Faces of the Muslim quarter


Xian is mostly known as a stop of on the way to the terracotta soldiers, but my favourite part of the city was the muslim quarter.

Islam came to China from traders down the Silk Road. Arabian and Persian traders sometimes settled in China, taking their religion with them. Of the several Muslim minority groups in China, it’s the hui who live in shaanxi (the province you’ll find xian in). They are ethnically Han Chinese who speak mandarin and are culturally very similar to Han Chinese, however they are also practicing Muslims.

The Muslims quarter is a couple of winding streets behind the city’s drum tower. Its an odd, but logical mix of Islamic and Chinese culture. You’ll find noodles but without the pork, drum towers meters away from a mosque and women in hijabs selling you chopsticks. The middle of the streets house the grand mosque, which looks a little out of place because unlike the rest of the city (which is aligned according to feng shui) it’s facing Mecca in the west. It’s also a mosque like nothing I ever seen before, with a pagoda for a minaret and the main prayer building inside a hutong (traditional Chinese style building) shaped hall.

Unlike much of China (which looks like the apocalypse has happened anytime after 10 at night) it continues to be bustling at night. The overall effect of the place is that it’s very photogenic, although the street food was also a big draw…

Occupy Central

The general view towards Occupy Central in the mainland is summed up in these two interactions. When I told my class in Tianjin I was heading to Hong Kong for the weekend, of my kids piped up and said ‘But teacher, they did something against the government there!’. When I told my mentor at school he said, ‘Are you sure it is safe to go now?’.

While there I wondered through 2 of the 3 protest sites, and to be honest it’s easy to do inadvertently. The admiralty site is in the middle of the main Island opposite the HK government buildings, on the tourist trail. The second, Monkok, is in the middle of another big shopping area (Monkok was cleared two days after photos were taken).

Visually, it’s a bizarre experience, because right in the middle of high rises you walk down a deserted main road into a sea of tents and yellow signs. Big clothing/watch adverts and makeshift tented study areas and protest signs are in the same line of vision. It’s a very student dominated protest, as shows by the study zone set up in the middle of the protest area and the fact that quite a few students in graduation robes were having their pictures taken there. The bathroom signs and safety sign set up to help both protesters and non-protesters navigate the area would also have been a surprise to my concerned mentor.

The universal suffrage protests are against the announced mainland policy of approving candidates before they are voted on in Hong Kong. This isn’t the first time there have been requests for democratic elections in Hong Kong, most recently in 2003 and 2007. This protest is however the biggest pressure release on the issue HK has seen. However, well over 50 days in, the general euphoria of the movement has ebbed and the movement’s is grappling with practicalities; leadership and clear goals.