A Song of the Red Sea: Communities and Networks of Chinese Muslims in the Hijaz

By: Hyeju Jeong, Duke University History Department

While the Chinese Muslim diaspora population in Saudi Arabia is smaller than the diaspora populations of South Asia, Central Asia or Southeast Asia, whose historical ties with the coasts of the Red Sea are known to have left enduring vestiges in and around Mecca, Chinese Muslim communities have forged their own enclaves in the Hijaz and beyond for the past century or so, making permanent homes in different parts of the Kingdom. Journeying from various parts of China, they arrived in Mecca, Ta’if and Jeddah as pilgrims, students, merchants, and exiles at different times and became residents and citizens of Saudi Arabia. The dispersed communities and networks that they have forged in past and present urge a redefinition of belonging that does not depend on ethnocentric nationalism. These communities also present a picture of Sino-Arabian exchanges that is deeper, less structured, and more enduring than the one represented by the official diplomatic relations between China and Saudi Arabia that came into force with the 1946 Treaty of Amity with the Republic of China and the 1990 treaty with the People’s Republic of China.