Monday, October 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Chinese More Comfortable in Russian Far East than in Moscow But Less Interested in Staying There

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 27 – Ethnic Chinese working and living in the Russian Far East find their surrounding social and political scene far more congenial than do their co-ethnics living in Moscow or other cities in European Russia but are far less interested in remaining there permanently than the latter group.
That division, documented by a survey whose results are featured in the current issue of the Russian Academy of Sciences “Demoscope Weekly,” has enormous social and political consequences, suggesting as it does that Chinese in the Russian Far East will not put down deep roots while Chinese in Moscow and other Russian cities in the European part of the country may.
On the one hand, that suggests that those who see a massive influx of Chinese into the underpopulated regions of the Russian Far East and Siberia as a threat to the country’s territorial integrity are almost certainly wrong, given that the Chinese there view themselves as short timers rather than permanent residents.
But on the other, this result indicates that Moscow and other Russian cities are likely to see the rise of permanent “China towns,” a development that could spark new clashes between Russian nationalist skinheads and those who they will be able to quickly identify as members of another ethnic group (
Russian officials and academic experts cannot agree on the number of Chinese now living in their country, with estimates ranging from 35,000 (the number listed in the 2002 Russian census) to eight million or more, with most saying the figure lies between 300,000 and 500,000.
Given that uncertainty and the difficulties of conducting polls among members of a group who neither speak Russian well nor want to attract any more attention to themselves than they have in the past, it is perhaps no surprise that relatively few surveys have been conducted among them, a pattern that makes the latest survey especially important.
Moscow demographers surveyed some 900 Chinese migrants, including 700 entrepreneurs and employees and 200 students. Of the former, half were questioned in Moscow and half in the cities of the Far East. Perhaps the most interesting findings of the study concerned differences between those in Moscow and those in the Far East.
Chinese living in the Russian Far East, the study found, were more likely to rate conditions for business and their community more favorably than their co-ethnics living in Moscow and other cities of European Russia and to rate Russia as a country that welcomes immigrants far higher.
But at the same time, the study showed, Chinese living in Moscow or other cities of European Russia were less likely than those in the Far East to say they wanted to leave or would not want to have their families join them, their families intermarry with Russians or their children remain in the Russian Federation.
Although the Academy of Sciences scholars indicated that they could not completely account for these differences, there are several obvious explanations. First, the Chinese in the Russian Far East view themselves as cross border traders rather than as permanent residents while those who move to cities in European Russia likely see themselves as immigrants.
Second, the Chinese in the Russian Far East are not surprisingly more likely to see and be seen by those around them in a positive light than do their co-ethnics who may be planning to remain permanently and the Russians among whom they live and who will be their competitors not just now but for a long time to come.
And third, the ethnic Chinese in Moscow and the cities of European Russia may be earning so much more than are their co-ethnics in the Far East that they want to remain even though they view the attitudes of the Russian authorities and those around them in a more negative light.
Obviously more research is necessary to determine whether these explanations or others are correct, but those who conducted the current research end their report by saying that it would be “impermissible to look on Chinese migrants as second class people” not only because such attitudes are “unworthy of a civilized nation” but also because Russian needs their labor power.

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