The China Quarterly

Research Article

Islam in China: Accommodation or Separatism?

Dru C.  Gladney 


Many of the challenges China's Muslims confront remain the same as they have for the last 1,400 years of continuous interaction with Chinese society, but some are new as a result of China's transformed and increasingly globalized society, and especially since the watershed events of the 11 September terrorist attacks and the subsequent “war on terrorism.” Muslims in China live as minority communities, but many such communities have survived in rather inhospitable circumstances for over a millennium. This article examines Islam and Muslim minority identity in China, not only because it is where this author has conducted most of his research, but also because with the largest Muslim minority in East Asia, China's Muslims are clearly the most threatened in terms of self-preservation and Islamic identity. I argue that successful Muslim accommodation to minority status in China can be seen to be a measure of the extent to which Muslim groups allow the reconciliation of the dictates of Islamic culture to their host culture. This goes against the opposite view that can be found in the writings of some analysts, that Islam in the region is almost unavoidably rebellious and that Muslims as minorities are inherently problematic to a non-Muslim state. The history of Islam in China suggests that both within each Muslim community, as well as between Muslim nationalities, there are many alternatives to either complete accommodation or separatism.