Country Profile: China

This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the People’s Republic of China (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under China’s Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) has no legal status.

Country Background

China is located in Eastern Asia, bordering the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea. It is bounded by Afghanistan, Bhutan, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Macau, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Tajikistan, Russia, and Vietnam. The capital of China is Beijing. The official language is Standard Mandarin (Putonghua, which is based on the Beijing dialect). The country’s population in 2016 was approximately 1.4 billion, the highest in the world. About 52% of the population is not affiliated with any particular religion. The most prominent religion in China is Buddhism, with about 18% of the population Buddhist. Islam is a minority religion in China, and Muslims make up about 2% of the country’s population. China requested observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 2012. China is currently in a number of territory disputes with neighboring countries, including the debate over Taiwan’s independence and China’s border lines with India, Nepal, Vietnam, Bhutan, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Japan. Some of these border disputes concern maritime borders.

Islam in China

Islam has existed in China for 1,400 years. Currently, Muslims make up a significant minority group in China, with the greatest concentration living in Xinjiang. Large numbers of Muslims also reside in the Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions. The majority of China’s Muslims are Sunnī, but there is a Shīʿī minority present as well.

There are two major Muslim ethnic groups in China: the Hui and the Uyghurs. The Hui are the largest Muslim ethnic group in China, with a population estimated to be around 11 million. Hui can be found throughout China, although the majority are concentrated in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. They are ethnically Chinese, speak Mandarin as their native tongue, and aside from abstaining from pork and alcohol, share a very similar diet to the Han Chinese. The Hui are largely accepted in China.

The second largest Muslim ethnic group is the Uyghur, with an estimated population of 8 million. Unlike the Hui, who are dispersed throughout China, the Uyghur live almost exclusively in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In recent years especially, the Uyghur have been persecuted heavily by the Chinese government. This is due largely to racism, with Uyghurs often being thought of as “barbaric” and “backwards” by the Chinese elite, and a strong fear of separatist movements emerging from the Uyghur. While the Hui have largely assimilated into Han society and adapted their Islamic practices to fit into the Confucian-influenced macro-culture within China, the Uyghur have little desire to assimilate into Han society and maintain distinct cultural practices. The Uyghur are a Turkic ethnic group that speak a Turkic language as their native tongue, rather than Mandarin (which they often have difficulty speaking), and write using an Arabic script. This persecution continues today, and many Uyghur have become refugees in neighboring countries. . . .

Read China’s profile.