Hui Ethnic Group – China Ethnic Minorities

In the 13th century, a large number of Muslims moved into the Yellow River valley from the Western Liao Dynasty and merged with the local Han, Uygur and Mongolian nationalities. In the long-term historical process, they gradually formed the Hui ethnic group through intermarriage and other factors. Hui people now mainly live in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Other areas with a population of more than 200,000 are Beijing, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Anhui, Shandong, Henan, Yunnan, Gansu, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Provinces and so on. According to the 2021 census, there are currently 11,377,914 Hui people.

Contemporary Hui people commonly use Chinese and have different dialects in different regions. At the beginning of the migration of Hui ancestors to the East, Arabic, Persian and Chinese were used at the same time. Due to the long-term mixed residence with the Han nationality, especially the increasing number of Han ethnic groups in the Hui ethnic group, in the long-term development process, they gradually became accustomed to using Chinese as the common language of their own ethnic group and retained some Arabic and Persian vocabulary.

Islam has always played an important role in the formation and development of the Hui people. After the formation of the Hui people, the Hui people all over the country continued this belief.

Apparel of the Hui ethnic group

Like many facets of their culture, the traditional dress of the Hui people has been heavily influenced by their Islamic faith. The key to their outfits is to look clean, bright, and somber, although some embellishment is allowed. The men wear small black or white caps without brims, and these hats can be pentagonal, hexagonal, or octagonal depending on the branch of Islam that they follow. They have a preference for double-breasted white shirts and, in some cases, white trousers and socks. Both men and women like to wear blue waistcoats and some men will wear an extra waistcoat to create a tidy, crisp contrast. In colder areas or during harsh winters, some men and women will wear fur garments made from sheepskin.

The women’s dress, though not as elaborate as many other ethnic minorities, is rather more decorative than the men’s. They tend to wear headscarves or veils but these vary depending on their age. Young women typically wear green or colored veils that have a golden trim and have been embroidered with elegant floral patterns. Married women will wear black veils that cover them from head to shoulder, while elderly women will wear white veils that stretch from their heads all the way down their backs. They normally wear a dress that fastens at the side over a pair of trousers and, although they are usually muted in color, younger women’s clothes may be embroidered with decorative patterns. Women of all ages liven up their outfits with gold or silver bracelets, earrings and rings because, after all, diamonds aren’t a girl’s only best friend!

Traditional Diet of the Hui ethnic group

The main diet of the Hui people is pasta beef and mutton.

Mutton soup is one of the most representative traditional delicacies of the Hui people, and it is made of sheep offal (sheep intestines and liver), sheep belly, and mutton.

Mutton and Bread Pieces in Soup is a very famous Hui people characteristic. It is very famous in Xi’an. Mutton is considered the main ingredient in the food, followed by chopped green onion, and vermicelli. In Xi’an, many people eat Mutton and Bread Pieces in soup for breakfast. Because it contains soup and rice, and meat rotten soup, it is thick and nutritious, which makes people full-satisfied after eating it.

Religions of the Hui ethnic group

Though the Hui people are not defined by their Islamic faith, the vast majority of them are Muslim. This means they worship at mosques, follow priests known as imams, and worship the holy book called the Quran. Although throughout history many of their mosques have been destroyed due to religious persecution, since 1949 they have been allowed to build them and worship freely.

All Hui communities will surround a mosque and the older mosques tend to be a mixture of Han Chinese and Central Asian architecture, while the newer ones are purely Central Asian in design. One of the finest examples is the Great Mosque in the city of Xi’an, which perfectly amalgamates elements of Chinese and Central Asian architecture.

Some Hui people claim that Islam is the only religion through which Confucianism should be practiced and thus accuse Buddhists and Taoists of heresy. However, other Hui people, particularly those who follow the Sunni Gedimu and Yihewani branches of Islam, burn incense during worship, which is thought to be the result of Taoist and Buddhist influences. Many of the other Islamic ethnic minorities, such as the Salar, regard this as a heathen ritual and denounce it.

The Hui are the only Muslims in the world who are known to have female imams and, while male imams as known as ahung, female imams are known as nu ahung. They guide other women in prayer but are not allowed to lead prayers like regular imams.

Festivals of the Hui ethnic group

Since most Hui people are Muslims, they follow the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar that has 12 months and 354 days each year. This makes their years 11 days shorter than our Gregorian calendar and so they have to wait less time between festivals! The three main festivals are all religious and are known as Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Mawlid an-Nabi. 

Eid al-Fitr

During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the Hui observe a religious practice known as Ramadan. Throughout Ramadan, men older than 12 and women older than 9 must fast during daylight hours and can only eat and drink once it is dark (i.e. before sunrise and after sunset). It is practiced during the ninth month because, according to the Quran, this is when Allah bestowed his teachings upon the prophet Mohammed, meaning this is the most sacred month in the Islamic calendar. 

Muslims fast during Ramadan in order to experience starvation and thus empathize with those less fortunate. Just imagine hungrily watching your co-worker eat a Mcdonalds’, knowing that you have to wait another 8 hours to eat, and you’ll understand just how challenging this is! Once the fasting has ended, they celebrate a three-day-long festival known as Eid al-Fitr. It begins on the 1st day of the 10th month and each person will get up early in the morning, take a bath, and thoroughly clean their house and surrounding streets. They then light incense and head to the mosque in their formal clothes, where they will attend a religious service and listen respectfully to the imams giving lectures and sermons. 

Once these are completed, they must go to their family’s cemetery and hold activities in honor of their ancestors. The family will then gather together and make traditional food such as fried dough pastries and fried cakes. Alongside these fried delicacies, they will prepare a feast of chicken, mutton, beef and braised vegetables, which will be shared with relatives, friends and neighbors as a sign of goodwill. After a month of fasting, it’s a small wonder that anyone has the patience to prepare food and not just wolf down the raw ingredients! The following two days of the festival are celebrated with feasts, lion dances, wrestling, and all manner of entertainment. As this is considered an auspicious occasion, many Hui youths will also get married during this festival. 

Eid al-Adha

The term “Eid al-Adha” means “sacrifice and self-devotion” in Arabic, so it is unsurprisingly also known as the Feast of Sacrifice, and the Festival of Fidelity and Filial Piety. It is a four-day festival that begins on the 10th day of the 12th month according to the Islamic calendar and revolves around the sacrifice of an animal, usually an ox, which people will divide into three portions. The first portion of meat is given to family members, the second is gifted to relatives, friends, and neighbors, and the final portion will be used as alms to help the poor. The older family members boil the meat and inform the children that, after they have finished eating, they must bury the bones underground and cover them with yellow earth instead of giving them to dogs. 

They traditionally sacrifice animals during this festival in homage to the ancient prophet Ibrahim. According to the Quran, Allah spoke to Ibrahim and ordered him to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Ibrahim sharpened his knife and approached his son, but relented and begged his son to leave. However, Ishmael told his father that, if it was the will of Allah, then he must be sacrificed. 

Ishmael lay down in acceptance of his death and Ibrahim felt tears stream down his cheeks as he placed the knife on his son’s throat. At that moment, Allah stopped Ibrahim and provided him with a “greater sacrifice” than Ishmael, although it is never explicitly mentioned what this sacrifice was. This festival honors both Ibrahim’s devotion to Allah and Ishmael’s filial piety in obeying his father without hesitation. 

During the festival, most families will host a gathering and share a feast of beef, mutton, fruit, fried cakes and other delicious dishes with their relatives, friends, neighbors, and sometimes local imams.

Mawlid An-Nabi

The prophet Mohammed is believed to have been born and died on the same day so this festival commemorates both his birthday and the anniversary of his death. It takes place on the 12th day of the 3rd month according to the Islamic calendar. During the festival, Muslims will go to the mosque, chant scripture from the Quran, send their blessings to Mohammed and his family, and listen to lectures by imams on the life of Mohammed. Once the religious ceremony has finished, they will donate grains, edible oil, meat, and money to the mosque. 

For one day only, they will take charge of maintaining the mosque by helping to mill flour, purchase groceries, fry cakes, boil meat, cook delicious dishes, and perform all other daily chores. They all volunteer readily for these jobs as they consider this festival to be a particularly auspicious day to perform good deeds. When the work has been completed, people will gather together to enjoy a feast. In more affluent areas they will have huge gatherings, with dozens of tables laden with dishes for everyone to enjoy!

Taboos of the Hui ethnic group

The Hui are deeply religious people and strictly follow the Islamic faith, meaning they live a puritanical lifestyle. They are forbidden from smoking, drinking alcohol, and gambling, and young people are not permitted to sit alongside elders. They rarely like to joke and their dress code is reasonably strict since it is considered inappropriate to bare your arms or any part of your chest in public. The Hui people may not be the ethnic minority you’d want to party with, but their fascinating mixture of Eastern and Central Asian culture is a wonder to observe.

They strictly follow Islamic dietary laws and are forbidden to eat the meat of pigs, dogs, horses, donkeys, and mules as well as the blood of any animal. They have a particular aversion to pork as, according to the Quran, pigs are the only animals that can never be properly cleaned. That being said, I don’t think the pigs are going to complain about this arrangement! They are not permitted to eat the meat of any animal that has died naturally or has been slaughtered by anyone other than an imam or approved butcher. It is also unacceptable to make jokes about food or use the forbidden foods in a metaphor. For example, the terms “blood red” or “as filthy as a pig” would be considered highly inappropriate.

Cleanliness is one of their main concerns and so they always wash their hands before and after any meal. Before attending religious services, they will take part in either a “minor cleaning” or a “major cleaning”. A minor cleaning simply involves washing the face, mouth, nose, hands, and feet, while a major cleaning entails a thorough bathing of the whole body. So, if you thought your sister took a long time in the shower, be thankful you aren’t sharing your bathroom with a Hui family!

They are very particular about their drinking water so people should never water their livestock or wash themselves or their clothes near a water source. Before heading to a well or spring to collect water, one must wash their hands thoroughly and any remaining water in a container must never be poured back into the source.

When a person dies, their body must be thoroughly cleaned with water and then wrapped in a white cloth. They are then buried promptly and without a coffin in the presence of an imam, who acts as the presider. The Hui people do not wail during funerals, as this is seen to be a sign of hatred for the deceased.

When a Hui family receives visitors, they will always welcome them with tea, fruits, and homemade cakes. They have a rich tea-drinking culture and use a three-part tea cup made up of a saucer, a cup with no handle, and a cover, so be careful how you hold it or you may end up with a three-part mess! The host will always prepare the tea and, if there are several guests, they will serve it according to age and status. For example, the most honorable or eldest guest should be served first.

Traditionally, when longans are in season, they will add three fresh longans to the cup with their skins still on. The tea leaves are placed on top of the longans and then boiling water is added. Out of season, they will use dried longans or longan paste. The cup can be refilled with boiling water many times and so many cups of tea can be had from just a few ingredients! The tea leaves used can vary, as each family will have a preference for which type of tea they like.

When drinking the tea, you must skim the cover across the surface of the water, as this helps any added sugar to melt and supposedly makes the tea more fragrant. The tea drinks while holding the cover at an angle so the cover acts as a strainer and keeps the tea leaves out of the mouth. It is considered impolite to remove the cover, blow the tea leaves away with your mouth, swallow the tea in one go, or gasp while drinking the tea.

Above all else, you must never set aside a cup of tea that has been offered to you without trying it first. If you start to eat the fruit, this signifies to your host that you do not want any more tea. It also lets them know you’re hungry, so you may get a cheeky piece of cake out of it too!

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