In telling the story of Islam in China, scholars have tended to depict the historical encounter of China’s Muslim population with the social, political and cultural forces of Chinese state and society in terms of either “conflict or concord.” This generalization, which reduces a complex and nuanced history to a simple binary, is flawed not because it is completely untrue, but rather because its truth is incomplete. Chinese Muslims’ responses to the social and cultural context in which they live have been diverse and multifaceted, and the phenomenon of Islam in China is no more a monolith than either of the two great, multifaceted civilizations that lend it its name. In late imperial China, within the same century, albeit at different ends of the Empire, examples of both types of Muslim response to Chinese hegemony were witnessed: intellectual rapprochement and armed rebellion. In between those extremes, however, we see varying degrees of Muslim assimilation to the norms of Chinese society and a variety of positions adopted by the imperium and officialdom vis-à-vis the Empire’s Muslim subjects. In many ways, this pattern is repeated in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) today.
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