Ethnicity and language boundaries

””An empirical study based on the Hui people in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia


  • Cheng Guo Sam




Hui people is an ethnic minority in China with a blood tie from the Muslim Middle East. They were not Chinese-speaking nationality/ethnicity in history. However, with their ethnic boundaries dissolved as the result of assimilation, Hui is more regarded as a “Chinesized Muslim minority” compare with other Muslim minorities in China (Leslie, 1986). Linguistically, Hui is governmentally recognized as a “solely Chinese-speaking ethnic minority in China” with some distinct linguistic phenomena discovered by academia (e.g. few Arabic/Persian code-mixing in Chinese dialogue, special language taboos, a series of specific business jargons, etc.).


Ethnic boundaries tend to coincide with linguistic ones. To explore the ethnical identity of Hui and its relationship to language boundaries, this paper presents an empirical study of narratives collected from Hui people living in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia. The finding suggests a pragmatic difference of Hui people with a wide range of corresponding Hui identities. As Avital Feuer (2008) once said, the language attrition is proportional to identity attrition. Different proportion of “Chineseness” and “Muslimness” among Hui people contribute to the ingroup language discrepancy and identity crisis. The result of this paper could partly reflect the fading of old, boundary-based ethnicity and the rise of new, imagination-based state-defined ethnicity in China.



1. Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso Books.
2. Atwill, D. G. (2005). The Chinese sultanate: Islam, ethnicity, and the Panthay Rebellion in southwest China, 1856-1873. Stanford University Press.
3. Bai, S. Y. (2004). Zhong Guo Yi Si Lan Jiao Shi Cun Gao [Darft of Islam History in China]. Ningxia People’s Publishing House.
4. Barth, F. (1998). Ethnic groups and boundaries: The social organization of culture difference. Waveland Press.
5. Benite, Z. B. D. (2005). The Dao of Muhammad: A cultural history of Muslims in late imperial China (No. 248). Harvard Univ Pr.
6. Bozeman, A. B. (1975). Civilizations under stress. The Virginia Quarterly Review, 51(1), 1. P7
7. Broomhall, M. (1910). Islam in China: a neglected problem. Morgan & Scott, Limited.
8. Cheng, J & Dai, L. (2014). Hu He Hao Te Shi Qing Zhen Da Si Jian Si Kao [The Establishment of the Great Mosque in Hohhot]. Journal of Hui Muslim Minority Studies, (1), 77-81.
9. Dai, L. (2009). “Tuodiao” Chukao (brief discussion about “Tuodiao”). Journal of Hui Muslim Minority Studies, (3), 110-114.
10. Du, F. J & Zhu, H. (2010). Gui Zhou Ge Lao Zu Jing Ying De Min Zu Shen Fen Ren Tong Ji qi Gou Jian [The Gelao minority elites’ ethnic identity and its construction]. Journal of Geographical Research, 11.
11. Fenton, S. (1999). Ethnicity: Racism, class, and culture. Rowman & Littlefield.
12. Feuer, A. (2008). Who does this language belong to?: Personal narratives of language claim and identity. IAP.
13. Fei, X. T. (1981). Min Zu YU She Hui [Nationality and society]. TIANJINGRENMINCHUBANSHE. P9
14. Fu, G. X. (2014). Yun Nan Tong Hai Meng Gu Zu Min Zu Ren Tong Yan Jiu Zong Guan [A Comprehensive Survey of Studies on Mongolians in Tonghai of Yunnan Province]. Journal of Minzu University of China (Philosophy and Social Sciences), (2), 5-10.
15. Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. Social text, (25/26), 56-80.
16. Giles, H., Mulac, A., Bradac, J. J., & Johnson, P. (1987). Speech accommodation theory: The first decade and beyond. Annals of the International Communication Association, 10(1), 13-48.
17. Gladney, D. C. (1996). Muslim Chinese: ethnic nationalism in the People's Republic (No. 149). Harvard Univ Asia Center.
18. Gladney, D. C. (2004). Dislocating China: Muslims, minorities, and other subaltern subjects. University of Chicago Press. P157
19. Huang, Ke-hsien, 2014, “Dyadic Nexus Fighting Two-Front Battles: A Study of the Micro-level Process of Religion-State Relations in Contemporary China.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 53(4): 706-721Holmes, J., & Wilson, N. (2017). An introduction to sociolinguistics. Routledge.
20. Huizu Shiliao [The history of Hui people in Huhhot], Huizu Shiliao editorial committee. (2003).
21. Joseph, J. (2004). Language and identity: National, ethnic, religious. Springer. P133
22. Leslie, D. (1986). Islam in traditional China: a short history to 1800. Canberra College of Advanced Education.
23. Lipman, J. N. (2011). Familiar strangers: a history of Muslims in Northwest China. University of Washington Press.
24. Israeli, R. (2000). Medieval Muslim Travelers to China. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 20(2), 313-321.
25. Israeli, R. (2002). Islam in China: Religion, ethnicity, culture, and politics. Lexington Books.
26. Liu, Y.X. (2016). Min Zu Rong He Yu Zheng Fu Ce Lue””Yi Ming Dai Mu Si Lin Wei Li [National Integration and Governmental Strategy Based on Chinese Muslims in Ming Dynasty]. GUIZHOU MINZU YANJIU ,37(3), 5-8.
27. Malinowski, B., & Kaberry, P. M. (1945). The dynamics of cultural change: An inquiry into race relations in Africa. Yale University Press.
28. Ma, J.X. (2015). Ethnic mobilization in China's southwest frontier & the historical construction of Lahu. Hong Kong Chinese University Press.
29. Murata, S. (2000). Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light: Wang Tai-yu's Great Learning of the Pure and Real and Liu Chih's Displaying the Concealment of the Real Realm. With a New Translation of Jami's Lawa'ih from the Persian by William C. Chittick. SUNY Press.
30. Sachiko, M., Chittick, W. C., & Weiming, T. (2009). The Sage Learning of Liu Zhi: Islamic Thought in Confucian Terms. Cambridge, ma: Harvard University Asia Center.
31. Schumann, J. H. (1986). Research on the acculturation model for second language acquisition. Journal of multilingual & multicultural development, 7(5), 379-392.
32. Sha, Y. (2013). Tiao Shi·Zi Jue: Hui Zu Guo Jia Ren Tong De Jian Gou [adaptation and self-awareness: national identity construction of Hui people]. NingXia Social Sciences, (3), 73.
33. Shan, L. J. (2010). Hui Zu Yu Yan Dai Ma Yu Min Zu Xin Li Te Zheng De Ren Lei Xue Jie Du [An Interpretation of Language Code and Ethnic Psychological Features of the Hui Ethnic Group from the Perspective of Anthropology]. Journal of BEIFANG University of Nationalities (Philosophy and Social Sciences), (5), 51-55.
34. Spolsky, B. (2000). Language motivation revisited. Applied Linguistics, 21, 157–159.
35. Stell, G. (2018). Sociolinguistic Indexicalities in Ethnic Diversity: Perceptions of Ethnicity and Language in Suriname. New West Indian Guide/Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, 92(1-2), 35-61.
36. Sun, J. X. (2004). Xian Dai Hua Bei Jing Xia De Min Zu Ren Tong Yu Min Zu Guan Xi””””Yi Hai Nan San Ya Feng Huang Zhen Hui Zu Wei Li [The Ethnic Identity and Ethnic Relationship in the Background of the Modernization: with an Example of the Hui People in Fenghuang Town of Sanya, Hainan]. Ethno-national Studies, 3, 61-67.
37. Tilly, C. (2015). Identities, boundaries and social ties. Routledge.
38. Tishkov, V. (1997). Ethnicity, nationalism and conflict in and after the Soviet Union: The mind aflame (Vol. 15). Sage.
39. Tobin, D. (2015). Between minkaohan and minkaomin: Discourses on'assimilation'amongst bilingual urban Uyghurs. In Language, Education and Uyghur Identity in Urban Xinjiang (pp. 55-74). Routledge.
40. Tse, L. (1998). Seeing Themselves through Borrowed Eyes: Asian Americans in Ethnic Ambivalence/Evasion. Multicultural Review, 7(2), 28-34.
41. Tse, L. (2000). The effects of ethnic identity formation on bilingual maintenance and development: An analysis of Asian American narratives. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 3(3), 185-200.
42. Verkuyten, M. (2007). Religious group identification and inter-religious relations: A study among Turkish-Dutch Muslims. Group processes & Intergroup relations, 10(3), 341-357.
43. Woolard, K. A. (1991). Changes in Barcelona, 1980-1987l. Focus on Language and Ethnicity: Essays in honor of Joshua A. Fishman, 2, 61.
44. Wu, H. Y. (2003). Lun Hui Zu Li Shi Shang De Shang Mao Huo Dong Ji Qi Zuo Yong [The contribution of Hui people in the history of business and economic activities]. Researches in Chinese Economic History, (3), 117-126
45. Xiu, Y. (2009). Wen Hua Bian Qian Shi Jiao Xia Hu He Hao Te Hui Zu De Jiao Yu Ce Lue Xuan Ze [Education strategy of Hui people in Huhhot: under the perspective of cultural change]. ZhongYangMinZuDaXueChuBanShe. P24
46. Yang, H. Z & Yu, Z. G. (1995). Yi Si Lan Yu Zhong Guo Wen Hua [Islam and Chinese culture]. NingXiaRenMinChuBanShe, P604
47. Yang, X. L. (2015). Hui Zu Yu Yan Bian Qian Yu Shen Fen Jian Gou: Ji Yu She Hui Fu Hao Xue De Tan Suo [Language Development and Social Identity Construction of Hui Nationality: An Exploration from the Perspective of Social Semiotics]. Journal of BEIFANG University of Nationalities (Philosophy and Social Sciences), (4), 29.
48. Yang, Z. W. (1996). Hui Zu Yu Yan Wen Hua [language and culture of Hui]. NingXiaRenMinChuBanShe.
49. Zang, X., & Finley, J. S. (2015). Language education and Uyghur identity: An introduction essay. In Language, Education and Uyghur Identity in Urban Xinjiang (pp. 1-33). Routledge.
50. Zhao, W. D. (2004). Da Li Deng Chuan Ba Zi “Bai Hui” Zu Qun Cheng Yin Tan Xi [An Inquire into the Cause of Formation of "Bai Hui" Nationality in Dengchuan Bazi of Yunnan Dali]. Journal of the second Northwest University for Nationalities (Philosophy and Social Sciences), (4), 8.
51. Zong, W. (2017). Zheng Que Kan Dai Yi Si Lan Jiao [How to view Islam correctly]. Journal of Chinese Religions, (7), 20-23




How to Cite

Guo, C. (2019). Ethnicity and language boundaries: ””An empirical study based on the Hui people in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia. Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, 7(13), 182–199. Retrieved from