Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Portable Goods and the Many Homecomings of Saudi-Chinese Diasporas

Saturday, July 7
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Kadamba, Lower Ground Floor

Unleashing of transnational mobility since the end of the Cold War has accompanied equally restricting regimes of citizenship, passport, and visas that draw firm boundaries of inclusion and exclusion defined by the logics of the nation-state. For second and third-generation Chinese Muslim populations in Saudi Arabia, where the notion of Mecca as a sanctuary open to Muslims worldwide coexists with the impossibly narrow road to citizenship since the oil boom, being classified as "foreigners" on paper in their own homeland has meant constant pressure to face and outmaneuver the bureaucratic and cultural mechanisms that dictate national belonging. I explore how settlers in Saudi Arabia of Chinese origin have formed renewed connections with key production and infrastructural centers in China, especially Guangzhou, as well as home places in western provinces since the late 1980s. By importing small-scale products such as carpets, jade accessories, clothing and tea for sale back in cities of Saudi Arabia, certain diasporic Chinese Muslims have constructed the necessary niche in a society they know as home. Access to such commodities has expanded their ties with previously distant places in mainland China beyond trade transactions, vitalizing latent kinship linkages with formerly unknown families with whom "red envelopes" can now be exchanged on Wechat, and prompting them to perform as religiously authoritative figures. The Sino-Arabian networks interweaved through commodities and their diasporic carriers, which entail much more extensive linkages of kinship and religion, have been much quicker, wider and more flexible to form than those of state-owned enterprises.

Hyeju Jeong

Duke University, Republic of Korea

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