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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

01 March 2020
Newly published by Wiley and available through open access, this article by Dr Paul Anderson offers a different theorization of the commercial geographies and economic networks that connect China to the Middle East from those associated with the metaphor of the ‘Silk Road’.

Many accounts of the recent and ongoing internationalization of the Chinese trade in small commodities through the well‐known market city of Yiwu describe the increasingly significant flows of commerce between China and the Middle East in these terms. In this article, I propose an alternative theoretical frame, arguing that the commercial geographies fashioned by Arab traders in Yiwu are, rather, formed through a dynamic relation of competition and cooperation between a series of distinct but overlapping Eurasian political geographies which have been in process from the 1970s onwards. Analysts have also often highlighted the Muslim and Arab ethnic nature of the transnational economic networks that connect Yiwu to markets across the Middle East. But rather than adopting a network governance approach, which sees these networks as embedded in a shared culture or ethnicity that furnishes the possibility of trust, I adopt a structural analysis approach in which traders act as brokers, moving and mediating between different geographies. I argue that they act strategically to keep several contexts in play at once because they are faced with an unforeseeable future and marginal citizenship rights.

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