Diversity. Do we realize how many communities there are on planet earth? How we are alike and differ from each other? There are many places, small places in the world where communities live that you probably have never heard of. Let me rephrase that: that you have never heard their background stories of. The Isolated Cultures series is going to tell you all about it. Today, we are going to discuss a smaller part of China: the background of the Islamic quarter in Xi’an.

China is closely associated with Buddhism, despite being officially atheist. The country is known for being Buddhistic by people associating them with the lantern festival, which is linked to Chinese New Year, which is linked to Buddhism. What you probably don’t know, is that China has a very deep-rooted relationship with Islam, dating as far back as the 7th Century. To put it all in perspective: about 1.8% of China’s population are Muslims. This translates to about 24 million people, that being more than the size of the population of the Netherlands!

The Silk Road was a trading route, or actually network of trading routes that began in the Chinese capital Xian, was the gateway through which Buddhism and later Islam, reached China. It ended up connecting China with the West in ancient times. It changed the trade, culture and religion forever.

When asked about Xi’an, they are mostly famous for the Terracotta Warriors. But their hidden secret is that they house a very impressive Muslim Quarter. This dates back to when Xi’an was still the starting point of the Silk Road in the Western Han Dynasty. Merchants and students came from overseas (Arabic countries and Persia) for business and studies, and they all settled down on the Muslim Street. The locals call them Hui people. The term was only just coined in 1949 by the People’s Republic of China. To this day, they use the term to describe any Muslim Chinese who does not fit into another officially recognized ethnic minority group. They have lived in the Xi’an Muslim Quarter for generations already, and the number of their community has now reached over 60,000.

In the end, the Silk Road trading route started declining around the 13th century for a variety of reasons like multiple attacks on the Chinese emperor and other, European, sea trading routes to the east becoming more popular. Today, the Muslim Quarter is viewed by tourists as a scenic spot, whereas the locals consider it a snack street and an ideal place to kill time during summer where temperatures can go up. What do you think, would you care to visit one day and see how history left its mark on China today?


Jones-Leaning, M., & Pratt, D. (2012). Islam in China: From Silk Road to Separatism. The Muslim World, 102(2), 308–334. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-1913.2012.01399.x

Mitra, A. (2019, October 22). Muslim Food Street — One of the Best in China. China Highlights. https://www.chinahighlights.com/xian/attraction/muslim-street.htm

Muslim Quarter, Xi’an, Beiyuanmen Moslem Street, Huimin Jie. (n.d.). Travel China Guide. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/shaanxi/xian/moslem-street.htm

Wilkes, J. (n.d.). In a nutshell: the Silk Road. Historyrevealed. https://www.historyrevealed.com/eras/medieval/in-a-nutshell-the-silk-road/