Siberia — Russia’s Wild East. Some Notes about Frontierism, 1890—1915


The Russian conquest of Siberia was not only a remarkable event in world history like the conquista of the New World by the West European nations, but also a decisive step in Russia’s empire-building. Through territorial aggrandizement the empire became at least multiethnic. This process resembled the expansion of white settlers in North America. Like North America, Siberia represented an ’open frontier’. Harsh nature and the encounter between the white settlers and the ’savages’ formed the identity of the frontier. From the perspective of modern cultural anthropology the frontier also shaped the reflections on the self and the other[1]. There existed, however, a decisive difference to the American frontier: Siberia became a meeting field for Russian and Asian cultures. Whereas the American frontier — except of the encounter with Mexico — remained isolated, Russians early came in contact with Asian nations. From the early emergence of a modern state in Russia during the era of Enlightenment Russia came into manifold contacts with ’civilized“Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) and with ’uncivilized’ Asians, i.e. the tribes of Siberia. At the seam, Russia as an Eurasian empire was the lone country in Europe which was so near to Asia. It was therefore logical that Russia felt a kind of mission toward Asia and required the role of a mediator between Europe and Asia. At first let me make a methodological approach to my topic before I will survey the facts.

To telegraph my punchline, frontiers are created by internal and external forces. It is an intensive interaction of states, regions, local groups and individuals. There are systematic processes that operate in all frontiers. Long ago Frederick Jackson Turner argued that interactions are a major source of social change. These often occur on frontiers where peoples, products, ideas, religious or other concepts are creating new arrangements. Therefore, the frontier is fluid. The larger the number of different things encountering each other along a frontier, the larger the number of new interactions. Donna Guy and Thomas Sheridan see frontiers as areas of ’contested ground’ where peoples come into conflicts over resources, territory, and political control[2]. Both authors has testified this for the Spanish empire in America. But the same we can say about the Russian empire in Northeast Asia. Richard Slatta suggests thinking about frontiers as membranes between different cultures or groups of peoples. This is apt as membranes are differentially permeable to things passing through them. Like a membrane, a frontier can function as a conduit for contact or as a barrier[3]. Frontiers are zones where group identities are formed, transformed, and maybe destroyed. In short, they are zones of creation and destruction. Frontiers offers a window on social change processes. Often in core areas (like European Russia) these issues are relatively settled and stable. Core vs. periphery structures are a major locus of social change. Peripheralization is connected with underdevelopment. In the 1890s Russia’s industrialization incorporated core-periphery interactions into the framework of the world-systems of capitalism and imperialism. Often of equal importance are the geopolitical roles a frontier plays in the larger regions to which it belongs. For instance, between 1890s and 1920s Siberia became a ’contest’ ground for Russian and Japanese imperialism symbolized by the ’White Threat’ and the ’Yellow Peril’. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also saw the race for ressources in Siberia and nearby Manchuria. The region began to boom. Siberia became an external frontier as the edge of an expanding state and empire (Russia) which met another expanding state empire (Japan). From the October Revolution onward until the mid 1920s this rivalry was fueled with two different world-systems, that of Communism and World Revolution on the Asiatic mainland, and that of “Asia for the Asians” under Japan’s superiority. In this time falls the establishment of the buffer-state of the Far Eastern Republic which stretched from Lake Bajkal to the Pacific. At the same time, the Siberian frontier saw fragmentation near destruction. Red partizans and white atamans have become chiefdoms with a formidable challenge to central authority. Frontier zones are, if nothing else, extremely volatile, and change can often be extremely rapid.

Since the 1890s’ gradual industrialization and the increasing expansion of world economy, Siberia, wedged between Mongolia, China, Japan and North America, became a multifarious meeting ground for European/American and Asian peoples and cultures. Entrepreneurs from all over the world, Chinese, Japanese and Korean workers contributed to the cosmopolitan flair of this frontier land. Siberian intelligentsia articulated regional aspirations and emphasized their mission in Asia. Finally, in the years 1905, 1917, 1918—1920 Siberia and the East Asian neighborhood were shaken by war, revolution and intervention. One of the most decisive steps to create a ’modern Siberia” by connecting the region with the Asian-Pacific Rim was the construction of the Transsiberian railroad (1894—1903) and the peasant settlement. Between 1891 and 1914 nearly five million peasants moved into Siberia which was sparsely populated before the 1890s. Domestic and foreign circumstances compelled the Tsarist government to colonize the “Wild East”. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the territorial consolidation in the frontiers of the United States and Canada, the imperial awakening of Japan and the aggressive European expansion into China. In the era of high capitalism and imperialism, Russia did not want to fell behind the Western powers. On the domestic scene, a flourishing Siberian regionalist movement was feared to be stirring up separatist sentiment. By means of railroad construction, peasant migration, and russification, the government in St. Petersburg wanted to incorporate the Siberian dominion into an unitary Russian Empire for accomplishing Russia’s destiny in Asia. Siberia should become the outpost of Russian civilization at the Asian borders. Strategic, economic and cultural motives went hand-in-hand. The Russian Imperial Geographical Society saw in the construction of a railroad through Siberia a vehicle to bring “Christian (i.e. Orthodox) love and enlightenment into dark Asia.”[4] More than a decade ago, a representative of the Society boasted on the International Geographical Congress in Paris in 1875 that “Russia needs a great railroad to connect the productive areas of European Russia, the Urals and Siberia with the market of 350 million East Asians. Such a railroad would bring occidental civilisation to the East.”[5] The Transsiberian Railroad should compete with the Suez Canal which was the main trade route from Europe to East Asia[6].

Like the Union Pacific Railroad the Transsiberian counterpart was an ambitious project of national prestige. On the occasion of the world exhibition in Chicago, the journal of the Siberian regionalists, the “Vostochnoe Obozrenie”, wrote in 1892 that “America should be the model for Siberia’s industrialization”, that “all efforts should be undertaken for the success of the ’Siberian experiment’ in order to turn backward Siberia into a second America.”[7] In the 1890s Russian engineers traveled to the United States and Canada to learn the experiences of the transcontinental railroad construction.[8] That was nothing unusual. In Nineteenth Century-Europe engineers from Germany, Belgium and France went to North America in search for new technologies. Engineering was, at least, a gauge for the increasing globalization in the late Nineteenth Century.[9]

As in North America, Russian railroad planners enlisted between 1892 and 1903 150,000 Chinese migrants for the construction of the Transsiberian Railroad. The main body of these workers were unskilled, highly underpaid. They lived in overcrowded barracks without sanitation. Epidemics like cholera and typhoid thinned out the work force. Nearly 30% of the workers died. Another problem was that the Chinese did not understand Russian. Although interpreters were on the spot, communication hampered and slowed down the work at the railroad.[10]

The Transsiberian Railroad was built hastily, without any consideration of the climatic conditions in the area like permafrost. Accidents regularly occurred. A traveler told that “after a spring rain, the train run off the track like squirrels.”[11] Moreover, widespread banditism by escaped convicts hampered the traffic with the consequence that 1902 the Tsarist government provided cossacks’ patrols[12]. However, one should not forget that railroad construction in North America had also to struggle with harsh topographic or climatic conditions (permafrost in Canada, deserts in the USA) and with epidemics, accidents and banditism[13]. In the USA the construction of the Central Pacific had to cross the difficult terrain of the Sierra Nevada. In two years only fifty miles were completed. The embezzlement of state credits contributed to a further delay[14].

Even when there existed no alternative to the railroad, traveling with the Transsib was not a delight until 1900 as one report reveals:

The wagons were overcrowded with Russians, Siberians, muzhiks, Chinese, Tatars, Mongols, Englishmen, Germans, American. Old muzhiks, with half a dozen half-naked children, filthy with a grime, and alive with unmentionable parasites, crowded ever car. (…) Odors indescribably offensive made the air thick and almost murky.“[15]

Traveling for weeks in a wagon of the Transsib became a mulitethnic experience. Social and ethnic differences were blurring.

At the beginning there were no diners; at the major stations the local population sold food to the passengers. This was, indeed, a lucrative business as prices increased around 40—50% between 1896 and 1905. The freight traffic was also overloaded. Freights were often discarded; meat and food were rotting at the stations. Waybills were seldom issued and then with much delay. The wages of railroadmen were low, just amounted to 28 rubles or 14 dollars per month — not an incentive for working. The Tsarist government, however, recognized this anomaly and was concerned for the international repute of its transcontinental railroad. In February 1899 the tsar promptly established a relief fund of nearly 80 million rubles that extremely burdened the state budget. The railroad personnel was increased, wooden bridges were replaced by steel construction. The speed of the trains should go up to 22 kilometers per hour. The Belgian Compagnie Internationale de Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Europeens was commissioned with the management. Very soon luxury wagons with fine restaurants operated on the route from the Urals to the Pacific. A traveler from Ohio reported with delight:

”You can get soup, as fine as a beefsteak as you ever ate, a splendid roast chicken, whole, done in Russian style, most toothsome and juicy; potatoes and other vegetables, a bottle of beer, splendid and brewed in this country.“[16]

The Transsiberian railroad made the transportation of goods and passengers between European Russia and the Pacific cheaper[17]. In 1905 — just after the Russo-Japanese War — the capacity amounted to the eightfold of the year 1897. Alone in 1902 the transit of commodities on the section Cheliabinsk — Irkutsk totalled over one million tons, five times more than the commercial experts had estimated. Siberia imported industrial plants, agricultural machines, textiles and tabacco from the USA, Japan and China. The railroad brought the region an impressive boom. Foreign enterprises like Singer (USA), Kunst & Albers (Germany) and Mitsubishi (Japan) invested in Siberia[18]. Whereas between 1896 and the First World War the pace of industrialization in European Russia amounted to nearly 3%, Siberia achieved a 9 to 11% rate of economic growth[19]. The region exported coal, ores, timber, but also agricultural products like the famous Siberian butter produced by Danish manufacturers. Alone the export of butter increased from 10 million pounds in 1899 to 162 million pounds in 1913[20]. The low duties resulted in an impressive export boom of fish and timber to Japan and China. On the Shanghai market timber from the Russian Far East was 40—50% cheaper than from the United States. Due to its abundance in fish, alone in 1900 the coastal province of Primor’e made profits of 1,5 million rubles through exports to Japan[21].

On the occasion of the world exhibition in Paris in 1900, Imperial Russia presented in her pavilion the feats of the Siberian development — a portrait of the railroad and the booming frontier towns. With her presentation the Russian empire participated in the booming world economy[22]. Thousands of foreign visitors stormed the panoramia to watch Siberian frontier life. The panoramia became the place of a virtual space feeling[23]. How flowering the euphoria was, shows the project of the American engineer Harry de Windt to build a railroad from Paris through Siberia with a tunnel through the Bering Street and, at least, a conjunction through the Great Plains to New York. Conquering the space by the railroad became, therefore, an Utopia[24]. A railroad spanning the whole world became a surrealistic projection. Technology was associated with myth[25].

Migration was another social force which shaped the development of America’s Wild West and Russia’s Wild East in the late Nineteenth Century. The period between 1891 and 1914 saw one of the greatest spatial movement in modern history[26]. In contrast to America’s West where migration occurred independently, the migrational wave in Siberia was state-organized. The peasant liberation of 1861 set the legal framework for the migration[27]. Whereas the Imperial government settled Siberia in the preceding decades with convicts, this time the migrational wave was voluntary[28]. One of the most energetic organizer of the Siberian migration was Stolypin. As in other European nations like Germany the Tsarist government understood the context of peasant settlement, extensive agriculture and economic development. Industrialization needed a functioning agriculture. But there was still another factor. After the peasant liberation the hunger of millions of European peasants for free land had to be satisfied. Poverty was the main reason for migration which insofar had an equilibrating function[29].

In contrast to Siberia, the migrational wave to America’s West was characterized by hetereogenity. The colonists came from all over the world and brought with themselves their different habits. In Siberia among the 5 million migrants only 7,000 people stemmed from European countries. More decisive was the migration of nearly 250,000 East Asians. In the case of Siberia one can say that the settlement was predominately homogeneous. This was, indeed, the intention of the Tsarist government which wanted to russify the eastern periphery through peasant settlement. The central authorities feared an uncontrolled influx of East Asians from overpopulated China and Japan into empty Siberia. White peasants should form a bulwark against the ’Yellow Hordes’[30]. Most peasants stemmed from the granary of Ukraine, Belorus and Central Russia. As the harsh environment of Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East was not attractive, the peasants settled in Western Siberia. Insofar, the Tsarist plan of a ’peasant bulwark’ against the Yellows proved to be a complete failure. But peasant migration was an impression of modernity. At least, the Transsiberian Railroad drew the regions of the Russian empire nearer. The new transportation faciliated mobility of the lower stratum. The peasants themselves brought technical innovations to the region, for e.g. irrigation systems in the steppe frontier of the gouvernement Omsk[31].

Migration to Siberia was organized by the zemstva in European Russia[32]. The communities of the settlers destined for Russia’s Wild East often stemmed from the same village, undertook the long and arduous travel to Siberia as a whole group and also settled together on the ’virgin land’ in Siberia. This unity took away the fear of unsteadiness of the new environment. Emotional and social bonds proved to be decisive for the integration of the new settlers into the frontier society. Predominately, novozhily settled there where relatives and friends already lived[33]. The most decisive motives for migration were poverty in European Russia, in the case of the sectarians religious intolerance, and the prospect of a ’better future’ in the new land. This corresponds to the fundamental concept of migration developed by the sociologist Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt in 1954 who saw in the inadequate economic satisfaction by the state the main reason for migrants’ frustations and their wish to leave their ’old home’[34]. In order to give migrants enough incentive to go to the ’Wild East’, the Tsarist government exempted the settlers from taxation for twenty years[35]. Anatolii Kulomzin whom Steven Marks compared with Cecil Rhodes[36] boasted the peasant migration to Siberia as an outstanding deed of the ’Russian race’. Furthermore, he foresaw Russia’s rising at the Far Eastern horizon. In the prospect of an increasing economic meaning of the East Asian — Pacific Rim the colonization of Siberia would be an event of world history, and — moreover — the needed requirement for the survival of Russian civilization in the world[37]. In this context, Kulomzin, the architect of peasant settlement in Siberia, prophesied that through interethnic marriages between Russian colonists and Siberian Asians in only few generations a race with ’blond hair and blue eyes’ would be created[38]. Kulomzin’s words reveals that the ’race’ term entered the thinking of the Russian administration who wanted to demonstrate the superiority of ’Russian civilization’ toward the ’savages’ at the frontier, at least through peasant settlement.

Peasant settlement was not an easy undertaking. Under Kulomzin’s supervision the agrarian legislation of the US Homestead Act (1862) had been intensively studied[39]. The first Siberian agronomists traveled — like the engineers of the Transsiberian Railroad — to the USA and Canada. Nikolai Kriukov, for e.g., published in 1896 a most respected book on his agricultural studies in Canada[40]. Again and again, in the Russian and Siberian discourse the colonization of the ’Wild East’ was compared with that of the ’Wild West’[41]. Behind this discourse stood the imagination of a ’Second America’. However, there existed a difference. Russian administrators in St. Petersburg felt bound to hinder that Siberia became another ’Wild West’. In order to prevent a land speculation which was characteristic for the ’Wild West’, the Tsarist governement fixed the land allotments at 15 desiatin per family[42].

However, Siberia unfolded its own dynamism. Like in America, the principle ’who arrives first, who receives first’ became effective. How attractive the ’virgin lands’ of Siberia for colonists from European Russia were, shows the fact that the illegal migrants in the West Siberian gouvernements of Tobol’sk and Tomsk amounted to 70—80%[43]. Migration became out of state control. Faced to the ?run’ on Siberia, central and regional authorities were completely overstretched. Many illegal migrants came too late to receive an even modest piece of land. They fell into poverty, had to work as seasonal workers or as day laborers in Siberian cities. Here, they contributed to the rising of a proletariat[44]. Other loosers of the peasant settlement tried to cultivate harsher soil in the north and east — with ecological consequences. Cultivation went hand in hand with the deforesting of the taiga[45]. Alone in Siberia east of Lake Baikal the forest stand of 25,710,000 trees was decimated to 5,960,000[46]. The Tsarist government recognized that the erosion would result in the spreading of the steppe, and therefore issued a law in 1908 which designated the taiga as crown land[47].

Land cultivation was a lengthy process which could last ten or twelve years. Many novozily gave up and returned to European Russia or indulged in banditism in the taiga[48]. They made raids on the allotments of the starozily and cossacks[49]. In 1910 36% of the migrants returned to European Russia[50] This process which sociologists call counterstream we also find at other frontiers[51]. In the American West, every fifth left his ’new land’[52]. 43% of the Europeans who migrated between 1857 and 1914 to Argentina also returned home[53]. For the most returnees the situation at their European home was deplorable. They had sold their whole property in order to finance their travel to Siberia. As in other parts of the world, migration signified financial and emotional loadings and, at least, a personal risk. Especially illegal migrants were among the returnees. Some of them had experienced homesickness. Many had no imagination of what they had to expect in faraway Siberia[54]. However, migration changed Siberia’s demographic profile. Migrants from European Russia boosted the Slavic portion of the population from 66% in 1897 to 80% in 1917. The indigenous peoples became a minority[55]. Migration was a phenomenom not limited to Siberia, it also touched nearby East Asian countries from where many Asian migrants to Siberia stemmed.

Like Kulomzin and Stolypin, Sergei Vitte, the most energetic promoter of Siberia’s modernization and integration into world economy, saw in the region a melting pot and a breeding ground for social experimentation. It was the insight that the region had been neglected for centuries, destined for poverty, whereas South Russia and the western borderlands such as the Baltic provinces had been the steady focus of the Tsarist government[56]. The ’Yellow Peril’ was a formidable element in central policy. In the late nineteenth century the belief was fostered that Asiatic hordes might sweep into Siberia and then into European Russia. Moscow, the ’Third Rome’ had to stand firm against the barbarians. A severe population imbalance fueled contemporaries’ fear of the East. According to the official census of 1897, the number of Russians living near the Chinese and Korean borders totaled 213,287. In Priamur and Primor’e Chinese and Koreans made up 32 per cent of the total population. Just across the borders, nearly 500 million Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and Mongols were residing[57].

A countermeasure against the ’Yellow Peril’ was taken through the settlement of cossacks in Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, especially in Transbaikalia near the Mongolian border and along the Amur and Ussuri rivers near the Chinese border. With tax exemptions, generous land allotments, and a separate administration the kazachestvo had a distinct socioeconomic identity. But this kind of colonizing venture proved illusory. Instead of cultivating their land and defending the border against Asian migrants, the cossacks spent their time in selling their wives and daughters for vodka and Chinese imported opium[58].

East Asian migrants, indeed, contributed to the cosmopolitan flair of Russia’s ’Wild East’. Their influx made the region similar to the Pacific West of Canada and the USA. Chinese, Korean and Japanese communities existed since the mid-19th century. Due to their high mobility, Russian census-takers could only estimate their numbers. It has been estimated that 200,000 Chinese moved from Manchuria and Northern China to Siberia east of Lake Baikal[59]. Without knowledge of Russian authorities who did not know what happened along the vast Siberian frontier, East Asian migrants crossed freely the border. Border crossing happened illegally and in the taiga migrants bypassed successfully cossaks’ patrols. As in the case of the Chinese, Korean migrants (approximately 60,000) overwhelmingly stemmed from the northern parts of their home country, that means from the area of Chongjin (today North Korea), but also from P’yongyang. Instead, Japanese migrants came predominately from the overpopulated South, for e.g. from Nagasaki. They, however, did not exceed 4,000 persons until 1900. In the Japanese case, the migratory influx could — despite the geographical proximity of Siberia — never compete with the USA (here: California), although the Japanese migration bureau in Tokyo likewise propagated emigration to Siberia as to the USA and Argentina. The reasons why the Japanese were reluctant to emigrate to Siberia are not known. Obviously, the USA as ’a land of unlimited chances’ seemed more attractive than ’cold, uncivilized’ Siberia[60].

East Asian communities formed a self-governing ’own world’ with a mentality and social identity, not intelligible to Russian neighborhood, colonists and authorities alike. Especially, the numerically dominating Chinese revealed a distinctive social behavior. Councils, the so called ’hui fang’, led by elders were responsible for jurisprudence and local defense. They organized trade with Russians and natives[61]. Chinese exchanged alcohol and opium for furs, ginseng, and deer antlers. Ginseng was prized in nearby China for its medicinal effectiveness, antlers were popular as aphrodisiacs. Chinese also settled as peasants, cultivating grain, vegetables, fruits and even opium. Opium cultivation was generously tolerated by Russian police in exchange for bribery. The productive fields of the Chinese, however, contrasted with run-down allotments of cossacks[62]. Chinese merchants from Shanghai and even faraway Guangzhou (Canton) were attracted by Russia’ “Wild East”; there were hardly a city along the Transsiberian Railroad, from Omsk to Vladivostok, who had not a Chinese quarter which Chinese flats and stores[63]. Chinese also worked as coolies, gold diggers and dockers for Russian and foreign entrepreneurs; they also built the Transsiberian Railroad. From 1900 to 1915 the proportion of Chinese gold diggers rose from 15% to 76%[64]. Chinese diggers were often engaged in smuggling gold to their homeland. Thereby, between 1890 and 1916 the ’loss’ of gold increased from 20% to 60% of the annual mines’ outcome[65].

In contrast to Chinese and Japanese settlers, Koreans assimilated quickly. They learnt Russian, converted to Russian Orthodoxy and adopted Russian citizenship, they married Russians and sent their children to Russian schools. Assimilation improved social promotion. Emerging as physicians, teachers, and lawyers, Koreans developed a bourgeoisie. However, like Chinese and Japanese, they did not forget their roots. Migrants visited their ancestral homeland and sent money to relatives.[66] Japanese were engaged in trade and service. They opened hotels along the Transsiberian Railroad and initiated a mail service between Eastern Siberia, the Russian Far East and Japan. Japanese trusts like Mitsubishi and Mitsui or the Chosen-Bank operated by their branches[67]. There were also a special kind of East Asian entrepreneurship: Chinese and Japanese pimp gangs whose organizers came from Shanghai, Canton, Tokyo and Osaka, recruited their prostitutes among their compatriots in Siberia, Russians, and natives[68]. To sum up, East Asians with their cuisine, laundries, hairdresser’s salons, photograph shops, drugstores, Buddhist temples and even judo schools brought life into the Siberian frontier[69].

The most eminent threat was the awakening of Japanese imperialism. Since the construction of the Transsiberian Railway, Japanese military showed vivid interest in Siberia. The region had open frontiers, because of the Russian lack of sufficient border patrols. In 1892—1893 a certain Captain Fukushima Yasumasa led a first reconnaissance mission in Siberia, the Russian Far East, Turkestan, Mongolia and Manchuria. The Japanese army headquarters (sanbo) worked together with nationalist secret societies like the Kokuryukai (Amur River Society) and the Genyosha (Black Ocean Society). Japanese espionage became so eminent that it added fuel to the fire of anti-Japanese phobia among the Russian population in Siberia. In fact, the notion of the ’Yellow Peril’ was not only directed against the Japanese, but also against the Chinese and Korean migrants, moreover it was at that time a widespread stereotype among Russians and other ’White civilizations’ like West Europeans and Americans[70]. Especially since the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/1905 the ’Yellow Peril’ stood in the core of the Russian discourse in Siberian society. The overall slogan was “we held the line of Western civilization against the onsweeping yellow hordes since Jenghis Khan.”[71] The following quotation illustrates the special atmosphere, not free from racial prejudice:

“Vladivostok: above the official and European part of the town comes the Japanese quarter, living its own original life brought over from the Land of the Rising Sun. Further on, behind the mountain, was a human rubbish heap, hovels half hidden in the earth, broken fences, ruined roofs and whole streams of stinking mud flowing from the streets and corners. People swarmed like rats in these places. Garbed in white or pink cotton trousers and short coats, with hair strangely dressed in a little knot (…) and a language coming from the throat sounding like the barking of a dog.”[72]

Jokes about the Yellows were common:

“If a pair of [Ussuri, E.S.] tigers are hunting for food [in the taiga, E.S.] and come across a white man, a Chinese and a dog together, they will first attack the dog, then the Chinese, and only afterwards the white man. The tigers do not like European flesh [here: Russian]. Obviously, it is not tasted as it is soaked in alcohol [here: vodka]. It has happened that a tiger, after wounding a Russian, has gone away and left him, but it will pick the bones of a Chinese as we do those of a chicken.”[73]

Moreover, cossacks organized hunting of the Yellows [here: mostly Koreans]: “It is a very simple thing. We arrange ‘zasidki’ on the roads and just wait. (…) When the Cossacks hear the noise of steps (…), they creep up on the White Swan [here: slang for Koreans]. (…) If he weeps and curses, the Cossack kills him anyway, for what is life to a feelingless Swan? (…) Are these really men? They are reptiles, and they are numerous as ants!”[74] This was the Russian mood just before the Russo-Japanese War and especially during the conflict. The image of ’yellow reptiles and ants’ won popularity, when it became known that the Japanese secret service were even recruiting agents among the Chinese and Koreans migrants in Siberia. In the words of Governor-General Pavel F. Unterberger, “we Russians did not occupy Siberia so that it could be colonized by the yellows.” East Asia in general and the East Asians in Siberia in particular were demonized.[75]

* * *
To sum up, in late Imperial Russia the Siberian frontier had been increasingly integrated into the East Asian — Pacific Rim through railroad construction and peasant migration. It, therefore, resembled in many ways the ’American Wild West’. The ’Siberian experiment’ started with the building of the Transsiberian Railroad and it was interrupted by the October Revolution. So, the years of 1890 to 1917 were a too short period for the region to become a ’Second America’ of which Siberian oblastniki, but also central thinkers like Sergei Vitte were dreaming. Moreover, between 1890 and 1917 the Siberian frontier functioned like an active membrane. Despite xenophobia toward the ’Yellows’, the region profited from the cooperation with East Asia. As railroad workers, dockers, farm hands and retailers they were indispensible to the boom of the region. Moreover, these East Asian migrants — like many other pioneers from other nations as German, English, American, Danish entrepreneurs — contributed to the cosmopolitan flair of the region.


  1. The term ’frontier’ was at first projected on North America by the scholar Frederick Jackson Turner: FREDERICK JACKSON TURNER The Frontier in American History, New York 1931. Long before Turner, in mid-19th century the Siberian regionalist A. P. Shchapov, professor at the then lone university in Asiatic Russia, namely that of Kazan’, moulded in his lectures the ’Russian frontier thesis’ on Siberia comparing it with North America.
  2. DONNA J. GUY, THOMAS E. SHERIDAN (ED.) Contested Ground: Comparative Frontiers on the Northern and Southern Edges of the Spanish Empire, Tucson 1998.
  3. RICHARD SLATTA Historical Frontier Imagery in the Americas, in: PAULA COVINGTON (ED.) Papers of the Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Seminar on the Acquisiton of Latin American Library Materials, Latin American Frontiers, Borders, and Hinterlands: Research Needs and Resources, Alburquque 1990.
  4. K.N. POS’ET Prekashchenie ssylki v Sibiri, in: Russkaia starina, no. 99, july 1899, pp. 168ff.
  5. E.V. BOGDANOVICH Expose de la question relative au chemin de fer de la Siberie et de L’Asie centrale, Paris 1875, pp. 1, 3, 9ff.
  6. Sibir’ i Velikaia Sibirskaia Zheleznaia doroga. Ed. by Ministerstvo Finansov. Departament Torgovli i Manufaktur, St. Petersburg 1896, p.233.
  7. Vostochnoe obozrenie (Irkutsk), November 15, 1892, no.46.
  8. N.S. KRUGLIKOV, A. I. IMSHENIK-KONDRATOVICH O Kanadskoi Tichookeanskoi zheleznoi doroge, in: Zheleznodorozhnoe delo (St. Petersburg), no.3/3, 7/8 (1891), pp. 25—44, 77—111.
  9. Vgl. MAX EYTH Wanderbuch eines Ingenieurs. 6 Bande, Heidelberg 1871—1884.
  10. G.M. FADEEV, E. JA. KRASKOVSKII (Ed.) Istoriia zheleznodorozhnogo transporta Rossii, tom 1: 1836—1917, Sankt Petersburg 1994, S.153.
  11. RGIA, f.273, op. 12, d.308; HARMON TUPPER To the Great Ocean. Siberia and the Trans-Siberian Railway, London 1965, p.248.
  12. Vestnik Ministerstva putei soobshcheniia, no.40, October 4, 1902, S.492.
  13. ROBERT WILLIAM FOGEL The Union Pacific Railroad: A Case of Premature Enterprise, Baltimore 1960.
  14. WALTER LICHT Working for the Railroad, Princeton 1983.
  15. TUPPER p. 254.
  16. Ibidem p.261.
  17. L.M. GORJUSHKIN Inostrannyi kapital v Sibiri: Istoriia i sovremenost’, in: L. M. GORJUSHKIN (ED.) Zarubezhnye ekonomicheskie i kulturnye sviazi Sibiri (XVIII-XXvv.), Novosibirsk 1995, p.51; TUPPER p.79; Trudy Komissi po voprosu o zheleznoi doroge cherez vsiu Sibir’, 1889—1890, St. Petersburg 1890, p.7.
  18. GORJUSHKIN pp.47—70.
  19. Staticheskie rezul’taty raskladochnogo sbora za 1896, 1897, 1898 gody, St. Petersburg 1900, p.132.
  20. HENRY REICHMAN The 1905 Revolution on the Siberian Railroad, in: The Russian Review, vol. 47, 1988, p.30.
  21. GARF, f. 1001, op. 1, delo 186, ll. 1—10; ebenda, delo 171.
  22. Vsemirnaia vystavka v Parizhe. Komitet Sibirskoi Zheleznoi Dorogi, Kolonizatsiia Sibiri v sviazi s obshchim pereselencheskim voprosom, St. Petersburg 1900.
  23. Ibidem, S.275. See also R. HYDE Panoramia! The Art and Entertainment of the “All Embracing” View, London 1988.
  24. HARRY DE WINDT From Paris to New York by Land, London 1907. Concerning the technological euphoria for transcontinental railroads see CHARLES MILLER The Lunatic Express: An Entertainment in Imperialism, New York 1971.
  25. BRIGRITTE FELDERER (ED.) Wunschmaschine — Welterfindung. Eine Geschichte der Technikvisionen seit dem 19. Jahrhundert, Berlin — Heidelberg- New York 1996.
  26. PETRUS HAN Soziologie der Migration. Erklarungsmodelle — Fakten — Politische Konsequenzen — Perspektiven, Stuttgart 2000, p.7.
  27. RGIA, f.1642, op.1, d.208, l. 11, d. 191, l.7.
  28. It is characteristic for Imperial and Soviet periods alike, that migration policy toward Siberia was janus-faced, partly it was based on force, partly on voluntariness. For e.g., in the Stalinist period the eastern frontier was settled with forced Gulag convicts, whereas Magnitogorsk and Komsomolsk-na-Amure were built by voluntary pioneers, esp. juvenile workers.
  29. HAN p. 173.
  30. ARVED SCHULTZ Sibirien. Eine Landeskunde, Breslau 1923, p. 164.
  31. SCHULTZ p.176.
  32. DONALD W. TREADGOLD The Great Siberian Migration. Government and Peasant in Resettlement from Emancipation to the First World War, Princeton 1957, p. 77.
  33. Prilozheniia k Vsepoddanneishemu Otchetu Stats-Sekretaria Kulomzina po poezdke v Sibir’ dlia oznakomleniia s polozheniem pereselencheskago dela, St. Petersburg 1896, p.2.
  34. SHMUEL NOAH EISENSTADT The Absorption of Immigrants, London 1954, S.6, 9.
  35. RGIA, f. 1642, op.1, d.205, l.25; d. 211, ll. 59f.; f.394, op. 1, d.7; d. 13; d.48.
  36. STEVEN G. MARKS Conquering the Great East. Kulomzin, Peasant Resettlement, and the Creation of Modern Siberia, in: STEPHEN KOTKIN, DAVID WOLFF Rediscovering Russia in Asia. Siberia and the Russian Far East, Armonk — New York 1994, p.17.
  37. A.N. KOULOMZINE Le Transsiberien, Paris 1904, S. 43f.
  38. RGIA, f. 1642, op. 1, d. 204, ll. 28, 61—62.
  39. S.K. KANN Opyt zheleznodorozhnogo stroitel’stva v Amerike i proektirovanie Transsiba, in: L. M. GORJUSHKIN Zarubezhnye ekonomicheskie i kul’turnye sviazi Sibiri (XVIII — XX vv.). Sbornik nauchnykh trudov, Novosibirsk 1995, p. 128.
  40. N.A. KRIUKOV Kanada. Sel’skoe khozaistvo v Kanade v sviazi s drugim otrasliami promyshlennosti, St. Petersburg 1896.
  41. P.P. SEMENOV Znachenie Rossii v kolonizatsionnom dvizhenii evropeiskich narodov, in: Izvestiia Imperatorskogo Russkogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva, no. 28, 1892, pp.349—369; see also RGIA, f. 398, op. 75, d. 60, l. 2.; ibidem op. 64, d. 20 141, l.1.
  42. A.A. KAUFMAN Obzor sposobov polevodstva i sevooborotov v Zapadnoi Sibiri, b.g. b.m, p.140.
  43. D. GOLOVACHEV Pereselentsy v 1892 godu, in: Vestnik Evropy, august 1893, pp.803—805.
  44. Ibidem; Poezdka v Sibir’ i Povol’zhe. Zapiska P. A. Stolypina i A.V. Krivoshejna, St. Petersburg 1911, p.28.
  45. Vestnik finansov, promyshlennosti i torgovli, no. 8, 23. Februar 1903, p.312.
  46. OTTO GOEBEL Volkswirtschaft des Ostbaikalischen Sibiriens ums Jahr 1909, St. Petersburg 1910, p. 7. Petersburg.
  47. RGIA, f. 391, op. 10, d. 33, S.254ff.
  48. Ibidem, d. 1367. l. 27 ob. 28
  49. GAChO (Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Chitinskoi Oblasti), f. 13, op. 2, d. 76, l.67.
  50. M.A. CZAPLICKA My Siberian Year, London 1916, p.254.
  51. CHARLES F. LONGINO JR. Internal Migration, in: EDGAR F. BORGATTA, MARIE L. BORGATTA (EDS) Encyclopedia of Sociology, New York 1992, p.975.
  52. ANNETTE TREIBEL Migration in modernen Gesellschaften. Soziale Folgen von Einwanderung, Gastarbeit und Flucht, Munchen 1999 p.30.
  53. WALTER NUGENT Crossings. The Great Transatlantic Migrations, 1870—1914, Bloomington 1992, p.35.
  54. Komitet Sibirskoj Zheleznoi Dorogi, Kolonizatsiia Sibiri v sviazi s obshchim pereslencheskim voprosom, St. Petersburg 1900, p. 365.
  55. Glavnoe upravlenie zemleustroistva i zemledeliia (Ed.) Aziatskaia Rossiia, St. Petersburg 1914, vol. 1, p.70.
  56. RGIA, f. 1642, op.1, d.197, l.31.
  57. RGIA, f. 1642, op. 1, d. 205, l. 25; fl. 394, op. 1, d. 7; d. 13, d. 48.
  58. EVA-MARIA STOLBERG Prostitution, Disease, Opium dens and the Yellow Peril along the Transsiberian Railway in Tsarist Era, unpublished paper presented at the Department of Social and Economic History, Keio-University, Tokyo, May 1998, p.2.
  59. F.V. SOLOV’EV Kitaiskoe otkhodnichestvo na Dal’nem Vostoke Rossii v epokhu kapitalizma (1861—1917gg.), Moskva 1989, pp.34—43.
  60. I thank my colleagues YANO HISASHI (Department of Economic and Social History, Keio University/Tokyo) and MICHAEL UNDERDOWN (University of New South Wales/Sydney) for this information.
  61. P. KROPOTKIN Memoirs of a Revolutionist, New York 1968, p. 186. ’Hui fangs’ existed in the Amur region since the early appearance of Russians in mid-17 centuries. They were well-known for terrorizing Amur natives. ’Hui fangs’ demanded high tributes and kidnapped Tungus as slaves for the Chinese market. See my forthcoming essay “Interracial Outposts in Siberia: Nerchinsk, Kiakhta and the Russo-Chinese Trade in the 17th/18th centuries” in Journal of Early Modern History.
  62. G.T. MUROV Liudi i nravy Dal’nego Vostoka, Tomsk 1901, p. 88.
  63. CAO TINGJIE Xiboli dongpian jiyao [Record of eastern Siberia], in: Liaohai congshu [Distant seas’ series], vol. 26, 1971, pp.1—48
  64. V.P. SHMOTIN Mining Industry in the Priamur Region, in: Russkii Dal’nii Vostok, no.2 (1920), p.17.
  65. N.I. RIABOV, M. G. SHTEIN Ocherki istorii russkogo Dal’nego Vostoka (XVII — XX vv.), Khabarovsk 1958, p. 130.
  66. MUROV, p.35.
  67. KATO KYUZO Shiberia ki [Siberian Record], Tokyo 1980, pp. 122—126.
  68. EVA-MARIA STOLBERG Prostitution, Disease, Opium dens and the Yellow Peril along the Transsiberian Railway in Tsarist Era, p.2.
  69. KATO, pp.87—93.
  70. A good insight into the genesis of the stereotype of the “Yellow Peril” gives: HEINZ GOLLWITZER Die Gelbe Gefahr: Geschichte eines Schlagwortes, Gottingen 1962. In the 1890s American cities along the Pacific Coast also experienced an Asiaphobia.
  71. FERDINAND OSSENDOWSKI Man and Mystery in Asia, London 1924, p.ix.
  72. Ibidem, p.81.
  73. Ibidem, p.150.
  74. Ibidem, p.93.
  75. PAVEL F. UNTERBERGER Priamurskii krai, 1906—1910gg., St. Petersburg 1912, p.519; EVA-MARIA STOLBERG The Prelude: From the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/1905 and the First Russian Revolution to World War I, in: Revolution and Civil War in Siberia/Russian Far East and the Impact on East Asia, 1917—1922, unpublished paper for the British Study Group on Russian Revolution, Leeds, January 1998, p.1.

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