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Lectures by Ka-Kin Cheuk

Strangers in the temple: An ethnographic study of the Nanakpathi traders in a Chinese textile city

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religions
3 May 2013

This paper aims to examine the processes by which the collective migrant identity of the Nanakpathi (the followers of Guru Nanak) traders is inhibited even though these traders regularly get together in the Sikh Temple. I will explain this process through an ethnographic study conducted in the Sikh Temple at the Shaoxing county of Zhejiang province in China. Shaoxing is now the largest fabrics wholesale market in Asia, in which over 10,000 Nanakpathi middleman traders are based. These Nanakpathis are mostly Sikhs or Sindhis, specializing in the transnational trades of fabrics and having lived in China for some years. These Sikhs and Sindhis often visit the Sikh Temple for their individual religious needs. Based on my long-term observation in the Temple, I found these traders rarely interact with each other despite their public religious engagement in the temple. In other words, neither collective migrant identity nor substantial form of social organization has been formed among these young Nanakpathis. Drawing light from their business practices in China, I argue that these traders indeed have legitimate reasons not to make local Indian friends in the Temple, thereby enabling their middleman business to thrive.

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