18 October 2007

Laborer Outsider

“I hate the Chinese.” She leaned in. “Tell me, what people do you hate?”

I dodged, “I hate rude people.”

“But what people [narod] do you hate?”

“I can’t really think of any people as a whole that I hate.”

Then I tried to allow her some room to back-pedal, “Do you mean that you hate the policies of the Chinese government, not the people?”

“I have no problem with the government. It’s a good government. But there are so many Chinese! They are intent on Siberia, you know.”

I couldn’t help but poke back a little at this point, “Nu, what’s the problem? You have a demographic crisis, they have some people who want to work in Siberia—the solution seems obvious.”

“But they don’t assimilate. And they will destroy our culture.”

Apparently more than a few Russians share the “concerns” of the Muscovite I was talking with a few weeks ago, according to the recent news from Novyi Region-2 by way of the eXile. Chinese settlements on the outskirts of Ekaterinaburg are causing a stir and locals are demanding the ouster of Chinese merchants who have cleared some forest to park their trailers. We'll see what becomes of the situation, though the eXile is already cynically predicting violence. Actually, it's probably not all that cynical...

(By the way, if you read Russian, the Itogi article linked in the dialogue--on Chinese technical workers who are helping to build the oil pipeline in Siberia--is fascinating. It includes an interesting note on the continuity of Chinese labor in Russia from the early 20th-century workers on the railroad (sounds familiar, North Americans?) through the early Soviet period and into post-Soviet times.)

In other news, Moscow Mayor Luzhkov has pushed for controls on migrant labor in the city as it is depressing “Russian” wages, with Putin chiming in agreeably. Putin’s commitment to labor is so strong, he certainly doesn’t need the help of some outside American labor activist working with dockworkers in Kaliningrad to organize an independent union. To help Elizabeth Vladeck figure out that such efforts weren’t welcome, her visa wasn’t renewed.

And just so no ruffled Russian out there drops the big dvoinoi standart bomb on me… Twenty five years after the murder of Vincent Chin and twenty years after the murder of Navroze Mody, Indian workers in New Jersey are still getting beaten and harassed. Read all about it, over at Angry Asian Man.

It's all enough to make you think that an Asian American theory of racial violence might help one think about some of the current problems of Russia's ethnic violence. It's too bad there aren't more Asian Americanists wandering around the former Soviet Union to theorize such things. (Current count: two, to my knowledge. But if I don't know about someone, please get in touch.)

[Thanks to lizzie b for alerting me to the Kaliningrad story.]


tamasha said...

Interesting. I was listening just the other day to NPR and someone was talking about the strong Chinese presence in west Africa.

BusterPh.D.Candidate said...

Yeah, I was just talking to a local Africanist the other day who was bemoaning, in a sorta nationalist way, Putin's short-sighted foreign policy and how he is giving over all of Africa to China after almost a century of the Soviet Union trying to build relations. It was hard for me to feel particularly bad about this, though I myself bemoan the loss of internationalism in the former USSR. Anyways, there is a lot of interesting work being done on China and Africa and I look forward to someone writing a book, soon I hope, that really puts it all together.

In retrospect, it's pretty surprising that India or China hadn't built up stronger relations with African countries previously, but I assume it's one of those Cold War things.