The above hadith is often quoted to emphasis gaining of knowledge other than Islamic knowledge because at that time, China did not have Islam but the hadith says so. I have heard this may not be authentic hadidth. Is this true?
I have heard from our Masjid Imam who was a learned Imam in well educated area that he could not found source of this hadith even though he read many book. Therefore this hadith is not true and can be treated as fabricated.
This link on IslamQA also says this is farbicated hadith. The correct hadith is
‘Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim'
There would be two 'matan' or 'the content' of the concerning Hadis or maybe more, I know only two. First one (translated) : Seek knowledge is a fardh(obligation) onto all muslim. The first Hadis is sahih.
Secondly (translated) : Seek knowledge is a fardh(obligation) onto all muslim, seek knowledge even to China .
The second Hadis is false or not sahih.
Al-Hafiz Mizi split the second hadis into two part, he wrote it as the first part 'Seek knowledge is a fardh(obligation) onto all muslim' is sahih, but the second part 'seek knowledge even to China' is not sahih because there is no root to support of it's authenticity or even to prove it's base of existence.
There is no chain of narrator for the second hadis, as far as Al-Hafiz Mizi prescribed but the first Hadis is sahih. People always mistaking as the misunderstood what Al-Hafiz Mizi mean by saying that part of the hadis is right so the hadis is acceptable, its the firs't only.
"Al mizzi says it has so many chains that it deserves a grade of fair (hasan)."
Hadith HASAN MASHHÛR - "fair, famous." Note: Applied to a hadith, the term mashhûr refers to a type of ahad narration that has five to nine narrators at each link of its chain and is therefore nearly mass-narrated (tawatur). Note that this is not an index of its authenticity as a mashhûr hadith may be either sahîh, hasan, or da`îf. Also, the label of mashhûr is sometimes given to merely famous narrations which are not nearly-mass-narrated.
Narrated from Anas by al-Bayhaqi in Shu
ab al-Imaan and al-Madkhal, Ibn Abd al-Barr in Jami
Bayaan al-Ilm, and al-Khatib through three chains at the opening of his al-Rihla fi Talab al-Hadith (p. 71-76 #1-3) where Shaykh Nur al-Din
Itr declares it weak (daîf). Also narrated from Ibn
Umar, Ibn Abbas, Ibn Mas
ud, Jabir, and Abu Said al-Khudri, all through very weak chains. The hadith master al-Mizzi said it has so many chains that it deserves a grade of fair (hasan), as quoted by al-Sakhawi in al-Maqaasid al-Hasana. Al-
Iraqi in his Mughni an Haml al-Asfar similarly stated that some scholars declared it sound (sahîh) for that reason, even if al-Hakim and al-Dhahabi correctly said no sound chain is known for it. Ibn
Abd al-Barr's "Salafi" editor Abu al-Ashbal al-Zuhayri declares the hadith hasan in Jami Bayaan al-`Ilm (1:23ff.) but all the above fair gradings actually apply to the wording: "Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim."
al-Mizzi said it has so many chains that it deserves a grade of fair (hasan)
The first to declare the "China" hadith forged seems to be Ibn al-Qaysarani (d. 507) in his Ma
rifa al-Tadhkira (p. 101 #118). This grading was kept by Ibn al-Jawzi in his Mawduat but rejected, among others, by al-Suyuti in al-La'ali' (1:193), al-Mizzi, al-Dhahabi in Talkhis al-Wahiyat, al-Bajuri's student Shams al-Din al-Qawuqji (d. 1305) in his book al-Lu'lu' al-Marsu
(p. 40 #49), and notably by the Indian muhaddith Muhammad Taahir al-Fattani (d. 986) in his Tadhkira al-Mawduat (p. 17) in which he declares it hasan.
Al-Munawi, like Ibn
Abd al-Barr before him, gave an excellent explanation of the hadith in his Fayd al-Qadir (1:542). See also its discussion in al-Ajluni's Kashf al-Khafa' under the hadith: "Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim," itself a fair (hasan) narration in Ibn Maajah because of its many chains as stated by al-Mizzi, although al-Nawawi in his Fatawa (p. 258) declared it weak while Dr. Muhammad
Ajaj al-Khaatib in his notes on al-Khatib's al-Jami (2:462-463) declared it "sound due to its witness-chains" (sahîh li ghayrih). Cf. al-Sindi's Hashya Sunan Ibn Maajah (1:99), al-Munawi's Fayd al-Qadir (4:267) and al-Sakhaawi's al-Maqaasid al-Hasana (p. 275-277).
Online Source: http://www.sunnah.org/sources/hadith_utlub_ilm.htm
The mentioned hadith can be found in Kanz al-Ummal , No 28697: The Prophet (SAWA) said,
Seek knowledge even in China, for verily to seek knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim.
Seeking knowledge is therefore not restricted on seeking Islamic knowledge, but knowledge in general when it is useful for the development and advancement of a Muslim himself and its community.