China is officially an atheist society; many references to Buddhism exist as cultural but not religious aspects of life. Visitors might be surprised to learn of the Muslim presence here. Chinese Muslims are predominately Uighur (central Asian/middle eastern culture) or Hui (assimilated into the dominant East Asian Chinese culture).
Beijing’s Niujie area is full of Hui people and visually presents an interesting mix of traditional Chinese and Islamic aesthetics. People in Muslim headwear and halal restaurants line the street, but this unique fusion is best seen at the Niujie mosque, the largest mosque in Beijing and the spiritual center for over 10,000 Muslims.
This large vase is an example of qinghuaci, blue-and-white pottery, which has become a representation of the refinement of Chinese civilization. Unlike normal blue-and-white pottery, this vase has Arabic on it.
Blue-and-white porcelain is another example of cultural sharing. From Wikipedia:
“Blue and white decoration first became widely used in Chinese porcelain in the 14th century, after the cobalt pigment for the blue began to be imported from Persia. However, the origin of this decorative style is thought to lie in Iraq, when craftsmen in Basra sought to imitate imported white Chinese stoneware with their own tin-glazed, white pottery and added decorative motifs in blue glazes that had been developed by preexisting Mesopotamian cultures. Such Abbasid-era “blue and white” pieces have been found in present-day Iraq dating to the 9th century A.D., decades after the opening of a direct sea route from Iraq to China. Later, in China, a style of decoration based on sinuous plant forms spreading across the object was perfected and most commonly used. It was widely exported, and inspired imitative wares in Islamic ceramics and later European tin-glazed earthenware such as Delftware and after the techniques were discovered in the 18th century, European porcelain.”
Cultural exchange is cool!
“At the centre of Beijing’s Hui community is the Niu Jie Mosque. Destroyed by the Mongols when they conquered Beijing in the 13th Century, the mosque was rebuilt by the Ming dynasty in 1442 and enlarged again under the Qing at the end of the 17th Century, bringing it to its elaborate, 6,000sqm layout today. As with other mosques across eastern China, and perhaps in a symbolic nod to how the Hui have adapted certain aspects of Han Chinese culture, the Niu Jie Mosque deftly blends both Arabic and Chinese influences. The prayer hall’s wooden beams are emblematic of Chinese architecture, for example, but instead of being aligned north-south, as is traditional with Chinese architecture, the sanctuary – where only Muslims are allowed to enter – is oriented toward Mecca.” BBC Travel
The “only Muslims in the prayer hall” rule was not being enforced when we were there.
In the stone courtyards, we saw a Chinese couple dressed in the clothing of a Muslim culture getting wedding photos taken.
By the exit was an exhibit of scanned book pages, in English and Chinese, about mosques.
Prayer times were by the entrance.
I’m interested in seeing some more mosques in the future, maybe further west in Xinjiang.