Thursday, June 22, 2006

What Happened to the Ethnic Chinese in the Soviet Far East?

Jon Chang left an interesting comment on my post "Big Idea: Step One Completed." It deals with the ethnic Chinese in the Soviet Far East. Unlike the ethnic Koreans the Soviet archives do not reveal much about their fate. This is especially true regarding population statistics. The 1926 Soviet census lists 50,183 Chinese in the Far East Krai. By the 1939 census this number had dropped by 90%. Of course the 1939 census did not count all Chinese in the Soviet Far East Krai. It only counted those with Soviet citizenship. It also does not count the 3,161 ethnic Chinese in Corrective Labor Camps on 1 January 1939. Nevertheless, the Chinese population dropped dramatically in the Soviet Far East during the 1930s.

The fate of Russian-Koreans in the Soviet Far East is well documented in the Soviet archives. There is a wealth of statistical data regarding the numbers deported and their geographical distribution over time. This is not the case with the ethnic Chinese. The only figures that exist for the number of Chinese in the Soviet Far East subject to "administrative exile" in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and arrest come from a single non-archival source. The head of the NKVD in the Soviet Far East, Genrikh Liushkov defected to the Japanese Empire on 13 June 1938. He had overseen the "Great Purges" in the region. He had also supervised the mass deportation of Russian-Koreans and ethnic Chinese to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. While living under Japanese rule Liushkov told the magazine Gekkan Roshia that during the deportation of the Russian-Koreans that the NKVD had also arrested 11,000 ethnic Chinese and exiled another 8,000 to the interior of the USSR. These are the only figures for the arrest and deportation of ethnic Chinese in the Soviet Far East that I have seen cited. The Japanese executed Liushkov before surrendering so he was unable to provide further insight into these numbers after the end of the war.

From other information it appears that the NKVD executed most of the arrested Chinese during 1937 and 1938. By the start of 1939, only a little over 3,000 remained alive in Corrective Labor Camps. The 8,000 Chinese exiles have not yet shown up in any Soviet archives to my knowledge. It is possible the Soviet government reclassified them as part of the much larger Korean population exiled to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Yet, the largest gap is between the number of Chinese in the Soviet Far East in 1926, over 50,000 and the number in 1939, only about 5,000. The 19,000 arrested and exiled Chinese noted by Liushkov fails to account for over 30,000 people. Research on this subject by people like Mark Sylte and Jonathan Bone point to a massive expulsion of ethnic Chinese across the Soviet borders into Manchuria during the months between December 1937 and May 1938. Thus the bulk of the decline in the Chinese population in the Soviet Far East during the 1930s can be attributed to their violent removal by the NKVD during 1937 and 1938.

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