chapter  22
10 Pages

Accumulating trust

Uyghur traders in the Sino–Kyrgyz border trade after 1991
WithRune Steenberg

This chapter tells the story of Uyghur small-scale traders from Atush in southwest Xinjiang trading into Kyrgyzstan. It traces the border trade’s rise and decline from the 1990s until 2016. During this time, frequent shifts in the trade’s high-profit, high-risk environment took place, caused by political instability, state deliberations, and economic transformation. These shifts strongly affected the conditions of the traders and the traders’ position and possibilities. Uyghurs hold marginal positions both within China and Kyrgyzstan. They often have only limited access to formal infrastructures such as bank credits, government support, good education and – at times – even security and rule of law. Their main asset allowing them to conduct trade in such a volatile, high-risk environment are their social networks. The networks provide necessary infrastructure and security, but they are not only a means to and end to make a profit in trade. Forging and strengthening social networks is an important goal in itself for which trading provides a platform. This became a main motivation for Uyghur traders to continue to trade into Kyrgyzstan even when profits fell to a bare minimum after 2010. Today, many of them have retired from the border trade to venture into new business endeavours drawing on the same social networks and connections.