Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Historical Narratives Embedded in Stone: Analyzing the Inscription on Xi'an Ancient Mosque Steles

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Historical Narratives Embedded in Stone: Analyzing the Inscription on Xi'an Ancient Mosque Steles

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

Islam was introduced in China in the 8th century A.D, according to historically authentic accounts (Chang 1999), when Muslim communities appeared in various regions of China, more especially in the north.

We find a variety of opinions among the historians of Islam in China about the attitude of Muslims in mainland China towards Chinese culture and civilization. Broomhall (1910) reported that Muslims in China are like natives in their appearance but are marked by their religiously determined habits, such as the pork taboo. He also observed an uneasy coexistence between Muslims and the Chinese majority. This is understandable because Broomhall remained in China immediately after the widespread rebellions in Muslim provinces in South and North China. Donald Leslie (1986) perceives Muslims to be acculturative and conforming with Chinese civilization and neither an assimilating nor outrageously anti-Confucian minority. Israeli (1977), on the other hand, contends that Muslims in China are totally out of place in the Confucian Chinese world order and are inherently violent and aggressive. He says they are incapable of fitting into a Chinese society dominated by non-believers, as they are bound to live as they would in a Muslim land where Islamic law is promulgated. Dillon (2013) refutes the arguments of Muslim acculturation in China, maintaining that they have 'stubbornly' preserved their identity, language, culture and most importantly their religion. Dru C. Gladney (2003) argues that some Muslim minorities had successfully adjusted to Chinese society by allowing a measure of reconciliation between their own religious injunctions and Chinese culture

Lipman (1997) understands Muslims as 'familiar strangers' in China who are materially acculturated but religiously distinct from the Chinese majority. According to him, the Muslims in China are 'normal but different, Sino- phone but incomprehensible, local but outsiders' and thus not transformed completely by Chinese civilization. Both Gladney and Lipman believe that the history of Muslims in China should acknowledge the variety of attitudes exhibited by Muslims residing in China towards the host culture. A humanistic approach to historiography, they say, prevents the reduction of their behaviors to sharp dichotomies of either complete assimilation or total exclusion.

Zvi Ben-Dor Benite (2005) opines that Muslims in China consider themselves capable of adjusting to both Chinese and Islamic culture by taking a position at the intersection of both, arguing that this is reflected in their folk stories, customs, culture, language and the body of knowledge they have produced in China. Berlie (2004) thinks that even though Islam is an essential part of their identity, Muslims in China are as flexible as bamboo in their adaptation to Chinese civilization. Mi Shoujiang and You Jia (2004) represent Muslims as an internalized part of Chinese society by tracing their history from being foreigners in Tang, through different phases of localization and internalization under different dynasties, to the Modern China of the twenty first century. Qurrat Ul Ain and Lu (2014) suggested that the relationship of Muslims with Chinese culture stayed within a continuum between dissonance and harmony with respect to the rituals and philosophy, respectively.

All of the foregoing is based upon archival and documented sources. We believe, however, that iconography can help us to see into the minds of communities. The historical monuments bearing the centuries-old narratives express the social realities at a broader and less subjective level than personalized historical resources. Our present research is therefore something new: an attempt to analyze the Xi'an mosque stele in order to probe how Chinese Muslims placed themselves in Chinese society and how they presented their religion in a Confucian social setting. To do this, we analyze the meta-historical Muslim narrative embedded in the stone steles of ancient mosques. …

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