The Case of the Disappearing Altar: Mysteries and Consequences of Revitalizing Chinese Muslims in Yunnan

Kevin Caffrey, Harvard University
"Dragon Village" in the northwest Yunnanese Himalaya, 2006. Photographer unknown.
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Abstract

This article takes the example of a disappeared altar in a Himalayan valley as revelatory of contradictions within the mechanics of a Hui Muslim revitalization project. The community example—a group of historically identifiable Muslims in China—centers on the disappearance of a gifted propitiation altar that once stood as an instantiation of community cohesion among ethnically varied populations in the valley. The investigation examines transformations of modernity and the erosion of the “social glue” that held valley communities together as the disappearance of this gift is revealed to be a telling instance of the large-scale productivities and corrosions effected by China’s contemporary renaissance of reemerging religious movements and community identifications, processes in which Chinese Muslims serve as a potential indicator for a long view of reform contemporary social transformation.

Keywords:  China, ethnicity, minzu, Muslims, Yunnan, religion, frontier, revitalization