Reading notes | 20 August 2010, by Martin Saxer

Notes on Zhaporov’s article on Chinese Migrants in Kyrgyzstan

Zhaporov, Amantur. 2009. The Issue of Chinese Migrants in Kyrgyzstan. China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 7 (1): 79-91.

Zhaporov’s outlines the different migration movements between China and Kyrgyzstan. He lists several waves of migration from Kashgar into Central Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries and briefly describes the the refugees fleeing Tsarist and later Soviet repression in 1916 and the 1930s, respectively. (Zhaporov 2009: 79-80). In the 1950s and 1960s, people again left China during the Great Leap famine to seek refuge in Central Asia. Zhaparov argues that the post-Soviet movements back and forth have to be understood against the background of these historical migration waves.

A first phase in the 1990s was characterised by shuttle trade. Chinese migrants started bringing clothes and everyday consumer goods from China, and, at the same time,

shuttle traders from Kyrgyzstan started to discover China. They often traveled by buses or airplanes to buy goods in order to provide local markets with clothing, and audio and video equipment. […] These shuttle trade activities engaged many women, compelled to take up this business because of the dramatic impoverishment of families during this period. The growing presence of women in this activity also resulted from the fact that they could pass more easily through customs than men, who were subject to more detailed searches. (ibid.: 82)

In the second half of the 1990s, these Kyrgyz traders began to loose out against their Chinese competitors who had better connections within China and could therefore sell goods at cheaper prices. As a reaction,

Kyrgyz merchants began to cooperate as eight to ten person groups, sending only one person to purchase goods, which was more rational. They started hiring trucks to transport goods purchased in China and special companies providing transportation services then appeared. (ibid.: 82)

Based on fieldwork in two markets, Madina and Dordoi, Zhaporov explores the worlds of Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Bishkek:

During their stays in Bishkek, Uyghurs merchants live together in rented apartments with colleagues in the “East-5” suburb of Bishkek. Uyghurs thus serve as mediators between Han Chinese and Kyrgyz sellers; their Turkic-speaking language has helped them to enter the Central Asian business sector. Loaders and other workers tend to be Kyrgyz citizens. (ibid.: 84)

An interesting detail is that the Bakiyev government allowed Chinese trucks to bring goods to Kyrgyzstan, while Kyrgyz truck drivers initially did not have the same right (ibid.: 84f).

There is also an interesting section on Han businesspeople who hire Kyrgyz students as translators and assistants (ibid.: 85).