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From "our there" to Chinese tourists

Leonid Blyakher's second essay on the "yellow threat"

From "our there" to Chinese tourists
Photo: Starover Sibiriak /

Leonid Blyakher

Professor, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Culturology of the Pacific State University, Doctor of Philosophy
The end of the first decade of the 21st century was marked in the transboundary interaction in the Far East by a change in the flow of population movement. If in the previous period the main stream came from North China to the Far East, now the situation is changing. The Chinese from the region have not disappeared, but they have become significantly smaller. And the composition of migration has changed. Now it is not guest workers at construction sites and housing and communal services (here they were replaced by immigrants from Central Asia), but businessmen, cooks, artists and teachers. Chinese "Chinese restaurants" appeared in all large cities of the Far East. There were also "tourists", mostly from entrepreneurs on vacation. True, they were not interested in natural beauty and historical sights. It should be noted that on Chinese territory, historical sights (including from the Russian history of the region) are much larger.

Much more strongly immigrants from the Celestial Empire were attracted to themselves strictly forbidden in the homeland and less strictly in Russia (at least in that period) of pleasure: a casino, affordable ladies. Birobidzhan and Blagoveshchensk turned into Macau or even Las Vegas for those from the not particularly rich North China. There was one more reason for traveling to the adjacent territory: family affairs. If the ratio of the sexes in the Russian Far East is approximately the same, then in China there is a strong skew in the male side. Women do not have enough. Therefore, the popularity of "Russian wives" grew. Residents of big cities treated this idea without enthusiasm, but villagers and ladies from cities less welcomed the offers of the hand and heart quite benevolently. "They do not drink and everything for the house" - explained one of the chosen women in the interview.

However, an innovation in this period was the growing flow of Russian citizens to the Middle Kingdom. This flow was extremely diverse. The first, in the previous period 90-ies, moved to the southern neighbor of the teachers. They taught Russian and English, they taught a lot. Following them, the architects moved to restore "Russian China" in Harbin and Dalian, and other cities that were part of the KVZhD space. Russian culture becomes in this period a kind of tourist brand of North China. Alas, on the Russian territory to master this brand did not work.

Since 90-ies in the contiguous China, entrepreneurs have moved. But at that time it was, basically, "shuttle traders". Now more serious business has moved. Far Eastern entrepreneurs order ships in China and sophisticated electronics. And not in the close and familiar Harbin - in Shanghai, Hong Kong and so on. The reason is simple - there is cheaper and quality is better. So, in one of the interviews, the entrepreneur told how he ordered the manufacture of his invention first at a domestic enterprise (close, familiar). But when the reparations were 30%, the order was transferred to China. There were no censures.

But the neighboring territories did not suffer from the shortage of Russian citizens. Rest in Dalian, treatment in Hunchun and Udalyanchi, trips to Hainan, shopping in the border cities against the backdrop of cheap yuan - all this became at that time habitual and ordinary. At that moment, the idea of ​​a "yellow threat" in the region begins to fade away, remaining in the heads of only officials (by habit) or the most notorious conspiracy theorists who believe in the secret intrigues of invisible enemies.

New was the nascent flow of Russian students to the universities of the PRC, which has now become quite a full-flowing river, artistic migration (however, in both directions) and "migration of pensioners." Actually, Russian artists, musicians, artists went to China from the oldest 90-ies. And Chinese talents visited the Far Eastern territories of Russia. But during this period such trips, exchanges, short tours and long-term contracts become the norm.

A very exotic phenomenon was the migration of pensioners, who until recently were the main adherents of having a "Chinese threat". The relatively low exchange rate of the renminbi to the ruble in the "zero" years, respectively, the relative cheapness in the border cities made them well-off people. A retired policeman from Germany preferred to spend an old age in sunny Thailand, his Russian colleague preferred a more habitable Russian North China. And not only a policeman. The pension and apartment rent in Vladivostok or Blagoveshchensk allowed the average pensioner to move to the seaside town of Jilin or Liaoning Province. At worst, in the resort town of Udalyanchi or the borderline Heihe. At the same time, the quality of nutrition, medical care and much more for him increased many times. It is no accident, in these years, China went not only for things, but also simply insert teeth, treat hearty. There is a whole infrastructure on the Russian territory, promoting the services of Chinese doctors, masseurs, restaurateurs, leisure centers "beyond the river".

But paradise for the residents of the Far East the years come to an end in the period of sharp weakening of the ruble to the yuan at 2014 / 15. In the shortest period of time, the resorts of South China were cut off for most of the region's population. Russian tourists have not disappeared, but have ceased to be a mass phenomenon. The number of orders from Russian businessmen for Chinese enterprises is decreasing. Loss of meaning shopping in the border towns. The expensive yuan makes prices for Chinese goods not particularly attractive for Russian buyers. Now tours to the border cities of the PRC are turning into "zhor-tours": restaurants in China are still much better and cheaper. True, the flow of businessmen who have completely transferred their business to China increases somewhat. The number of artists, educators, and scientists who decided to pursue a career in the Middle Kingdom is also growing.

In the Russian Far East, Chinese entrepreneurs are becoming very few. Basically, these are those who in the previous period invested in shopping centers or restaurants. Their incomes are not so high, but they are there. Accordingly, as long as there are businessmen. But there are three new groups.

The first - the most famous and discussed - "Chinese farmers", the keepers of "Chinese greenhouses." Emerging hysteria in the region over the fact that "the Chinese have bought up all the land", that they are allocated land to the detriment of local residents, draws close attention to them. In reality, many of these farmers, indeed, do not particularly complicate themselves with legalty, as long as this possibility remains (and it remains). In a short-term lease, a piece of land is taken from a former collective farm shareholder or from a lucky owner of a "Far Eastern hectare". Organized from easily dismantled greenhouse designs, China sowing material is issued from China. And so - the nearest city is supplied with vegetables, which can be sold in the markets and in shops quite legal Russian self-employed or small businessmen. In the presence of the slightest danger on the part of the inspectors, the greenhouses disappear, as if by magic. At the same time, it should be noted that the initiators and interested participants are more often the Russian land owners.

But even in the version of completely legal farming, in no case is it about capturing something. Typically, this is a long-term lease in those areas where there is a trade turnover of land holdings, or the allocation of land by local authorities on similar terms. A variant of the joint venture is also possible, where the Russian representative takes the relations with the authorities, and the Chinese partner - lending, logistics, sales, and sometimes labor resources. True, these farmers are oriented to the Chinese market, where products from Russia are considered more environmentally friendly. Despite the fact that it is difficult to name the terms of competition here (take at least the Chinese loan for 3-5% and its Russian equivalent for 18%), it is the profitability of the Russian authorities and a lot of entrepreneurs of Chinese tenants that makes it possible for them to operate. Taxes are paid, there is an opportunity for a connected business, etc.

But if the Chinese tenants, say, in the EAO or in the Amur region did not emerge at all yesterday, then the Chinese tourists, or rather their mass character, became a true innovation in the region. According to official data, the region is visiting today to 180 000 Chinese tourists per year. At the same time, Minvostokrazvitiya expects their growth to 1 million visits. If in previous years, Russian tourists went shopping in the border towns of China, today the situation has changed. The work of the PRC government to improve the living standards of its citizens has yielded results. And now the "rich Chinese" from the borderland go to Russia.

Of course, the motivation for visiting a northern neighbor can be very different. People are different. Someone goes to admire the beauty of the Far Eastern nature, take part in hunting or fishing. But the vast majority of tourists from neighboring countries go to shopping. Many things, often produced in China, are now much cheaper in Russia. Massively, gold and articles of precious stones, expensive clothes and some types of office equipment are bought up, and much more.

A new and unusual phenomenon (rich Chinese buying up goods in Russian stores) cause a corresponding (or not quite appropriate) reaction - the revival of the key political myth of the "yellow threat" for the region: they, they are many, they are rich. It seems that the terrible dreams of conspiracy theorists are embodied in reality. But, for some reason I think that it only seems.

About why the "Chinese threat" was and still is nonsense, what kind of cross-border interaction with China can be, what it can give to the Far East, we will talk in the next essay.