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LUCIS Annual Lecture | Sharia, Law, and China

  • Matthew S. Erie
Friday 17 March 2017
Old Observatory
Sterrenwachtlaan 11
2311 GW Leiden
C.1.04 Sitterzaal

Sharia, Law, and China

How do China’s Muslim minorities abide by sharia in a (post)socialist party-state, and how has the party-state responded to the revival of Islam—and sharia—in today's China? Since Muslims first entered China during the Tang Dynasty, Muslims, foreign and Chinese, have played an important role in China’s commercial, administrative, and political life. Whereas imperial law was broadly tolerant of normative pluralism, the modern Chinese state has taken a much more monopolistic view of law and governance. At the same time, state views of non-state law do not determine practices on the ground; Chinese Muslims (Hui) have been subject to a millennium of acculturation into a Han Chinese-majority society. The Hui case thus demonstrates how rule meets piety as Hui are both citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and members of the umma. Over the past thirty years, China has experienced a broad revival of Islam through greater cross-border mobility, the hajj, pilgrimage, educational exchange, commercial links, and intellectual labor such as translation. One effect of this revival, both an effect of Hui efforts and state policy, is increasing consciousness of sharia, its requirements and aspirations. Whereas PRC law does not recognize sharia, Hui have adapted sharia through informality and partial ethicization of its rules.  Whereas the vast majority of these processes are conducive to the status of Hui as subject-citizens and pious Muslims, Hui must continually manage their relationship to the party-state, one that operates through an absence of transparency and clear lines. Thus, the return to sharia among Hui can present a perceived challenge to the party-state, itself embedded in global discourses of Islamophobia. This lecture will explain the historical and contemporary relationship between Chinese law and sharia with reference to China’s long engagement with Islam and its contemporary challenges, particularly as China “pivots” west.

About Matthew S. Erie

Matthew S. Erie is an Associate Professor of Modern Chinese Studies in the Oriental Institute and a fellow at St. Cross College at the University of Oxford. He is an anthropologist and comparativist lawyer. His book China and Islam: The Prophet, the Party, and Law (Cambridge University Press, 2016), the first ethnographic account of the contemporary practice of Islamic law by Muslim minorities in China, is based on two-years’ of fieldwork in northwest China. More broadly, Erie’s research provides ethnographic insights on problems of illiberal law. His current projects examine global anti-corruption regimes. He is a member of the Law & Society Association and the New York Bar, as well as the China Editor for SHARIAsource, a project of Islamic Legal Studies Program of Harvard Law School. In 2016, he was named a Public Intellectual Fellow by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

This lecture is organized in cooperation with the Van Vollenhoven Institute.

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