chapter  6
Hui Communities in Early Twentieth Century China
Pages 16

For an account of the condition of China's Muslim communities in the early twentieth century, we are fortunate in having eye-witness evidence from a western source to complement information from the Chinese-language sources. An expedition led by Commandant the Viscount D'Ollone of the French army passed through China in 1906-9 collecting information on the Muslim communities of China, particularly in the southwest. Beginning in Yunnan, logically since this was one of the main French spheres of influence in China and is the province just north of France's colony, Vietnam, the expedition worked northwards through Sichuan, Gansu and Chinese Turkestan and gathered information on the size and status of the Muslim centres through which they passed. Members of the expedition photographed the people and buildings they encountered and collected documents in Chinese, Arabic and Persian on the history and religion of Muslims in China. Arabic and Persian linguists attached to the expedition identified and translated the documents. D'Ollone's eye-witness report on Muslim China in the final years of the empire provides a valuable first hand account of the Hui and is both a useful counterbalance to contemporary Chinese language records and a good starting point for twentieth century Hui history.l

The Yunnan Muslim rising which lasted from 1855-1873 had left its mark on the communities that the D'Ollone expedition visited. Bitter at the carnage inflicted on them by the Qing regime and angry at the divisions in their own ranks that had contributed to it, the Hui in Yunnan were keeping their heads down. As a community, they gave the impression of being isolated and scattered. They appeared to have little contact with Muslims in the rest of China or abroad. Mosques were said to operate independently, with no network of Ahongs and no religious hierarchy. In other words the existence of menhuan was being denied and it is generally accepted that the Sufi tradition is far weaker in Yunnan than in the northwest. The powerful Muslim families of the province had been virtually wiped out in the suppression of the rising and the remainder had been widely dispersed, out of the sight of government officials.