The Untold Historical Genocide and Islamic Jihad in Western China

Right after hearing sirens in Israel in memorizing the history of holocaust which Jewish people had suffered, one thoughts triggered me and I decided to write about an untold history that my families experienced one hundred years ago.

Personally as a non-Muslim Chinese whom himself from that region, I do not know what would be the consequence for writing down this article sharing the similar stories right after the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel since this part of Chinese history is also considered very politically sensitive within Chinese politics, however, I only hope for keeping the integrity for not twisting the history in order not to betray my ancestors and identity that is primarily shaped by my family’s past.

When American families from the New York City visiting Chinese restaurant and having nice Chinese meal, probably one of the dishes is their  favorite: General Tso’s Chicken, the Fried chicken tender covered with rich sweet sour sauce. However, maybe few of them ever wondered who is General Tso himself.

This event was called Dungan Revolt, when few million Muslims started to rebel and attempting to overthrow the secular Qing Dynasty, which itself by the Islamic view unlawful and oppressive to be ruled by infidels, within the first few months of their Islamic Jihad, most of counties went fallen in Shaanxi province except the capital Xi’nn. with the conquest of Muslim rebels in Shaanxi and Gansu province, every single people were slaughtered after each time the Muslim rebels broke into the city’s gate. This classic defined Islamic butcher shocked the Chinese people within the country, however, the Qing’s government was busying dealing with the Taiping Revolt in Southern China. It was because of the military pressure from the south, the government dispatched armies that were once settled in Western provinces to aid the warfares against Taiping rebellions in the south. Consequently, Muslims in the west were given opportunity to revolt since the imperial military was deployed away from their area.

At the first few years since 1862, almost all cities in Shaanxi province fell into hands of Muslims and there were visibly no non-Muslims ever in that area except inside the Xi’an city, which was well defended by its residents and Muslim army could not penetrate in. In gansu province, approximately all of non-Muslims were either killed or perished into other areas. At this moment, often every time when a city went fall, nobody were given chance to be alive since Islamic law does not permit any means of survival for non-believers.

At the beginning this bloody Jihad, in few years dozens of renowned historical academy and colleges in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces were razed to the ground since its not Islamic, notably, the most influential high level government official and scholar at that moment, once teacher of Tong Zhi Emperor Zhang Fu, was also killed by Muslims when he attempted to intermediate the conflict by negotiating with muslim rebel leaders at the place. His body later got disassembled to pieces by those rebels.

Later on when the taiping rebel was settled down, General Tso, whom his name was renowned for the earlier mentioned famous sweet sour chicken in the U.S., brought army to take back Shaanxi province. After the Chinese realized for what happened, most of local officials support to eliminate its Muslim population totally in the region, although General Zuo (i.e. Tso) himself always showed a stance for accepting potential surrender and cooperations.with rebels  during the re-conquest of Shaanxi province. Ordered by no acceptance of surrender policy, the Chinese army was poured into the region and cut the throats of anyone, civilians or soldiers, with circumcised foreskins. Since circumcision is enough to prove one’s islamic background. Only one sect of Muslim rebels were given opportunity to formally surrender after they promised to eliminate other Muslim revolt groups. Ordered by General Tso. those surrendered Muslim armies later re-settled into Northern Xinjiang region. Two decades after the revolt started, this Islamic Jihad formally ended, in Shaanxi province, only around 20000 Muslims living inside of xi’an city’s Islamic Quarter were left alive, outside of the city, the whole Shaanxi province where it used to have over 2 million Muslims, not a single one were left alive. It is estimated that around 21 million population lost in this 16 years bloody Islamic rebellion, include 13 million non-Muslim Chinese and 8 million Chinese Muslims, which is counted about 40% of the regional Chinese population and 90% of the local Muslim population. During the time, Muslims in Yunnan province, Southern China even declared a small Islamic Sultan, however, later on they had their half of populations eliminated by Chinese Imperial Army.

Even after this prolonged Islamic carnage in inner China, nowadays, none of the Islamic cleric within China ever had any of the positive reflection for this part of history. Some influential ones of local Muslim community leaders even called this for their noble struggle for justice of its people. On the side of Chinese history, this period arguably shaped the attitude and interpretation of Chinese people towards Islam and its Muslim minority population itself, of course, this history had nothing to do with Arabs or any Muslims outside of Chinese territory. And for sure, this chapter of history for losing more than 20 million people’s life on this bloody Jihad may be able to predict the later governmental policies towards its Muslim minorities, especially the contemporary ones.

Even after a century now when the Chinese people are capable for not only forming a world-class army, but also building one of the strongest polar of this world both economically and politically. When there is by literal very few chance for having any of the domestic Islamic terrorism problem in China since the government is already capable for turning any of the potential domestic Jihadists into ashes without putting much efforts, there is still a deeply carved fear inside of Chinese people’s folkloric concious from the Islamic Jihad, preparing for another wave of attacks.

Related words: Hui Muslim, Dungan Revolt, Zuo Zongtang(General Tso), Dungan People

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About the Author
Tieyi Zhang is an independent columnist. He is currently a student at Hebrew University. He loves history, Middle East and black cats.