Activities > Wednesday Seminars

The Islamic Revival and Muslim-to-State Relations in Modern and Contemporary China

04 Jul 2018

Noriko Unno & Leila Chérif-Chebbi

Venue: Seminar Room, ICS
Time: 3:00 PM


The 19th and 20th centuries in the Islamic world were marked by a constellation of religious, political, social and cultural movements in which Muslims attempted to reconcile Islam with modernity. Amid the turbulence of the late Qing, Republican, and Communist periods, Muslims in China—influenced by their co-religionists across Asia and the Middle East—advocated the revival of an authentic form of Islam which had been emancipated from the corrupting influence of Chinese cultural accretions and superstitions.

This session brings together historical and contemporary perspectives on Islamic revivalism in China and its links to both social and political change and trans-Asian intellectual trends. Noriko Unno examines Islamic revival movements and Muslim-to-state relations in the early 20th century. She contends that Chinese-speaking Muslims enjoyed a certain degree of religious freedom under the influence of foreign Muslims who visited China, as, unlike the Chinese Communist Party, both the Qing and Republican governments were essentially indifferent to and ignorant of Islam. Leila Chérif-Chebbi investigates the state control of Islam and the spread of Islamophobia in China since the 1980s, especially after the September 11th attacks. She argues that the Chinese authorities have become concerned about social unrest in Xinjiang, and have placed increasingly tighter restrictions on the freedom of Muslims to practice religious activities in fear of an influx of radical Islamic fundamentalism from the Middle East. She also demonstrates how the Chinese state has attempted to inject “Chinese characteristics” into Islam as a means by which to use the religion as a political instrument.

Together, these two papers elucidate the diverse networks of Islamic revivalism in China and attempt to understand their significance across both global and local contexts.

About the Speakers 

Noriko Unno is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences. Her research interests lie primarily in the modern history of East Asia and Muslim minority studies. Her current research focuses on Chinese-speaking Muslims’ beliefs and their daily Islamic practices; their debates surrounding ethnicity and religion; and the global networks of Muslim activity that connected China, Central Asia, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire from the 18th to the 20th century. She earned her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Asian Studies from the University of Tokyo. She was a former visiting scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Harvard Yenching Institute. Her latest work, “Cutting off the Queue for Faith, Preserving the Queue for Face: Chinese Muslims’ Queue-Cutting Movements in North China during the Xinhai Revolution Period” was published in Asian Studies, Vol. 6 No. 1 (2018).

Leila Chérif-Chebbi (1963) studied Arabic and Chinese at the Paris Political Sciences Institute from 1981-1984. She earned her B.A. in International Relations from the same institution (1989), before going on to complete a post-graduate degree there on the Arab and Muslim world (1991). Working as a public officer since 1991, she has engaged in the research of Chinese Islam and the Hui people as a secondary occupation, participating in a wide-range of conferences both domestically and internationally. She received a fellowship (Michel Seurat) from CNRS in 1995, and conducted fieldwork in China in 1990, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2013 respectively. She is an Associate Member of the CETOBaC (CNRS-EHESS) Paris. Her main topics of interests are Chinese Muslim reformisms (Ikhwan, Salafiyya, Jama'a al-Tabligh); the modern history of Chinese Muslims; modern and contemporary Muslim intellectuals; the Arabic language and Arabic calligraphy in China; and Chinese Muslims’ engagement with the Internet. Her latest work, “Traditional vs Modernized Ikhwan in Globalized China” was published in Zhenghe Forum: Connecting China and the Muslim World (edited by Ma Haiyun, Chai Shaojin, and Ngeow Chow Bing), Kuala Lumpur: Malaya University Press, 2016, pp.157-171. 


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