Imam, Educator, Soldier, Modernist? Envisioning New Worlds in the Lives of Muslims From the Warlord Era in Northwest China and Xinjiang

Title: 1180 | Imam, Educator, Soldier, Modernist? Envisioning New Worlds in the Lives of Muslims From the Warlord Era in Northwest China and Xinjiang
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Hannah Theaker, University of Oxford, United Kingdom (organizer, discussant)
Michael Zukosky, Eastern Washington University, United States (presenter)
Marie-Paule Hille, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France (presenter)
Wang Jianping, Shanghai Normal University, China (presenter)


In the early twentieth century, Muslims in Northwest China and Xinjiang sought to remake themselves and their communities in response to emerging nationalisms and currents of modernist Islamic thinking. This panel highlights the ways this turbulent period was understood and configured in the lives of Muslims between Northwest China and Xinjiang. It looks both to explore forgotten connections across the space of the greater northwest, and to highlight the diversity of intellectual responses to modernity among Muslims in the region. Whereas scholarship on Kazakhs, Hui and Uyghurs has often accepted their status as separate ethnic groups, this panel points to ways in which relations between groups, and heterogeneities within them, helped produce their modern ethnic identities in the context of China’s empire-to-nation transition and the transformation of transnational Islamic networks. Overall, the panel maps an uneven yet discernible grafting of ethnicity, region, religion, and nation onto sect, locality, translocality and other pre-existing categories of identity.

This panel is designed to create discussion between participants: Wang Jianping explores neglected pan-ethnic, pan-regional religious solidarities through a history of the Khagana Yarkand. The remaining papers turn to biographies of individuals. Marie-Paule Hille explores the diverse responses to modernity and the nation among Muslims who did not travel widely, through her examination of the life of a Gansu local intellectual, whilst Zukosky explores Kazakhs and the KMT. Hannah Theaker's response paper draws on her own work on Muslim modernities and rebellion in Gansu and Xinjiang.

Panel Abstracts:
The Biography of Bek Mamur: Kazakh Social Transformation and Consciousness in Early 20th Century Northern Xinjiang
In the 1920’s, Bek Mamur, son of a poor Altai herdsman, became a regional and international trader, exchanging raw materials like animal fiber and skin by camel caravan for agricultural and industrial products in northern Xinjiang’s border towns such as Qoqek and Jeminay and across the border in Zaysan in the new Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Interacting with Soviet Kazakh through trade, he developed a modern sense of Kazakh national consciousness, a concern for social problems in Kazakh communities, and an interest in Soviet government policy, while becoming more critical of traditional Kazakh society and religious education. Returning to his home in the Altai Mountains, he built a large compound, began growing crops such as wheat, and established the first modern school in the region. He was recruited by the Nationalist Party, and worked on trade and education issues during Sheng Shicai’s collaboration with the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s. As forced collectivization of Kazakh areas in the Soviet Union pushed an ever-increasing number of disgruntled refugees including religious and tribal leaders (one of whom he married as a second wife), he became critical of communist policy and became more religious, although he continued to work for the Nationalist government. Sheng Shicai’s Soviet-inspired purge of minority leadership and arrest of Kazakh tribal leaders in the late 1930s and early 1940s saw him abandon the Nationalists, fight against the government, and ultimately die in battle in what is known as the Altai Rebellion of 1941.

Pluralistic ways of Belonging to the Chinese Nation: scrutinizing an ordinary Muslim Intellectual Figure (1920s-1940s)
After the national reunification of 1929, the Xidaotang, a Chinese Muslim teaching school appeared in the late 19th century, was officially recognized as orthodox. From then onward, it entered a Golden Age. During this twenty-year period (1929-1949), young Xidaotang intellectuals, educated in urban university settings, played an active role in reforming Muslim education in northwest China and in the construction of anti-imperialist propaganda. To explore the role of these ordinary Muslim intellectuals, this paper shall focus on Ding Zhengxi (1911-1968), a totemic figure within the Xidaotang. Based on oral interviews, private documents, local gazetteers, anthologies of historical events, articles in Muslim journals (Republican period, 1912-1949), and materials from the Gansu Provincial Archives, this paper examines the intellectual and political life of Ding, as a representative of the post-1911 generation. His writing in different Muslim journals (Yuehua, Tujue, Chenxi, Huijiao qingnian) underlines not only the complex relationship between Chinese culture and Islamic principles but also the political and literary influences coming from foreign country like the Arabic concept of “Homeland” or William Butler Yeats’ poetry. As a reader, as a writer, as a Chinese citizen and Islam believer, this intellectual figure exemplifies a typical way of belonging at the intersection of many cultural references and under a national building process supposed to lead to modernity.

From Khanaga Yarkand to Daotang in Northwest China: A Sufi Network that Broke Ethnic, Regional and Religious Boundaries
The founder of Khanaga Yarkand in Xinjiang is Shah Awliya, fourth generation grandson of Ahmad al-Sirhindi Rabani, the religious revival of the second millennium of the Islamic world. Inheriting his father’s teaching and settling in Yarkand, Shah Awliyya established the Khanaga in the year around 1750 and integrated various mystical tenets including those of the Khafiyya and Jahriyya, Qadariyya and Kubruwiyya, and even Shadhiliyya into a universal Sufi school. The development of Khanaga Yarkand attracted many believers and gradually replaced the declining powers of the Naqshbandiyya in Xinjiang in the 18th and 19th centuries. Khanaga Yarkand was also the center of the Sufi tariqas (order) for the Qadariyya’s Daotang, the Khafiyya’s Daotang, the Jahriyya’s Daotang and the Kubruwiyya Daotang. Many Khalifats (Sufi representatives) from the different Sufi orders and suborders came to Khanaga Yarkand to study Islamic mystical doctrines and were granted certification by the Shayyikhs of the Khanaga after they completed ten years’ studies. The linkage between the Khanaga Yarkand in Xinjiang and the variety tariqas in Northwest China formed a Sufi network which brought the Uighur, Hui, Salar, Dongxiang and Bao’an Muslims into a single, unified Daotang; it crossed regions such as Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia; it has also integrated various Sufi teachings. This new network in the tariqa organization is a counter-argument against the idea of a segmented Sufi system in Northwestern China Islam

This panel is on Wednesday - Session 02 - Room 7

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