Academic journal article China Perspectives

Chinese Migration in the Russian Far East

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Chinese Migration in the Russian Far East

Article excerpt

Migration between China and Russia has a long history. The perspectives for development of this movement are defined by the geographical proximity of the two countries, by the complementarity of their economies, and by their intense political relations, both in the past and in the present. Russia, which was late in becoming a host country to Chinese migrants, is a special case in the history of population movement in that the violent political changes that occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century interrupted the migration process for 70 years. Movement both inside and outside the country was forbidden, and the Chinese community was reduced to a few thousand individuals who were naturalised and completely integrated into Russian society. After the beginning of political and economic reform in the USSR, Russia once again opened itself to Chinese migration, which increased from year to year. While the environment in which this migration took place at the end of the twentieth century differs from that of the nineteenth century, the historical data can be compared as a means of predicting the evolution of this phenomenon in Russia, and to better understand its present-day forms. Today Russia and the Russian Far East region in particular make it possible for us to study the workings of migration dynamics from their beginnings - that is, to analyse how the Chinese initially settle in the host country, and to follow all the stages in the construction of the community and its economic and migration networks.

|CKineseuro migration to Imperial Russia

The history of Chinese migration in the Russian Far East really began during the second half of the nineteenth century, when the region was annexed by the Tsarist Empire. The new province included the Amur River basin and the region reaching from the river to the coast.(l) It must be said that these new territories were already inhabited by a few native peoples, as well as by a small number of Chinese, especially in the southern river valleys of the Suifeng, the Daobihe, and the Oulahe, and along the coast of the Sea of Japan. The first Chinese migrants to appear in the region in the early nineteenth century were in fact fugitives who had fled China in order to escape the law, as well as convicts deported by the Qing dynasty authorities.(2) Subsequently the region's natural resources attracted hunters, fishermen, ginseng harvesters, and small traders. Some of these decided to stay beyond a season's work, building houses and farming the land. At the time of the signing of the Treaty of Aigun in 1858, which defined the frontier between the two countries, the only concentrated population of Chinese in the region lay in the valley between the Amur Zeya rivers.<3)

In the 1860s, Chinese migration to the Russian Far East was mainly temporary and seasonal, but the flow of migrants increased steadily over time.(4) The frontier was still open, and the lack of controls or patrolling by the military contributed considerably to the migration of Chinese to Russia and to the setting up of the first migration networks.

At the time, the Russian government was very interested in the rapid development of the region, and encouraged the arrival of people from neighbouring countries. The Russian local authorities considered them pioneers, and therefore gave them permission to live on Russian soil and to buy arable land, with a 20-year tax exemption. This policy lasted until the end of the 1880s. By then the rapid growth of the Chinese population in the region had begun to seriously worry the Russian government, which feared that China might one day be able to annex certain territories in the Russian Far East on the pretext that they were mainly inhabited by Chinese. In order to reduce the numbers of migrants, the government prohibited them from settling in the districts on the border with China, and a system of residency permits was established for them.

However, the local Russian government, which was still underdeveloped, did not have sufficient resources to control the economic activities and life of the Chinese migrants in this new province. …

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