The Hui, one of China’s 56 officially recognized ethnic identities, are Sunni Muslims who speak a form of Mandarin. Some Hui are quite integrated with the majority Han even though they are not ethnically Han. Other Hui are very distinct from the Han both culturally and socially. Hui lineage is most often traced back to Persian traders who entered China along the Silk road in the 7th century AD. The majority of the 14 million Hui live in four provinces in Northwest China, though there are also large communities of Hui in some central and southern provinces. They are also found in smaller communities in every province in China.
There are four rival Hui sects. The Gedimu are the largest and have the longest history, but their influence is declining amid successive reform movements. These three movements were founded by Hui who brought ideas from the Middle East. The earliest, the Sufis, encourage mystical practices. Near the end of the 19th century, the Yhewani reformers were influenced by Wahhabi thought. In the 20th century, the Salafiya also sought to “purify” Hui religious thought and practice.
The Hui are traditionally herders and farmers, and the majority still live in rural areas. A growing mining industry has brought considerable economic development to China’s Northwest, so increasing numbers of Hui are working outside of their traditional rural occupations. Many Hui have excelled in the food industry, for example, and Hui-owned halal-beef noodle restaurants are famous across China.
Unlike the Muslim Uyghur in Northwestern China, there is no independence movement among the Hui. Thus, they encounter less government opposition and have more freedom to practice Islam, to keep Ramadan, to build mosques, and even to go on Hajj. This does not mean they enjoy full religious freedom, as recent government actions have placed greater restrictions on the Hui, and there is growing concern about the government’s agenda regarding Hui faith practices.
The more religious a Hui person is, the more resistant to the Gospel they tend to be. Today, there are hundreds of scattered individual Hui believers, and there are a few small groups of believers. In only one or two places are larger groups of believers known to be gathering regularly.
When Hui who identify more closely with the Han become Christians, they often attend Han churches. Believers from the Hui who identify more closely with their ethnic and Islamic roots tend to keep their faith in Christ quiet to avoid shaming their families or being expelled from their communities.
The entire Bible is available in the Hui dialect of Mandarin and is available for download via a phone app. This Hui Bible is being read and downloaded regularly all across China.
There are few expatriate workers among the Hui. Some Han churches are beginning to minister to the Hui, but their witness tends to display limited sensitivity to Hui culture and Islamic beliefs.