As part of the Digital Workshop Series "Digital Dialogues 數字對話", researchers will discuss various aspects and questions of the joint project.
Global Visions of Place and Belonging: Sojourners from China and the Arab World
September 8, 2021, 1.15 – 2.45 pm CET via Zoom.
The talks by Dr. Mohammed Al-Sudairi and Dr. Janice Hyeju Jeong will discuss sojourners who traversed between China and the Arab world at pivotal moments in the twentieth century, who interpreted the destinations of their travels as the center of their spiritual or revolutionary worlds. They will each position Maoist China and Mecca under pre-1970s Saudi rule as global sites that drew in visitors and writers from different parts of the non-western world, and inspired idealized visions on the connections between China and the Arab world in past and future. Besides outlining the little-known actors and sources, the speakers will try to highlight the tensions between the romanticized imaginaries and realities, and the projection of the writers' societal circumstances onto their conceptualizations.
For centuries in Chinese-language Islam, Mecca (translated as Tianfang; Heavenly Square or Heavenly Direction) was conceptualized as a figurative homeland of origin that did not have geographic specificity. Such visions coexisted with the actual pilgrimages to Mecca performed by religious leaders based in northwestern China who had closer access to the routes going through Central Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean. By the 1930s, we observe an increasing number of publications that record the actual journeys to Mecca from across China written by Chinese Muslim pilgrims and diplomats. Their portrayals reflect reconfiguration of Mecca as an iconic center of the Islamic world, in spite of — or perhaps due to — the evident fragmentations within Muslim societies in China and beyond. Mecca was also the site of convergence for exiles and diaspora populations from across Asia, a point that Chinese Muslim pilgrim writers did not miss. What political opportunities and a sense of transnational belonging did the imageries on Mecca as a global gathering point offer? How did such language and strategy get transformed and reused in the radically different context of the early Cold War?
In the mid-twentieth century, a sizable number of Arabs journeyed to Maoist China. Some of these individuals came as short-term visitors, experiencing China through government-organised planned tours. Others, smaller in number, encountered it as long-term residents or foreign experts who had been recruited by the Chinese state as language instructors, translators and editors. Across the ideological spectrum and with a high-degree of consistency, these diverse onlookers articulated, as reflected in the rich travelogue literature (adab al-rihlat) and intellectual writings they produced, highly romanticised images of Maoist China as a model for post-colonial modernity. Why did so many of these onlookers envision China in such terms? The talk attempts to answer this question - which points to the unsettled and unresolved aspects of Arab modernity - through a broader retelling of the history of the Arab diaspora in Maoist and early post-Maoist China, and with an eye towards introducing some of the key writings/thoughts of its most prominent short-term visitors and long-term residents.
Mohammed Turki Al-Sudairi is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hong Kong Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Hong Kong. He is affiliated with the Asian Religious Connections research cluster and involved in the "The Infrastructures of Faith: Religious Mobilities on the Belt and the Road" research project. He is also a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Asian Studies Unit at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. His research interests encompass Sino-Middle Eastern relations, Islamic and leftist connections between East Asia and the Arab World, and Chinese politics.
Janice Hyeju Jeong is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Göttingen, working as a part of the project ‘Conceptions of World Order and their Social Carrier Groups’ funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Her broad research interests include formations of Islamic diaspora networks between China and the Arabian Peninsula, inter-Asian connections, and history and anthropology.
The participation at this event is open to everyone, who registers prior to the event. To register please send an e-mail to Janice Jeong: janicehyeju.jeong[at]uni-goettingen.de. Registered participants will receive the Zoom link to join the Dialogues.