mission d'Ollone, p. 420 sqq.
 De Thiersant, vol. i. pp. 19-20.
 D'Ollone gives the following warning as to the uncertainty of our knowledge of Islam in China:— ' Or rien n'est moins connu que 1'Islam chinois. On ne sait exactement ni comment il s'est propagé dans 1'Empire, ni combine-d'adeptes il a réunis, ni si sa doctrine est pure, ni quelle est son organisation, ni s' il possède des relations avec le reste du monde musulman." (Mission d'Ollone, p. i.) The references to China in Arabic and Persian writers have been collected by Schefer, " Notice sur les relations des peuples musulmans avec les Chinois."
 Chavannes, p. 172.
 De Thiersant, vol. i. pp. 70-1.
 This legend has been exhaustively discussed by Broomhall: Islam in China, cap. iv, vii.
 Thus the people of Khotan claim that Islam was first brought to their land by Ja'far, a cousin of the Prophet (Grenard : Mission Dutreuil de Rhins, t. iii. p. 2), and the Cham of Cambodia ascribe their conversion to one of the fathers-in-law of Muhammad. (R. du M. M., vol. ii. p. 138.)
 De Thiersant, voL i. p. 153.
 Reinaud : Relation des Voyages faits par les Arabes et lea Persans dans 1'Inde et a la Chine, i. pp. 13, 64. (Paris, 1845.)
 Id. p. 58.
 That there was some migration westward also of Chinese into the conquered countries of Islam, where they would come within the sphere of its religious influence, we learn from the diary of a Chinese monk who traveled through Central Asia to Persia in the years 1221-4; speaking of Samarqand, he says, "Chinese Workmen are living everywhere." (Bret-schneider (I), vol. i. p. 78.)
 Howorth, vol. i. p. 161.
 For Chinese biographies of Sayyid Ajall, see R. du M. M., viii. p. 344, sqq, and xi. p. 3 sqq.; Mission d'Ollone, p. 25 sqq.
 Broomhall, p. 127.
 Mission d'Ollone, pp. 435-6.
 Howorth, vol. i. p. 257.
 Marco Polo, vol. I. pp. 219, 274; vol ii. p. 66.
 Rashid al-Dīn (Yule's Cathay, p. 9).
 VoL iv. pp. 270, 383.
 Id. p. 258.
 Abd al-Razzaq al-Samarqandi: Maṭia' al-sa'dayn, foll 60-1. (Blochet, pp. 249-52.)
 Zenker, pp. 798-9. Melanges Orientaux, p. 65. (Publications de 1'Ecole des Langnes Orientates Vivantes. Sér. ii. t. 9.) (Paris, 1883.)
 Schefer. pp. 29-30. Zenker, p. 796.
 De Thiersant, tome i. pp. 154-6.
 Broomhall, p. 92 sqq. Devéria : Musulmans et Manicheens chinois. (J. A. gme Ser., tome x. p. 447 sqq.)
 De Thiersant, tome i. pp. 163-4.
 The Muhammadans are said to be more prolific than the ordinary Chinese, and the Chinese census, which counts according to families, estimates six for a Muhammadan family and five for the ordinary Chinese. (Broomhall, pp. 197, 203.)
 Broomhall, in chap. Xii. of his Islam in China. gives the total as between five and ten millions. D' Ollone puts it as low as four millions. (p. 430).
 Vide infra, pp. 309‑310.
 Clark Abel: Narrative of a journey the interior of China, p. 361. (London, 1818).
 De Thiersant, tome ii. pp. 361-3.
 One missionary, writing from Peking in 1721, says, " Le secte des Mahométans s'étend de plus en plus," (Lettres edifiantes et curieuses, tome zix. p. 140.)
 J. B. du Halde: Description geographique, historique, chronotogique, politique et physique de 1'Empire de la Chine, tome iii. p. 64. (Paris, 1735.)
 Anderson, p. 151. Crosier, tome iv. p. 507.
 Thamarat al-Funun, 17th Shawwāl, p. 3. (Bayrūt, A.H. 1311.)
 Mission d'Ollone, p. 279. R. du M.M., tome ix. pp. 577, 578.
 Broomhall, p. 226. Grosier, tome iv. p. 508.
 Vasil ev, p. 15.
 Broomhall, p. 237.
 Id. pp. 186, 228.
 Arminius Vambéry : Travels in Central Asia, p. 404. (London. 1864.)
 Vasil’ev, p. 16.
 De Thiersant, tome ii. pp. 367, 372.
 De Thiersant, tome i. p. 247. Thamarat al-Funūn, 28th Sha'bān, p. 3.
 Broomhall, p. 224.
 Du Halde, loc. cit. Broomhall, p. 282.
 Mission d'Ollone, pp. 210, 431.
 Broomhall, pp. 274, 282.
 p. 307.
 Broomhall, pp. 231-2.
 W. J. Smith, p. 175. Mission d'Ollone, p. 407 sqq.
 Thamarāt al-Funūn, loc. cit.
 Broomhall, p. 240.
 The Missionary Review of the World, vol. xxv. p. 786 (1912).
 Mission d'Ollone, p. 431.
 R. du M. M., iii. p. 124 (1907).
 Broomhall pp. 242, 286, 292 sqq.
 Vasil'ev, pp. 3, 5, 14, 17.
 For a longer list of Muhammadan insurrections, see Mission d’Ollone, P. 436
 Sayyid 'Alī Akbar : Khitāy Nāmah, p. 83. " If the emperor of China embraces Islam, his subjects must inevitably become Muslims too, because they all worship him to such an extent that they accept whatever he says, and when that light coming from the West grows in strength, the unbelievers of the East will come flocking into Islam without showing any contention, because they are free from all fanaticism in matters of religion'
 Thamarāt al-Funūn, 26th Shawwal, p. 3. (A.H. 1311.)