Echoes of distant Kaifeng

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From Melvin Konner’s Unsettled – An Anthropology of the Jews:

…In 1489, carved in stone, we have, “Althought there are some minor discrepancies between Confucian doctrine and our own…both are exclusively concerned with honoring the Way of Heaven, venerating ancestors, valuing the relations of ruler and subject, obedience to parents, harmony with families, correct ordering of social hierarchies, and good fellowship among friends: Nothing more than the ‘five cardinal relations’ of manking. Although it differs from Confucian texts in its writing system, if one scrutinizes the basic principles he will find that it is the same, as it contains the Way of constant practice.” A 1663 inscreption adds that the Jewish sacred texts have the same basic meaning as the “Six Classics,” revered Confucian works. And a 1679 one states that Jewish Scriptures support the teachings of Confucius and Mencius….

The passages highlighted by Konner express the peculiarities of the Jew in Han China, and is remiscient of the way the Muslims of China attempted to reconcile their practice and beliefs with the norms of their nation. Legalistic Monotheism + Confucian China = predictable verbal gymnastics. Most of the works on Chinese Jews in English seem to have been authored by Westerners, but Jews in Old China is a work that is oriented toward primary sourced essays by Chinese scholars. It chronicles the foggy origins of the Chinese Jews (mostly, but not all, centered around Kaifeng) and their eventual decline and absorption, a fate in sharp constrast to the vibrant Hui minority.

So what happened? It seems clear that the Chinese Jewish community was always a few orders of magnitude less numerous than the Muslims. While Muslims were widely dispersed it seems that the Jews were concentrated in a few large cities, and so were subject to greater variation in fortunes as natural disasters and political turbulence on the local level tended to loom large for the fate of the whole community (ie; all eggs in one basket syndrome). But in addition to the periodic acts of God with destabilized the Jewish community the last few centuries of its existence there was the constant pressure of assimilation to the Han culture around them. Extracted out of any supportive milieu and unable to shield themselves as individuals by shear force of local numbers like Muslims the Jewish community persevered by holding true to their practices as referenced in their Torah and Talmud through individual fidelity to their traditions. There were no mass pogroms or any particular interest in converting the Jews to non-Jewish practice on the part of the Chinese government. Instead of push, pull was the issue, as many of the young men of the community aspired to the Mandarinate, which entailed rigorous and deep study of Chinese Classics. Because of the finite nature of time it became common for prominent Jewish men of the Kaifeng community to be far more conversant and comfortable in the literature of China than the law of the Talmud. These men were also often polygynous, and usually had Chinese wives. Assertions of Jewishness could sometimes seem almost comical, one learned scholar and official ate pork, but forbade the raising of pigs in the yard of his estate. Eventually he acceded to the wishes of his wives and the swine ran free.

After 1800 the intersection of natural disasters, the passing away of their last rabbi and the deterioration of their economic standing concomitant with the decline of the Chinese state into disorder resulted in the final dissolution of the Jewish community as a higher order entity. As the supportive bonds between fellow Jews were broken they scattered apart to make their way as individuals in Chinese society. Some converted to Christianity. But a more common option was to be absorbed into the Hui community, which was natural since the Han Chinese seemed to long have had difficulty distinguishing the two groups of pork-abstaining monotheists from the West (the Jews were often termed “Blue Hat Hui” because of their caps, while the conventional Hui wore white hats, though they were most often known as the “Sinew-plucking religion”). It is likely that the majority simply melted into the Han masses.

The Jews of China reacted to Chinese culture in a fashion very similar to the Muslims of China. They simply slotted their own parochial terms into the closest fits possible into the Chinese Way. Nevertheless, quantity mattered,1 without social critical mass possible through numbers and the diffusion of risk via demographic dispersal, the Jewish community was not able to maintain its coherency in the face of assimilative pressures. China, being a highly literate and historically minded culture though left us with ample evidence of a peculiar community that likely never numbered more than some tens of thousands.

Update: I feel as if I should add some context and flesh out this post a bit in response to some comments. First, please note that Jews and Muslims were not the only “Western barbarians” to bring their religions to China. In the 8th and later 12th century (two separate seedings) Christianity was brought to the Middle Kingdom. In the second half of the first millennium both Zoroastrianism and Manichaeanism (the former the source of many Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological concepts, the latter to a large extent a hybridization of Zoroastrianism and Christianity) were introduced to Tang China.

One must remember that when compared on various characteristics all the Western religions were very similar when set against Chinese beliefs (I assume here that Buddhism is Chinese, though it too started out as a Western religion, that is, from India via Central Asia). If one constructed a cladistic character based tree the various Chinese beliefs would occupy one branch and the various Western religions would occupy another. In many ways each of the attempting plantings of Western religions in pre-modern China were replications of the introduction of affinal meme-complexes. Of these introductions only Islam managed to survive into the modern era in China (the modern revival of Christianity dates only to the 19th century, and more realistically to the past few decades in terms of growth). This is in sharp contrast to India, where four of the five Western religions took root. Christianity rooted itself in Southern India (the state of Kerala is 20% Syrian Christian). Ancient Jewish communities also existed side by side with the Christians in Kerala, while another group resided up the coast (around modern Bombay). The Zoroastrians established the powerful Parsi community in Gujarat. And of course Indian Muslims have a strong presence because of the legacy of Turkish rule and subsequent conversions, but even without this important historical fact, a separate community of Muslims arose in Kerala in a fashion cognate with the Syrian Christians and Jews via the Arabian Sea trade. In other words, even if Indians had repulsed the Turkic invasions it is plausible that a small non-trivial indigenous Muslim community would exist in India (Muslim Arabs also served in the armies of Indian potentates from an early date).

So what was the difference between India and China? I think Kerala is the key, because Muslims, Jews and Christians all took root there and persisted without the protection of states which promoted their religion (that is, they were ruled usually by Hindu maharajas, though sometimes the Muslims also had their own rulers later on). All of these communities maintained links with the worldwide information networks of their religions. The Syrian Christians had long standing relationships with the Christian communities in Baghdad and Antioch. The Cochin Jews were in contact with West Asian Jewish communities, and were periodically energized by influxes of foreign groups (Jews fleeing persecution from as far away Portugal and the Rhineland!). The Muslims of Kerala had close relations with Arab ulema from Arabia proper, which is reflected in their adherence to the Shafi school of sharia (most Indian Sunnis are Hanafi, which is more closely associated with the Turkic world). Arab reformers even emigrated to Kerala periodically, and the Muslims of Kerala have a long history of Arabic scholarship. Further north in Gujarat it seems that the Parsi communities have been reinforced by emigration of Zoroastrians from Iran as late as the 19th century after their initial 8th century exodus.

I think my point is pretty clear: distance was a crucial factor in the absorption of the Western religionists in China and their persistence in India. Because of the open information networks via long distance trade as well as the possibility of pilgrimage to holy sites the connections were maintained with the international religious communities in India. In China because of the distance this was simply not as likely. The existence of the Silk Road and Muslim peoples adjacent to the Chinese state in the Tarim Basin served as a conduit to worldwide Islam for the Hui of China proper. In contrast, the Christians and Zoroastrians of Xian, the Manichaeans of South China and the Jews of Kaifeng were far more isolated, and it seems plausible that their religion started to become a distant mythology as no one in living memory had journeyed to Jerusalem or the ancient religious sites of Iran. While West Asian clerics could foreseeably settle in India, with which their homelands had a regular direct trade with, China was a distant land of myth.

In regards to Jews, the fact that the Lemba of Zimbabwe carry the Cohen Modal Haplotype as do the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico is to me evidence that Jews did venture quite far from the orbit of the civilized world. If it were not for genetics it seems almost certain that scholars would dismiss the Jewish ancestry of both the Lemba and the Crypto-Jews of the Amerian Southwest as nothing more than legends and myths. If the Jews of Kaifeng had disappeared as an organized community in 1600 instead of 1800 before the arrival of European priests interested in their culture it might be that they too would be a myth, and those Chinese who claimed Jewish ancestry would be dismissed as attempting to appropriate an exotic identity. I am willing to bet that many more surprising “Jewish” groups will be discovered in the next few years (that is, groups will exhibit the Cohen Modal Haplotype, which indicates ancestry derived from the Jewish priestly lineage). So in answer to Michael’s question about why more Jews did not flee persecution, I suspect many did. But cut off from the critical mass of practicing Jews shackled under dhimmitude and Christian domination these refugees were inevitably absorbed by their milieu. And why did Jews persist in the hostile lands of Islam and Christianity while they withered under the benign neglect of the Imperial Chinese? Part of it is I think distance from Jerusalem and the places where the events in the Bible occurred. Egypt, Babylonia, Israel, etc. all were conceivable and reachable, at least to the elite, even if one resides in Spain, Germany or Yemen. In contrast, to a Chinese Jew these were simply locations described in their religious texts with which they had no semblence of concrete relation or conception of. But the death by tolerance factor was at work also I suspect. The idea that persecution strengthens a community is often too glib an answer, but, I suspect that the Talmudic Judaism of the Pharisees is tenable (and flourishes) most when there is a tension between it and the surrounding society so that individuals must by necessity partake of the communal identity for their own well being. In both Christianity and Islam Jews had a special role as a reviled and respected precursor people and the savants of these faiths codified very specific ways to interact with and treat the Jewish people. If a Jew converted to either of the “daughter” religions he or she was implicitly cutting themself off from their own people and making a unidirectional transition (ie; reversion back to Judaism was proscribed by the dominant religions, at least in form if not always in practice). In contrast, it seems that if a young Jewish man in Kaifeng wanted to assimilate to the Han culture, but later took to Judaism more seriously and reverted back to halakhic practice, the Chinese would not view this with the same opprobrium. In short, in Kaifeng there was a whole spectrum of individual choices and and group dynamics could not robustly manipulate them. In the world of Islam and Christianity the choices, at least for a great period of time, available to Jews were constrained by the peculiar and historically contingent relationships of these religions to the Jewish people. In some ways I think one can make an analogy with American Judaism, where personal choice is dominant over communal loyalties, and like the Chinese case I think that that results in the erosion of the coherence of a Jewish “people.”2

1 – Unlike the Jews of India the Jews of Kaifeng did not seem to have received any infusions of later waves of Jewish immigration and lostregular contact with the rest of the Jewry (it seems almost certain that they were derived from the Persian and Bukharan Jewish communities).

2 – In the Classical world there were Hellenistic Jews, but they do not seem to have left any ideological descendents, and many scholars suppose that they were often the first converts to Christianity because it served to privilege and maintain some element of Jewishness but also offered the opportunity to assimilate into the gentile world.


  1. I have long wondered why more Jews didn’t move to Asia to avoid Western persecution. Any ideas?

  2. Interestingly, I knew a Jewish guy whose parents fled the Nazi annexation of Austria, by moving East. They travelled by train, horse and on foot to eventually reach Shanghai, and came by boat to California. 
    Having said that, IMO Jews have historically moved from more urban to less urban areas where their innate skills in trading and financial management would be more usefull to them, vis a vis the local population. They moved first from the highly urban Middle East to less urban Western Europe, then from there to Eastern Europe. China or India however would be less ideal, as they were already highly urban, and had niche ethnic groups filling the roles that Jews filled in other places.

  3. It’s not exactly an easy move to make – it entails moving into a completely foreign culture, with a language utterly unlike your own.  
    On top of that, your phenotype is even more distinctive, invariably making you the object of unfavourable treatment and outright discrimination. Neither you nor your immediate descendants have any chance of seamless assimilation – you will need to wait for several generations of intermarriage to alter the family appearance. Given the choice, you would probably much prefer tpstruggle against prejudice with which you were already familiar, rather than hazard entry into a completely alien environment. Until things become totally unbearable,of course.

  4. many western jews, from portugal to germany, did move to southern india after expulsions from europe (resulting in “white jews” among the cochin). also, it is famously well known that many sephardic jews resettled in the ottoman empire after expulsion. ken makes good points about further east. but, i’m starting to wonder if the further a jewish community moved east the less likely it was to maintain its identity. i mean, even groups like the bene israel (india) and beta israel (ethiopia) became “less jewish” (that is, not pharisaec) because of lack of contact with the jewry. obvious persecution isn’t necessarily determinative, ground zero of that was in the middle east and europe where jews were most numerous.

  5. Before 1300 China was inaccessible to Europe, and not easily accessible to Persia. Islam took hold in Central Asia and military groups brought Islam into China, while Muslims controlled the Indian Ocean and established cities in ports. Jews probably came to China during the early period mostly under Muslim auspices.  
    Specifically religious aspects of persecution may have been absent in China, but foreign traders were still vulnerable to xenophobia and to extortion by government officials. China’s advantages over Islam or Christendom were slight.

  6. Really, bigots are able to make differences important regardless. Jews are Caucasian, but if you want to think that they’re different-looking, you can. 
    Even though some Jews look like Germans, “The Jew” for Germans was the sterotypical Jew who didn’t look like a German. Even though Jews are Caucasians, Germans didn’t cut them any slack. They were “foreign-looking”. 
    Chinese and Japanese DID come to the use, where their phenotype was strange. But it was a straight shot across the Pacific.

  7. Life certainly wasn’t free of peril or persecution for other ethnic minorities who migrated to China in the past – think of the massive pogrom against the Arab and Persian population of Guangzhou during the Tang Dynasty.  
    The one ethnic minority in China which continues to suffer from the most acute discrimination are the Uighurs of Xinjiang. There are other ethnic groups that share strong affinities with them – Kazakhs and Kirghiz are not only Muslim, they are also Turkic peoples. But Uighur are singled out simply because their disparate physical appearance is so salient. It’s relatively easy for a Kazakh or Kirghiz to if not pass for a Han, at least go by unnoticed. For a Uighur it is absolutely impossible.  
    That being said, in my experience, the Uighurs are not the object of heckling or bellicose prejudice from Han Chinese, but more general, tacit disdain.

  8. Razib, I think you pointed out in the past that ethnic identity amongst the Hui depends upon context (as it does for any group – apparently many Croats and Serbs were not even cognisant of distinctions between themselves under the Ottomans, they were simply “Christians” in the broader context of domination by Muslim overlords). You might find it curious that the Dongan, Muslim Chinese scattered throughout Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan, display the type of heightened, ardent patriotism normally associated with British colonials, longing for home in the tropics. They fled Qing persecution in the late 19th century after staging an uprising, and to this day, retain customs and traditions from the period.  
    In spite of sharing the same religion, and to a significant extent, physical appearance, as the host populations of their new homes, they continue to cling fiercely to their Chinese identity. 
    In contrast to Hui who are surrounded by Han Chinese, who are more inclined to emphasise their affinity with the Muslim world and the Middle East.

  9. ken, all, as regards the phenotype issue, the book i cite, which is copiously drawn from chinese sources (as well as readings on chinese islam) does not refer to phenotype as anything more than a diagnostic or ancillary issue. in other words, yes, phenotype might cause issues but it is not the fundamental reason there is enmity in pre-modern china between peoples (more on why i bold this below). you are correct to point out that the pogroms in guanghzhou, but 
    1) the 250,000 killed given in many texts is almost certainly overblown (that is what the footnotes usually assert). 
    2) this pogrom occurred at a time of intense stress and breakdown of the tang regime, and was concomitant with a full scale assault on buddhism (and the concomitant defrocking of most of china’s monks and nuns at the time as well as the reappropriation of temple lands). in other words, again, the attack on foreigners in guanghzhou was a side effect of other instabilities. 
    3) there have always been people in china who do not “look chinese.” it seems highly plausible that some of the early tang notables were of partial central asian extraction. an lushan, though reviled because of his role in the decline of the tang, was a general of some repute and also described as “green eyed.” 
    now, i do think that one must distinguish modern chinese attitudes toward race and pre-modern ones. i have referred to the fact that in the early decades of the 20th century (and late 19th) there was a sharp debate on the racial issue between conservatives (confucians) and progressives (influenced by western science). the latter attempted to generate a sinocentric form of scientific racism cognate with the paradigm dominant in the west at the time. they were roundly attacked by the confucian conservatives. this is not to imply that the confucian conservatives were anti-racist, an examination of imperial descriptions of foreign peoples with dark skin or green eyes or lots of body hair suggests that they were viewed as semi-bestial and repulsive in comparison to the han. but, the scientific racist paradigm was opposed because it seemed to posit an essentialist nature for peoples which was opposed on the grounds of the confucian idea of perfectibility and civilizability via self-cultivation that was open to everyone (in the idea world). one can see this mentality at work in the dao of muhammed where one confucian explicitly asserts that the classics note that there are sages even among barbarians, and proper conduct is the measure by which a muslim official is judged, but the essential nature of muslimness. 
    i don’t think this is necessarily so in modern china. i think scientific racism of a mild sort is probably common to many educated chinese, and the progressives won that war even if they lost the battles. so the aversion to non-chinese phenotypes might be greater today than in the past (in many ways the chinese peasant pre-1900 was irrelevant, it was only what the mandarin thought that really mattered, while today mass culture is more relevant). 
    p.s. black domestics and sailors were at one time in vogue in imperial china. this was common between the ming and manchu eras.

  10. Regardless of what period you refer to, I think it’s an innate human tendency to react differently – initially at least – towards people with a disparate physical appearance. And the complex of beliefs and convictions that underpin the attitudes of the intellectual elite are not going to be relevant for the vast majority of the population. 
    Most of the Han who discriminate against Uighurs – such as shopkeepers and service staff, suffer from a total dearth of education, and on an instinctive level, react differently to a perfectly-assimilated Uighur,than say, they would react to a Kazakh who speaks Mandarin with a heavy accent.  
    So I don’t think the prevailing intellectual climate completely dictates human behaviour. Although you posit that the triumph of scientific progressives has made phenotype more of an issue amongst the Chinese, the one group which should be most influenced by this shift in attitude – educated Chinese – are the one group who generally have the most tolerant towards the Uighurs. The one group who are least influenced by shifts in the intellectual climate – the uneducated, or the intellectually indifferent – tend to be the ones who resent them the most.

  11. ” the scientific racist paradigm was opposed because it seemed to posit an essentialist nature for peoples which was opposed on the grounds of the confucian idea of perfectibility and civilizability via self-cultivation that was open to everyone “ 
    I find that really interesting – if anything it even further heightens my admiration for traditional Confucianism as a humanist philosophy. You wouldn’t mind furnishing me with sources, would you?

  12. “black domestics and sailors were at one time in vogue in imperial china. this was common between the ming and manchu eras.” 
    The bodyguard of Coxinga, the Qing-resistance fighter/ pirate, consisted of Lusophone Africans.

  13. Although you posit that the triumph of scientific progressives has made phenotype more of an issue amongst the Chinese, the one group which should be most influenced by this shift in attitude – educated Chinese – are the one group who generally have the most tolerant towards the Uighurs. The one group who are least influenced by shifts in the intellectual climate – the uneducated, or the intellectually indifferent – tend to be the ones who resent them the most. 
    did i say that pheno-racism as a function of education was monotonic? :) well, that’s good to know about the differences though. but to some extent we are dealing with impressions and assumptions. i am skeptical that phenotypic issues were that much of a concern because they aren’t in the literature, while you posit a universal aversion tendency that isn’t strongly reflected in the literature but is supported by contemporary behavior. 
    but in any case, source. also, do a lit search on back issues of the journal of ethnic and migration studies.

  14. I wouldn’t say a “universal aversion tendency”. I would assert that for jerk-offs who are inclined to be bigots, physical appearance is a major factor. If you are inclined to display prejduice against anyone, you do it on the basis of what’s most obvious or distinctive.  
    Just because it isn’t mentioned in the literature, doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t a significant factor (come on Razib, you’ve criticised humanist scholars for their myriad short-comings in the past – they are so often the most gormless and myopic members of the academic world).

  15. Just because it isn’t mentioned in the literature, doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t a significant factor 
    i concede that. but, going back to the original reasoning, i am skeptical that phenotypic considerations were a non-trivial reason for the lack of migration to china by jews. as a point of comparison, no matter what the absolute magnitude of difference is, south indians and west asians are distinctive enough in appearence that that the same variable would be operative (and in fact, the cochin jews have “white” and “black” factions).

  16. If the population of the world goes into long-term decline, at what point will we start losing more knowledge than we gain?

  17. Kenteoh: Based on my experience living in Xinjiang, the Uighars are definitely unpopular. Like the Jews at times, their sanitary fastidiousness (especially about pork, but also bathing) and belief that the groups around them are dirty (something Asimov borrowed in his “robot” novels) is a definite sticking point with outsiders. Also, while a few Kazakhs can pass as Chinese, a large majority of Kazakhs really cannot. They are larger, darker, and have much larger faces and eyes. Amusingly, Kazakhs in China are proud of looking “European”, but this is really not simply a conceit. Some could pass for Eastern European and many could pass for Afghan or Persian. They are a physically diverse group.

  18. Razib wrote: 
    I am willing to bet that many more surprising “Jewish” groups will be discovered in the next few years (that is, groups will exhibit the Cohen Modal Haplotype, which indicates ancestry derived from the Jewish priestly lineage). 
    Two points. First the Cohen Modal Haplotype by itself doesn’t make one a Jew or Jewish descendant, as it is also found in Armenian, Turkish and otheres in the area. Buy this modal type coupled with other historic evidence could allow you to make this claim. 
    Second, and this is more for someone like David B, who commented once that Sephardic Jews arrived in England as retainers for their Norman overlords, or words to this effect. Well, I spent a few years in Kilkenny in Ireland, which is dominated by Kilkenny Castle, ancestral home to one of the most famous Hiberno-Norman families, the Butlers of Ormonde – Anne Boleyn was one of them. The city (25,000) today is a designated historic town, which does its best to preserve its medieval past. Some of the oldest streets in the town are called “Hebron road”, “Sion road” and “Jacob street”. There is a medieval “wealthy merchant’s” house called “Rothe House” in the city center. To my knowledge there are no Jews in Kilkenny today, but it would seem to me that there once must have been – not sure if they assimilated or dispersed elsewhere?!

  19. I should add that the most famous Kilkenny person was “Dame Alice Kyteler”, who was tried for witchcraft in 1324, she fled, but her maid Petronella burned at the stake – the first and only such burning in Ireland. Could this be evidence of a pogrom of a sort?!

  20. Nice note, Razib. You forgot that Chinese Jews intermarried while Indian Jews did not, the caste system protected them. They assimilated, as American Jews are doing today.

  21. You forgot that Chinese Jews intermarried while Indian Jews did not, the caste system protected them. 
    no. the bene israel and most of the cochin jews (black and white from what i gather) show phenotypic evidence of admixture, but they also show widespread mtDNA (maternal) admixture. 
    “The authors note that Cochin Jews carry mtDNA lines that are predominantly Indian.” 
    (south) indian mtDNA is very distinct vis-a-vi west asian mtDNA. this is unlikely to be anything except admixture.

  22. this is not to deny your correct point about the importance of caste. unlike the chinese the indians already had a system of slotting distinctive groups into their society and were totally comfortable with the purity/pollution concerns which might have caused tension in other parts of the world.

  23. Michael, 
    I guess I haven’t encountered that many Kazakhs, but the ones that I have met, aside from the occasional long nose, could have generally passed for Korean or Japanese. I used to have a Kazakh girlfriend, who did appear slightly mixed. But she told me that this was the product of her partial-Slavic ancestry (grandmother), and that most Kazakh looked just like Mongols or Koreans. So I’m quite surprised to hear that they vary so much physically. I know that this is certainly the case with the Uighurs – they can pass for anything from Indonesian to Anatolian Turkish. I always have to chuckle when I think about their Tocharian ancestry, and see Uighurs with red hair and features highly reminiscent of the Murphys and and Meaghers that I went to school with.  
    Surprisingly, this ex-girlfriend told me that in Xinjiang (she grew up in Kashgar) the Uighurs were just as unpopular with the Kazakhs and Kirghiz as they were with the Chinese. This is curious given that they are all Muslims, and speak cognate languages. You would have expected a stronger sense of affinity to prevail amongst the Turkic/Muslim groups.  
    My impression was that Han Chinese were generally as ignorant about the Uighurs as, well, most Western expats in Shanghai are ignorant about the Chinese. I’ve heard so many people spout the most outlandish nonsense about the Uighurs – both Chinese and Westerners (people asserting that they are Slavic immigrants, for example). I’m surprised to hear that their fastidiousness about cleanliness is of significance, since, well, the Uighurs that I’ve seen, while I wouldn’t say they were dirty, they don’t seem to be that particular about hygiene. And I would assume that most Chinese in Xinjiang (certainly the recent immigrants from Wenzhou in Zhejiang province) would really give two hoots about Uighur customs or culture.  
    The stigma attached to being from Xinjiang seems quite strong for some people – this Kazakh girl I dated would become livid whenever I told people that she came from Kashgar. She insisted that I tell people she was from Kazakhstan (even though she had never been there), because she did not want to be associated with Uighurs.  
    Just out of curiosity, were you in Kashgar or Urumqi? Kashgar I’ve heard still retains all the trappings of a traditional Silk Road city, but I’ve seen video footage of Urumqi shot by friends, and it looks just like any other non-descript Chinese city beset by rapid development.

  24. Urumqi

  25. I’m surprised to hear that their fastidiousness about cleanliness is of significance, since, well, the Uighurs that I’ve seen, while I wouldn’t say they were dirty, they don’t seem to be that particular about hygiene. 
    my impression is that many groups raise a stink about faux hygiene. that is, talking to muslims it is clear that many simply attribute to non-muslims by definition a lack of cleanliness and will make a big fuss about it. this is not limited to muslims, various hindu groups, jews and so on are preoccupied with cleanliness in a fashion that often intersects with the concerns of ritual-religious purity. i am not saying that muslims or jews or hindus do not clean themselves more often, but i have observed that all of these groups a) complain about outgroups being unclean b) are often the objects of accusations of uncleanliness from other groups. my impression is that the chinese have fewer hang-ups about ritual purity that many other groups so they rarely get concerned about, for example, taking food from a muslim, but muslims have issues with taking food from pagans (i think it is in shariah), and the hindu pecking order is to some extent about who you will take food from (so chefs need to be brahmin since everyone will take food prepared by them). 
    in other words, many of the disputes might arise from ascertainment bias and a different definition of “cleanliness” than the plain language might imply (ie; kufir = unclean).

  26. Uighur cleanliness includes not eating pork and avoiding dogs. Not what we’d call cleanliness. 
    Northern Ireland, Japan/Korea, and SerboCroatia tell us that there can be maximal ethnic hatred with no phenotypic difference to speak of. Hawaii tells us that you can have very mild racial tension with very striking phenotypic difference.  
    In Central Asia animosities and affiliations are national, ethnic, and political, and Russians or Chinese can affiliate across racial lines. 
    Race is a contributing cause at best.

  27. ..unlike the chinese the indians already had a system of slotting distinctive groups into their society and were totally comfortable with purity/pollution concerns.. 
    Yes, you are right. I am coming to appreciate the Indian system of integrating harmonically such different groups.

  28. integrating harmonically such different groups. 
    well, the laudable treatment of parsis, jews and others comes at the cost of repulsive treatment of lower caste groups.

  29. .. while I wouldn’t say they were dirty, they don’t seem to be that particular about hygiene.  
    Chinese, and to certain point European Christians, are unaware of the concept of ritual cleanliness and purity.  
    A Muslim’s ablution before and after a sexual act have nothing to do with hygiene. If there is no water, ablutions can be done with sand.  
    Religious Jews will consider impure those having sex with a menstruating woman – again, unrelated with hygiene.  
    Vuyghurs are definitely unkept.

  30. kufir = unclean 
    kufir derives from the semitic root k – f – r meaning to deny, to reject, one who rejects or disagrees  
    It is unrelated to the concept of cleanliness or purity.

  31. Peace 
    I must say the claim about Jews “shackled under dhimmitude” in the “hostile lands of Islam” is a huge slap in the face of history.  
    While not denying the existence of periods of persecution and oppression but to paint Jewish existence in the Muslim world as being primarily oppressive is to deny the liberties which they had enjoyed.  
    Under Islamic rule in Spain, Jews crawled back from the edge of extinction and grew to achieve their golden age. Many Jews attained high ranking positions with the state including Hasdai ben Shapirut. And when forcibly baptised Jews fled Catholic Spain, many found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, where upon reaching its shores, they openly declared their reversion to Judaism.  
    Yes, Muslim-Jewish relationship has never been all rosy but to use the words “shackled” and “hostile” is to betray a profound lack of knowledge of history.  
    As last words, let it be emphasized as far as “dhimmitude” is concerned, the Prophet Muhammad was reported to have said : “Whosoever hurt a dhimmi, he has hurt me.”