During the 1920s and 1930s in the Russian Far East, ethnic Chinese underwent forced migration and political repression by the Soviet Communist Party. These Chinese included both the citizens of the Republic of China and the Soviet citizens who were identified as ethnic Chinese (Китаец).
By the 1940s, Chinese had become almost extinct in the Russian Far East, although there were more than 200 thousands Chinese before the October Revolution in 1921. The detailed history of how the Chinese became distinct still needs to be uncovered and deciphered from the Soviet records. As local East Asians were forced to leave, Europeans were also forced to migrate to the Far East from Europe and Siberia, and eventually became dominant in the local population.
Among the East Asian victims of the repression, there were at least 27,558 ethnic Chinese who were directly involved in the migration and repression. Most of them were citizens of the Republic of China.[note 1],:238 while as of 1937, there were only 26,607 ethnic Chinese Soviet citizens in the Russian Far East. Among all Chinese victims, 3,794 of them were released by the Soviet Government, 3,922 were executed, 17,175 were forced to migrate or banished, and the rest were jailed in various places including Gulags.
On 30 October 2012, two monuments in memory of the victims of ethnic cleansing in the Far East were set up in Moscow and Blagoveshchensk. On 30 April, Last address decided to set up an inscribed board in memorial of Van Si Syan, a Chinese victim of the Great Purge in the Moscow Office of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Repression against Chinese during the Russian Civil War
In the Russian Far East, the repression against ethnic Chinese began early before the Great Purge. As the October Revolution evoked the Russian Civil War, ethnic Chinese were discriminated against and repressed by multiple parties in the war. According to Chinese diplomatic documents, ethnic Chinese (including civilians) who were captured by the White Army were executed and their bodies displayed in public as an act of intimidation. Chinese males were often rounded up and summarily executed by being shot or bayoneted. The Red Army was arguably even worse. Undisciplined Red Army soldiers looted and burned ethnic Chinese villages and towns, raping women, killing at random, imprisoning and torturing military aged males and interning women/children. Many junior officers of the Red army regarded anyone who could not speak Russian as potential spies or foreign agents. Besides, the allied army randomly searched the belongings of the Chinese workers and if they thought anything was in suspicion, they would regard the workers as communists and kill them without interrogation.:112–113 An extreme example was the case of Chinese businessmen from Changyi, Shandong, who were robbed and humiliated in Russia. This crackdown forced many ethnic Chinese to flee or return to China.
A Chinese restaurant named Vánja (ВАНЯ
) in Vladivostok
Racial tension under the New Economic Policy
The Soviet Communist Party started to carry out what was called the New Economic Policy after the civil war, which soon attracted Chinese migrants back to the Russian Far East where working forces were lacking. Although the Soviet Government also migrated 66,202 from Europe to the region, the rising number of Chinese made a tremendous impact on the local economy. By the late 1920s, the Chinese had controlled more than half commerce places and share of trade in the Far East. 48.5% of grocery retails, 22.1% of food, beverage, tobacco were sold by Chinese, 10.2% of the restaurants run by Chinese.
Tension escalated as fake and low-quality goods sold by some Chinese businessmen stereotyped the Chinese as swindlers and thieves among the local Russians.:276 On 1 June 1930, a small-scale armed conflict broke out between the two races in Leninskiy, Vladivostok initiated with Russian workers' fight against their Chinese managers, which injured 27, 3 among them permanently disabled. The fight triggered further racial conflicts. Russians in the region viewed most Chinese new-comers as non-Russian-speakers, misers, renegers and cheaters, while the Chinese regarded the Russians as addicts to violence and brutality, frequent violent threateners, unreasonable people, and fools.:288–230
Soviet governmental actions against the Chinese
House of Lee Qi Zeen in former Millionka, Vladivostok.
An inner yard of Millionka in the 1920s
The closure of the Chinese community led to the repugnance of the Soviet Government and the local Russians. Millionka (百万庄/百万街 in Chinese, Миллионка in Russian) in District 18 of Vladivostok, which was densely populated by the Chinese, was free from governmental control except for taxation. The Chinese were spontaneously organized according to their origins in China, their gangs, and their religious groups, which were independent of Soviet society. Thus, the Soviet Government regarded the Chinese as a potential threat as the community could cover the Japanese espionages.
Since the late 1920s, the Soviet Union tautened the control along the Sino-Soviet border with following measures: 1) stricter security check for entry into the Union; 2) taxing the outbound packages, whose worth should be less than 300 rubles, at a rate of 34%. When the Chinese were leaving the Soviet Union, they would need to pay an extra 14-ruble outbound fee and to be checked nakedly. Remittance of the Chinese was restricted. Extra taxation, including that of business license, business, income, profits, private debts, docks, poverty, school, etc., was assigned to the Chinese and their properties. The Chinese were forced to join the local workers' union, as a premise of their jobs.:28
Deportation during 1929-30
The Sino-Soviet border after the conflict
Early conception of the deportation
In 1926, People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs resolved to use any means to stop Chinese and Koreans migrating into Soviet territory, as they were regarded to cause danger to the Soviet Union. Koreans began to be relocated from the Far East, while measures were taken to "squeeze out" the Chinese from the border area.:116–117
In 1928, Arsenyev Mikhail Mikhailovich (Арсеньев Михаил Михайлович), Staff Colonel of Red Army Headquarter, submitted a report to Far Eastern Commission, advising that free migration from China and Korea in the areas bordering the countries should be stopped and that the area should be filled with migrants from Siberia and Europe instead.
Soviet revenge of the Chinese occupation of KER
The Sino-Soviet conflict over the Chinese Eastern Railway (KER) worsened the bilateral relation. On 19 July 1929, the Soviet Union discontinued its diplomatic relation with the Republic of China, will all diplomats recalled or expelled to their home countries. The Soviet Union suspended railway communication and demanded that all Chinese diplomats leave Soviet territory.:30 The Soviet Government forced the Chinese to move to Northeast China. Thousands of Chinese in Irkutsk, Chita and Ulan-Ude were arrested due to reasons including breach of local orders and tax evasion. When they were to leave Russia, any Chinese to cross the border with more than 30 rubles in cash will need to pay the surplus to the authority. 1,000 rubles in cash to cross the border would make them arrested, with all the money confiscated.:30
The Chinese were massively detained according to the Shanghai-based newspaper Shen Bao. on 24 July 1929, the newspaper said, "around a thousand Chinese who lived in Vladivostok were detained by the Soviet authority. They were all said to be bourgeoisie." On 12 August, the newspaper stated that there were still 1,600-1,700 Chinese in jail in Vladivostok, and that each of them was provided with a piece of rye bread daily and underwent various tortures. On 26 August, the newspaper continued that the detained Chinese in Khabarovsk only had a bread soup for meal daily, among which a lot of people had hanged them due to unbearable starvation. On 14 September, the newspaper stated that another thousand of Chinese in Vladivostok were arrested, with almost no Chinese remaining in the city. On 15 September, the newspaper continued that Vladivostok had arrested more than 1,000 Chinese during 8 and 9 September and that there were estimated to be more than 7,000 Chinese in jail in the city. On 21 September, the newspaper said, "the Government in the Russian Far East cheated the arrested Chinese, and forced them to construct the railway between Heihe and Khabarovsk. The forced workers only had two pieces of rye bread to eat daily. If they worked with any delay, they would be whipped, making them at the edge of living and dead.":31
Release of the arrested Chinese nationals
Although after signing the Khabarovsk Protocol, the Soviet Government released most arrested Chinese, considering that the Chinese had been severely tortured by the Soviet Government, that the confiscated possessions of the Chinese were not returned, difficult situations among the workers and businessmen, the high prices of goods, and the unaffordable living costs, the released Chinese all returned to China afterwards.:31The Soviet Government also began to stop Chinese crossing the border after Japan established the client state of Manchukuo in Northeast China.
Deportation during 1936-38
Repressions against "national lines" in the USSR (1937-1938)
Plan to suppress Chinese "traitors and spies"
(Люшков, Генрих Самойлович), leader of the repression movement in Far East
On 21 August 1937, the deportation of Koreans, the largest ethnic group of all Asians in the Russian Far East, began being carried out. On 23 October, the Chinese were listed as a target of the purge after the Polish, the German and the Koreans, as announced by Order 693 of People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs.Nikolai Yezhov permitted secret arrests of "all suspicious of spies and saboteurs". On 10 November, the Republic of China Consulate in Chita reported to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the Soviet was migrating 30,000 Europeans to Siberia and the Far East monthly to strengthen defence and economic construction in the region, and that to save space for the European migrants and to avoid Chinese or Korean collusion with Japan and Manchukuo, the policy to remove Koreans and Chinese was enforced.
On 22 December, Nikolai Yezhov ordered Genrikh Lyushkov, Chair of People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) in the Far East, to arrest all Chinese with provocation and terrorist aims with no regard to their nationality. On the following day (23rd), Yezhov published the Plan to Suppress Chinese Traitors and Spies, and order to remove any hiding places for the Chinese and other people, to search the places with care, and to arrest both tenants and landlords. Any anti-Soviet Chinese, Chinese spies, Chinese smugglers and Chinese criminals of Soviet nationality should be tried by a three-people group led by Lyushkov, anti-Soviet Chinese and Chinese spies to be suppressed. Any foreigners involved in these kinds of events should be expelled after tried. Any wanted suspicious was prohibited from living in the Far East, Chita, and Irkutsk.
Destruction of Millionka and purges against Chinese
Mikhail Iosifovich Dimentman led NKVD in Primorsky Krai to take actions to purge the Polish, the German, the Koreans and the Chinese in Vladivostok at the night of 24 December 1937. The Catholic Polish celebrating the Christmas Eve were almost all captured at that night and later sent to Central Siberia.:171 Seven neighborhoods residing the Korean were purged for three days and two nights afterwards, with all defenders killed.:173
Millionka, where there lived populous Chinese, was once destroyed in 1936 and rebuilt by Chinese migrants. On that night, shootouts broke out in the neighborhood, killing 7 Soviets and 434 Chinese.:174 The Soviet Government spent 7 months to reconstruct the whole neighborhood after the conflict. Russian historian Oleg Khlevnyuk describes the night as "a racial massacre based on narrow Russian nationalism in the name of socialism".:175 Corpses of the Chinese victims in Millionka were re-discovered on 8 June 2010.
On 29 December, Primorsky Krai launched a purge against the Chinese, leading to 853 arrests according to the Krai Governmental records. The Republic of China consulates in Khabarovsk and Blagoveshchensk reported more than 200 and 100 Chinese arrested respectively. During 12–13 January 1938, another 20 and more Chinese were reportedly arrested in Blagoveshchensk.
Chinese reactions to escalating Soviet brutalities
On 10 January 1938, Yu Ming, Charge-D of the Chinese embassy in Moscow, Soviet Union lodge representations to the Soviet Union, urging the authority to release the Chinese. The Chinese request to meet the chief officer of the Department of the Far East of People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs on the following day (11 January 1938) was declined by the officer who claimed to be sick. On 13 January, some Chinese reported to Chinese consulates in Vladivostok and Khabarovsk that the detained Chinese were starving and even tortured to death, yet the NKDA reject any meeting or food donation by the Chinese consulates. On 28 January, the Chinese Consulate in Vladivostok reported to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "how could we believe that (the Soviet authority) said the Chinese all committed espionage!"
The Politburo published the Repressions against "national lines" in the USSR (1937-1938) (Репрессии по «национальным линиям» в СССР (1937—1938) in Russian), which extended the purges against nationalists including the Chinese and began to be carried out in February. The Soviet abuse of the Chinese hit the headline of the Central Daily News run by Chinese nationalists, China's then ruling party, on 6 February. On 14th, the Chinese Consulate in Vladivostok reported to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "the Soviet robbed everything, especially money and possessions; if they are hidden somewhere, the Chinese would be extorted by tortures, numerous people killed by such detention, which was miserable and harsh to an extreme." On 17th, the Chinese Consulate in Khabarovsk protested against the tortures during interrogation, calling for Soviet release of the Chinese. On 19th, the Central Daily News again protested against the Soviet abuse of the Chinese. On 21st, Hong Kong-based Kung Sheung Daily News re-posted a Japanese coverage of the Soviet brutality against the Chinese, to express its outrage against the deeds of the Soviet Union. On 22nd, the Chinese Consulate in Khabarovsk reported another hundred of innocent Chinese arrested during the previous night by NKVD and that it was heard previously arrested Chinese were forced to work in those remote, cold areas. On 2 March, the Chinese Consulate in Vladivostok reported, "the Soviet authority searched for the Chinese day and night, arresting the Chinese even when they were at work. The Soviet was so aggressive that there was no space for any concession. The deeds were as brutal as the exclusion of China in 1900, during which many were drowned in the Heilongjiang River. Recalling the miserable history makes people tremble with fear."
After times of massive arrests, there were only more than a thousand Chinese in Vladivostok. The Soviet authority stopped the search and arrest for a month. After the Chinese sheltered by the Chinese Consulate all left the consulate, the Soviet authority restarted to search and seize the Chinese. As the Soviet had established tremendous checkpoints around the Chinese Consulate, the Chinese were unable to return to the consulate for help, which made almost all the Chinese in Vladivostok arrested. The second and third massive search-and-seizure operation arrested 2,005 and 3,082 Chinese respectively. On 7 May, the Chinese Consulate in Vladivostok reported 7 to 8 thousand Chinese in total under detention. Local prisons were filled by the Chinese, which, added by tortures during interrogation, often caused deaths.
Sino-Soviet talk on releasing arrested Chinese
Since 18 April 1938, Wang Chonghui, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the China Nationalist Government, and Ivan Trofimovich, Soviet Ambassador to China, had a 4-day talk over the detention of the Chinese nationals in the Russian Far East. Seven conclusions were made as follows:
- the Soviet Union is willing to pay the expenditure of relocation of the Chinese nationals to the inner land of the Union and Xinjiang, but this should be done by the Soviet local governments stage by stage.
- the Soviet Union provides the Chinese nationals with a certain duration of time, which ranges from two weeks to one month, to conclude personal issues.
- the Soviet Union will only relocate the Chinese with the capability and willingness to work in the Soviet Union to her inland and she will provide convenience for the rest of the Chinese to return to China via Xinjiang.
- the Soviet Union will assist the Chinese to dispose of their real estates, either for sale or for trusteeship. If there is no available trustee, the Chinese consulates can serve as the trustee, only if not massive real estates are under the trusteeship of the consulates. City authorities will send special officials to make the assistance.
- the foreign affairs section of the city authorities should create a name list of Chinese for the relocation as is defined by Article 3; a copy of the list to state the time for relocation. The two documents should be submitted via diplomatic representations to the Chinese Consulate in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Blagoveshchensk for record purposes.
- the Soviet Union allows the Soviet wives of the Chinese to move to China.
- the Soviet Union agrees to release arrested Chinese in principal, unless the person commits high crimes.
On 10 June 1938, the Soviet Politburo passed the resolution on Relocation of the Chinese in the Far East, which stopped compelling Chinese in the Russian Far East. The Chinese were then allowed to move to Xinjiang. If the Chinese person was unwilling to move to Xinjiang, he/she would be relocated to a Soviet territory except for the frontier closed and forted area in the Far East. If the Chinese person was unwilling to move to Xinjiang but he has no property in the Far East, he/she should be relocated to Kazakhstan. If the Chinese person was accused of espionage and sabotage, he/she should not be released.
Destinations of the deported Chinese
Released within the Soviet Union
The Far East
During 13 June to 8 July 1938, NKVD released 2,853 Chinese after re-examine their profiles, as ordered by the Central Committees. Egerseld Station witnessed 5 trains carrying jailed Chinese that would be free soon. Among the trains, the last train travelled north and transported 941 Chinese to the remote area of Kur-Urmi, Khabarovsk, where the Chinese went free.
Central Asia and Europe
1939 USSR Census showed there were more than 5,567 Chinese living the Soviet Central Asia, especially Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, most of whom were assumed to move from the Far East and East Siberia, as the Chinese population had been scarce in Central Asia during 1926–1937. According to an order issued by Nikolai Yezhov on 3 June 1938, "Chinese wives of the Chinese with Soviet IDs should be relocated to Kazakhstan with their spouses." For September to December 1939, another 227 detained Chinese were released in Kazakhstan. 196 Chinese scholars, most of whom were engineers, were relocated to Europe. The arrival of 34 Chinese scholars at Erevan, Armenia on 16 January 1940, marked the end of the forced migration.
Returned to China via Xinjiang
Among the trains carrying Chinese to depart from Egerseld Station during 13 June to 8 July 1938, the first 4 train carried 1379, 1637, 1613, 1560 respectively and 7,130 in total to leave the Soviet Union. As the roads to Northeast China had been blocked by the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, these people traveled west along the Siberian Railway to Novosibirsk where they transfer for southward trains and returned to China via Xinjiang. Chinese consulates issued visas for their entry into Xinjiang which concerns 8,025 Chinese, among which 3,004 visa issued by the Consulate in Khabarovsk, 2,714 issued by the Consulate in Blagoveshchensk. During 11 to 14 July, another 3,341 Chinese civilians left the Soviet Union via Xinjiang. During 11 to 12 October, 1,882 criminals with mild crimes were released.
Jailed and killed in the Soviet Union
There were 1,500 Chinese arrested in Chita, among which 568 were killed by tortures in the prisons. Genrikh Lyushkov claimed that there were at least 11,000 Chinese arrested by the Soviet Union after he defected to Manchukuo under Japanese control on 14 June 1938, which is agreed by historians including Nikolai Bugay and Dmitry Borisovich Fartusov. As of 1 January 1939, 3,179 Chinese were detained in Gulag and 1,794 were the Republic of China nationals. Another 2,729 Chinese were kept in normal prisons before the German invasion of Soviet in 1941, after which they were transferred to Gulag. On 1 January 1942, the number of Chinese detained in Gulag peaked at 5,192, among which 2,632 were killed, 734 missing, 1,826 later released.
On 30 October 2012, two monuments in memory of the victims of ethnic cleansing in the Far East were set up in Moscow and Blagoveshchensk. On 30 April, Last address decided to set up an inscribed board in memorial of Van Si Syan, a Chinese victim of great purge in the Moscow Office of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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