Everyday heritaging: Sino-Muslim literacy adaptation and alienation

Ibrar Bhatt*, Heng Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


What we in this article describe as “Sino-Muslim heritage literacies” have existed in China for as long as there have been Muslims in the region (since the 7th century according to the best evidence). The community's religious and heritage literacy practices can incorporate a systematic Arabic representation of Chinese, systems of Chinese characters representing Arabic pronunciation, and more contemporary digitalised manifestations of heritage literacy in everyday life. Using a social practice approach to literacy, this paper reports on multigenerational interviews, artefact collection, and ethnographic observations with two families in Xi'an (Shaanxi, China) to explore how heritage literacy practices maintain a presence in Sino-Muslim life through traditional systems of community and religious education and contemporary social and material networks. We discuss what these empirical cases reveal about literacies in Sino-Muslim religious life, with respect to how heritage is adapted or diminished across generations. We also argue that it is crucial to situate Sino-Muslim heritage literacy in spaces beyond rigid and state-defined ethnic and religious discourses which tend to confine the identity of Sino-Muslims into officially designated categories. Doing so, we contend, has useful theoretical and methodological import, and can shed light on inquiry about heritage literacy in other minority settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-101
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number281
Early online date14 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In this paper we discuss the first round of data collection for a research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which examines Sino-Muslim heritage literacy in modern China. We offer a critical examination of heritage literacy practices in the everyday lives of two Sino-Muslim families based in Xi’an (Shaanxi Province, China): the Wang family, and the Chen family. We also explore how their religiously expressive heritage literacy practices occur at the interface between an authoritarian state which confines religious practice entirely through minority ethnic identity (shaoshu minzu; 少数民族) and its Muslim minority who have inherited and adapted literacy practices that are situated in heritage-related activities, and which are inherently translingual and transmodal in nature.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 the author(s), published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


  • China
  • heritage literacy
  • Islam
  • linguistic ethnography
  • literacy studies
  • Sino-Muslims

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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