The Dungan people are a group of Sinitic speakers whose Muslim ancestors fled to Central Asia (mainly in parts of what are now Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) over a century ago when the Qing (Manchu) government suppressed their revolt (1862-1877), one of many Muslim uprisings in the course of Chinese history since Islam arrived in East Asia during the Middle Ages.
When they came to Central Asia, the Dungans were mostly illiterate peasants from northwest China who spoke a series of topolects from Shaanxi, Gansu, and other areas. From 1927 to 1928, they wrote their language with the Arabic alphabet, and from 1928-1932 they used the Latin alphabet. In 1952-53, the Soviet government created for the Dungans a writing system based on the Cyrillic alphabet, which they continue to use till today.
The Dungans write stories, poems, and plays using their script, and they have also published newspapers and magazines written in it. Ever since the Russian Sinologist, Boris Riftin, and the Dungan author, M. Sushanlo, came to Penn in the early 80s, I have been intensely interested in Dungan as living proof that Sinitic languages can be written with an alphabetic script, and in 1990 I wrote an article detailing what I was able to learn about Dungan writing as of that date: "Implications of the Soviet Dungan Script for Chinese Language Reform".
Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, I find myself in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan at the International University of Central Asia attending a conference on Dungan language and culture that has brought scholars from many nations, including Norway, France, Russia, China, the United States, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. We have enjoyed two days of presentations on a wide variety of topics followed by lively discussions. Eventually, perhaps within a year, we will publish a volume of papers growing out of this conference, and I'm certain that it will advance the state of the field far beyond what was known about the subject when I wrote my 1990 paper.
Until the book comes out and a more thorough account can be given, I will say only that one of the most important aspects of Dungan writing from my perspective is how easily it has enabled Dungan to borrow words directly from other languages (including Arabic, Persian, and Russian), e.g., Russian traktor instead of Mandarin tuōlājī 拖拉机. Naturally, it is vastly easier to learn to read and write with the Dungan script than is possible with Chinese characters.
As an added note, I was stunned to learn that the Boston Marathon bomber brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were born in this very city, Tokmok, in the center of Asia, to which their parents had been sent by Joseph Stalin, himself from Georgia, a state in the Caucasus, the same as Chechnya, the homeland of the Tsarnaev brothers.