China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Unlike most rebellions in Chinese history, the mid-19th-Century Muslim mobilization in Northwest China was largely an urban phenomenon. In some towns, mosques and tombs of Sufi saints became the centers of sustained mobilization and heightened conflicts, and were thus politicized and even militarized. In other areas, administrative sites (Yamen) or military forts provided platforms for religious activities. This article compares various ways of politicization of Islam and/or Islamization of politics in several prefectures—Lanzhou, Ningxia, and Xining—during this era. Despite their association with Islam, I find these rebellions were not religious per se, but were rooted in spatial ecologies of the organizational networks of Muslims and were further reconfigured by short-term temporal interactions of emergent forces. Specifically, the competing spread of Sufism produced distinct forms of cleavages that gave birth to the onset of disparate Muslim mobilizations in each area. Furthermore, they unfolded as the unexpected and unplanned result of iterative interactions among key actors—including imperial agents, religious leaders, and communal elites. The final crystallization of these rebellions not only diverged amongst each other but also significantly differed from what might have been expected at the initial moment of mobilization.