chapter
Introduction
Pages 5

The aim of this book is to provide a distinctive perspective on China’s Middle Eastern relations. My interest in the topic of Chinese Studies, and subsequently in Sino-Middle Eastern relations, was prompted by my association with Chinese Studies at Missouri State University where I taught for two years, 2005-07, and where I became a member of the Association of Chinese Political Studies (ACPS). My friends and colleagues at the association, particularly Greg Moore and Dennis Hickey, encouraged me to research SinoMiddle Eastern relations, given the growing interest in the topic. Since then, I have been studying, collecting material and interacting with Chinese and other scholars on Chinese Studies. The idea of expanding my research into a manuscript came from previous collaboration on two book chapters and an article, one with Dennis Hickey and Baogang Guo’s book Dancing with the Dragon, published by Lexington in 2010, another chapter with Shaun Breslin in his book Handbook of China’s International Relations published by Routledge in 2010, in addition to an article published in the Journal of Chinese Political Science in 2009 entitled the Political Economy of Sino-Middle Eastern Relations. During my research, I noticed a shortage of manuscripts, which certainly

does not reflect China’s heavy involvement in the Middle East and North Africa. The goal of this book is to fill that void, and to contribute to the ongoing debate on Sino-Middle Eastern relations in the hope of motivating future research in the field. To grasp the depth of China’s relations within the region, in the overview chapter I went back to the Silk Road period to highlight major events that characterized the connection between the two regions up to the current Arab Spring. I was struck by the centuries-long relationship that tied China to the Middle East. The Silk Road opened up timeless routes of trade and cultural interaction; some of its remnants are still present in modern-day China, Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Islam revolutionized the links between China and the Middle East.

Although early Islam was characterized by conquest, China was spared the Islamic incursion twice. Islamic-Chinese relations were predominantly characterized by peaceful and civil co-existence, with one exception: the Talas River Battle in 751, in what is currently Kyrgyzstan. The Muslim army

emerged triumphant but chose not to pursue an all-out conquest of China, preferring trade relations and peace. The Abbasids, an enlightened civilization led by open-minded caliphs, emphasized modern administration, science, craftsmanship, agriculture, irrigation systems, water canals and highways, and developed an efficient postal service in a huge empire. They were greatly interested in China’s knowledge of astronomy and agriculture, and fascinated by its culture in particular. Therefore trade, cultural contacts and the exchange of knowledge were sources of major interaction between the two sides. The Tang dynasty was also an enlightened, multicultural civilization that

promoted similar values of trade relations and cultural and scientific interaction with the Islamic Empire and other neighbouring civilizations. During China’s years of turbulence, Muslim armies came to its assistance to maintain its territorial integrity and unity. Muslim merchants and warriors from Persia, Arabia and Central Asia who resided in China came to be known as Hui, a reference to their Muslim religious affiliation. Although they lived side by side with the Han majority, Hui Muslims preserved their cultural distinctiveness, but have been subjected to some major episodes of violence ever since the ninth century. Sino-Middle Eastern contacts weakened between the sixteenth and mid-twentieth centuries as both the Islamic and the Chinese civilizations declined. However, since WWII, China’s engagement with the Middle East has intensified to the extent that China has become an integral part of Middle Eastern international relations. Currently, China is heavily involved in Middle Eastern politics dealing with major issues such as the Arab Spring and its subsequent revolutions, the Iranian nuclear standoff and the Arab-Israeli conflict.