History of Sikhs in China

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THE HISTORY OF SIKHS IN CHINA An excerpt by ‘Gill Saab’ on DesiComments.com space and by punjaban kudi ( PuNjAbAn_KuRhI on punjabijanta.com ) [1]

It is on record that the British used Sikhs soldiers to fight in during the last years of the opium wars with the Chinese in 1848. By the 1890s, there is no doubt that there was a thriving community of a few thousands of Sikhs in Shanghai. [2] The first gurdwara went up in the same year.

According to the records of a building in Shanghai, the gurdwara was located at 326 Dong Bao Xing Road.(31°1530.312N141°2850.466E)This is the Gurdwara referred to by Dhian Chand, an Indian Hockey player who visited the gurdwara in 1932. He wrote: " ...The atmosphere in the city was quite tense due to the Sino-Japanese clash over Manchuria. We were told to keep within bounds and avoid any trouble spots. We visited a fairly large Sikh gurdwara on the outskirts of the city. It was said to be the oldest gurdwara in Shanghai. The gurdwara had suffered much damage in clashes between the Chinese and Japanese soldiers. As we came out of the gurdwara, Japanese soldiers eyed us with suspicion. We had lunch on board our ship and sailed for Kobe at about 4 p.m." Records of the gurdwara at this site are still available on some Chinese sites.

The Sikh troops played a major role in lifting the seize of Shanghai and Peking at the turn of the century. By the 1930s there were said to be two more gurdwaras in Shanghai. More gurdwaras sprang up, one in Canton and one in Taku.

Many of the Sikhs married local Chinese women and settled peacefully there. But with the communists arriving, many families left China by way of Singapore and Penang. It is on record that dozens of Guru Granth Sahib saroops were carried by these families back from China. But a substantial number of Sikhs who were Chinese state citizens stayed back and appeared to have lived peacefully until 1963.

There still were about 1,200 Sikh families living in China. However in the decades that followed, with the founding of the People's Republic of China, the country's Sikh population disappeared slowly.

As Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai transmuted into Hindi-Chini Bye-Bye, the mutual animosity that followed the Sino-Indian border war led to Indian faces in Chinese cities becoming notable only for their absence. But the Sino-Indian war and later the Red Revolution made it impossible for Indians to stay on in China.

The gurdwaras in Canton and the other cities were shut down, followed lastly by the Shanghai Gurdwara. Another stream of Sikhs was seen leaving to Hong Kong and Manila, and some on their way to India via Malaysia and Singapore. It was in late 1963 that the Straits Times carried an article about the last batch of Sikhs, about 260, many with Chinese wives, leaving Shanghai to go back by air to India via Hong Kong. It was reported that they carried the last of the Guru Granth Sahib saroops along with them, shutting the last Sikh gurdwara in Shanghai. The gurdwara was established about five years ago, the caretaker said. Approximately 100 people, mostly Sikh, but also Sindhi and Hindu, gather there during gurpurabs, and about 30 are there on any Sunday, the caretaker said, on condition of anonymity. No one knows that there is a gurdwara here except for the local Indians, she said in Punjabi. “If the Chinese government found out, there will be a problem."

During the Cultural Revolution in 1966, religion was condemned as feudalistic, and those who practiced religion were persecuted. By the end of the revolution, a decade later, thousands of houses of worship were destroyed or converted for other use. But some of the big mosques and Buddhist temples that were built before the revolution are still standing today, especially in the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Religion is more accepted now. Tour guides routinely talk about the minority Muslim population in China, and point to the mosques as they drive by. They also talk about how the Chinese adopted Buddhism from India. Buddhist temples are considered tourist sites where foreigners visit by the busload.

But worshipers still require permission from the government to hold services, the caretaker said. Perhaps in five years or so, the community will have raised enough money to ask the government for a permit to have a proper gurdwara building and hold services, she said.

The only other gurdwara in China is located in Yiwu. And it also is the only gurdwara that is a proper building. Yiwu is a hub for foreign trading, whereas Shanghai is the preferred city for trading companies to have their headquarters. We did not have enough time to make the four-hour trip by train from Shanghai to Yiwu.