From Arabian Nights to China’s Bordeaux: Wine, Local Identity, and Ningxia’s Place within the Chinese Nation
Ningxia, a comparatively small and underdeveloped autonomous region for China’s Muslim Hui minority in the country’s northwest, has increasingly received attention as the home of Chinese grape wine in both domestic and international media. This image of Ningxia as a home of wine is comparatively recent, and significant in several regards: first, wine fills a void in Ningxia’s local image-building strategy for tourism and trade, which had emerged from the abrupt abandoning of an earlier strategy of stressing Ningxia’s identity as a Muslim region. Second, wine is an agricultural product that is highly compatible with an urban, modern, and middle-class lifestyle as conceptualized by the dominant party-state discourse. Third, this framing lays claim to a new self-confidence in China’s domestic wine market, which is expected to be able to compete internationally in terms of both quantity and quality. Ningxia wines have been winning a number of international awards in recent years, and the region at the eastern foot of the Helan Mountains, belonging to its capital Yinchuan, is aspiring to become an equivalent to France’s Bordeaux, while also building up a distinct Chinese wine identity. As such, Ningxia wine is linked to Chinese nationalism: wine serves as both a global marker of taste and prosperity and source of local identity. Building on theories of nationalism and globalization, this paper traces the discourses surrounding Ningxia wine via ethnographic observations and several interviews conducted during a six-month field stay in Yinchuan in 2019, as well as through analysis of academic discussions, news items, and social media posts.
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