Book Review: Ethnic Identity in China – Muslim Minority Nationality

Semester ini, aku mengambil mata kuliah Development of Ethnic Minority in Southwest China. Kuliah yang berlangsung tiap Jumat pagi ini, membahas tentang etnis minoritas yang ada di China, khususnya di daerah Selatan – Barat Daya China (Guangxi, Yunnan, Tibet, etc). Nah, di kelas ini profesor meminta para mahasiswanya untuk membuat review buku yang terkait dengan etnis minoritas di China.

Untuk tugas ini, aku memilih buku karangan Dru C Gladney, seorang antropolog yang expert dalam kajian komunitas Hui China. Berhubung aku memang sangat tertarik dengan Muslim di China, dan (insyaAllah) akan menulis tesis terkait ini, maka aku membaca bukunya. Berikut review singkat tentang buku Gladney :). Selamat membaca!

Ethnic Identity in China: The Making of a Muslim Minority Nationality
(Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology)
Dru C. Gladney, Florida, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998, 195 pages


This book, which is consisting of 7 chapters, explains how are the Muslims “made” in China and how their ethnic and cultural identity formed in China. The “Hui” is the largest Muslim society among 55 official ethnic minorities in China, in which 10 of them are Muslim. Gladney wrote this book based on his field research for period of years, meeting and talking to Hui in more than 400 households throughout China (from north to south and east to west). He found a problem to discover how the Hui view themselves, how they recognize who is Hui. In the introduction, he said that he felt an ambiguity for the status of them. “After almost 3 years of fieldwork in China, the longer I searched for the Hui, the less I understood what made them Hui (p.1)”.

Compare to another 55 ethnic minorities in China, the Hui has the most special case among the others since the Hui distinguished separately and they are out of the four commons category outlined by Joseph Stalin. They generally do not have their own language, peculiar dress, literature, music or the other cultural inventories by which more colorful minorities are portrayed. George and Louise Spindler, the editors said that; for the Hui there is no “we”, because the Hui consist of widely divergent communities living within varying ecological contexts and experience their ethnicity in radically different ways, and they inhabit every major metropolitan area of China and are considered China’s major urban ethnic group. Moreover, they are internally diverse and their presumed ethnicity so ambiguous, so that they are out of the Stalin’s category.

To get further understanding about this matter, Gladney explains the root cause of this problem. In introduction part, Gladney explains about the uniting of China through the politics of ethnic identification and Han nationalism, as well as explanation about “unofficial” ethnicity. China’s centralized, state-sponsored policies as well as cultural politics and identity, directed at Muslims and other minorities. Gladney asked; “Why would anyone want to be recognized as an official minority nationality? And why would the government want to recognize them in the first place?” In the second part, it describes more about who are the Hui. Gladney tries to identify the Hui and the background of the making of the Hui nationality as their ethnic identity in China. The explanation is through ethnicity theory from many approaches, such as: the Chinese-Stalinist approach, the Culturalist approach, the circumstantialist approach. Then, Gladney gives more specific case studies about ethno-religious resurgence in a northwestern Sufi community, fundamentalist revival in Na homeland and the ethno-religious roots, also socioeconomic context and local government policies of Na identity.

The next chapter describes case studies about Chang Ying, gender, marriage and identity in a Hui autonomous village ethno-historical origin of a Hui autonomous village. Chapter five explain more about the urban Hui experience in Beijing, specifically in Oxen street (Niu jie). This chapter also explains government policy and urban strategies. While in chapter 6, Gladney described Chendai, ethnic revitalization in Quanzhou, Fujian. This cultural basis for Chendai Hui identity had a historical monument to Hui Islamic heritage. An interesting part in this chapter is about ethnic identity and ethnic policy of the Taiwanese Muslims. In the end of his book, Gladney explains about ethnic national identity in the contemporary Chinese State.

Compare to other book, Gladney gives detail explanation about the “ambiguity” status of the Hui as an ethnic in China. Specifically, he gives the reader basic understanding about Hui’s identity as Muslim minority nationality, before explaining some case studies and the Hui’s life nowadays. After read this book, I can understand more about the “uniqueness” of Hui’s identity and status as a minority ethnic in China, and its consequences and impact on some issues/ phenomenon in current China’s situation.

Author: Sunu Family

We are an Indonesian family living in Bonn, Germany since 2017. Our family consists of Ayah (Radit), Umi (Retno/ Chiku), Kakak (Zahra), and Adek (Faiq). We will share our experience living in Germany, our trips, thoughts, Umi's related research on her study, etc.

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