Interethnic Communication on the Russian-Chinese Border: Its Past and Present Kapitolina Fedorova

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This article deals with the situation in the Russian-Chinese border area, with a special focus on the process of interethnic communication, both now and in the past. Two sets of data are used for analysis: written sources on the Rus-sian-Chinese
  REGION: Regional Studies of Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia  7(1): 83–103, January 2018. Interethnic Communication on the Russian-Chinese Border: Its Past and Present Kapitolina Fedorova This article deals with the situation in the Russian-Chinese border area, with a special focus on the process of interethnic communication, both now and in the past. Two sets of data are used for analysis: wrien sources on the Rus-sian-Chinese pidgin, which was in use in the region in the 18th and 19th centuries and until the end of the 1930s, and the author’s eld work materials  gathered in 2008–10 in the Zabaikalskii territory of Russia and in the Chinese  province of Inner Mongolia. The article reveals a similarity in the communi-cative strategies used by Russian and Chinese speakers in everyday commu-nication at present with those reected in the sources on the Russian-Chinese  pidgin, a fact which implies the stability of linguistic (as well as ethnic) ste- reotypes. Introduction The study of interethnic communicative practices holds the potential to yield a great deal of information about the interacting entities as well as about the ways in which each perceives the other. Any communication is done simulta- neously in actual speech acts (when people belonging to dierent ethnic and linguistic groups have to interact to meet some practical need) and on a sym -  bolic level, with each of the partners in communication being inuenced by their own perceptions and stereotypes of the Other. The Russian-Chinese border area presents an interesting case for investi-gation since interethnic communication here had existed for many centuries when it was abruptly interrupted in the 1930s: the border between China and the USSR was closed, many Chinese were deported from the border regions, and any such trade contacts as had previously existed became impossible. Not until the perestroika period 50 years later did contacts on the border resume. This interruption in communication meant that the so-called Russian-Chinese  84 Kapitolina Fedorova Pidgin 1  that had been used since the 18th century for interethnic communi- cation by Russian and Chinese speakers (as well as absrcinal ethnic groups) went out of use and was forgoen. Having resumed contacts in the 1980s, Rus -sian and Chinese speakers had to invent new ways to communicate with one another. This unique situation provides us with an opportunity to witness the process in real time and compare modern data with those from the past.Traditionally, study of pidgins concentrates mainly on linguistic systems and the srcin of certain lexical and grammar elements whereas the social con-texts of language usage often remain beyond the bounds of analysis. Certainly, this situation is understandable given the fact that there is typically very lile information on the social context of the contacts that gave birth to the new languages. 2  Furthermore, the data available for use in such studies are usually insucient. Early recordings of dialogues in pidgin are accidental and not al - ways reliable: some curious traveler or a man of leers writes down “funny words” used in interethnic communication to amuse his readers, perhaps ex- aggerating some pidgin features and omiing the ones that do not suit this purpose. Native speakers of the dominant language tend to treat the pidgin as a “broken language,” an imperfect, comic, or even “disgusting” imitation of their speech by non-natives. 3  At the same time, linguistic analysis with a focus on the social interpretation of linguistic facts can provide useful information about language practices of the past and supplement historical studies. And, as in the case of Russian-Chinese border contacts, the unique opportunity to compare historical and eld data can yield insights into the subtle mechanisms underlying the linguistic behavior of the two individuals in contact as well as the ideas and stereotypes that inuence their treatment of one another. Moreover, such linguistic data can lead us far beyond purely linguistic questions to elucidate important aspects of mutual relations between contact-ing ethnic groups, Russians and Chinese in this case. Prejudices and stereo- types play a signicant role in the interaction between two peoples, often cre -ating tension and, as we will see, communicational asymmetry when speakers are not on equal terms and have to adjust in dierent ways. Interethnic com - 1  In the study of language contacts the term  pidgin  is applied to languages that arise when contacting ethnic groups lack a common language and have to invent some special code for mutual communication. These languages are usually not native for any community, and their use is restricted to particular spheres, e.g., trade or natural exchange, or interaction between slaves and their masters on plantations. See P. Mülhäuser, Pidgin and Creole Linguistics  (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986); S. Ro -maine, Pidgin and Creole Languages  (London: Longman, 1989). 2  Dieter Stern’s work on Russian-based pidgins is among the rare exceptions: D. Stern, “Social Functions of Speaking Pidgin: The Case of Russian Lexier Pid -gins,” in  Marginal Linguistic Identities: Studies in Slavic Contact and Borderland Vari- eties  , ed. Stern and Ch. Voss  ( Wiesbaden: Harrassowi, 2006), 161−76. 3  See, e.g., J. Holm, Pidgins and Creoles  , 2: Reference Survey  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 1; L. Todd, Pidgins and Creoles  (London: Routledge, 2004), 1.  85Interethnic Communication on the Russian-Chinese Border munication, in this sense, does not simply fulll practical needs; it maintains the existing social order and consolidates images and perceptions people from dierent ethnic groups already have of each other. In this article I will deal with both actual and symbolic communication  between Russian and Chinese speakers in border areas from the beginning of ocial Russian-Chinese trade in the 18th century—which led to the creation of a pidgin language—to the present. On the basis of historical, anthropolog - ical, and linguistic sources as well as my own eld data, I will describe both communication paerns and Russians’ perceptions of the Chinese. Wrien sources include research, travelers’ writings, memoirs, and literary texts. My eld data consist of audio recordings of spontaneous speech, prearranged and spontaneous interviews, eld notes, photographs of elements of the linguis -tic landscape, and information from web sites referring to border cities and cross-border practices. All these data were gathered in 2008–10 in border areas: the Zabaikalskii territory in Russia (Chita, Aginskoe, Zabaikal´sk, Mogoitui, Makaveevka, etc.) and the province of Inner Mongolia in China (Manzhouli, Hailar). The Sociolinguistic Situation in the Russian-Chinese Border Area: The Past Despite the fact that informal contacts between citizens of Russia and China had most probably existed long before, the ocial beginning of cross-border trade dates to the signing of the Treaty of Kiakhta in 1727. According to the terms of the treaty, all trade between the two countries had to be carried out in Kiakhta, the small city founded for this purpose. 4  This centralization of con-tacts resulted in a constantly growing number of Chinese merchants residing in Kiakhta and trying to speak Russian. There is even evidence, albeit rather dubious, 5  that Chinese authorities required these merchants to take an exam- ination in the Russian language. Chinese speakers’ “imperfect” Russian (an “interlanguage” in the terms of second language acquisition theory 6 ) and over - simplied and ungrammatical forms of foreigner talk 7  used by Russian na- tive speakers eventually gave birth to a new pidgin, rst called “Kiakhta lan - 4  For more information on Russian-Chinese trade, see C. M. Foust,  Muscovite and  Mandarin: Russia’s Trade with China and Its Seing, 1727–1805  (Chapel Hill: Univer - sity of North Carolina Press, 1969). 5  See D. Stern, “Myths and Facts about the Kyakhta Trade Pidgin,”  Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 20, no. 1 (2005): 175–87. 6  See, e.g., L. Selinker, “Interlanguage,” International Review of Applied Linguistics  10 (1972): 209–31. 7  I.e., special language variant used when conversing with foreigners who do not possess full linguistic competence. See, e.g., Ch. A. Ferguson, “‘Foreigner Talk’ as the Name of a Simplied Register,” International Journal of the Sociology of Language   28 (1981): 9–18.  86 Kapitolina Fedorova guage,” or “Russian-Chinese language.” Kiakhta language was documented  by several travelers and amateur linguists amused by this “broken” and ex-tremely “funny” language. 8 Strict regulations on trade continued for 133 years until the ratication in 1860 of the Treaty of Peking, which nally abolished restrictions on trade be -tween Russia and China. One consequence was the beginning of mass Chinese migration to the Russian Empire. The exact number of Chinese living in or reg-ularly traveling to Russia at the beginning of the 20th century is unknown, and scholars oer diering estimates, from 100,000 to 200,000 or even 250,000 peo -ple. 9  According to some data, 10  the Chinese (including Manchus) constituted around 10 percent of the total population of the Russian Far East and were the second (after the Russian majority) ethnic group in the region. Evidently the Chinese played an important role in the region’s economy and gradually be-came virtually indispensable in the everyday life of the local population. Thus, in 1900, when Chinese migrants were deported from Blagoveshchensk after the Russian-Chinese military conict, townsfolk were confronted by the lack of the most basic products and services, which had previously been provided  by the Chinese: “[W]ithout the Chinese Blagoveshchensk people are groaning and moaning: it is impossible to get fresh greens for any money in the city […] eggs which were sold by the Chinese for 10−15 kopecks now cost from 30 to 50 kopecks, and last winter their price was as high as a ruble for ten eggs. Any labor became extremely expensive: Blagoveshchensk people used to hire Chinese servants, yard keepers, unskilled workers; the Chinese people were cheap and orderly carpenters, bricklayers, house painters, stove makers, and with their departure one has to pay through the nose for any odd job. On the whole ‘it is impossible to live without Chinese’ in Blagoveshchensk, evidently every town dweller thinks so.” 11  Chinese migrants therefore were engaged in several economic niches: trade and small-scale business, domestic services, manual labor, and agriculture. It should be noted however, that their positions in urban and in rural areas were rather dierent. In the villages Chinese farms were often the richest and the most economically ecient, and their owners were held in respect by locals, especially from non-Russian ethnic groups. There is evidence that to speak 8  S. I. Cherepanov, ‘Kiakhtinskoe kitaiskoe narechie russkogo iazyka,” Izvestiia Im- peratorskoi Akademii Nauk po otdeleniiu russkogo iazyka i slovesnosti  2 (1853): 370–77; S. V. Maksimov, Na vostoke  (St. Petersburg, 1864). 9  E. I. Nesterova, “Atlantida gorodskogo masshtaba: Kitaiskie kvartaly v dal´ne- vostochnykh gorodakh (konets XIX–nachalo XX veka),” Etnogracheskoe obozrenie   4 (2008): 44−58. 10  S. E. Anikhovskii, D. P. Bolotin, A. P. Zabiiako, and T. A. Pan, “Man´chzhurskii klin”: Istoriia, narody, religiia  (Blagoveshchensk: Amurskii gosudarstvennyi univer - sitet, 2005), 170. 11  A. A. Kaufman, Po novym mestam: Ocherki i putevye zametki. 1901−1903  (St. Peters -  burg: Izdanie tovarishchestva “Obshchestvennaia pol´za,” 1905), 22.  87Interethnic Communication on the Russian-Chinese Border Chinese was considered prestigious in rural areas, and in some absrcinal lan- guages traces of Chinese inuence can be found, such as tone dierences in some Udege dialects. 12  But in towns the social prestige of Chinese migrants and their language was rather low. Chinese quarters (usually called “Kitaiskie slobodki” by the locals) began to appear in Siberian and Far Eastern cities in the second half of the 19th cen- tury. This process was spontaneous: rst Chinese “slobodki” formed around markets where Chinese merchants were selling their goods. In Vladivostok, e.g., the rst “manzovskij bazar” (Manchu market) appeared in the 1860s, and was almost immediately surrounded by Chinese dwelling houses, the so- called “fanzas.” These selements created serious problems for the authori -ties since Russian citizens made constant complaints against Chinese quarters’ unsanitary conditions and the possible threat of epidemic diseases. The city administration tried to transfer the Chinese from the city center to outlying areas but failed to do so. 13  Chinese quarters existed in villages as well; these sometimes resembled independent mini-towns with high fences and gates that were locked at night. 14  Life in these selements was governed by Chinese professional organizations and informal personal ties; Russian authorities had lile inuence, although they made eorts to gather information on these or -ganizations. 15  De facto Chinese quarters were separate units, “states within a state,” where Chinese cultural traditions and norms were maintained. 16  At the same time many Chinese seled outside Chinese quarters, and their pres -ence in the region was evident both to locals and to travelers from European Russia: “Chinese, Koreans, Japanese are scurrying all over city [Vladivostok] streets. Chinese are especially numerous, Russians are almost invisible, and there are few of them here anyway in comparison with the sons of the Celestial Empire.” 17 This visible presence of the Chinese (often felt as dominance) inuenced natives’ aitude toward migrants from China. For Russian speakers, the Chi -nese were aliens; their behavior, habits, personal traits, and language were con-sidered strange and sometimes even threatening. Chinese quarters were seen as criminal, dirty spaces, marginal despite their closeness to the city center, 12  E. V. Perekhvalskaia, “Dialektnye razlichiia kak rezul´tat iazykovogo sdviga (bikinskii dialekt udegeiskogo iazyka),” in Iazykovye izmeneniia v usloviiakh iazyko- vogo sdviga  , ed. N. B. Vakhtin (St. Petersburg: Nestor, 2007), 252–81. 13  N. P. Matveev, Kratkii istoricheskii ocherk g. Vladivostoka  (Vladivostok: Ussuri,   1990), 104. 14  P. Znamenskaia, “Kitaiskii gorod sredi russkogo sela,” Dal´nii Vostok  53 (1895): 2. 15  Thus, a special study of Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese in the Far East was orga-nized as part of the Amur expedition; some of its conclusions were published in V. V. Grave, Kitaitsy, koreitsy i iapontsy v Priamur´e  (St. Petersburg, 1912). 16  Nesterova, “Atlantida gorodskogo masshtaba,” 53−55. 17  From D. I. Shreider, Nash Dal´nii Vostok  (St. Petersburg, 1897), quoted in Nesterova, “Atlantida gorodskogo masshtaba,” 55.
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