This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the People's Republic of China (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under China's Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) has no legal status.
China is located in Eastern Asia, bordering the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea. It is bounded by Afghanistan, Bhutan, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Macau, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Tajikistan, Russia, and Vietnam. The capital of China is Beijing. The official language is Standard Mandarin (Putonghua, which is based on the Beijing dialect). The country’s population in 2016 was approximately 1.4 billion, the highest in the world. About 52% of the population is not affiliated with any particular religion. The most prominent religion in China is Buddhism, with about 18% of the population Buddhist. Islam is a minority religion in China, and Muslims make up about 2% of the country's population. China requested observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 2012. China is currently in a number of territory disputes with neighboring countries, including the debate over Taiwan's independence and China's border lines with India, Nepal, Vietnam, Bhutan, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Japan. Some of these border disputes concern maritime borders.
Islam in China
Islam has existed in China for 1,400 years. Currently, Muslims make up a significant minority group in China, with the greatest concentration living in Xinjiang. Large numbers of Muslims also reside in the Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions. The majority of China's Muslims are Sunnī, but there is a Shīʿī minority present as well.
There are two major Muslim ethnic groups in China: the Hui and the Uyghurs. The Hui are the largest Muslim ethnic group in China, with a population estimated to be around 11 million. Hui can be found throughout China, although the majority are concentrated in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. They are ethnically Chinese, speak Mandarin as their native tongue, and aside from abstaining from pork and alcohol, share a very similar diet to the Han Chinese. The Hui are largely accepted in China.
The second largest Muslim ethnic group is the Uyghur, with an estimated population of 8 million. Unlike the Hui, who are dispersed throughout China, the Uyghur live almost exclusively in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In recent years especially, the Uyghur have been persecuted heavily by the Chinese government. This is due largely to racism, with Uyghurs often being thought of as "barbaric" and "backwards" by the Chinese elite, and a strong fear of separatist movements emerging from the Uyghur. While the Hui have largely assimilated into Han society and adapted their Islamic practices to fit into the Confucian-influenced macro-culture within China, the Uyghur have little desire to assimilate into Han society and maintain distinct cultural practices. The Uyghur are a Turkic ethnic group that speak a Turkic language as their native tongue, rather than Mandarin (which they often have difficulty speaking), and write using an Arabic script. This persecution continues today, and many Uyghur have become refugees in neighboring countries.
Constitution & Legal Structure
China is referred to as a communist state. In the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War, the People's Republic of China was formed in 1949, and the country's Constitution was passed shortly afterwards. Although China is technically a communist state, the market operates more similarly to that of a capitalist country. Despite this, the media in China is heavily censored and the military takes a priority in the country.
The legal scheme of the People's Republic of China is predominantly a combination of traditional Chinese culture and the Soviet model, with added characteristics of civil law. Although the Chinese legal system claims to be distinct from all other legal systems, jurists are told to follow the rules identical to those of the civil law family. In fact, the legislation of China reflects a structural similarity to countries of the Romano-Germanic family. According to the Law of the People's Republic of China on Legislation (2001), the NPC (legislature) and its Standing Committee pass the national statutes, including criminal and procedural laws. The NPC and the Standing Committee are the highest authority in the land.
Constitutional Status of Islamic Law
Islamic law has no constitutional status in China.
Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law
Islamic law has no official jurisdiction of operation in China.
Dominant School of Islamic Law
China has no official school of Islamic law.
Sources of Law for Legal Research
For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].