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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 XNUMXst century was marked in cross-border interaction in the Far East by a change in the flow of population movements. If in the previous period the main flow went from North China to the Far East, now the situation is changing. The Chinese have not disappeared from the region, but their number has decreased significantly. And the composition of the migration has changed. Now these are not migrant 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" have appeared in all large cities of the Far East. There were also "tourists", mostly entrepreneurs on vacation. True, they were not at all interested in natural beauty and historical sights. It should be noted that there are significantly more historical sights on the Chinese territory (including those from the Russian history of the region). 

Much stronger than immigrants from the Celestial Empire were attracted by the pleasures strictly prohibited in their homeland and less strictly in Russia (at least at that time): casinos, accessible young ladies. Birobidzhan and Blagoveshchensk were turning into Macau or even Las Vegas for people from the not particularly wealthy North China. There was one more reason for traveling to the adjacent territory: family matters. If in the Far East of Russia the sex ratio is approximately equal, then in China there is a strong bias towards the male side. There are not enough wives. Therefore, the popularity of "Russian wives" grew. Residents of large cities were not enthusiastic about this idea, but villagers and ladies from smaller cities received marriage proposals quite favorably. “They don't drink and everything is for the house,” one of the darlings explained her choice in an interview.
However, the innovation in this period was the growing flow of Russian citizens to the Celestial Empire. This stream was extremely varied. The first, back in the previous period of the 90s, teachers moved to the southern neighbor. They taught Russian and English, taught a lot. They were followed by architects - to restore "Russian China" in Harbin and Dalian, other cities that were part of the CER. Russian culture during this period became a kind of tourist brand in Northern China. Alas, it was not possible to master this brand on Russian territory.

Since the 90s, entrepreneurs have moved to neighboring China. But at that time it was mainly "shuttle traders". Now more serious business has moved on. Far Eastern entrepreneurs order ships and sophisticated electronics from China. And not in the close and familiar Harbin - in Shanghai, Hong Kong and so on. The reason is simple - it is cheaper and the 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, as usual). But when the reparations amounted to 30%, he transferred the order to China. There were no complaints.

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.

The migration of pensioners, who until recently were the main adherents of the "Chinese threat", has become a completely exotic phenomenon. The relatively low exchange rate of the yuan against the ruble in the "zero" years, respectively, the relative cheapness in the border cities made them quite wealthy people. A retired German policeman preferred to spend his old age in sunny Thailand, while his Russian counterpart preferred the more Russian-settled Northern China. And not only a policeman. Pension and renting an apartment 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 border town of Heikhe. At the same time, the quality of food, medical care and much more for him increased many times. It is no coincidence that in these years they went to China not only to buy things, but also to just insert teeth, to treat chandrosis. A whole infrastructure is emerging on Russian territory, promoting the services of Chinese doctors, massage therapists, restaurateurs, and leisure centers “across 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 owners of "Chinese greenhouses". The hysteria that is now emerging in the region about the fact that "the Chinese have bought up all the land", that they are being allocated land plots to the detriment of local residents, draws close attention to them. In reality, many of these farmers do not really bother with legality as long as the opportunity remains (and it remains). A short-term lease is taken from a former collective farm shareholder or from the lucky owner of a "Far Eastern hectare". A greenhouse is organized from easily collapsible structures, seed is discharged from China. And now - the nearest town is supplied with vegetables, which can be traded in markets and shops by quite legal Russian self-employed or small entrepreneurs. In the presence of the slightest danger from the inspectors, the greenhouses disappear as if by magic. At the same time, we note that the initiators and interested participants here 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 Chinese tenants, say, in the Jewish Autonomous Region or in the Amur Region did not appear at all yesterday, then Chinese tourists, more precisely, their mass character, have become a real innovation in the region. According to official figures, the region is visited today by up to 180 Chinese tourists a year. At the same time, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East expects their growth to 000 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 Borderlands are going 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.
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