China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
For Chinese Muslims in Northwest China, the Ma Bufang era was a high point. Under Ma family rule, Qinghai became a safe haven for Muslims, a political answer to Qing-era violent persecutions. Ma military forces successfully battled Japanese and Chinese Communist armies, while also keeping the Chinese Nationalist government at arm’s length.The Mas also advanced their control of the Tibetan highlands and monastic authority with harsh military tactics and territorial consolidation through trade and settlement.The elimination of this Muslim-centric regional autonomy was the Chinese Communists’ most important task when it marched into Xining. Yet Communist principles also called for the Socialist equality of all peoples.
It is in this context that we examine the surge of mobility to Qinghai in the second half of the 1950s, a surge that generated, and was generated by awkward and enforced silences. The first silencing was enforced by the Communist Party in response to conflicts within Hui communities in Qinghai. Qinghai locals and transplants disagreed about what constituted Hui-ness. Both were told by Party officials to respect differing practices and to silence questioning voices in their communities. The other silence existed in the assumptions and beliefs of state and non-state actors. That is, Qinghai’s historical place as a safe haven for Muslims was unspoken but intrinsic to 1950s’ mobility to Qinghai as part of Communist state-building. It is a story that remains untold for the most part, largely because of the lingering ethno-political tensions in the region.