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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät - Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften

The 'China-Business'

The 'China-Business' - An Ethnography of Kyrgyz Traders and their Translocal Livelihoods in-between 'Home', China and Russia


My project aims to draw a comprehensive picture of the livelihoods and life-worlds of ethnic Kyrgyz spanning between their ‘home’ in Kyrgyzstan and the cities of Guangzhou in China and Novosibirsk in Russian Siberia.

Starting from those who remain in Kyrgyzstan to ‘deal’ with electronics, clothes and other Chinese  consumer goods – as salespeople, local trading  partners or logistics providers – I want to trace  the  economic opportunities associated with this  massive  import business. Beyond the economic  domain, my  project will address ethnicity, religion  and translocal  power dynamics, for instance by  examining how such  trade potential and the  admiration for China's  emerging prosperity meet  with Kyrgyz (nationalist)  resistance against  foreign, economic predominance.

As regards those Kyrgyz who decided to leave their home country, I will look at their everyday livelihoods in Russia's “Asiatic North” – an established migrant destination –, as well as in southern China, which has emerged as an attractive alternative to Russia for earning a living rather recently. Employing a comparative and holistic perspective on livelihoods, my project traces the Kyrgyz traders’ various economic aspirations, but also investigates how in these different localities they negotiate ethnic belonging, adapt their ways of “being Muslim”, and experiment with other forms of identification.

In this way, my project deals with the social handling of particular commonalities (the Soviet/Socialist past) and aversions (nationalist xeno- phobia), but also with the cultural, normative effects on the decision-making, translocal exchanges and social networking of these Kyrgyz traders in-between ‘home’, China and Russia.


‘Feeding’ Kyrgyzstan’s vibrant apparel industry: bales of cloth on the ‘Madina’ bazaar in Bishkek, imported mostly by Uighur traders from Xinjiang (2013).

‘Working the bazaar’: Kyrgyz traders selling watches and clocks manufactured in China, which then were ‘cargoed’ to Novosibirsk from Kazakhstan or Moscow (2013).

Shop front of a cargo company in Guangzhou (China) advertising their express delivery services to Russia (in Cyrillic) (2014).


Dr. Philipp Schröder