Between Shanghai and Mecca: Diaspora and Diplomacy of Chinese Muslims in the Twentieth Century

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While China’s recent Belt and the Road Initiative and its expansion across Eurasia is garnering public and scholarly attention, this dissertation recasts the space of Eurasia as one connected through historic Islamic networks between Mecca and China. Specifically, I show that eruptions of unpredictable wars and political turnovers across Asia in the twentieth century sparked a sector of Chinese Muslim militarists and scholar-politicians to constantly reformulate extensive networks of kinship, scholarship, patronage, pilgrimage and diplomacy between China, the Indian Ocean world and the Arabian Peninsula. In these endeavors, Mecca represented a hub and mediator of mobility, a diplomatic theater filled with propaganda and contestations, and a fictive homeland that turned into a real home which absorbed streams of exiles and refugees.

Each chapter adds a layer of Chinese Muslims’ engagements with Mecca as a locale and a metaphor – from old little Meccas in Linxia (southern Gansu) and Canton (Guangzhou), to the new logistical hub of Shanghai that hosted Mecca-bound pilgrims from across China in the first half of the twentieth century, and to Mecca where competing pilgrimage diplomatic delegations and refugee settlers asserted their belonging. By doing so, the dissertation unleashes Chinese Muslims’ sphere of activities, imaginaries, space-making, and historiographical reconfigurations from the confines of the territorial state of China, revealing the creation of sacred places and logistical hubs across regions, and channels of circulations that went through them. I draw from a wealth of pilgrimage and diplomatic travelogues, interviews with living communities in Saudi Arabia, mainland China and Taiwan over multiple generations, archival documents, memoirs and biographies.

While the protagonists in this dissertation represent only a portion of the diverse groups of Chinese Muslim populations, they present an indicative view of Chinese Muslims as a collective — as a people for whom real and imagined connections with external places have been central to their self-understandings and social mobility in multiple locales. At certain moments when inter-state relations were about to take off, they undertook roles as diplomatic mediators in official and unofficial capacities. Their spatial configurations, in turn, show the role of Mecca as a physical site and a symbolic center in assembling inter-Asian circulations -- giving rise to little Meccas and infrastructural hubs elsewhere, attracting competing diplomatic missions, and offering a haven for pilgrim sojourners and diaspora communities who have constituted the diverse social make-up of Saudi Arabia.






Jeong, Hyeju Janice (2019). Between Shanghai and Mecca: Diaspora and Diplomacy of Chinese Muslims in the Twentieth Century. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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