chapter  19
12 Pages

The Role of the Hui Muslims (Tungans) in Republican Sinkiang

ByAndrew D. W. Forbes

During the Republican Period (1911-49) China's westernmost province of Sinkiang, literally 'New Frontier', romanised in Pinyin as Xinjiang remained essentially a Chinese colony in the heart of Central Asia, inhabited by heterogenous Muslim peoples (Uighur, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Tajik, Uzbek, Tatar and Hui) together with smaller, but still significant numbers of non-Muslim peoples (Mongol, Sibo, Solon, Manchu, Russian). Taken together, as recently as the late Republican period, these various 'minority' groups comprised an estimated 95 per cent of the total population of Sinkiang, whilst Han Chinese (including political exiles and their descendants, poor peasant settlers and administrative officials) made up the remaining five per cent. Thus, according to a survey made by the Sinkiang Provincial Police in 1940-41 (and considered by Owen Lattimore to represent 'the best available; figures for the late Republican period), provincial population estimates by linguistic group were as follows:1

Whilst two of the smaller non-Muslim groups (the Mongols and the Russians) were certainly of economic and social sig-

ang (and especially to intra-Muslim relations within the prov­ ince) tend, perhaps inevitably, to rest on stereotype rather than coherent analysis. Thus Lattimore, a writer of 'progressive' sentiment, tends to emphasise the linguistic, cultural, and ethnic diversity of the Muslim population of Sinkiang, stress­ ing, for example, sedentary-nomadic dysfunctions (as exempli­ fied by Uighurs and Kazakhs) in a general dismissal of Turkic nationalist aspirations;6 it need hardly be noted that some Turkic nationalist studies of Republican Sinkiang adopt pre­ cisely the opposite standpoint, 'papering over' ethnic and cul­ tural disparities which do exist, whilst emphasising the Turan­ ian cultural identity of the region.7 The present writer has argued elsewhere that such analyses are misleading, and that a better understanding of the Islamic politics of Republican Sinkiang may be attained by a study of regional, rather than ethnic, distinctiveness.8