The Myth of Chinese Mass Migration into Russia
I stumbled upon a rather entertaining Reuters article a few days ago, reporting Russia’s latest move to supposedly defend against a so-called “soft invasion” from China – in which massive yellow hordes from China’s over-populated Northeast will systematically migrate into and outnumber the dwindling Russian population in the Russian Far East (RFE), and eventually assume de facto control. This article includes some very comical anecdotes, including the not-so-subtle hint that Russia recently deployed two additional submarines to counter Chinese influence in the Russian Far East, while making no mention whatsoever of recent Russo-Japanese maritime territorial disputes over resource-rich islands in the Sea of Japan. If I were a five year old, I might be led to believe that submarines are far more useful in guarding sparsely-populated land against illegal migrants, than showing resolve in a maritime dispute… which would inevitably make me wonder why the US Navy does not deploy SSNs in the Rio Grande against illegal Mexican migrants.
But joking and non-sense aside, having actually written a senior thesis on the topic of the “yellow peril” myth in Russia, I wanted to throw out a few facts to illustrate the “dire magnitude” of this supposed “threat” from the “yellow hordes”:
- There are a total of fewer than 500,000 Chinese residing in all of Russia at any given point, the majority of which resides in western Russia. In fact, more Chinese reside in Moscow than in the entirety of the RFE region.
- The ethnic Chinese population makes up less than 3% of the RFE’s total population.
- Out of that aforementioned ~3%, nearly 89% are seasonal migrants with no intent of permanent settlement – business people, workers, students – those who stay less than 1-year; over 8% stayed in the region for longer than 2 years; and the remainder (less than 2% out of that aforementioned 3%) expressed a desire for permanent residence (defined as 10 years or longer).
For those who care to verify these stats, check out “Alexseev, M. (2006) Immigration Phobia and the Security Dilemma, New York:
Cambridge University Press.”
I think the article “Chinese migration: still the major focus of Russian Far East/Chinese North East relations?” by Sullivan and Renz in The Pacific Review (Volume 23, Issue 2, 2010) aptly summed up emerging attitudes of local residents in the RFE:
“… after a decade of apocalyptic warnings about waves of Chinese immigrants penetrating the RFE, local residents have become increasingly aware that the inﬂated ﬁgures of Chinese migrants residing in the region legally or illegally do not correspond to actual developments.”
That said, I don’t expect the China-bashers in the western media to stop propagating the myth of Chinese hordes invading Russia any time soon. Its not like facts actually matter to them. On the other hand, while the China-bashers are obviously inflating this “threat” at every given opportunity, one must recognize that the west did not create this myth; its origins go back to the late 19th century and was renewed by xenophobic self-serving local politicians within the RFE. In the face of challenges largely beyond its control, China still has much work to do to foster understanding and trust in Sino-Russian relations not only on a state-to-state level, but also on a societal level.