Tibetan Buddhism in the Hui Muslim Region of Ningxia 1996


The Ningxia Hui Autono­mous Regi­on 宁夏回族自治区, located between southern Gansu 甘肃 and Inner Mongolia 内蒙古, is the homeland of the Hui Chinese Muslim minority. Previ­ously, Ningxia was a province of Inner Mongolia and was in­cluded in its westernmost region, the Alashan 阿拉善山 (A-lag-sha) desert. Now, most of Alashan is in Inner Mongolia, with only part of it included within the province of Ningxia. The present capi­tal of Ningxia is at Yinchuan 银川. Hui Muslims are found, however, throu­ghout China, especi­ally in Gan­su and Qinghai 青海. Many also live in Inner Mongolia and the northern provinces of Shaanxi 陕西, Shan­xi 山西, Henan 河南 and Hebei 河北. They also have a com­munity of exiles, primarily in Kyrgyz­stan, since the late part ­of the nineteenth century. Hui living in the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union are known as Dungans.

Buddhism in the Ningxia Region

Ningxia used to be the heartla­nd of the Tangut (Tib.: Mi-nyag, Chin.: Xixia 西夏) empire, also with its capi­tal at Yinchuan, and was en­tirely Buddhist. The Mongols ruled it from the be­ginning of the thir­teenth century, and from then onwards, it was Tibetan Buddhist. Situated at the eastern end of the Silk Route, this area had been home to Muslim merchants from Central Asia since the eighth century. From the late thirteenth until the mid-fourteenth centuries, during the Mongol rule of China, known as the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols moved many Muslim settlers from their conquered territories in Central Asia to northern China as administrators, soldiers and artisans.

After the Mongols’ fall from power, these Muslims stayed on, mostly settling in the Tangut region. The late fourteenth century invasion of the area by ­the Moghul Muslim for­ces of Tamerlane, coming from S­amarkand, Uzbekistan, ­strengthened the position of Islam there. Many Tanguts fled south and settled in Kham, in the area now known as Mi-nyag. It is unclear how many Tanguts remained in their original homel­and. Muslim men often married non-Muslim local women and, thus, the present Hui people have mixed blood.

Historically, there were many Tibet­an and Mongo­lian Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies in the vicinity of Ningxia. Even after Islam came to Ningxia, the Mon­golian Buddhist monasteries there continued to exist and more were built. ­­In the Ala­shan desert region across the Yellow River 黄河 to the west of Yin­chuan, for example, there were, up until 1958, about 90 monasteries. They were mostly Gelug, but there were also Kagyu and Sakya monasteries, with about 3,000 primarily Inner Mongolian monks. The most famous were Baruun Khure, built by the Third Dalai Lama near Bayanhot (Bayanhaote 巴彥浩特), and Dzungar Zu (Zhongqi Si 中旗寺) at Zhong­qi 中旗. There are still ­three Buddhist monasteries in the Alashan region, which are Baruun Ket, Dzuun Ket and Delken Sum, with about 20 monks, with the Buddhists in this area having the most faith of all the Inner Mongols. It is unclear whether any of these are now within the present borders of Ningxia.