The New Silk Road is synonym for a growing Sino-Arab commercial relationship. In the Eastern Chinese city of Yiwu, which is said to be the world’s biggest wholesale market of small commodities, a remarkable influx of Arab traders is being noticed, especially since the latest global socio- economical and geo-political sets of events. Together with the Arab businessmen, Islam arrived in the city. As a result, Chinese Muslims, who usually suffer from oppression by the Chinese government, migrate to this city where they can enjoy a larger extent of religious freedom.
This study examines Yiwu’s fast city development from a small town to an international shipping hub, and researches the reasons for the striking immigration of businessmen from the Arab world. Furthermore, it investigates the transnational impact on selected sociospatial areas in the city. Using interviews and on-site observations surveyed in 2013 and 2014, it found that the long tradition of Yiwu’s merchants, the provision of a supporting plan and infrastructure by the local government, and an opportunistic change in policy in the geo-political sphere after 9/11, mainly contributed to the city’s success. The importance of the on-going support of the Muslim community in order to attract more foreign businessmen is highlighted, as well as the role that leisure areas play, making food consumption and the behaviour towards it, which reflects the vitality of the city’s ethnic enclave.
It is argued that the Arab migrants unknowingly change the use of space in Yiwu by bringing a strong sense of identity through their culture and religion, bypassing the general use of public spaces by the local population, and harmoniously coexisting with Han Chinese.
You can download the paper here (PDF 153 pages, 24Mb)