The Phoenix Mosque and the Persians of Medieval Hangzhou

The Phoenix Mosque and the Persians of Medieval Hangzhou


edited by George Lane

Format: Royal Hardback
Published: July 2018
Illustrations: Black and White Tombstones
Pages: 284
ISBN: 9781909942882

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‘The Phoenix Mosque in Hangzhou, south China, is one of the most remarkable survivals from the period of Mongol rule in Asia. Built in 1281, it served the mainly Persian Muslims who had come to China from the other end of the Mongol Empire. Some 21 tombstones from that time, with texts inscribed in Arabic and Persian, remain in the mosque, and are a primary historical source of great interest. They are transcribed, translated and commented on in this study, the last work of a great Persian scholar, the late Alexander Morton. George Lane and his colleagues have provided a fine series of chapters which put Morton’s work into its appropriate historical context. The result is a major contribution to our knowledge of the history of the Mongol Empire.’

— David O. Morgan, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

‘This long awaited book by George Lane opens new venues for the study of the mobility, economy and cultural presence of persianised individuals (mainly from Central Asia) in medieval China. The focus on Hangzhou and particularly on the still standing Phoenix Mosque of the city serves as a living testimony of the presence of a Muslim-Persian community that helped to integrate large cities of Central China into the networks of the Mongol empire that controlled Eurasia during the 13th and 14th centuries, an interesting and not as well-known subject. The transcriptions and translations by A. H. Morton and Florence Hodous included in the appendixes add a further layer of interest to the book, bringing to life the epitaphs of these Muslim migrants into China in the Mongol period.’

— Bruno De Nicola, Goldsmiths (University of London)


In the early 1250s, Mongke Khan, grandson and successor of the mighty Mongol emperor, Genghis Khan, sent out his younger brothers Qubilai and Hulegu to consolidate his grip of power. Hulegu was welcomed into Iran while Qubilai continued to erode the power of the Song emperors of southern China. In 1276, he finally forced their submission and peacefully occupied their capital, Hangzhou. The city enjoyed a revival as the cultural capital of a united China and was soon filled with traders, adventurers, artists, entrepreneurs, and artisans from throughout the great Mongol Empire, including a prosperous, influential and seemingly welcome community of Persians. In 1281, one of their number, Ala al-Din, built the Phoenix Mosque in the heart of the city where it still stands today. This study of the mosque and the Ju-jing Yuan cemetery, which today is a lake-side public park, casts light on an important and transformative period in Chinese history, and perhaps the most important period in Chinese Islamic history. The book is published in the Persian Studies Series of the British Institute of Persian Studies (BIPS).


Click here to read a review of The Phoenix Mosque and the Persians of Medieval Hangzhou in the Asian Review of Books.


Dr George Lane is a Senior Teaching Fellow in History of the Middle East and Central Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His publications are on a wide variety of topics ranging from women in the Islamic world to notables and rulers in Ilkhanid Iran, and from cities in the Middle East to trade along the Spice Route and Silk Road. At present George Lane is working on two books both on the Mongols.

Dr Qing Chen is a graduate of SOAS, University of London. Her field of studies is Islamic art and archaeology, with special research interest in the development of Islamic communities, practices and culture in China.

Alexander (Sandy) Morton was educated at Oxford and after a spell at BIPS in Tehran he began his PhD at SOAS in London under Professor Ann Lambton, but he was recalled to Tehran to take up the post of Director of BIPS without actually finishing his doctorate. Alexander Morton’s influence in his field remains wide and strong and there are many leading scholars in Persian and Islamic studies who remember with gratitude the assistance and advice afforded them by this greatly missed scholar.

Dr Florence Hodous is a Post-doctoral scholar at Renmin University, Beijing. Her research encompasses the history of the Mongol empire and in particular its laws and religions, as well as cross-cultural contacts between Yuan China and the Ilkhanate in Persia.

Additional information


History, Religion & Philosophy


Edited by George Lane