Staunton, August 1 – Moscow media routinely talk about the influx of ethnic Chinese into Russian territories in Siberia and the Far East, but they rarely pay much attention to a movement in the other direction, one that has resulted in nearly 200,000 Russians living and working in the Peoples Republic of China.
Only a tiny share of these are descendents of the once enormous Russian presence in Harbin and Manchuria, Beregrus.ru reports, noting that “they are already intermixed with the Chinese population [and therefore] impossible to uncover.” The basic mass of those people who arrived in the imperial period and after the Russian Civil War were later forced to leave.
The Russians of Harbin, the portal continues were “Russian people who respective the hospitality of the Chinese as well as their own traditions. The Chinese responded warmly to Russians,” the portal says, because “our compatriots, while remaining themselves and valuing and preserving their culture, with respect accepted the Chinese world” (beregrus.ru/?p=350).
Today, the site laments, “our compatriots in China are different.” They try “with all their strength to please the Chinese, to fit into their culture, and to emulate the civilized Chinese in every way” – not “of course” with the culture of the Chinese peasantry but rather with “Chinese business people who know English and the computer just like Europeans.”
The majority of these “Russians,” the site continues, “are forgetting their own culture, tradition and faith. More precisely,” Beregrus.ru says, many did not remember these things even earlier,” as a recent story from the Chinese newspaper “Rénmín Rìbào” now circulating on the Internet makes all too clear (russian.people.com.cn/31516/7069982.html).
The Chinese daily told the story of 22-year-old Elena Zhuzina, who came to Harbin from Russia’s Sakhalin oblast because, as the paper put it, she “had always dreamed about China.” After finishing school in Sakhalin, she enrolled in a Chinese university where she studied Chinese, was crowned “Beer Festival Queen,” and committed herself to remaining in China.
Beregrus.ru said with distain that “here is a completely typical story of the contemporary Russian emigration in China. In reality,” it continued, “the greatest opportunity for this remarkable woman is to become a mother of remarkable Chinese kids, the grandchildren of whom will tell their descendents that in their veins flows Russian blood.”
Why, these future Chinese citizens may ask? Because, in the words of the Russian portal, because “sometime in the past, their ancestor acquired for himself a Russian wife. Mostly probably,” it continued, “the Chinese progeny [of such a union] will not recall that this Russia wife was a beauty queen at a beer festival.”
In many respects, this image of a Russian voluntarily joining with the Chinese is even more disturbing to some Russians than the prospect that Chinese immigrants will overwhelm the declining population of Siberia and the Russian Far East because the former highlights something that underlies many of the deepest Russian fears.
That is the sense that Russian national identity may be far weaker than many like to think and that now and even more in the future, those currently identified as ethnic Russians will be assimilated by others rather than assimilating the latter as had been the case throughout most of the last millennium.