Entrepreneurs with special skills in trade, restaurant management and martial arts,
the Hui are China's only Silk Road People to speak Mandarin Chinese as their native language.

People Group

Hui; the Hui People

Population:In Chinese: 回族


The Hui number between 10 and 14 million in China.


The Hui speak Mandarin Chinese, or their local Chinese dialect.

They use Arabic loan words for religious terms.


The Hui live clustered in communities throughout China. Their population is especially concentrated in the north-west. Some Hui also live throughout south-east Asia, and in Central Asia, where they are known as “Dungan”.


The Hui are a very varied ethnic group. In some parts of China, they are almost indistinguishable in appearance and lifestyle from their Han (majority) Chinese neighbours.

In other parts of the country, the mosque and Islamic customs are the most important part of Hui community life. The clearest unifying factor for these people is diet: for almost every Hui community in China, eating halal food is crucial.

In Chinese, “halal” is translated “清真”, qingzhen, which means “clean and pure”.


The Hui celebrate Islamic festivals, including Ramadan, Corban and the Prophet’s birthday.

They eat special food, including sanzi (fried noodles around 2 meters long, folded together), youbing (deep-fried round bread) and huicai (meat stew).

In some areas, the Hui learn traditional kick-boxing, musical instruments or singing styles.


The Hui trace their ancestry to Arab and Persian traders who entered China along the Silk Road trade routes between the second century BC until around the 15th Century AD.

Many Central Asian Muslims were also relocated to China during Kublai Khan’s reign in the 13th century.

Both these sets of Muslim immigrants intermarried with local Chinese but maintained their Islamic culture. Their descendants have become today’s Hui.


The Hui have a reputation of being excellent traders and business people. They also work as farmers in rural areas.

Most Chinese first come across the Hui by way of their halal noodle restaurants found in cities all across China.

Stories from the Silk Road

Two Dollars

马文凯, MaWenKai came home last night. He’s been my husband for seven years, and in all that time he’s never held down a job for more than six months. He travelled to the north-east for work. He was supposed to come back with a bank card full of money. Lots of people from our area [...]

Fearing the Jinn

Jenny was an English teacher at a high school in a small town in China where we were working to set up a summer English program. She was assigned to be our liaison with the school, which she was very happy about as it gave her a chance to practice her English. Most people like [...]

No More Potatoes

I started hating school in second grade. I can still remember the day that it started, when I said the wrong thing to my teacher. She was teaching us poetry and I asked, “Couldn’t we say that the snow makes us numb instead of refreshed?” A simple enough question, right? But she took it as [...]

On the Run

“I’m leaving.” It wasn’t a promising start to a conversation with my employee, Miriam. “My parents are arranging a marriage, but the man isn’t a good match for me. He comes from a respected family in our community, wealthy and devout, so Mom and Dad won’t listen to my worries. I just can’t marry that [...]

Divorce show-down

I studied the very young husband, then the wife, looking for signs that they were listening to me. Would they still follow through on their divorce? “You must have only been married for a year or two. Give it another try. Don’t throw away your youth like this.” I turned back to the Registry Office [...]