Crude attempts to sinicise the faith will alienate Muslims
Print edition | China
Jan 17th 2019
IT IS A shame that so few Chinese remember General Bai Chongxi, a brilliant tactician during the war against Japan in 1937-45. He showed China that it is possible to be at once a patriot and a devoted Muslim. Bai was a complicated figure. A warlord capable of ruthlessness, he was also a reformer who wanted education to free his fellow Chinese Muslims from isolation and poverty. As a commander of Kuomintang (or Nationalist) troops, he was involved in massacres of Communists. Still, when Chaguan this week visited Bai’s home town in Guangxi province, in the south, locals praised his victories over the Japanese. The Bai family mansion is a protected historical site. Austere and grey-walled, it sits amid rice fields and limestone peaks straight from a scroll painting. Its empty interior offers no explanation as to why Bai matters.
He was once one of China’s best-known Muslims. Under the autocratic Nationalist rule of Chiang Kai-shek, Bai became head of a body representing the Hui minority, a diverse group of about 10m Chinese united by their Muslim faith. Often indistinguishable from China’s ethnic-Han majority, their ancestors include Persian merchants and Central Asians imported by 13th-century Mongol rulers. The body headed by Bai, the China Islamic National Salvation Federation, recruited Muslim troops and made the religious case for war with Japan. It supported Muslim schools and job schemes for refugees. Bai encouraged Hui delegations to tour the Muslim world to seek diplomatic backing for China’s war effort.