BA Ancient History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Islam in China

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32381
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


There are more Muslims in China than in Syria, Malaysia, or Tunisia, and their history stretches back to at least the ninth century. This module explores the history of Muslims in China and Chinese Muslims abroad, from the arrival of the first Muslims in China to the mass internment of Muslim minorities today. After a general historical overview, each week pairs readings of comparative or methodological studies with primary and secondary sources on the relationship between China and Islam. We will tackle broad problems such as how to define particular religions and how ethnicity works, using the history of Islam in China as a case study.


This module aims for students to:

  • learn to enlist approaches from multiple disciplines in the study of the past
  • gain a proficiency in applying sophisticated methodologies to major questions about religion, culture, and history
  • learn to use specific historical cases to address problems of wider global significance
  • gain a basic familiarity with Chinese and Islamic cultures, and do so from a perspective that overturns common misconceptions about China and the Islamic world
  • relate knowledge of the Chinese and Islamic pasts to significant intellectual and social problems of the present

Teaching and learning methods

•             1 x 3-hour session per week, normally comprising 1 hour of lecture and two hours of seminar guided discussion

•             Readings posted online and on reserve in the library

•             Online discussion of readings via free software Perusall, in preparation for each seminar

•             Lecture slides will be posted to Blackboard

•             Coursework submitted via Turnitin.

Knowledge and understanding

•             Understand the historical development of Muslim communities in China

•             Identify main historiographical debates about the place of Muslims in China

•             Understand processes of cultural change, cross-cultural exchange, and identity construction.

Intellectual skills

•             Apply comparative and theoretical models from other fields to specific historical cases.

•             Evaluate competing historical and anthropological models of religion, identity, and cultural categorization.

•             Critically asses the values, biases, and uses of various kinds of sources, primary and secondary.

•             Produce original humanistic arguments based in independent research.

Practical skills

•             Present clear, nuanced, evidence-based arguments in writing.

•             Enlist comparative evidence to answer superficially unrelated questions.

•             Effectively communicate viewpoints on complex issues in a group setting.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

•             Recognize unspoken assumptions behind commonly used analytical approaches

•             Think critically about arguments, analytical approaches, evidence sources.

•             Constructively comment on the work of peers.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Process large quantities of evidence and find relevant data points
Group/team working
Work collaboratively
Problem solving
Develop original ideas that address widely recognized problems
Written communication
Write clearly and persuasively to deadline
Work autonomously

Assessment methods

Encyclopaedia entry (Formative)

In-class group activities (Formative)

Research paper 1 (Summative) 30%

Research paper 2 (Summative) 70%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on coursework submitted on Turnitin

Formative and Summative

Verbal feedback on in-class activities


Verbal feedback in one-to-one meetings during office hours or by appointment


Recommended reading

Ben-Dor Benite, Zvi. The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2005.

Fletcher, Joseph. “The Naqshbandiyya in Northwest China.” In Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia, XI: 3-46. Aldershot: Variorum, 1995.

Gladney, Dru. Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic. Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1991.

Leslie, Donald. Islam in Traditional China: A Short History to 1800. Canberra: Canberra College of Advanced Education, 1986.

Lipman, Jonathan. Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. Introduction and Chapter 1.

Murata, Sachiko. Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light. Albany: SUNY Press, 2000. Chapter 1.

Petersen, Kristian. Interpreting Islam in China. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Chapter 1.

Thum, Rian. The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. Chapters 3 and 4.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Rian Thum Unit coordinator

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