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

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


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.


Janice Hyeju Jeong

Defended in


PhD defended at

Duke University




Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
East Asia


International Relations and Politics
Diasporas and Migration