Purdue University

Interview with Professor Dru Gladney

Dru C. Gladney is President of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, a research foundation widely recognized for its work enhancing understanding among the nations of the Pacific Rim, and professor of Anthropology at Pomona College.  His research focuses on ethnic and cultural nationalism in Asia, specializing in the peoples, politics, and cultures of the Silk Road.  He has conducted long-term field research in Western China, Central Asia, and Turkey for more than 25 years. His research languages include Mandarin Chinese, Turkish, Uyghur, Uzbek, Kazakh, and Russian.  He is the author of four books and more than 100 academic articles and book chapters on topics spanning the Asian continent, including Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic (Harvard, 2nd edition, 1996) and Ethnic Identity in China: The Making of a Muslim Minority Nationality (Wadsworth, 1998).  Some of his publications have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Turkish, French, and German.  Gladney’s most recent book is Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities, and Other Subaltern Subjects (University of Chicago Press, 2004).


1.  Could you please briefly introduce how and why you became interested in studying Muslims in China?
I have a strong religious studies background. I went to a Christian Seminary—Fuller Theological Seminary, and studied Protestant Christianity there. I then went to the graduate school of University of Washington and studied anthropology. I have strong interest in religion in general. I am not only interested in religions in China, but also interested in identity issues and ethnicity. I went to Peking University in 1982 as a summer language student. I discovered that there are many Muslims in China which I have never heard of before. So, I studied about China but took a special interest in its Muslim population.


2.  Besides Muslims in China, what else do you study?
I became interested in China’s Muslim issues in 1982 when I was a student in Peking University. But I was mostly studying religion and ethnicity, and theoretical issues about identity and religion. I am very interested in the Central Asia, Middle Eastern and Chinese relations, energy issues and religious issues.


3.  What projects are you currently involved in?
Currently, I am not involved in any focused projects. I have my own writing interests. I have just finished studying the long history of Islam in China. I’m interested in Chinese films and the relationship between China and Central Asia. I’ve been writing about China’s energy policy and its relationship with the Middle East. I did a lot of research in Xinjiang, as well as in Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai provinces.


4.  In your opinion, what has been achieved in the studies of Muslims in China, and what are the remaining problems?
There has been much progress made in the studies of Muslims in China in the last twenty years. I think there’s been a great advancement in the understanding of the long history of Islam in China, and the relatively peaceful relationships Muslims had with the larger Chinese societies. In early Western writings about Islam in China, Islam is seen as inherently rebellious. My research and some other people’s research have suggested otherwise. There are no inherently rebellious elements in Chinese Islam and there is no antagonism against Muslims in China in general. There has also been a lot of progress made in the studies of local history, in particular, in the contribution Muslim scholars made in Chinese society, and the relationship between Islam and neo-Confucianism.

I think a lot needs to be done in the study of the early history of Islam, particularly Islam in the Song and Yuan Dynasties. I’m interested in Muslim families. I particularly look at the rich collection of Muslim Jia Pu, or the genealogy, in China, which have not been studied thoroughly. Also, China’s maritime history, its relation with Southeast Asian caliphates, and the history of the spread of Islam from China to Southeast Asia have not been well studied.


5.  Why did you call Muslims in China in your book “Muslim Chinese” instead of “Chinese Muslim”? Do you think Muslims in China are Chinese first and Muslim second? How does your notion of “Muslim Chinese” affect the studies of Muslims in China?
I don’t think you can really make that distinction that Muslims in China are Muslim first and Chinese second. I don’t think it’s that easily divided. I don’t think Muslims in China can be studied that way. I think they are both Muslim and Chinese, 100% and 100%. That’s why I called them “Muslim Chinese.” Other scholars on Muslims in China call them “Chinese Muslims” or “Sino-Muslims” as if they are not authentic Muslims. I think every Muslim around the world, whether in Libya, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippine, Europe or America, adapts local culture to Islam. Chinese Muslims are not any different in that regard. They have been influenced by Chinese culture, and their Islamic culture has also influenced Chinese culture. I think it’s been a two-way street. You can’t stay in one or the other. Some people have been talking about what I called “Sinocization Processes”, suggesting that Muslims in China are sinocized or assimilated. I don’t think they really understand the complicated history, the given and take relationship between Islam and China. I don’t think they understand Islam in general. Islam has always adapted itself to local cultures. That’s one of the reasons why Islam spread so quickly and it is very permeable to local culture. China is no different in that regard.


6.  In your opinion, how does studying Chinese Islam affect our understanding of Chinese religions?
It really depends on what you mean by “Chinese religion.” If you mean Islam is a bona fide religion in China, it’s certainly the case. The Chinese government recognizes it. If you mean the Islam in China is not pure Islam, then I would disagree with that. Like Buddhism and Christianity, Islam has adapted to Chinese culture. Also like Buddhism, it has influenced Chinese culture. If you look at Chinese medicine, Chinese martial arts, even Chinese architecture, like the layout of Beijing, a lot of these Chinese cultural aspects are influenced by Islam. Muslims have played an important role in time-keeping, mathematics, astrology, astronomy, etc. It has integrated into Chinese society harmoniously in many cases.


7.  In your most recent book Dislocating China, you question the homogeneity of the notion of “Han/Chinese” and argue that the assumption that “Han/Chinese” represents the authentic Chinese mainstream identity is not necessarily true. Can you briefly comment on the role Muslim Chinese has played in the formation of Chinese mainstream identity?
The fact that Muslims in China have not been assimilated throughout its 1300 year history and still have very vibrate culture suggest that Chinese society and culture are very diversified and heterogynous. Many people outside China, and even inside China, tend to think of Chinese culture as one monolithic culture. The fact that there is a very strong and vibrate Muslim culture in China suggests otherwise. It urges us to look into Chinese culture to see how diversified and how multicultural and multireligious it is.


8.  What effect do you think the 9.11 event has had on Muslim Chinese? What opportunities or problems does this event pose in studying Muslim Chinese?
The 9.11 event has clearly focused the world’s attention on Islam in general and Islam in Asia. Particularly, a lot of attention has been paid to Islam in South Asia because of the war in Afghanistan and the problems between India and Pakistan, which are right on China’s border. This has made Muslims in China much more prominent and much more important to the world’s understanding about how diversified China is and its multicultural and multi-religious tradition.


9.  Could you please comment on the role anthropology plays in the social scientific study of religion?
Anthropologists have always been interested in religion, in the role of religion, particularly its rituals and symbolism, cultural expressions, its role in defining one’s identity and one’s culture. Anthropologists in China, from the greatest scholar Fei Xiaotong to other scholars, such as Lin Yaohua, have always paid a great deal of attention to the importance of religion in defining one’s identity and one’s relationship to other people in the society.


10.  Finally, could you please share your expectations for the social scientific study of religion in China?
I was in China last December and then late March and early April this year to present my research at conferences. Every time I go to China, I always see my old friends, colleagues and try to continue my research interests, take pictures, and collect publications.
The summit is significant in calling everybody’s attention to China’s multireligious tradition. There are many vibrate religious communities in China in which people have been practicing their religions freely for centuries. This summit helps to break stereotypes about China among many people. The summit will suggest that China is a very cosmopolitan place, a very complicated society, and a very fascinating place where religion often flourishes.

(Interview conducted by Yuting Wang)



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