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"Yellow threat": about what and where?
Leonid Blyakher about the main myth-horror stories of the Far East. Essay No. 1
Photo by asiaresorts.org
Professor, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Culturology of the Pacific State University, Doctor of Philosophy
The theme of the "yellow threat", "creeping expansion", "Chinese seizure" for almost thirty years has not come down from the pages of the Russian press. "Terrible stories" about the Chinese completely flooding Irkutsk, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Blagoveshchensk are retold and discussed. Official figures of the presence of Chinese citizens in Russia, which never exceeded 50000 people (and were often lower - within 35 thousand) are declared false. About the millions of Chinese people write central publications and even some marginal publications in regions directly bordering the PRC. And even the closest contacts at the highest level between our country and China prove to be incapable of at least somehow bringing down the heat of disputes about whether we have already been captured or are still being captured. True, the regularity is quite clearly traced: the further the author of the next article lives from the PRC, the more, in his opinion, the Chinese live in the RF, the more real, in his opinion, the threat of seizure. What is the reason for this stability of the notion of the "yellow threat"? Let's try to understand, turning to a not so old history.
The "yellow threat" has been talked about a long time ago, more than a century ago. However, then it was not about the Chinese, but about the Japanese threat. The active development of the Amur and Primorye regions, the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway, which was supposed to "pull" North China into the orbit of Russia, ran into resistance from the growing Japanese Empire. The confrontation with Japan that resulted in the Russo-Japanese War gave impetus to the emergence of the idea of a threat from the east, the "yellow danger". It resulted in numerous evictions of ethnic Japanese, who had been living for decades in the territory of the Amur and East Siberian governors general. Moreover, the “local bosses” did their best to make the expulsion as gentle as possible, and to avoid some particularly “useful” Japanese altogether. But in the high offices they were adamant: for all the vicissitudes of Soviet-Japanese relations, the idea of Japan as the main eastern competitor persisted until the end of the 50s. Since that time, the People's Republic of China ("Maoist China") has been promoted to the place of the "yellow threat".
The defensive kulak (Red Banner Far Eastern Military District), created since the 30s, is now completely focused on the new threat (perhaps only in Kamchatka and Sakhalin were other variants of the “potential enemy” "mentioned"). It is important to note that during the civil war and subsequent peasant uprisings, which lasted until the early 30s, the population of the former "Eastern outskirts" of the empire fell by almost half. The suddenly empty region was inhabited by completely different people. First of all, these were the military, whose number in other years reached 10% of the region's population. There were even more workers in the military-industrial complex. In general, most of the residents worked for the defense. Moreover, it was quite clearly explained that it was necessary to defend the borders of our Motherland from the Chinese. The Far East saw their high mission in being the "outpost of the country in the east". This gave strength to cope with the disorder, the extremely weak development of the social infrastructure, which was not compensated by either the "northern allowances" or "Moscow supply".
At the beginning of 90, the situation changed drastically. New thinking (there was such a meme in the years of Gorbachev's perestroika) sharply diminished the number of enemies. In the new conditions, to contain a giant regional military-industrial complex (most often, fantastically unprofitable), huge masses of troops became unprofitable. Factories reduced workers, military units were disbanded. Mass outflow of the population began. The remaining residents began to survive. People want to live, and medicine is almost powerless. One of the most important resources for survival was cross-border trade. The cities along the border (and this is the most populated area in the region) were filled with spontaneous markets, where Chinese merchants and their Russian counterparts traded Chinese goods. The most diverse: from food to clothing and household appliances. Yes, with quality there was not much. But the price was happy. In the Chinese side of the border were harvesters and forest, fish and hunting trophies.
Despite the fact that without this help most of the remaining population simply would not have survived, the appearance of the Chinese (the very ones from which we defend the Motherland) caused a massive hysterical reaction to life: they are already here! "Moscow" betrayed us, but the Chinese have already captured. Here they are, as if alive - walking the streets, talking in their own language, and even flirting with our girls. In short, everything was lost. About hundreds of thousands of Chinese in the Russian Far East, about their insidious plans to seize everything and everything, then only the lazy one wrote in the region.
But this did not last very long. By the mid-90s, bordering China began to actively explore the Far East. The Chinese are becoming a familiar, non-emotional element of the urban environment. The fear goes away. But the topic of the "Chinese threat" does not disappear. True, its function changes significantly. If in the early 90s this is the real fear of the majority of the region's inhabitants, a topic that is discussed in queues and in kitchens, then in the second half of the decade it moves into speeches by officials.
Of course, the leaders of the region of those years (like all residents) were painfully worried about the collapse of the idea of an “outpost”, the destruction of the values of their youth. But it's not only that. After the shooting of the Supreme Soviet in 1993, one of the important elements in building center-region relations was the production of “regional horror stories”. The one who was able to frighten the center the best, received the maximum freedom within the region, the maximum amount of preferences. Tatarstan, which has bargained for itself a huge amount of sovereignty, and some other national republics within the Russian Federation did it best of all. It turned out worst of all in the Russian regions of the European part of the country.
Far Eastern horror stories and were associated with the Chinese, who are about to capture us. The logic is simple: the region is poor, overrun with Chinese. Capital business groups and political unions simply have nothing to do here. And besides, the Chinese threat is constantly growing. It is significant that the governor of the Khabarovsk Territory, who is quite calm about the issues of faith, has been actively building Orthodox churches throughout his reign, "so that the Chinese can see it." Accordingly, in the eyes of the federal government, the local leader becomes the one who is able to stop (negotiate, detain) the Chinese, and in the eyes of local residents (mainly local business) he acts as a defender "from Moscow."
"The Chinese theme" was quite successful. Its effect was reinforced by the fact that industrial take-off in the region following the crisis of the 1998 year led to the appearance in the Far East of a significant number of temporary workers from China. The construction complex and communal services, farmers and owners of small enterprises willingly recruited hard-working and not particularly demanding Chinese "otkhodnikov". But since there are many Chinese, then there is a threat, especially since the image of the "outpost" continues to exist in the region implicitly. This is written not only by journalists, but also by researchers.
By the end of the 90s, the echo of Far Eastern horror stories reached the capitals, merging there with the general xenophobic rhetoric, reinforcing it. Only now, a smaller number of Far Easterners supported the idea of the "yellow threat", actively exploring not only the borderlands of Suifenhe and Heihe, but also Dalian, Harbin, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Holidays in China are gradually becoming the main type of budget vacation for the middle-income strata of the population. Far Easterners came to China not only to rest, but also to work, and they received their Chinese colleagues. Stable and successful "schemes" of Russian-Chinese business cooperation were formed. But something else came from the capitals: a terrible Chinese threat. Now local journalists, social activists, researchers had to explain that in reality everything is not the way it really is.
But that's the magic of myth, that it is completely indifferent to facts. Do you provide the data of the relevant services? Well, who believes the official data! Do you rely on your experience of living in the region? What are you saying? I was there and saw many Chinese ... Even the official friendship between our states had almost no effect on the popularity of the myth outside the region. Perhaps the only period when the myth really swayed was the 2008 crisis, when the Chinese began to leave the region in droves. Central Asian workers replaced Chinese migrant workers. The Chinese business started to leave. Of course, not all, of course, not completely. But the Chinese have become much smaller. They earned more and easier "at home".
The noise subsided, but not for long. In recent years, he again surfaced in connection with the theme of "Chinese farmers" and "Chinese tourists." We are discussing them in the next essay.