The Huí (回) are a Chinese ethnic group. They form one of the 56 nationalities officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. Most Hui are similar in culture and appearance to Han Chinese with the exception that they practice Islam, and have some distinctive cultural characteristics as a consequence. For example, they do not eat pork.
Included with Hui Chinese are other Islamic Chinese who are dissimilar to Han Chinese but do not have their own ethnic group, such as several thousand Huis in southern Hainan Island who still speak an Austronesian language related to the Cham language in Vietnam. Not included are groups such as the Uighur who do practice Islam, but are different culturally from the Han.
The Hui Chinese have diverse origins. Some in the southeast coast are descended from Arab traders who settled in China and gradually intermarried and assimilated into the surrounding population keeping only their distinctive religion. A totally different explanation is available for the Mandarin Chinese-speaking Yunnan and Northern Huis, whose ethnogenesis might be a result of the convergence of large number of Mongol, Turkic or other Central Asian settlers in these regions who formed the dominant stratum in the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. It was documented that a proportion of these nomad or military ethnic groups were originally Nestorian Christians who were later drawn to the strong magnetism of Islam, while under the sinicizing pressures of the Ming and Qing states.
This explains the ethnonym "Hui", in close affinity with that of "Uygur", albeit Sinicized and contradistinctive from "Uygur" in usage. The ethnonym "Hui", though for a long time used as an umbrella term (at least since Qing) to designate Muslim Chinese speakers everywhere and Muslims in general (for example, a Qing Chinese might describe a Uygur as a "Chantou" who practiced the "Hui" religion), was not used in the Southeast as much as "Qingzhen". Southeastern Muslims also have a much longer tradition of synthesizing Confucian teachings with the Sharia and Qur'anic teachings, and were reported to have been contributing to the Confucian officialdom since the Tang period. Among the Northern Hui, on the other hand, there are strong influences of Central Asian Sufi schools such as Kubrawiyya, Qadiriyya, Naqshbandiyya (Khufiyya and Jahriyya) etc. mostly of the Hannafi Madhhab (whereas among the Southeastern communities the Shafii Madhhab is more of the norm). Before the "Ihwani" movement, a Chinese variant of the Salafi movement, Northern Hui Sufis were very fond of synthesizing Taoist teachings and martial arts practices with Sufi philosophy. In early modern times, villages in Northern Chinese Hui areas still bore labels like "Blue-cap Huihui", "Black-cap Huihui" and "White-cap Huihui", betraying their possible Christian, Judaic and Muslim origins, even though the religious practices among North China Hui by then were by and large Islamic. Hui is also used as a catch-all grouping for Islamic Chinese who are not classified under another ethnic group.
The definition of Hui Chinese poses some interesting issues. The obvious definition of the Hui as being Islamic Chinese poses two problems. The first is that the People's Republic of China is nominally atheist. The second is that if Chinese Muslims are entitled to ethnic group status, then what about Chinese Christians and Buddhists. In defining the Hui, the government has sidestepped this issue by defining them in terms of their group identity and ignore the fact that their group identity is based on religion.
Huis anywhere are referred to by Central Asian Turks and Tajiks as Dungans, even though Western academia only recognizes one Hui group, that of Kyrgyzstan, as Dungan. In Thailand Chinese Muslims are referred to as Chin Ho, in Burma and Yunnan, Panthay. There are some Chinese Muslims or Chinese converts to Islam in Malaysia. These are officially accepted as part of the "Bumiputri", or the dominant Malay group. However, the society might treat them as party of the large Chinese minority.