A queue for shaobing - a flaky flatbread on Niujie, or Ox Street in Beijing, China. Image: Shangbie Du

A Walk Down Ox Street – Beijing’s Historic Muslim Hub


“Grandma is a true Beijinger; she was raised on Niujie!” My mom has told me this ever since I was a child. Niujie, or Ox Street, nestled in the Xicheng District of Beijing, is the beating heart of the city’s Muslim community. The city’s oldest and largest Mosque, the Niujie Libaisi (Ox Street Mosque), and a tapestry of halal eateries, butchers, and supermarkets are located here. Niujie is not just a street; it’s a cultural hub where generations of Muslims have lived, worked, and worshipped, preserving their traditions and heritage.

Grandma’s roots weren’t in Beijing. She was born in Jinan, a city in Shandong – a province south of the capital. After losing her parents in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War, she was brought to Beijing by a relative at age seven to start primary school. Some years later, Grandma found solace and family with a Hui Muslim family. Beijing became her sanctuary, and Niujie was her sanctuary within it. To Grandma, Beijing isn’t about the towering skyscrapers and the majesty of the Forbidden City, nor the magnificence of the Great Wall and the grandness of the Temple of Heaven. To Grandma, Beijing’s true essence lies in Niujie.

Today, Niujie has transformed from a local community to a bustling tourist hotspot, and the Mosque is a welcome place for worship for Muslims worldwide. Grandma, now 80 years old, resides in the far south of Beijing, away from the urban bustle. “It’s so crowded in the city; why would I ever go there?” she would grumble. But Niujie? She could never let go. The familiar sights, sounds, and aromas of her cherished past never fail to ignite a youthful vigor in her.

Earlier this year, I celebrated the Chinese New Year with my family in Beijing. On the festival’s final day, also known as the Lantern Festival, my mother and I decided to spend an afternoon at Niujie. We were immersed in the vibrant atmosphere, the joyful chatter, and the tantalizing aromas of the food stalls. We captured moments of celebration and tradition on film, each frame a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Niujie and the joy it brings to its people.

Another long queue for yuanxiao can be seen on another section of the street. Image: Shangbie Du
A queue for shaobing – a flaky flatbread, which is a staple for many Beijingers. Image: Shangbie Du

Shangbie Du

Shangbie is a Junior Fellow at The Hague Journal of Diplomacy and a researcher at Law and Research Network. He holds a master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy from Leiden University (2023).

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