SPEAKER 1: The following is part of Cornell Contemporary China Initiative lecture series under the Cornell East Asia Program. The arguments and viewpoints of this talk belong solely to the speaker. We hope you enjoy.
SPEAKER 2: Starting off tonight with an old and dear returning friend. Professor Matthew Erie finished his PhD here at Cornell in this very building, yes, in anthropology in 2013. He went on to do a post doc at Princeton for two years. After which, he joined the faculty at Oxford where he is now assistant professor and has been working on, among other things, the topic we're speaking about tonight, near and dear to his heart. So without any further ado and with all thanks to anthropology for training and for co-sponsoring him, Matthew Erie.
PROFESSOR MATTHEW ERIE: This is an amazing community. This morning, I went for a run at 5:00 in the morning. And everybody I came across smiled at me, and said good morning. You can't get that everywhere. And I know that I benefited tremendously from being a member of this community, roughly, from 2002 to 2013. I wasn't here the whole time. I was off doing some other things in the meanwhile.
But I just want to take a moment to thank the Chinese language teachers, the librarians, the administrators, and certainly the students and the faculty members for doing what you do and for giving what you give. Thank you.
I've been asked to talk about my book. And the book talk is a bit of a new genre for me. This is the first time I've actually written a book. The first time I've spoken publicly about my book. And it's a little bit of an awkward genre, I think because I've always thought of the academic talk as a kind of unwritten contract between the speaker and the audience.
The speaker is providing information. And the audience is giving their time and expertise in terms of critical feedback to improve the work under discussion. And this contract is somewhat abrogated by a piece of work that's already out the door. But nevertheless, I want to make a kind of compromise. I'm going to be talking about the major impetus of the book.
The central question, why I wrote the book, and also give you the key to the book. And then, use that key to analyze a new problem that's arisen since writing the book. So hopefully, this is a happy middle for us.
So for quite some time, I've been drawn to the problem of Chinese law. There's a long genealogy of thought going back to Max Weber and Marcel Granet that China did not have law. And yet, China has one of the oldest legal traditions of any civilization anywhere, going back to the Tang code 7th century.
So law is, somehow, very problematic in China. It's far from the autonomous notion of law that we fetishize here in the US. It's closely linked to political authority, to personal relationships, and social institutions. So the main kind of question to the book is how can we study law in China epigraphically. This was the central motivation to its writing.
If Chinese law is not peripheral enough to mainstream law specialist orientation, I move further to the periphery in examining the place of Islamic law in Chinese society. Islamic law is also problematic from the view of Western comparative law. It's seen as irrational, right. The theme is khadi justice, metaphor of Weber. It's seen as brutal, corporal, or worse.
And examine the relationship between these two orphans of comparative law, Chinese law and Islamic law. The question is, what can we learn about them that we cannot when we perceive them through the lens of Western law. So I'm interested in their interactions as they engage each other. I should just note that this image here is taken this summer by me in Yinchuan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
This is the so-called [NON-ENGLISH], the Sino-Arab Axis, which is a grand plaza they're building as part of the so-called new Silk Road project, which links China with the Middle East. The book then is an ethnographic study of the contemporary practice of Islamic law by Muslim minorities, and its relationship to state law in the fields of family law, marriage, property, finance, charity, procedure, and dispute resolution.
The book investigates that which is concealed and that which can be glorified at the intersection of Islam and the secular. Religious minorities in the state, female authority and patriarchy, and the globalizing, and the nationalizing. Its ethnographic. So this is inherently descriptive, but also explanatory. I attempt to explain the relationship between Muslim minorities and their law on one hand, and state functionaries and their law on the other through the concept of minjian.
And I'm going to describe that in a moment. Minjian as one modality that characterizes this relationship and has done so for much of the modern period. All of that changed about six months ago, almost. And I'll explain in a moment what I mean. There's been a nationwide debate that sees China since this past March. A debate about the so-called qingzhen fanhua, the spread of halal. That has overtones very similar to what we in the US call sharia creep.
Indeed, this is the first time sharia, meaning Islamic law and ethics-- a very contested notion amongst Muslims-- has entered the public sphere in modern Chinese history. The test of any argument is whether it has staying power as a source of explanation. The spread of hilal is, in some ways, an inversion of what I write about in the book. It's in an choreographed paroxysm of discontent.
What I will argue today is that the thesis the book illuminates one modality of Muslim state interaction, the minjian, that perseveres even though Chinese Muslim, the Hui, have attempted to resolve the, quote, "spread of halal," end quote, problem. Specifically, their efforts to turn their taboo into a constitutionally protected statute. This evinces a second modality, what we might call law with a capital L.
In doing so, I'll be drawing comparatively on two disparate disciplines, anthropology, and law. For while anthropologists have much to say about taboo, they have written less about the practices of legislating taboos. Although, the [INAUDIBLE] modernity in the modernization theory has been central to anthropology. And lawyers have a lot to say about modern law, but less so about the possibilities of law's origins in taboos.
So the main question then of the book is, how to China's 23 plus million Muslims abide by Sharia in a post socialist state that does not recognize the legitimacy of religious law? It's an empirical question but one with broader implications for the study of law in society, anthropology, Chinese studies, and Islamic studies.
In addressing this question or even asking this question, I'm assuming an unpopular stance that what is doing the work here is actually law. Lawyers would say no. No, this is not law. We don't have constitutions, courts, binding authority. Anthropologists would say you're probably committing the faults of imposing a Western category on something which is not law at all.
Islamic studies currently has taken an ethical turn post- [INAUDIBLE] in its study of Islam. Particularly, Sharia. And even some ultra elite Hui in China have told me it's not law. It's tradition. So why do I make this assertion?
First, most Hui almost all Hui, use the term jiaofa to describe what I'm calling law. So jiaofa literally means religious law or law of the teaching. They do not use jiaoli, which would be something like religious ethics, OK. Ethics of the teaching.
Nevertheless, skepticism remains. When I asked a senior Hui along the muddy banks of the Yellow River in the city of Lanzhou whether what they call jiaofa is really law, he became quite agitated explaining we consider it law. If we fail to abide what the Quran says in this life, then we will be punished in the after life.
Activities like daily prayer, fasting, and giving alms, the [INAUDIBLE], these we must do. If you do not think these are law, then you do not understand Islam. So I take these categories seriously. I believe this is part of the task of an anthropologist, but not so uncritically. Analytically, there is a kind of aspiration to law.
Nevertheless, the content of the law itself is heavily inflected with ethical and moral content, not to mention taboo. To understand jiaofa, I conducted fieldwork in Northwest China for approximately two years. My main field site is the city Linxia, in Imperial times called Hezhous, which Hui call China's Little Mecca for its large number of Muslims.
There's a population of about 275,000 people in this city, half of whom are Muslim. Mainly Hui, but also Dongxiang, Bonan, Salar, a few Uyghur, and some non-Muslim minorities. Mainly Tibetans and a small sprinkling of Muslim Tibetans there, as well. In addition, I traveled to other Muslim centers in Northwest China, including the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Qinghai, and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Sharia, under PRC law, has no legal basis, not unlike the United Kingdom, where I currently live. But in the UK, there is a robust, civil society that includes religious arbitration that can be upheld by civil court. So this is after a 1996 Arbitration Act. A court may uphold the decision of an arbitration council, even one that is not secular.
In the US, courts may consider Sharia as a source of foreign law in deciding a matter. We also have many traditions of religious arbitration. For example, the Beth Din Rabbinical Councils. These are very popular, as well. Under [INAUDIBLE] law then, there are spaces however contested for practices of religious law. Yet, Sharia has tested this.
So just to show you briefly, these are some of the places that I visited in my field research. I spend a lot of time in mosques, and also in [INAUDIBLE] which are the images in the upper right engaging conversations with clerics, who are called Ahung in Chinese after the Persian [INAUDIBLE].
So Sharia has tested these liberal spaces under Anglo-American law. 15 years after 9/11, where are we? We have debates in the UK about Sharia councils. Sharia councils are not religious arbitration. They apply commercial law. Sharia councils are mainly engaged in disputes between family members, mainly matters of divorce.
France is agitated by the burkini, as an offense to Laicite, their version of secularism. In closer to home, presidential candidate, Donald Trump, wants to enact, quote, "A total and complete shut down," end quote, of Muslims entering the US. These debates show quite vividly that we have moved away from the definition of secularism as separation of church and state to one where following Hussein Agrama in his 2012 book, Questioning Secularism.
Quote, "Secularism involves the fashioning of religion as an object of continual management in intervention and the shaping of religious life and sensibility to fit presumptions and ongoing requirements of liberal governance," end quote. While the neoliberal state is often the point of entry in these assessments, how does it work in China?
I should mention that before the term secularism, or secularity, or the secular came into vogue, anthropologists, sociologists, historians of religion in China have long recognized that the historical Chinese state has made investments in religion through replicating or mainstreaming ritual practices, incorporating orthodoxies or discarding heterodoxies are otherwise appropriating celestial bureaucracies.
So the works of Maurice Friedman, Arthur Wolfe, Steve Sangren, C.K Yang, Stephan Feuchtwang, Bob Weller, Hans Steinmuller, and several others. In the book, I start from this basis to argue that nowhere are these dynamics more apparent than in the question of contemporary Islam in China. The central finding of the book is that rather than opposition between state law and Sharia, a perception that color is much of the discourse on Islam in the West.
In China, Sharia occupies a middle ground where a number of actors, state and non-state, Hui, Han, men, and women assert their own interests through negotiation, collaboration, and meetings of the minds. This is possible because Sharia is a minjian law. Minjian literally means between the people or among the people. It's usually translated as unofficial or popular.
The minjian happens off the official script of China's orchestrated management of religions. But nevertheless, can be selectively appropriated by the official script in a process that the ever fashionable yet oft cryptic Giorgio, again, being another important voice in the theorization of secularism has called glorification. Sharia can serve as a middle ground because it is minjian.
The key here is this process of minjian. It's one of engagement between and among the official and the unofficial with particular emphasis on the alignment of interests, even under arbitrary rule. Note that the model here is not one of domination and resistance that has characterized much of the literature on ethnic minorities in China, nor is it at the Hui or the lackey of the state. The, sort of, automaton, the untrue Muslim, or the model minority.
Nevertheless, their world is very much characterized by the minjian. And of course, in my field work, I repeatedly came across this concept. For example, in unofficial mediation led by unofficial clerics. Those that were not registered by the state. Some people, Hui in particular, engaged in unofficial diplomacy vis-a-vis coreligionist in the Middle East.
These are methods, and paths, and channels that don't go through state mechanisms. And even sometimes Hui clerics are asked to participate in what are called unofficial investigations after an accident happens. For example, somebody driving a car hits a bicyclist. The clerics are asked to participate in the process of collecting evidence to determine the outcome of the dispute.
Minjian is, I argue, a defining characteristic of state society relations, and it has been through most of the reform period. But we see roots in the late imperial period. At that time, we saw the categories of, quote, "modern law", end-quote, ethnic custom first entering Chinese lexicon often through the universal language of empire. These became the building blocks of discursive and institutional boundaries.
Minjian is beyond or underneath the official. It at once [INAUDIBLE] and enables these boundaries. So I want to show you how this works in practice. So this is an image of a mosque in Ningxia. And it has the couplets on both sides of the entryway. I'm not sure if you can read the Chinese characters on the right, but I can read it for you. It says, [NON-ENGLISH], which means "Entering the mosque. Remember to praise the prophet."
On the left, it says, [NON-ENGLISH]. "When leaving the mosque, respect the institutions, and obey the law." So in entering the mosque, obey the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. And follow his behavior, his sayings, and deeds. This is the idea of the Sunnah. But when you leave the mosque, you follow PRC law. That's when PRC law has precedence.
But note on the top there is yet a third line. This one says, [NON-ENGLISH]. "Recognized the oneness of the Lord." The Lord here being God. This is the concept, the doctrine, of the oneness of God or the Tawhid, the idea that God is not divisible in Islam and, thus, one of the points of conflict with Christianity as the Muslims perceive Christianity.
This sets up a clear opposition through spatial marking. The prophets law is inside the mosque. The state law is outside the mosque. As anthropologist's know, boundaries are honored more in the breach than in the observance. Boundaries and borders have been crucial not only to, as a theme, not only in anthropology but in law, as well.
So looking at the anthropology of boundaries, we have the idea that boundary is [? vital ?] for the idea of identity. So beginning with Durkheim Elementary Forms of Religious Life, of course, the difference between the sacred and profane, right. Even Marx in the 18th Brumaire talks about class boundaries.
Famously, Weber in his Economy and Society discusses the differences among ethnic and status groups as bounded. Over the last several decades, there's been a shift in anthropology from the notion of culture as bounded unit to one that operates in a deterialized and globalized world where such deterialization through boundary crossing, borderlands, interstitial zones, et cetera may enhance cultural identity rather than dilute it.
A good data point on this is Alveraz's 1995 article, the Mexican US border, the making of an anthropology of borderlands. This line of thought can be traced to Edmund Leach in his 1964 Political Systems of Highland Burma. And later, that of his student, Frederick Barth, who emphasized the mutability and situatedness of so-called ethnic categories in which boundaries rather than cultural corridors are essential in perpetuating ethnic identities.
So we can see in this didactic writing on the outside of the mosque an attempt to maintain some semblance of boundaries. Following Durkheim, the rules of separation are a distinguishing mark of the sacred-- again, inside religious law, outside, state law-- that is constitutive of Hui identity. To be Muslim, one must follow the example of prophet, Mohammad. To be a Chinese citizen, one must follow socialist law.
Yet, Hui passed through this entrance every day. Question remains, is this a simple process? Is it [INAUDIBLE]? Do they face difficult decisions in passing through? Moving from anthropology to law in terms of how laws perceived boundary. Here, the notion of jurisdiction reigns. Jurisdiction speaks to the bounds of authority or who can apply which rule to whom.
US jurisprudence is based on personal jurisdiction, the parties to dispute, subject matter jurisdiction, the law on the facts, and territorial jurisdictions. So geographic concerns. There are reams of case law and statutes that are based upon these core principles of jurisdiction. For example, the idea of extraterritorial jurisdiction. How it is you hold those that are outside the geography of the sovereign state to the law of the land or for acts committed outside the geography of the state.
We can also see this in a notion of conflict of laws, right, or as the Europeans call it, private international law. In the US, we have a long jurisprudence about the distinctions between state and federal law, how you decide which law applies. This is what we call conflict of laws. In international law, we have discussions about what's called municipal or state law versus international law.
So it's not just state law but also non-state law that can be involved in a conflict of law. For example, religious law. The notion of, quote, " separation of church and state," end-quote, is also about boundary maintenance. One could trace it back to the religious wars in 16th and 17th century Europe. At the basis of the modern notion of the state, informed ideas, basic core ideas of sovereignty, and state power.
Not necessarily through the triumph of rationalism but as scholars have shown. For example, of political theologians, like Karl Schmidt, that with a breakdown of the old order, for example, the great chain of being that was believed to have been designed by God. The authority of divine law and natural law was shifted from God to the state making the king Christ like, and the state a metaphysical entity.
Our own first amendment of the US Constitution, which has the religious clauses, can be traced back to the religious wars in England, France, Germany where one denomination seized political power and the authority of the state over other denominations. Hui are everyday transgressing boundaries, however.
Hui cadres must take off their white cap. You can see the gentleman, they wear the [INAUDIBLE], the white cap, when they go to work. So if they're members of the Chinese Communist Party and they work in a government office, you take off the cap. You put the cap back on when you go to the mosque during one of your daily prayers.
After work, if you're so inclined, if you go to a KTV, a karaoke bar or-- as they're springing up in places like Linxia, a brothel, you also take off your cap. And therefore, you look effectively Han. There's really no physiological difference between Hui and hon. Or there's some if you spend a lot of time there. But nevertheless, they're fairly similar based upon appearance. It's just the white cap that distinguishes them.
But the question remains whether Sharia or Jelfa also travels with the Hui as they leave the mosque. And the answer there is it does. They get married in accordance with Sharia. They may allocate property in an agreement, either oral or written, also in accordance with Sharia.
They may establish a waqf, a pious endowment also in line with Islamic law. All these happened outside that realm of the mosque. Qingzhen is a key term. It's translated as pure and true, the literal translation of the two characters that constitute it. Believed to have entered Chinese via Judaism is one theory amongst several. It's seen as a marker with a number of meanings often nested within each other.
So most narrowly, qingzhen means halal, permissible, as applied to food. The second larger meaning would be a synonym with legal, more generally, OK. Qingzhen, meaning legal. Third, it's a sanectoky for Islam itself. Drew Gladney in his 1987 dissertation entitled "qingzhen" explores the concept. Barbara Pillsbury in her work in Taiwan, Maris Gillette in Xi'an and several others have explored the dimensions of this concept.
In his subsequent 1991 book, Gladney argues that qingzhen for the way Hui, means much more than halal, but is, following Geertz, a sacred symbol. A total expression of Hui identity, but one which is internally discordant and debated. So qingzhen applies, both, to Hui at the macro level.
So for example, the name for a mosque is qingzhensi, the temple of the pure and the true. The name for the shahada, the declaration of faith, is qingzhenyan, or the speech of the pure and the true. So these apply to Hui everywhere. And yet, within those terms, within these concepts, there is constant debate and disagreement.
For example, over what a mosque should look like, over whether or not one should pray first or break the fast first during the month of Ramadan. Indeed, Gladney remarks that qingzhen follows Hui wherever they go. Tayibe, Bangkok, and Rosemead, California. Gladney did his field work in the 1980s. Since then, or at that time I should say, Hui were just beginning to experience the benefits of economic development.
Since then, we have seen a blossoming of qingzhen as Hui continue to expand beyond Hui enclaves into Han dominated areas. And the result of that is that we see a kind of access of the sign. We see qingzhen on toothpaste, soap, barbershops, street signs, and other infrastructure. It's on clothing, clothing shops, perfume, and incense. All this has led to what critics call qingzhen fanhua, the spread of halal.
So you can see some of these images here. Upper left, you see a halal coffee shop. Going to the right, a fast food store. A general store. A barber shop. So another supply store. A shower. That's halal. This is halal milk.
Down here in the bottom, we have halal tofu. And then, a whole shelf of products that are all qingzhen. In recent years, very recently, qingzhen has extended beyond the Chinese borders through the export of halal food to Malaysia, Egypt, Qatar, The UAE, et cetera. The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, as of 2010, has approximately 1.5 billion US dollars in sales in halal goods. One million of that to the Middle East. This is a huge industry.
All this has unsighted, as I mentioned, a nationwide debate about Islam in China and freedom of religion. So I want to back up a little bit and flush out some of the background, and then proceed into the analysis. So as I mentioned, since the 1980s, we see a steady increase in the quality of living for all Chinese in the mainland.
But Hui in particular have done very well during this period. They're very adept at mobilizing commercial networks for their own material and spiritual benefit. There is a lack of quantitative data on this point. Although, Ma Rong, a Hui sociologist at [INAUDIBLE], has collected data on Tibetan and Uyghur standards of living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region respectively to make the argument that there has been an increase in standards of living-- looking at household disposable income, education, quality of education, housing, et cetera.
There's a strong perception in China held by many Han that Hui have benefited very much from this growth. And in particular, what's called the preferential policies, the youhui zhengce. This is a system that gives benefits to minorities, particularly in the areas of education, and in employment based upon their minority status.
In recent years, there's been a major debate in China about these policies dividing groups into one of several camps. On the one hand, there's the [INAUDIBLE], the Freedom Party, Liberty Party, people like Ma Rong, who want to dismantle the system as they believe it's almost been too successful in generating a kind of hyper ethnic consciousness. So people identify ethnically rather than nationally, rather than Chinese. And that's perceived as a problem by some.
On the other hand, there is the [INAUDIBLE], the leftist, who want to perfect this system. This debate may sound familiar. It has parallels with the debate about affirmative action in the US. And so Han Chinese, many Han Chinese, are saying enough is enough. No more preferential policies for minorities.
With the replication of a halal symbol on almost everything, some have argued it loses its meaning. And this becomes a legal question. Food is regulated by law to behold standards of production, marketing, and transportation. Currently, there is a kind of loose system in place to regulate halal food production, and even qingzhen halal restaurants in China.
The Bureau of religious affairs, which is in charge of all matters of religion in China and the China Islamic association, which is a kind of quasi-governmental organization that links the party to the Muslim masses, are in charge of licensing, registering, and doing inspection visits and places like halal factories and in halal restaurants.
But almost everyone I spoke to about this question has said that its flawed riddled with inconsistencies, favoritism, clientelism, and corruption. Often, one hears that licenses are approved without inspection, or there's the problem where Han and Hui will enter into a kind of joint venture. But really, it's the Han who's pushing the business enterprise, The way Hui is, basically, absent. And this is perceived as a violation of Sharia by pious Muslims in China.
These business enterprises then are formed through the minjian, through these engagements, these conversations, with the authorities. This could be a downside of the minjian that has coordinated efforts that bend to the law. Moving on to the analysis.
I would agree with Gladney that qingzhen is a kind of identity symbol. Yet, at its core, it is a taboo, specifically against pork, which Hui see as the food of Han. As a taboo it has-- as Mary Douglass pointed out-- dimensions of, both, danger and pollution. There's a real fear amongst Hui that they may consume non-halal products. And in so doing, that would lead to bodily and spiritual pollution, but also erase this boundary between the Hui and the Han.
The predicament here is that while Han can become Hui through conversion-- and this is just starting to happen, we just start to see more Han converting to Islam, very small numbers-- while that trajectory can happen. A Hui cannot become a Han. That would be apostasy, the great sin of Islam. In China, this is understood in ethnic terms. So becoming Han, Hanhua.
So the prohibition against marrying out women parallels, in some way, this pork prohibition. This is the idea that Hui women cannot marry Han men. This is another minjian rule. This is a rule that is upheld by the community of Muslims, not by the states, clearly, OK.
So the regulation of food and sex are at the core of Hui law. Anthropologists, of course, have long written about the incest taboo offered in terms of a rule of exclusion. Durkheim in his somewhat maligned incest-- the nature and origin of taboo of 1963-- traced all taboo to rules of exogomy. This was, perhaps, overstated.
But again, for Hui, it's not so much about exclusion. Although, they do exclude a certain set of kin relations. But it's about excluding the Han ethnic group. So it's more you can think about as including the Hui in marriage exchanges. The basic idea still stands that localized Sharia is a reflection of the social. This is kind of Durkheim's insight as applied to this case.
Claude Levi-Strauss, in his 1969 Elementary Structures of Kinship, wrote about the incest taboo viewing it less as a rule of negation what one cannot do and more as one of reproducing society. What one must do to continue social relations. Freud in his 1913 Totem and Taboo, which is probably a more maligned work than Durkheim's work on incest, more than anyone else, linked the taboo of eating a certain class of animal with exogomy.
In his notion of the origin of society, he took this idea from Darwin that there was this primal horde of brothers that killed the father. In that act, they instituted society, they founded society, and then commemorated their victory slash crime with a feast of a totem animal.
For Hui, eating together, marrying one another, these are expressions of their own minority position vis-a-vis the Han majority that are 92% of China's 1.35 billion people. Valerio Valeri in his 2000 Forest of Taboos, a posthumous work, tries to harmonize the sociological structural traditions of taboo, those of Durkheim and Douglas, with other traditions. Namely, the psychoanalytic-- those of Freud and Kristeva-- by arguing that the taboo is centrally about the integrity of the subject.
The question then becomes what happens following the deep marketisation of Chinese society to the relationship between the taboo and the subject-- the qingzhen and the Hui, when the latter can no longer control the authenticity of the former and, thus, itself. This has led to a kind of crisis of Hui. These are some other images of qingzhen that are more problematic if the other ones weren't problematic.
On the left is an image from [INAUDIBLE] or [INAUDIBLE] Square in Beijing. This is a popular area. This is a restaurant owned and operated by Han. Yet nevertheless, they have the qingzhen sign. The middle image is during a flight from Lanzhou to Beijing. I enjoyed some halal food onboard, which was wonderful. You can see the qingzhen sign on the far right.
But in the middle, I don't know if you can see it, but there's a barrel of rum also in the image, which demonstrates a, sort of, cognitive dissonance in terms of how these relate to each other. And third and most problematic, in Yinchuan I came across a street of qingzhen bars, so halal bars. They're serving halal beer.
So this brings us to the current crisis. All right. The key question is in the accelerated modernization of China society, the state has increasingly encroached on the ability of non-state authority. The family lineage temple associations, the church, mosque, et cetera, to regulate its community.
So in the transition from this family model to the state, the question for Hui is, how to make the taboo legible to the state in the multiethnic population so that the state maintains boundaries? In short, how do you turn a taboo into a law? So I just want to pause and reflect a little bit about this distinction between taboo and law.
So taking Durkheim's symbolic approach, taboo, he wrote, is not just a technique but, in fact, a law. Kind of metal law. Valarie writes the taboo is a prohibition of absolute character with reference to religious sanctions and not merely legal ones. So one puts taboo lower than the law. And another puts taboo above the law.
Both deal with classification schemes. What is permissible, and what is prohibited or intolerable. The difference is whether those schemes are backed by the authority of religion or that of the state. Since 2002, Hui have been calling for [NON-ENGLISH], a halal food administrative law to better monitor halal food production in the country.
Most so-called autonomous regions-- so for Muslims, that's the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have their own regulation on this question. And beyond the autonomous regions, there are autonomous prefectures and cities. They also have similar regulations as do even non-autonomous areas. For example, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
So there are a dozens of these administrative regulations that exist in China, OK. It's not state law. It's below state law. It's administrative regulation. But Hui have argued that this is not enough. They see a failure of enforcement. And this is a long their critique of Chinese law. It exists in the books, but it's not enforced in practice.
So every year since 2002, the Hui groups have mobilized various political bodies. Namely, the [NON-ENGLISH], the CPPCC, and local people's congresses to pass up a ti'an, a proposal, to advocate for legislation along these lines. There's a little bit of irony here in that the state generally encourages this sort of behavior. The state wants to see people engaging state institutions constructively.
The rub for a Hui is that they have to walk a line between using official discourse in making their case and advocating a place for Sharia. So when I was in China this summer, this was the topic on everybody's minds, at the tip of everybody's tongues. I came across two examples of these proposals people had written to various state institutions to advocate for halal food regulation.
So I wanted to draw these to your attention. The first is written by the Linxia Prefecture CPPCC written in 2011. The title here is a proposed plan for speeding up legislation of the halal food management regulations. I've included a few excerpts here that I want to draw your attention to.
And I quote, "The normalization and legalization of halal food management implements the plan of ruling the country according to law." Ruling the country according to law, this is a catchphrase in China. This is an official kind of slogan. [NON-ENGLISH] Next, quote, halal dietary habits. The [NON-ENGLISH] are the commonly followed customs of all those who believe in Islam the world over.
Here, using the term custom, xiguan, rather than law. OK, so this is the state approach. This is the state discourse. And there's a number of recommendations. And here's where things get, kind of, interesting. So we have continue the legislative process. Keep on going. Full steam ahead. Increase the administration.
Enact the regulations according to the Constitution. So explicitly citing the Constitution. Again, this is what the state wants. The state wants an argument like this. Confirm the basic principles of the legislation, and base the proposed legislation on the legitimate principles of halal food. To clarify, that is the principle of halal, lawful.
Quote, halals legitimacy rests on the basic rules of Islam's main scripture, the Koran. Halal food is made in accordance with those Islamic beliefs as commonly held by Muslims as enshrined in Islamic law. [NON-ENGLISH]. So here, we're moving off the script a little bit, off the official script. We're citing scripture in arguing for a state law.
And beyond, that we're using, if I can use the term, a taboo concept, which would be Islamic law. The Chinese translation, [SPEAKING CHINESE]. Moreover, not even that, but the recommendation to revise PRC criminal law to include impose criminal responsibility on those who commit the unlawful behavior for the purpose of obtaining legal interests using food that is taboo to Muslims in so-called Muslim food and, thereby, harm social stability and endanger unity.
So arguing for criminal responsibility or liability for those who are violating this taboo. Include that in the criminal law as you're revising the criminal law. The [INAUDIBLE] criminal law has gone through a series of amendments over the years. So this is an argument to further revise it, included with this language. So that's the first example.
Next, there's an Influential Yihewani-- a Muslim Brotherhood-- Cleric in the CPPCC-- there's an extra C there, should be a P-- who is based in Xining. And he wrote a ti'an, a proposal, ensuring Halal food safety protect ethnic unity and harmony. So you can see the effort to couch it in a kind of state acceptable frame.
Halal food safety is, he wrote, the center of the center of the entire nation's food safety. As you probably know, for last couple of years, China has been suffering with a number of scandals in terms of contaminated toothpaste, baby milk powder, et cetera. So this is an ongoing debate that people are having beyond the question of religion.
So tying it into that question, which the authorities, they want to tackle that. So bridging that divide, including religious law in a larger conversation about food safety and quality. In recent years, people take dietary customs-- the [SPEAKING CHINESE], that would be a Marxist Leninist term for law or ethnic law-- as a basis for halal food. But that's a mistake, the cleric says.
The basis is the Koran, which specifies that food must be, quote, "lawful," unquote. Meeting in accordance with the rules of, quote, "Islamic law," end-quote. Again, [SPEAKING CHINESE]. So here, the cleric is actually correcting that use of the official-speak in saying that, no, actually, it is Islamic law because remember, this is all in the proposal.
Halal food safety is a basic factor for the ethic unity and social stability of the entire nation. Something that the leadership, the central government, certainly is seeking. Halal food safety maintains the entirety of the New Silk Road Economic Belt. This is the massive initiative begun by Xianping to link China with Central Asia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia by building infrastructural ties and outbound investment.
And it includes a series of recommendations. Perfect that system. Recommend a system for each municipality to regulate halal food certification. And also, make that regulation more robust in terms of the enforcement by the China Islamic Association, and include the clerics in the process.
In the language of these two examples, we can see a pushing of the envelope between what is accepted or acceptable, ethnic minorities customs and habits, rule the country according to law, New Silk Road Economic Belt, and what is based on Sharia and the terminology of Sharia.
Interestingly, in my interviews with both the authors of these proposals, they say they did not use language of Islamic law in their ti'an proposals, and only ethnic customs, the language of the states. But the text prove otherwise. The proposals tried to explain the urgent need for the state to enforce their taboo. The proposals do so in the language of law and officialdom with minimal reference to scripture and sacred law.
You see a trying to use permissible language while expanding it, including the impermissible. Both proposals are attempts to insert classification schemes based upon Sharia into the larger scheme of PRC state law. And the proposals don't necessarily see a conflict in doing so.
In her study of religious freedom in the US, legal historian, Sarah Gordon, in her book, The Spirit of the Law wrote how groups like the Nation of Islam and the Jehovah's Witnesses historically argued for a kind of popular constitutionalism to increase state protection of their forms of religious belief. The idea here is that the Constitution can also support arguments that are outside the mainstream of perceptions of what's acceptable religion.
She writes, quote, "The spirit of the law, the glorious promises of the religion clauses"-- the First Amendment-- "must shield them from oppression," they argued. "Their understanding of religious freedom was not shackled to dry, technical limitations. Instead, they knew that the Constitution shielded them." End-quote. Contemporary China, clearly, is not mid 20th century America. The PRC constitution has not played the same kind of social restructuring role that the US Constitution has in our own history.
Yet, what struck me in my conversations with Hui on these questions was that they also believed in the law. A law has become among some what Peking University Law professor, [INAUDIBLE] once wrote, a public belief. A [SPEAKING CHINESE]. There's a large literature in China. Studies concerning rights mobilization and rights talk. For example, of Brian and Lee and others.
What's happening here is similar. Use of legal language for utilitarian means, but it's more than that. There is a belief in law, a belief in the transcendent possibilities of the law and its promise of justice. Even if the party does not subsume itself to law, then the faithful citizens would believe that to be possible. Unlike a mystery of litigation law or a constitutional review, halal food legislation does not directly challenge the hegemony of the party.
And yet, indirectly, there is a challenge by suggesting an authority alternative to that of socialist law. That is shariah. This alternative authority has its own classification scheme, its own rules, its own of enforcement mechanisms. The cleric in his proposal wrote, quote, "As Muslim masses who believe in the Quran, you should stand on the high altitude of your belief and increase your self-discipline. Do not partake in the sale of non-halal foods," end quote.
So self-discipline, according to Islamic law in ethics, has the potential to arouse the party's fears of its own obsolescence of its inability to secularize religion, monopolize the category of law, and maintain the boundaries that cohere the nation. Back to the spread of halal.
The appeal to law was heard during the march in April. Two meetings, the Lianghui between the National People's Congress and the CPPCC. Like, the previous 14 years, the draft of this legislation went up to the state council. But it was taken off the table. There were fears that we were terrorists. Even Hui, now joining ISIS in Syria, becoming radicalized. [INAUDIBLE] the so-called Imam of the party a Hui from Ningxia, who was the head of the state ethnic Affairs Commission was taken out of power replaced by a member of the [SPEAKING CHINESE] who is seeking to modify ethnic policies.
In July of this year when I was in Shanghai, there was a major incident where Hui attacked a recently opened wholesale beef noodle shop citing violation of the 400 meter rule. This is the idea that a new halal store cannot open 400 meters from a preexisting halal food shop. This is a minjian rule. This is nowhere in state law. It's not in any state administrative regulation.
It's a rule that the Hui themselves follow. And they have, according to them, for centuries. Hundreds protested over several days. The sign was taken down. The qingzhen sign on the far left was taken down, as were the two characters [SPEAKING CHINESE] But the store was allowed to stay in business. The shop was still open for business.
One article that spread on Weibo-- so this was part of a large discussion about whether or not the Hui have benefited too much from the policies, whether or not they have their own system, their parallel system, the state law. The fact that they're enforcing that system raised a number of red flags for concerned citizens.
On Weibo there was one article that's been very popular that argued that, by the year 2078, China will become a majority Muslim state, arguing that, already, the state, the official census, has deflated the number of Muslims, and goes through a number of statistical gymnastics to demonstrate that this is the case.
A scholar of Marxist thought formerly at cast, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, [SPEAKING CHINESE], has written on her Weibo account that the spread of halal is a sign of the Islamization of Chinese society and government. Her posts have attracted a strong following of about 37,000 people with comments that regularly call for Chinese Muslims to, quote, "go back to the Middle East," end-quote.
Netizens vocalize a fear that for the PRC government to legislate a law to regulate Islam or a law in accordance with Sharia would blur the separation of church and state, the [SPEAKING CHINESE], as held in the PRC constitution. For all these reasons, the halal food law was stopped. Rather than receiving what they asked for-- law, legal protection-- they were met with fear.
Qingzhen or halal, originally a classification marker [INAUDIBLE] for a Hui, to separate what was lawful from what is dangerous has been turned by Han majority into a sign of terror. The greenification, the luhua, of China. It's become inverted and mapped on to the nation. That which was initially a crisis of Hui has become a crisis of the integrity of the nation itself.
The root of the fear of the spread of halal, as with Sharia creep is that the state's secular boundaries are being erased. Law of rationality has been replaced, contaminated, and infiltrated with the law of terror. Some concluding comments.
I began with an account of how Hui practiced their notion of Sharia through the minjian. Those institutions and norms that have not necessarily received the state's blessing. Those people, places, and things that are not registered or sanctioned by state law. So clerics, students, mosques, tombs, prayer halls, publications, property transactions, and so forth.
Yet, the state is continually accessing these resources. In return, clerics and students can benefit from such contacts and increase, rather than lose, reputation. The minjian should not be equated with illegal. Rather, it is not yet having a basis in state law. There is a kind of potentiality that inheres in the minjian. It's far from ecstatic. It's always on the move.
Adapting as Chinese society evolves in Islam rather than Islam evolving in China. Minjian and law are not mutually exclusive. They are different modalities from Muslim state interaction, but ones that have the potential to transform into one another. So the book is about the minjian. The minjian would be one. A door that Hui clerics and officials continue to use and to access.
The spread of halal, the incident points to another door. The door towards law with a capital L. That may not necessarily be a good thing. Anthropologists, such as Elizabeth Povinelli and John Comaroff, have argued whether via the so-called cunning of recognition or lawfare that non-state forms of legality are repugnant to modern state law.
Sally Engle Merry, in her Colonial History of Hawaii, argues that by adapting the language of sovereignty, the rule of law has nearly bound native Hawaiians into a secular legal system that has since constrained them rather than led to their liberation. The minjian, rather, is the opposite of assuming a formal position or adopting official speak as that which delimits and subjugates just as much as it grants rights.
Minjian points to interethnic equilibrium, a kind of homeostasis that is made possible by its occurring on the back stage, under the table, or in the cramped offices of clerics or individual stalls of halal restaurants where the public eye cannot go. There participants shed themselves of much of their ideological commitments, whether communism or Islamism, and get down to the pragmatics of local governance. Thank you.
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Matthew Erie, Associate Professor of Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford, identifies the strategies employed by Muslim communities in China to encode their traditions and taboos into constitutional law. Co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and Comparative Muslim Societies Program. Recorded September 19, 2016 as part of East Asia Program’s Cornell Contemporary China Initiative.