China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Binding a Bifurcated World: the Xidaotang and the Transformation of Southwestern Gansu Society, 1914-1943

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Willow, First Floor

Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Chinese Muslim reformism is often seen as a coastal phenomena represented by schools like Chengda Normal and the increasing number of Chinese Muslims who sojourned in the Middle East. This lens usually obscures different reformist attempts by Sufi-oriented sects in China’s northwest. Xidaotang, in southwestern Gansu, grew out of a Khufiyya (Khafiyya) menhuan (descent solidarity) and was one such reformist sect. Xidaotang is renowned for its combination of scriptural reform and economic cooperatives that ultimately overturned the power structure in southwestern Gansu. Scriptural reform, in particular, involved pointing back to a corpus of Chinese-Muslim texts written more than 200 years in the past. Thus, for the Xidaotang, the approach to reform and revivalism lay not only in modern education but also in employing the teachings of neglected texts. This religious confraternity survived assassinations, imprisonments, and outright war as it expanded the Chinese Muslim understanding of qingzhen (pure and true) and brought many into its own ummah, including Tibetans and Muslims of opposing sects. While exploring how the Xidaotang’s reformist program worked in education, business, and local governance, this paper will also consider the broader region of northwest China during the Republican era and the role that religio-ethnic identities played in the period’s myriad transformations. I challenge the Herderian definition of ethnicity which assumes that ethnicity is obligatory and singular when in fact, the evidence in northwest China argues for something far more hybrid and regional.  

Jomo Smith

University of Pittsburgh, United States

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2 - Binding a Bifurcated World: the Xidaotang and the Transformation of Southwestern Gansu Society, 1914-1943



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