Hui Ethnic Minority

The Hui Nationality practice the Islamic religion. In areas where there are dense distributions of the Hui people, mosques are built which hold religious activities hosted by imams. The main religious scripture of the Hui Nationality is the Koran and the believers of Islam are called Muslims. The Hui people live a very traditional Islamic way of life. They abide by all the religious rules such as not consuming pork. The Islamic religion has played a very important role in the growth and development of the Hui Nationality. Mosques are places for Muslims of the Hui ethnic group to have religious services and hold activities; some mosques also have the liability to disseminate religious knowledge as well as cultivate Islamic clerical practitioners. Mosques are considered a sacred place of worship by all Hui Muslims.

Hui Family

Hui Family

According to the Islamic calendar, on the tenth day of the twelfth month is Edi Al-Adha Day, or the Feast of Sacrifice. Every year on this day, animals such as camels, oxen and sheep are killed in sacrifice to their God Allah. Islamic precepts prescribe the ninth month on the Islamic calendar as the period of Ramadan, meaning a month of fasting. During this time, all Hui Muslims must abstain from all forms of drinks, food, and sex; the purpose of Ramadan is to make the people contemplate and reflect seriously on their own sins as well as make the financially rich people have personal painful experiences about caused by starvation. The period of fasting ends on the first day of the tenth month called Hari Raya Puasa noted by grand galas held to celebrate the accomplishment of the fasting activity. On this day, all Muslims get up very early, take a bath, light incense and then go to the mosque in formal clothes for a religious service and to listen respectfully to the lectures and sermons given by imams. After that, they go to their cemeteries and hold activities to worship and cherish the memory of the deceased, in order to show that they will never forget their ancestors.

Dietary Customs

The Hui people are widely distributed throughout China so their diets have developed differently. The Hui people who live in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region specially love wheaten food and they like to eat noodles and dough sheets. In addition, they also like Tiaohefan; this is prepared by making porridge with mutton pieces, spices, and diced vegetables. At the end, boiled noodles or dough sheets are put inside the porridge. The Hui people living in provinces of Gansu and Qinghai take wheat, corns, highland barleys and sweet potatoes as their main daily food. Fried cakes and fried dough pastries are very special foods loved by the Hui people from various regions and are always used as gifts for relatives and friends during festivals.  The typical food of the Hui people includes the following: Niangpi-- which is a kind of steamed noodles mixed with different seasonings-- Hand-Pulled Noodles, Dalumian-- which refers to boiled noodles mixed with fungus, sliced meat, and eggs--, Fried Noodles with Meat, Uncongealed Bean curd, Cattle Head Soup, Noodles Mixed with Sliced Meat and Vegetables, and many more. In many of the Hui families, fermented flour dough is prepared all through the year and can be used at any time in need. The Hui people living in urban areas like to drink milk tea at breakfast all through the four seasons of the year. The meat they eat mainly includes beef and mutton; sometimes they also eat camel and various kinds of fish that have scales raised in northern China including black carps, silver carps, belugas, etc.

Pigeons are believed to be sacred birds by the Hui ethnic group living in Gansu Province; therefore, pigeon is often raised but seldom eaten.  If someone is seriously ill, the Imam in the mosque can give permission to create a tonic from cooked pigeons for the patient. 

The Hui people are good at various cooking techniques, which include pan-frying, sautéing, braising, frying, quick-frying, roasting, etc. Muslims are able to prepare exquisite colorful dishes using a variety of flavor, colors and smells containing ingredients such as long-thread moss, Chinese wolfberry, oxen and sheep hamstrings, chicken, duck, and seafood; on the other hand they also create delicious home-cooked food and snacks with their own unique and distinguishing features. Among the Hui people who live in the northwestern part of China, there is the popular habit of eating pickled vegetables.
The Hui people are relatively particular about beverages. They only drink water from a flowing or clean source. It is not acceptable for people to take a bath, wash clothes or pour dirty water around the sources of drinking water. The Hui people also like to drink tea and use it to treat their guests.  Tureen Tea, which is popular among the Hui people in northwest China, is very well-known. The Hui people living in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region also drink the Eight Treasures Tea made of tea leaves, white sugar, Chinese wolfberry, Chinese date, walnut, longan pulp, sesame, raisin, apple slices and more; Pot Tea is a kind of tea that is heated on stove in a pot containing only a little water before drinking it. 

The typical dishes of the Hui nationality mainly include the Muslim Wanshengma Cakes, sheep tendons, Golden Phoenix Braised Chicken, Wengzi Soup Balls, and Green Bean Skins. In Xining City of Qinghai Province, the well-known Wanshengma Cakes of the Hui Nationality is very popular; as well as The Golden Phoenix Braised Chicken in the city of Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province; the Ma Family Pot-stewed Chicken and the Baiyunzhang Dumplings in the city of Baoding, Hebei Province; the Ma Family Steamed Dumplings in Shenyang City and the Muslim Baked Cake in Yi County, Liaoning Province; the Shredded Bread in Mutton and Beef Soup in Shaanxi Province; and the Wengzi Soup Balls , Green Bean Skins and Rice Noodles in Beef Soup in Changde, Hunan Province.

Five Dishes and Four Oceans, Nine Greatness and Thirteen Flowers, Round Moon on the Fifteenth Day of a Month are some of the famous Muslim meals prepared during feasts throughout China. Five Dishes means five kinds of sautéed dishes served together at the same time, and Four Oceans refer to four soup dishes served all at once. Nine Greatness, Thirteen Flowers, Round Moon on the Fifteenth Day of a Month are the elegant and beautiful names of nine bowls of food, thirteen bowls of food and fifteen bowls of food respectively. 

Daily Beverages

The traditionally beverage of the Hui people is tea. It is not only the everyday drink of the Hui Nationality, but also the most precious beverage when preparing a feast for guests. Tea plays a very important part in the diet and life of the Hui people.  

Wherever you are in China, a hospitable Muslim host will always first come up and serve a cup of hot strong tea. The Hui people are very particular about tea services. In many of the Hui families there are various sets of tea services. In the past, the pots used to make and heat tea were usually made of silver or copper, and designed in various styles with very unique and distinguished characteristics. There were copper teapots with long spouts, silver duck teapots, copper fire teapots, and more. Nowadays when making tea, the Hui people usually use porcelain pots, tureens, or porcelain cups with covers; when boiling the tea, they mainly use tin-iron pots, and in the summer purple-sand pottery pots.

Tureen tea, which is drank in a very unique way by the Hui people living in the northwestern part of China, is believed to date from the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). It has been handed down from generation to generation and is widely enjoyed by the Hui people. It is made up of the tray, the tureen, and the cover, which are nicknamed Three Cannon Batteries. During the heat of the summer, tureen tea becomes drink of choice among the Hui people  While in the cold winter, during the slack farming season, the Hui people usually sit around the morning stove, bake some slices of bread or eat some flour pastries, and enjoy a cup of Tureen Tea.

The Hui people also take Tureen Tea as the best and perfect beverage to treat guests. It is always served along with flour pastries or dried nuts to guests during all festive activities such as Eid Al-Adha Day, Hari Raya Puasa, and wedding ceremonies. There are various customs for serving tea to a guest. The host will first open the cover of the tureen, put the tea leaves into the tureen, pour the water inside, and last put the cover back on the tureen before offering it to the guest with both hands. If there are several guests coming, the host has to serve the tea to them in a correct order according to the ages, hierarchies and status. The guest with the greatest honor should be the first one to enjoy the tea.

When drinking Tureen Tea, one can not put away the cover or puff the tea leaves on the surface of the water using his mouth; instead, he should put the tureen and the tray in his left hand, and use the right hand to remove the cover to across the surface of the water. This is done in order to sweep the tea to the edge of the tureen wall to accelerate the pace the sugar crystals will melt. They are also very particular about the ways of skimming the tea with the cover. It is said that after the first time, the tea becomes very sweet and after the second time it becomes much more fragrant. Each time the teat is skimmed, the guest should suck in the tea using his mouth while tilting the cover. He can neither pick up the tureen and swallow the tea in succession, nor gasp while drinking the tea. Instead he should drink slowly and enjoy every mouthful of the tea. In order to be polite and respectful when served a cup a tea, a guest must not stand on ceremony or put aside his cup without a taste.

Festivals of the Hui Nationality

The Hui people have three main festivals: Hari Raya Puasa, Eid Al-Adha, and Mawlid an-Nabi. All the festivals and memorial days follow the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is calculated according to the moon; one year is divided into twelve months. Each year contains is made up of about 354 days. In leap years, once every 30 years, there are 355 days. There are no leap months in the Islamic calendar. Compared with the Gregorian calendar, there are eleven days less each year, and there is one more year by the calculation of the Islamic calendar in every 32.6 Gregorian years. As a result, using the Gregorian calendar, the above-mentioned three main festivals of the Hui Nationality occur one month earlier every three years.

Hari Raya Puasa of the Hui Nationality (Fast Ending Festival)

The Hui people living in Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan provinces also call this festival Daerde; it is widely celebrated among the ten Islamic ethnic groups in China. However, the ten ethnic groups all possess many of their own special and local customs and characteristics for celebrating this festival.

The feast month of the Hui nationality, which is also called Ramadan, comes in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Why do the Hui people have the fasting activity in this month? According to the records from the Koran, when Mohammed, Islam's prophet, was forty years old, Allah, the Islamic God, began to teach him the enlightenments from the Koran during the ninth month of that Islamic year. As a result, the Hui people consider this month to be the most exalted, auspicious and happiest time of the year. In order to commemorate this important event in their history, they began to fast in the ninth month for a whole month. The starting and ending date of the fasting month depends on the date when the new crescent moon appears.      

During the fasting month, the life of the Hui people is always much more colorful and sumptuous than normal. Usually all the Muslim families prepare beef, mutton, rice, flour, white sugar, tea, fruits and many other kinds of nourishing food.

The Muslims, who have to fast, should eat enough food before dawn; from the dawn until sunset, they must abstain from any sexual life as well as all kinds of food and drink. The purpose of this ritual fasting is to provide a painful experience of hunger and thirst; therefore, they are able to feel empathy for what it is to live in the shoes of a poverty stricken person in hopes they will provide help. By doing this fasting activity, the Hui people have gradually developed the virtues of being unremitting, unyielding and disinterested. 

After the whole day of fasting at sunset, when it finally comes time to eat, most of the fasting men will go to the mosque and wait. When they hear the sound of the clapper in the mosque which means that it is time to eat, they begin to enjoy their food. If it is summer, they will first eat some fruits if it is available, otherwise if there are no fruits they just drink a cup of water or tureen tea before dinner. If it is in winter, some Muslims are very particular about it and they will eat some dates before having dinner. Legend goes that Mohammed liked to eat some dates everyday at the end of fasting; as a result, the Hui people still retain this habit. When the one-month long fasting period is over, there comes the festival of Hari Raya Puasa, which is one of most ceremonious festivals in each Islamic year.

The festival of Hari Raya Puasa lasts for three days. On the first day as soon as the foredawn comes, people begin to prepare in a bustle. All families get up very early and then begin to clean the courtyard and laneways, in order to create an atmosphere of cleanness, comfort and pleasure to others. All people, including men and women, young and old wear their favorite new clothes. The mosques are all cleaned up during this festival. Big banners with slogans of Celebrating the Hari Raya Puasa Festival and colorful lanterns are hung there in the mosques.

During the festival, all Muslim families make their traditional ethnic foods such as fried dough pastries and fried cakes. At the same time they kill chickens and sheep and make cold bean jelly and braised vegetables; these are sent as gifts to relatives, friends and neighbors to express their best regards to each other.  

The Hui people living in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region will sweep away the dust in their houses and whitewash their buildings before the festival. Men will have a haircut, and both men and women will take a bath and wear new clothes. The whole family will have braised soup. In most places of China, inhabited by Hui people, they keep almost the same customs as in Xinjiang. Most young people from the Hui nationality hold their wedding ceremonies during this festival, which makes it much more exciting and reveal gorgeous and fascinating colors.

The Eid al-Adha Festival of the Hui Nationality (Feast of Sacrifice)

Eid al-Adhs, which is the pronunciation of the Arabic language, means sacrifice and self-devotion, as a result it is also called Feast of Sacrifice or Festival of Fidelity and Filial Piety. In most places where the Hui people live it is called Little Eid. As one of the three main festivals of the Islamic religion, it is usually celebrated seventy days after the Fast Ending Festival.

Why do the Hui people kill animals to celebrate this festival? It is said that Ibrahim, who was the ancient Prophet of human beings, was enlightened by God Allah at night and Allah ordered him to kill his own son Ishmael as a sacrifice to himself; it turned out Allah just wanted to test the religious belief of Ibrahim. Ibrahim sharpened his knife, approached his son and said, ‘My dear son, as your father, I really do not have the heart to kill you. Please just leave and go far far away!’ However, his son Ishmael answered, ‘Nothing in the world but the God of Allah is the Master of this world! Dad, we are the servants of Allah, and we can only worship Almighty Allah after coming to this world!’ Then, when Ishmael lied down on his side, his father put the knife onto his throat. Now the father was so sad that he cried and tears just rolled down from his eyes like a stream. Just at this moment, Allah dispatched a fairy named Jiboreyile with a black-headed antelope to the father and the son. The antelope served as sacrifice to Allah instead of Ishmael. Then the father took his knife and cut through the throat of the antelope, which died quickly. This is the origin of this festival. In this story the fidelity to God Allah and the son’s filial piety to his parent without hesitation should both be learned by the future generations and also the father and the son should be great models for the whole world to learn from.

That is the reason the Hui people, as well as preparing fried cakes and fried flour pastries, also kill oxen, sheep and camels during a grand ceremony for this festival. Generally speaking, as for the families who financially live a good life, one person has to kill one sheep by himself, and seven people work together to kill an ox or a camel. They are also very particular about the etiquettes of killing animals; sheep less than two years old and calves or camels less than three years old should not be killed. Animals that are blind, lame, without a tail or both ears can not be killed either. People should choose the strong and bonny livestock to kill. After the animals are killed, the meat has to be divided into three parts, the first part is for the family members, the second part will be sent to relatives, friends and neighbors and the last part will be used as alms to help the poor.

After the ceremony of killing animals, all families again become very busy. The old people boil the meat as they inform the children that after eating the meat they should bury the bones underground covered by yellow earth instead of giving them to dogs. This is a particular custom during the festival. When the meat is cooked, it should be sliced and divided into small packages. The mutton should be broiled and made into dishes; then they visit relatives and friends, send dishes and fried cakes to each other and give their best regards to others. Some families even invite imams to come to chant Koran, eat and visit the cemeteries to recall and worship their ancestors. Various forms of celebrating exist with similarities and differences depending on the location.  In some places the Hui people organize various cultural and sports activities besides getting together and visiting relatives and friends. The Hui ethnic group living in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region likes to organize different kinds of recreational activities during this festival and celebrate it with great joy and extraordinary excitement.

The Mawlid an-Nabi of the Hui Nationality (The Birthday and the Anniversary of the Death of Mohammed)

Mawlid an-Nabi is a day to commemorate the birthday as well as the anniversary of the death of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, As the birthday and the anniversary of the death of Mohammed are both on the twelfth day of the third month according to the Islamic calendar, the Hui people celebrate them together and call this festival Mawlid an-Nabi. On this day, the Muslims first go to the mosque to chant the Koran, sending blessing on Mohammed and his family (Durood), and listen to the lectures about the life stories of Mohammed given by imams. Then they donate grains, edible oil, meat and money to the mosque; at the same time they invite several people who take charge of milling flours, purchasing the things they need, frying cakes, boiling meat, making dishes etc.  All the routine chores and errands are done by the Hui people who come voluntarily. The Hui people consider the voluntary labor on this day to be doing good deeds. As a result, all of them volunteer to come and do the jobs one after another.

When the ceremony is over, people begin to gather and dine together. In some places where the economy is well developed and there are large and spacious places for a big dinner, they prepare dozens of tables of dishes for everybody to enjoy the food happily. While in some other areas, they have set meals, called set bowls by the Hui people; the food is divided equally into different bowls and each person shares one set of the meal. If there are those who have attended the religious ceremony in the mosque, donated money and other things and at last have not come for the dinner, their relatives or friends will be asked to take back some fried cakes for them to have a taste.

Characteristics of the Clothes

The men of the Hui Nationality usually wear the Hui style hat, which are small black-colored and white-colored hats without brims; most of the Hui men like to wear white ones. Some of them do not wear hats and instead they wrap their heads with white towels or cloth, and are therefore nicknamed Head-Wimpled Hui People. There are also some others who wear pentagonal, hexangular or Octagonal hats, as a result of the different branches of Islam they believe in and different places they live in. In winter, some old Hui people, for example the imams, do not like to wear thick cotton hats; instead, they wear white hats and put a blue embroidered earmuff made of cotton or fur on each ear. They like to wear double-breasted white shirts, and some even like to wear white trousers and socks to make them look very tidy, bright and solemn.  

Blue waistcoats are a common fashion among both men and women; men especially like to put on an extra waistcoat outside their shirts to create a distinct contrast and make them look pure, fresh, elegant and solemn. When a cold winter comes, they will overalls over a cotton or leather waistcoat to add comfort and warmth without looking overstuffed. The Hui people living in cold alpine areas like to wear fur garments, periderm garments and garments made from the skins of old sheep.  

The women of the Hui Nationality are also very particular about their dresses and toilettes. They usually wear white round-edged hats and veils on their heads. The custom of wearing veils originates from the Arabian countries and the Islamic religion. The Arabian areas used to have strong wind, sandstorms and also a shortage of water there. As a result, people at that time there were not able to take baths or wash their faces and hands frequently. In order to protect themselves from wind and sand, as well as pay close attention to hygiene, the Islamic women made the veils by themselves that could cover their faces and protect their heads. As time went on, there gradually came the habit of wearing veils among the Hui women.

The veils of the young girls, married women and old people are different from each other. Normally the young girls wear green veils with golden edges as well as simple and elegant embroidered patterns of flowers and grasses; the married women wear black veils which cover them from the heads until the shoulders; elderly women wear white ones which cover them from their heads to their backs. The Hui women usually wear side opening clothes; young girls and married women like to inlay threads, embed colors, make rolloffs and embroider flowers on their clothes.  It is also very common adorn gold or silver bracelets , earrings and rings; some of them even like to paint a colored dot on their forehead and dye their fingernails to add a , pure, fresh, clean, graceful, and pretty look

Customs of Marriage

The marriage of the Hui people is bound by the Islamic rules, just like the other nine ethnic groups living in China who also believe in Islam. Mohammed once said, ‘The marriage system is ruled by me, and anybody who does not abide by my rules will not be considered to be my followers.’ As a result, all marriages of the Hui people must abide by the relevant rules of Islam and they should consider their marriage a very sacred event willed by the God Allah. Their marriage should be permitted by both sides and abide by the principle of freewill decision. Betrothal gifts should be given with the help of parents and the matchmaker and all the procedures should conform with the Islamic rules, before wedding ceremony is held.

Before the marriage of the Hui people, the man’s family should give betrothal gifts to the girl’s family; they will then contract the marriage and fix the date of their wedding ceremony. When they become engaged, relatives and friends should be invited to drink tea and eat some snacks. When holding the wedding ceremony, they should invite an imam to extol God Allah as well as serve as the chief witness of the marriage. The imam praises God Allah for his contributions to the perfect marriage between the two young people. Then he teaches the bride and groom the relevant Islamic knowledge, tells both sides to abide by the virtues of trust and honesty and recite the words of Mohammed, and asks them what their religious names are, if they do not have one, he will give them their religious names. The imam will also ask the groom whether he has already sent a gift to the bride as gift symbolizes the true love between husband and wife. At last, the imam reads the marriage testimony, which can not be omitted from the ceremony, which means that this marriage is officially admitted by the Islamic religion. After that, the activity of Handing Out Longevity Nuts will be held. The imam first puts some snacks with lucky meanings, including: longevity nuts which symbolize long life, dates which symbolize giving birth to a baby as soon as possible, metal coins which symbolize affluence and honor, peanuts, fruits, popcorns, walnuts, and so forth, on the table. Then he gets three handfuls of them and puts them into the handkerchief the groom has already prepared before giving them to the bride; in some places the nuts are put into the undergarments of the groom. When all the guests leave, the husband and the wife enjoy those gifts together to symbolizes true love, sticking together through thick and thin and living together happily all through their lives. The nuts also symbolize the best wishes to this couple from the imam.

Taboos of the Hui Nationality

The Hui people do not eat pork, dogs, horses, donkeys and mules. Bloods from animals, poultries and livestock that die naturally or are not killed by people who believe in Islam are also not allowed to be eaten. People can not smoke or drink in other people’s homes. No jokes about food are acceptable, and any food that is unacceptable by the Hui people can not be used to make metaphors; for example, one should not say that the color of chili is as red as blood. One should not bare his or her bosom and arms in front of others. All livestock should be kept away from drinking water from the wells or springs which are used as a water source. Also people should not wash their hands, faces, or clothes near the wells or springs. Before getting the water, one should wash his or her hands. Any remaining water after use in a container should not be poured back in the source. The Hui people always pay close attention to hygiene in their daily life. If it is possible, people should wash their hands both before and after meals using flowing water. Most of the Hui people do not smoke or drink. While dining together, the seniors should be invited to sit at the honorable seats, and juniors should not sit together with the seniors on the beds or Kang--hot rock bed, instead they should sit at the edge or just on benches on the floor. In addition, when taking water or meals, one should not do it in an outward way; if their bowl is far away from their food they will be considered throwing out their dishes.

The most remarkable food and drink habit of the Hui Nationality is that some kinds of foods are forbidden. As for meat, they only eat the meat of the animals that parteth the hoof and chew the cud, such as oxen, sheep, camels, deer, and wild rabbits. As for birds and poultries, they only eat the meat of chickens, ducks, geese, cooers, and pigeons. For seafood, only fish and shrimps can be eaten. Of all the animals mentioned above, if they are killed by people from other nationalities or die naturally, the Hui people should not eat them. Only those that are killed by the special cook or the imam from the mosque can be eaten.

Besides pork, the Hui people do not eat the meat of the following kinds of animals, including those that have paws or do not chew the cud, such as horses, mules, donkeys, cats, dogs, elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, wolves, foxes, rats and badgers, those that are very dragonish and have a bad temper-- eagles, sparrow hawks, condors, owls, and crows-- amphibians, snakes, peculiar-looking seafood-- such as turtles, loaches, frogs, mussels, holothurians, crabs, etc--. However, nowadays in some places, the rules about the kinds of seafood that cannot be eaten have changed a little bit.

The custom of not eating pork originates directly from the Islamic religion. It used to be an ancient custom of some nomadic ethnic groups living on the tropical and droughty Arabian Peninsula. Later Mohammed listed this rule into the records of the Koran and then it became an Islamic rule. According to the Koran, it is believed that the main reason for not eating pork is that pigs are dirty animals that can never be cleaned.

The Koran is the origin of the Islamic belief and laws, and it is the ultimate norm of the behaviors conducted by Muslims. As a result, all Muslims must abide by all of the rules. As for the food taboos, they have been developed in a long period of time in history and gradually became integrated in the life of the Hui Nationality. All of these taboos have been accepted and handed down from generation to generation by the Hui people.

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