Since the late 1990s, the city of Yiwu, Zhejiang province, has become an increasingly popular business destination for Arab entrepreneurs from the Middle East and North Africa. Mainly engaged in exporting small commodities back to their home countries, the resident population reached more than 10,000 before 2013, when it sharply declined due to regional instability. 2016 estimates put the population at some 4,000, still has the largest resident Arab population in China. It is a community that has received unprecedented attention in the context of the One Belt, One Road policy. This project explores their lives and businesses in China. In this seminar I give an ethnographic account of what attracts Arab entrepreneurs to Yiwu, their role in building multinational trading networks, and their increasingly diverse modes of interaction with the majority Chinese community. I will show how Arab entrepreneurs establish trust with their Chinese partners to maintain the trading system, and outline what their social and business interactions tell us about migrant entrepreneurship and interracial dynamics. In telling the stories of these Arab residents in China, I engage with ongoing debates concerning entrepreneurial communities in eastern China, the informal economy, and globalisation more broadly.
About the speaker
Wen Meizhen is a PhD candidate at the Australian Centre on China in the World. She got her master degree at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and a bachelor degree at Wenzhou University. She worked on South China Research Centre as a research assistant at HKUST from 2013 to 2015. Her research interests include ethnic groups in China, internal and international migration.