Sinographic taboo against Islam

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Tweet by Timothy Grose, a specialist on Islam in China, especially in Xinjiang:

What in the world is going on here?

The first thing you need to know is that that the Chinese term for "Islam" is "Yīsīlán jiào 伊斯兰教".  Moreover, the Yī 伊 at the beginning of the term may be used as a Sinographic abbreviation of the whole, hence "Yī 伊" can stand for "I(slam)".

In the photograph, we see that the sign has been defaced by the removal of the "Yī 伊", which is clearly meant to denigrate or obliterate "Islam", even though, linguistically speaking, the "Yī 伊" here is merely the transcription of a sound in an Arabo-Uyghur name:


According to this website, QuranicNames, Aysar (أَيْسَر) is a Quranic name for males.  It means “easier”, “better off”, “living better”, and is the male version of the girl name Yusra.  It has the following alternate spellings in Roman letters:  Eesar, Aysere, Eysar, Aesere, Aysar, Eisere, Aesar, Aisere, Aiser, Eiser, and Aisare.

Here's the full name of the store (with ending completed by me):

Xīnjiāng Àiyīsàěr guójì shāngmào yǒuxiàn gōngsī
Xinjiang Aysar International Trading Co., Ltd.

Following the suggested homophonic substitution of "yī 依" for "yī 伊", presumably one could write Aysar (أَيْسَر) as Àiyīsàěr 艾依萨尔 in Chinese characters instead as the customary Àiyīsàěr 艾伊萨尔, thus removing the offending "yī 伊".

The other name mentioned in the tweet as susceptible of revision is that of Yīníng 伊宁.

Yining (Chinese: 伊宁), also known as Ghulja (Uyghur: غۇلجا‎) or Qulja (Kazakh: قۇلجا, Құлжа), and formerly Ningyuan (寧遠) is a county-level city in northwestern Xinjiang, People's Republic of China, and the seat of the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. Historically, Yining is the successor to the ruined city of Almaliq in neighbouring Huocheng County.


Following the rule of homophonous substitution mentioned above, Yīníng 伊宁 could be sanitized or de-Islamicized as Yīníng 依宁.

It should be noted that historically Yining has been a hotbed of Islamic resistance to Chinese suzerainty, and it remains so to this day.

While the full-scale promulgation of a taboo against "yī 伊" for transcriptional purposes in Xinjiang seems unlikely, anything is possible in a police state where one tenth of the Uyghur population has been interned in "re-education camps" and butchers have to chain their knives even when in use to cut meat:

"Know Your Place Prol! Authorities force Uyghur butchers to use chained-knives", by H. Clay Aalders, The Truth About Knives (7/24/18)

[h.t. Geoff Wade]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    July 27, 2018 @ 4:41 pm

    From Paul Mooney:

    China Human Rights Defenders clarifies the numbers of people in Xinjiang who have been arrested. It reported a few days ago that "21% of all arrests in China in 2017 happened in Xinjiang, meaning the number of ethnic minorities put under criminal prosecution has skyrocketed in recent years, according to the Chinese government’s official data."

    Below CHRD says these numbers don’t include the figures for reeducation camps that are said to hold between several hundred thousand and 1 million. This makes the statistics even more incredible.

    ‏ @CHRDnet
    Jul 26
    CHRD人权捍卫者 Retweeted CHRD人权捍卫者
    To be clear: these numbers do not include the hundreds of thousands locked up in extrajudicial “de-radicalization re-education” camps.

  2. loonquawl said,

    July 30, 2018 @ 2:58 am

    'Suzerainty' – I encountered this word (and, to be truthful, also its german translation 'Suzeränität', which could come handy in double-Ä Scrabble scenarios) for the first time in this post, so it might seem too forward, but: Is 'suzerainty' the right word if there is a lot of governance and meddling? It seems to me that this word would rather apply to the status of 'overthrown, paying tribute, yet largely left to govern themselves' ?

  3. Mango said,

    July 30, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

    No, suzerainty is not applicable. I can only guess that Prof. Mair wanted to avoid saying "souverainty," which would probably seem to imply legitimacy and thus be too positively connotated, but in that case, simply "rule" would be more fitting.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    July 30, 2018 @ 1:56 pm


    Emperor Xi + XUAR

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