The Chinese in What is now Russia’s Far East in the 1920s

By: gregmccann

Oct 23 2015

Category: Uncategorized


Seals on ice floats in Alaska…not too far from Russia…!

Below is a section from V.K. Arseniev‘s classic book, Dersu the Trapper, which was also made into a feature film by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. I have never seen the film (though I want to) but I cannot imagine it touches on the details that this glorious book provides. If you’ve ever wondered what the Russian Far East was like 100 years ago, especially from a naturalists’ point of view, this book is for you. But the thing that kept cropping up that caused me the most stress and grief in this book was the repeated references to Chinese destruction of the natural environment. Fortunately, in the late 1930s, the Russians evicted all Chinese from the Far East. Evicted them wholesale, more or less at gunpoint, 19,000 in total. Astoundingly, 170,000 Koreans were also evicted…! *Thanks to John Slaght for the clarification on that -see comments below.  The publication of this book (many years after it was written) almost certainly had nothing to do with the eviction of the Chinese, though the author lamented their horrid influence on wildlife in this region. Even worse (though not excerpted in this blog post), was the literal slavery that Chinese put the indigenous Udege people into. Arseniev refers to this constantly as well. Overall, the Chinese were well on their way to killing all wildlife in the Far East, just as they have done (and had more or less already done in their own country at that time) in China. Have a look at this short excerpt:

The trail brought us to a game-barrier fifteen miles long, with seventy-four pitfalls. Never had I seen such slaughter as here. Alongside a cabin stood a shed on piles crammed full of wapiti tendons tied in bundles. Judging by the weight of one bundle, there must have been something like 1500 lb. of tendons. The Chinamen told us that they dispatch the tendons to Vladivostok twice a year, whence they are sent on to Chifu. On the walls of the hut there hung hundreds of hides of sea-lions, all taken from young animals.

There was no doubt that the Chinese knew all about the rookery of the sea-lions near the mouth of the Mutuhe, and did as much slaughter there as on Seohobe. 

“All round soon all game end,” commented Dersu. “Me think ten years, no more wapiti, no more sable, no more squirrel, all gone.”

It was impossible to disagree with him. In their own country the Chinese have long since exterminated the game, almost every living thing. All that is left with them are cows, dogs, and rats. Even in their seas they have exterminated the trepangs, the crabs, the various shell fish, and all the seaweed. The Pri-Amur country, so rich in forest and wild life, awaits the same fate, if energetic measures be not taken as soon as possible to prevent the wholesale slaughter by the Chinese.

Near the sea, about half a mile from the lake, there is another of these ludevas,  or game-fences, only a couple of miles long, with seven pitfalls. 

—If you’d like to read the entire book, which I wholeheartedly recommend, you can find it here on Abebooks and elsewhere as well. I am also eagerly anticipating the publication next year of John Slaght’s book by Arsenyav, Across the Ussuri Kray. Slaght’s book will shed more light for English language readers on this magical part of the world. I also highly recommend’s John’s Far East blog:


7 comments on “The Chinese in What is now Russia’s Far East in the 1920s”

  1. Hi Greg–nice post and thanks for sharing this awesome corner of the world! One point of clarification, yes there were 19,000 Chinese removed from the region in the late 1930s, but the number of Koreans was far higher: 170,000! And remember that I have my own translation of the Dersu story (unedited and unabridged, called “Across the Ussuri Kray”) coming out in autumn 2016 from Indiana University Press, filled with dozens of photographs from Arsenyev’s expeditions as well as my annotations to give readers better perspective of that time and place.

    • John, thanks for the correction and I will edit my blog post. And I simply cannot wait till your book is published next year. I wouldn’t even know about Arsenyev’s books if it wasn’t for your blog, and I think Dersu is the only book translated into English at this point -is that correct? No doubt your book “Across the Ussuri Kray” will be an outstanding contribution to English-language books on wildlife and nature in Russia’s Far East. Thanks again!


  2. That’s correct–no other Arsenyev has been translated into English, but my hope is to correct that. After “Across the Ussuri Kray” I’m hoping to have the time to translate a least two more of his books, all about his explorations of that region.

    • I will pre-order them all on Amazon, John…! I’m curious, does Arsenyav write a lot about the Chinese in “Across the Ussuri Kray”?

      • Hi Greg–yes. It’s all a bit convoluted but “Across the Ussuri Kray” covers the first two expeditions detailed in “Dersu the Trapper” (1902, 1906). Whereas that content in “Dersu” amounts to 22 chapters, in “Ussuri Kray” there are 40 chapters. So, more descriptions of Chinese and Korean hunters/trappers, Udege, and Russian Old Believers.

  3. John, that’s another thing I didn’t quite get -who are the Old Russian Believers?

    • Old Believers are an offshoot of Eastern Orthodox Christianity (or rather, modern Eastern Orthodox Christianity is an offshoot from them–hence “Old” Believers). They fled persecution for their beliefs and continued moving east (some went as far as Alaska, where there are still Old Believer communities). They live simply and keep to themselves; thus fitting in quite well in the wilds of what is now the southern Russian Far East. Hunters, fishermen, farmers, beekeepers. Their story in the region did not end particularly well either, although after the fall of communism there have been some revivals and some Old Believers have moved back to the area.

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