“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

穆斯林的葬礼 (lit. Funeral of a Muslim)

Novel by Huo Da.

With sales of some 2.5 million copies, Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼,霍达著), Huo Da’s tale about three generations of a Hui family in Beijing, is quite possibly the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever published in China. It spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution.

If the novel is not well known in the West, neither are the Hui, the “other” dominant Muslim people in China who actually number over ten million. Unlike the Turkic-speaking Uyghur of Xinjiang, the Hui are descendants of Silk Road travelers — Arab, Persian and Central Asians — who married Han Chinese and converted to Islam, itself introduced during the Tang Dynasty by Arab traders.

Apart from its power as a tale of love and history, Funeral of a Muslim has played a unique role in introducing Islam to Chinese readers, many of whom know little about the Muslim communities that have made up a part of Chinese society for centuries. Apart from descriptions of Muslim customs and rituals, the novel was instrumental in launching public discussion of the essentially multi-cultural nature of China, even stirring up controversy for its direct address of latent ethnic tensions.

It continues to be a favorite with readers for its depiction of the ways in which the strictures of history, culture, and religion influence the courses of individual loves: guiding, shaping, curbing, destroying.

In 1991 the novel won the Mao Dun Literature Prize, China’s top literary prize, as well as the Writers Association’s Novel Prize for Ethnic Minority Fiction. The author wrote a television treatment of the story, which was produced and aired in 1992. The story begins with the sale of a grand and storied court-yard home to a buyer named Han Tzu-ch’i, a famous jade merchant. The narrative then returns to Han’s childhood, during the late Qing dynasty, and his apprenticeship with the Muslim jade craftsman Liang I-ch’ing, proprietor of the Jade Treasure Shop.

The novel follows Han as he develops skill as a lapidary under the tutelage of Liang, and his budding romance with Jade, the elder of Liang’s two daughters. Liang passes away unexpectedly, while putting the finishing touches on a jade masterwork celebrating Hui heritage. Han is left to take over the shop and carry on Liang’s work. He marries Jade and fathers a son, T’ien Hsing, and within a decade has turned the Jade Treasure Shop into a legend of jade craftsmanship.

In the 1930s, as the Japanese invasion begins, Han decides to leave the country and follow a British client to London, taking with him both his wife, Jade, and her younger sister, Nephrite. While in London, Nephrite engages in a tragic love affair with an Englishman who is killed in the bombing; heartbroken, she shifts her affections to her brother-in-law, and eventually the two of them have a daughter, Hsin Yüeh.

After the war, the whole family returns to China. Jade refuses to live with her sister and illegitimate daughter, and Nephrite departs, though Hsinyüe stays behind at Han’s insistence. Tienhsing and Hsinyüe grow older, and enter into ill-starred romances of their own. The novel ends with the eventual return of Nephrite, during the Cultural Revolution, who finds the courtyard sealed, her family gone, and the world no longer as she had left it.

To read an English extract translated by Bruce Humes, visit Funeral of a Muslim.

Translations:

(as excerpt) Funeral of a Muslim

Translated by Bruce Humes

With sales of some 2.5 million copies, Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼,霍达著), Huo Da’s tale about three generations of a Hui family in Beijing, is quite possibly the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever published in China. It spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution.

If the novel is not well known in the West, neither are the Hui, the “other” dominant Muslim people in China who actually number over ten million. Unlike the Turkic-speaking Uyghur of Xinjiang, the Hui are descendants of Silk Road travelers — Arab, Persian and Central Asians — who married Han Chinese and converted to Islam, itself introduced during the Tang Dynasty by Arab traders.

Apart from its power as a tale of love and history, Funeral of a Muslim has played a unique role in introducing Islam to Chinese readers, many of whom know little about the Muslim communities that have made up a part of Chinese society for centuries. Apart from descriptions of Muslim customs and rituals, the novel was instrumental in launching public discussion of the essentially multi-cultural nature of China, even stirring up controversy for its direct address of latent ethnic tensions.

It continues to be a favorite with readers for its depiction of the ways in which the strictures of history, culture, and religion influence the courses of individual loves: guiding, shaping, curbing, destroying.

In 1991 the novel won the Mao Dun Literature Prize, China’s top literary prize, as well as the Writers Association’s Novel Prize for Ethnic Minority Fiction. The author wrote a television treatment of the story, which was produced and aired in 1992. The story begins with the sale of a grand and storied court-yard home to a buyer named Han Tzu-ch’i, a famous jade merchant. The narrative then returns to Han’s childhood, during the late Qing dynasty, and his apprenticeship with the Muslim jade craftsman Liang I-ch’ing, proprietor of the Jade Treasure Shop.

The novel follows Han as he develops skill as a lapidary under the tutelage of Liang, and his budding romance with Jade, the elder of Liang’s two daughters. Liang passes away unexpectedly, while putting the finishing touches on a jade masterwork celebrating Hui heritage. Han is left to take over the shop and carry on Liang’s work. He marries Jade and fathers a son, T’ien Hsing, and within a decade has turned the Jade Treasure Shop into a legend of jade craftsmanship.

In the 1930s, as the Japanese invasion begins, Han decides to leave the country and follow a British client to London, taking with him both his wife, Jade, and her younger sister, Nephrite. While in London, Nephrite engages in a tragic love affair with an Englishman who is killed in the bombing; heartbroken, she shifts her affections to her brother-in-law, and eventually the two of them have a daughter, Hsin Yüeh.

After the war, the whole family returns to China. Jade refuses to live with her sister and illegitimate daughter, and Nephrite departs, though Hsinyüe stays behind at Han’s insistence. Tienhsing and Hsinyüe grow older, and enter into ill-starred romances of their own. The novel ends with the eventual return of Nephrite, during the Cultural Revolution, who finds the courtyard sealed, her family gone, and the world no longer as she had left it.

To read an English extract translated by Bruce Humes, visit Funeral of a Muslim.