Muslims of Yunnan

There are more Muslims in China than in The United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Libya or Syria. Kunming is reported to be 36 percent Muslim. It is not uncommon to see women wearing the headscarf and men wearing a white yarmulke-like skullcap. Unlike in south India, I have not seen women wearing the long black robe.

Overland trade between present-day Yunnan, Laos, Burma, Thailand and India extends as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and probably before. The Prophet Muhammad was a member of an Arab clan that engaged in both overland and overseas trade and Muslims have lived in China from just after his death in 632 AD.

Kubli Khan's grandson Ghenghis is primarily responsible for Kunming's Muslim population. Ghenghis Kahn was the first emperor of China during the (Mongolian) Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). He sent Muslim troops from Central Asia into Yunnan during his campaign to usurp the Song Dynasty and in 1252-53 the Mongols conquered Yunnan.

Ghenghis was well aware of Yunnan's importance as an overland trade hub between India, Southeast Asia, Tibet and the Chinese heartland. He also viewed Yunnan as a springboard for conquest of Burma.

He appointed an Uzbek as governor. Using land and money as incentives, he encouraged high-ranking officials, who happened to be Muslim, to immigrate to Yunnan. Newly settled Muslim men were permitted to take local wives and encouraged to develop trade and commerce. The Hui, Yunnan's ethnic Chinese Muslims, descend from these unions.

Caravan traffic to India and Southeast Asia beceme a virtual Muslim monoply, headed first by the Uzbeki governor and after his death, by his descents.

In the first half of the 1300s Chinese chronicler Wang Dayuan recorded the existence of an 'overland road' from China to Arabia. Muslim traders spread throughout China along existing trade routes.

By the late 1700s caravans of Yunnanese Muslim traders ranged over an area extending from the Chamdo region of eastern Tibet, through Assam, Burma, Thailand and Laos to south Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, and Guangxi.

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