Silk Road People: The Hui of China

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.


Hui; the Hui People

Chinese: 回族

The Hui number between 10 and 14 million in China

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 speak Mandarin Chinese, or their local Chinese dialect.

They use Arabic loan words for religious terms.

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.

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 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”.