Why No China?

Yesterday I wrote to Alexander Anichkin, who comments as Sashura, as follows:

As I was lying in bed unable to sleep last night, it occurred to me to wonder why China plays so insignificant a part in Russian literature. The only work I can think of that focuses on it is Tretyakov’s 1926 play «Рычи, Китай!» [Roar, China!], which I presume hasn’t been much read in the last few decades. Contrast with Japan, which while hardly central has been featured by authors from Goncharov to Pilnyak and Akunin — and yet it’s a tiny country farther away, while China is huge and right next door (and was a close Soviet ally for a decade)! Russian readers have been made familiar with towns as minor as Como and Baden over the years, but not a world city like Peking/Beijing. Any thoughts?

He said “It is curious, isn’t it?” adding “part of the explanation is the historical mix of fear and loathing, going back centuries and very strong in my generation, we grew up with a constant expectation of a big war with China, which nearly happened during the Damansky Island incident in 1969, […] the language barrier and the fact that China remained a closed country for a long period.” He turned up a master’s thesis at Petersburg University by Ван Ци (Wang Qi), Образ Китая в русской литературе первой половины ХIХ века [‘The Image of China in Russian Literature of the First Half of the XIX Century’], which is very useful in this context, discussing stories by Vladimir Odoyevsky and Osip Senkovsky (Sękowski) as well as Rafail Zotov’s 1840 novel Цын-Киу-Тонг, или Три добрые дела духа тьмы [Tsyn-Kiu-Tong, or Three good deeds of the spirit of darkness] (which Zotov presented as a translation of a Chinese novel), but that’s slim pickings, especially since Russia’s founding Sinologist Father Iakinf (Nikita Bichurin, 1777–1853), had spent many years in China, learned the language fluently, and done his best to spread awareness of the country — he was a friend of Pushkin, Odoevsky, and Krylov, among others, so it’s not as though he was an isolated figure, but his efforts had little effect on literature. Sashura mentioned Mikhail Shishkin’s 2010 novel Письмовник [The letter-writing manual, translated as The Light and the Dark], which has China during the Boxer Rebellion as part of its subject matter, and I am aware of Master Chen (Dmitry Kosyrev), who sometimes sets his fiction in China, but still… slim pickings. Thoughts?


  1. There’s a poem “Letters of the time of Ming Dynasty” (“Письма династии Минь”) by Brodsky, but that one is reduced to looking for small and surreal pieces like that just shows the paucity of examples.

    Yes, definitely strange. Especially in the light of the richness of cultural parallisms that are all the more rewarding given the spectacular difference and the lack of mutual influence between the cultures. Just imagine the fun one would have comparing the Russian intelligencia with the Chinese literati class – the self-conciousness, the sense of mission… One is tempted to think that the state of “foreign” and “mysterious” is hard to shed – once recognized as such, a culture is never looked at as a source of inspiration.

  2. Well, Western culture had the same “foreign” and “mysterious” baggage, but China was certainly not ignored — to take a couple of obvious examples, The Good Earth was a best-seller, won the Pulitzer Prize, and “was influential in Buck’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938,” and Malraux’s La condition humaine won the Prix Goncourt and has been a steady best-seller in translation (Man’s Fate). Not to mention the many movies set in China over the decades (mostly starring white actors in the early days, of course). As I said to Sashura, Americans were obsessed with China going back to the late 19th century because of missionary activity.

  3. One of my fav childhood stories was Obruchev’s “Золотоискатели в пустыне” (Gold diggers in the desert) which is rich on historic and ethnographic details of China’s Western frontier. But perhaps Russian readers’ conscience has been too preoccupied with Mongolia and Tibet and the legacy of the Belovodye myth, and that’s why China proper, or Muslim Central Asia for that matter, didn’t have as much space left?

  4. J.W. Brewer says:

    An incidental point, but I would not have guessed right off that “Iakinf” was a Slavified version of “Hyacinth,” although once it’s pointed out it’s obvious, at least assuming some correspondence whereby the “rough breathing” in the Greek has gone missing during the transition. (I know Russian itself lacks an /h/ but sometimes they swap in some other initial consonant like a /g/ in loanwords, innit?)

  5. J.W. Brewer, I was going to point out the same thing. Russian has the doublet Гиацинт (the flower and mythological figure) / Иакинф (the Christian name).

  6. PlasticPaddy says:

    Vozvrashenije by Natalia iosifovna Il’ina?

  7. European/British contact with China was at first through the Silk Route, Spice Islands; and then C19th conquests/trading posts; and the mania for Chinoiserie; the exotic Orient. (The language barrier didn’t seem to get in the way too bad.)

    Peter the Great was mad keen on anything French; you’d think that would include Chinoiserie. Fabergé used Chinese decorative techniques.

    Didn’t a branch of the Silk Route run through Central Asia/Caucuses under Russian influence if not actual territory?

    How did the Chinoiserie transition for U.S. contacts, which I think were more by going West(?)

    “China being a closed country” — does that mean during the C16th/18th, or after the Communist takeover? Either way, it doesn’t seem to have removed China from European consciousness. And you’d think the Communist allies would have cultural exchanges.

    So yes, explanation needed.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    The rough breathing has been silent for a long time, since Late Antiquity or so.

  9. SFReader says:

    Instead of Silk Route, 18-19th century Russia had great tea caravan route which started at the Great Chinese Wall and run through Mongolia, Siberia and European Russia.

    Very quickly, in a few generations really, the Chinese managed to get Russians addicted to their favorite drug – tea – which became Russian national drink and brought China enormous profits.

    Try to imagine Russia without tea and samovar.

    That’s the greatest impact of China on Russian culture.

  10. “Slavicized version of hyacinth”:
    It’s hijacint in Croatian

  11. Maybe it’s the influence of just having spent months reading Abulafia’s oceans book –


    – but could it be that the Russians didn’t ever seriously consider crossing the various overland “Great Walls” of geographic inconvenience and were instead obsessed primarily with getting to the Pacific by sail or rail and then trading with the East from there? (One of Abulafia’s overarching points is that overland trade routes played far less of a role in reality than they do in our imaginations). The amount of stuff you could pack into a ship once you got it to Canton or wherever must have made caravans etc. seem too small to even bother with.

    p.s. I can’t recommend the Abulafia book highly enough. The way he connects the dots between, for example, the Portuguese first contact with Canary Islanders and coastal Africa and the whole insane and tragic orgy of colonialism that quickly followed, is really impressive.

  12. PlasticPaddy says:

    Re hyacinth the Romance reflex of the personal name would seem to be Jacinto/Jacinta. How did j arise? Is this from a spelling (h)Yacinto/a or was the name normalised by comparison with Jacob, John, etc.?

  13. David Marjanović says:

    “Slavicized version of hyacinth”:

    Oh yeah, that’s not what it is. It’s specifically a borrowing by Orthodox Slavs straight from spoken Byzantine Greek. The Catholic world got Greek words only in Classical Latin transcriptions passed down from Classical times.

  14. Sashura says:

    Thanks, Steve!
    It’s about comparative cultural interinfluence but Hat’s question is narrower, about literature.
    the question is two-pronged: first, the presence of a body of exported, translated work of one literature in the literature of another, and second, the traceable influence of that other literature in the literature of another, importing, borrowing literature as subject matter, characters, styles and ideas. Here, I think, Hat is right, China is strikingly underrepresented, especially compared to Japan.
    As we see, apart from Iakinf, who was really an ethnographer, ‘China’ was taken as a set of images or disguised ‘Chinese’ characters who served as vehicles to express authors’ own ideas, that had little to do with China proper.
    The wider cultural influence is a connected, but different question. Tea, silk, gunpowder, china porcelain, Confucius and Sun Tzu, kungfu and maoism even, yes, it’s all there, but where is literature?
    Another thought, what may have been a serious factor was that Chinese in Russia were purged towards the end of 1930s as members of a ‘nationality foreign to the Soviet Union’ (лицa иностранных для СССР национальностей) and all but disappeared, while as in America, it seems, the Chinese carried on more or less unrepressed. And later on, of course, the great communist schism between Russia and China under Mao did it again.

  15. in America, it seems, the Chinese carried on more or less unrepressed.

    No,. the Chinese were very much repressed; they were brought here in the 19th century as cheap labor to build the railroads, then kicked out in 1882, and very few were allowed in for over 80 years (until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which inadvertently admitted a whole bunch of nonwhite people). We admired them as long as they stayed in China, but didn’t want them over here.

  16. cor! I didn’t know!
    A propos this, I looked up ‘yellow peril’, and – guess what? It was a Russian, Jacques Novikow who invented the term in 1897

  17. I had no idea!

  18. SFReader says:

    From the Altai to Malaysian shores
    The leaders of Eastern isles
    Have gathered a host of regiments
    By China’s defeated walls.

    Countless as locusts
    And as ravenous,
    Shielded by an unearthly power
    The tribes move north.

    O Rus’! Forget your former glory:
    The two-headed eagle is ravaged,
    And your tattered banners passed
    Like toys among yellow children.

    ‘Pan Mongolism’, by Vladimir Soloviev (1894)

  19. Rodger C says:

    The J in “Jacinto” was originally [ʒ]. I hope that helps.

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    Here’s some political rhetoric from a bygone era, viz. the “immigration policy” section of the 1876 Democratic platform on which the almost-successful Tilden/Hendricks ticket ran:

    “Reform is necessary to correct the omissions of a Republican Congress and the errors of our treaties and our diplomacy, which has stripped our fellow-citizens of foreign birth and kindred race, re-erasing [re-crossing] the Atlantic from the shield of American citizenship, and has exposed our brethren of the Pacific coast to the incursions of a race not sprung from the same great parent stock, and in fact now by law denied citizenship through naturalization as being unaccustomed to the traditions of a progressive civilization, one exercised in liberty under equal laws; and we denounce the policy which thus discards the liberty-loving German and tolerates the revival of the coolie-trade in Mongolian women for immoral purposes, and Mongolian men held to perform servile labor contracts, and demand such modification of the treaty with the Chinese Empire, or such legislation within constitutional limitations, as shall prevent further importation or immigration of the Mongolian race.”

    The GOP platform the same year tried to dodge the issue by saying only “It is the immediate duty of congress fully to investigate the effects of the immigration and importation of Mongolians on the moral and material interests of the country.”

  21. “Didn’t a branch of the Silk Route run through Central Asia/Caucuses under Russian influence if not actual territory?”

    I don’t think so – the Silk Road definitely ran through areas that ended up part of the Russian/Soviet empire – Khokand, Alma-Ata, Merv, Astrakhan. But they weren’t part of the empire at the time – the Russians didn’t conquer them until the 18th and 19th centuries, and by that time the Silk Road didn’t really exist any more. Silk was moving by long-haul ocean freight, because it was and is far easier and cheaper. The Silk Road doesn’t really outlast the Mongol Empire for very long, and of course Russian imperial expansion only happens once the Mongols have gone.

  22. @J.W. Brewer:

    in fact now by law denied citizenship through naturalization as being unaccustomed to the traditions of a progressive civilization, one exercised in liberty under equal laws;

    Talk about being immune to irony.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Elizabeth Bear’s excellent parallel-19th-century steampunk novel Karen Memory, the splendid eponymous heroine disdains the Democratic Party precisely for its racism.

  24. J.W. Brewer says:

    That novel must be set in a parallel 19th century where “Karen” was already extant as a female given name in America, rather than existing solely (in AmEng) as the name of an ethnic group in far-off Burmah that some daring missionaries were trying to evangelize. Or is the heroine an unassimilated Scandinavian immigrant with a not-very-Scandinavian-sounding surname?

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    Her family is supposed to be of Irish origin, IIRC. Well, it is parallel.

    Ah: looked it up. In her own words: “It’s Danish. From my mom. It means ‘pure’.”
    (Elizabeth Bear is quite careful about these things.)

  26. Trond Engen says:

    It would seem more natural to explain it as “a Danish form of Catherine. From my mom.”

    I was going to say that Katharina does mean “pure” in the original Greek, but apparently not. The name wasn’t associated with katharos “purity” — and got its theta — before that concept came info vogue with christianity.

  27. David Marjanović says:

    Two mysteries solved: how, other than American orthographic creativity, Karen happened, given the German form Karin /ˈkaːrɪn/; and why the modern Greek form is Katerina.

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    The ‘pure’ bit is somewhat pointed: she’s a prostitute. (Also sarky.) And it comes up in a context where people (one of whom is a Comanche) are specifically discussing the meanings of names.

  29. Interesting to hear that Karen is a Danish name too, I associate it mostly with Germany. In Sweden it’s not so common, only around 1,000 women are named Karen. In Denmark it’s more than 20,000, if my googling is correct.

  30. Bathrobe says:

    Australian federation (1901), which brought the six colonies together (but eventually left out New Zealand), was partly motivated by fear of Chinese immigration. Anti-Chinese sentiment dates back at least to the gold rush, when Chinese competed with whites on the goldfields. Each colony undertook measures to restrict Chinese immigration, but a nationwide White Australia policy was one of the first policies of the new nation and only fully abandoned in 1973 — not too long after the passage of the US Immigration and Nationality Act.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    Interesting to hear that Karen is a Danish name too, I associate it mostly with Germany.

    Karin, yes. Karen, not a single one that I’ve noticed. Same for Austria.

  32. Trond Engen says:

    If Karen is Danish, then Karin is Swedish. The Norwegian form is Kari, which illustrates the Norwegian loss of final n also found in pronouns and definite articles.

    Kari is the protypical Norwegian female name. Ola og Kari Nordmann are the eponymous man and woman in the street.

  33. While Chinese immigration was repressed in the US until 1943 (but effectively until 1965), “Chinatowns“ continued to exist in major American cities for that whole period, partially functioning as tourist traps where one could visit staged opium dens and see other orientalizing nonsense, and provided pulp novelists with plenty of grist when they needed an exotic “dangerous” locale. (And let us not forget Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan). Up until the late 1930s Americans saw China as a lucrative market, both for commerce and Christianity, so there was a very high awareness of China in elite WASP circles. My Alma Mater founded the Yale Foreign Missionary Society in 1901 and Princeton and Harvard had similar endeavors. While actual Chinese were repressed in the USA, the presence of China in American popular culture during that period dwarfed the awareness of China in the USSR.

  34. Exactly.

  35. The Norwegian form is Kari, …

    I have a Norwegian cousin, definitely spelled Karin. (She’s always pronounced the n in my hearing — or is that a concession to being in an English-speaking environment?)

    It might be significant her mother is British, her father, though, is from Stavanger area.

  36. Trond Engen says:

    No, sorry. Both Karin and Karen are common in Norway, but (glossing over some regional variation that I have never really looked into) Kari is the native form and protypically rural. You’ll find the Danish Karen in the genealogical records of a clerical or otherwise bourgouis family. Karin came with Swedish popular culture.

  37. Trond Engen says:

    (glossing over some regional variation that I have never really looked into)

    Specifically, I’m not sure about the inherited Western form. I don’t think the name was very common historically in the western country.

  38. AJP Crown says:

    I have a Norwegian cousin, definitely spelled Karin.

    Don’t worry, Ant. Karin is a perfectly normal Norwegian name. Half the county’s called Karin. The mother of Jens (former PM, head of NATO, famous in Norway) Stoltenberg was a Karin. And there’s the Norwegian ‘queen of crime’, the writer Karin Fossum. There’s no such thing as Norwegian names, any more than there are American names, except as a joke or in the sense of their derivation (as Trond means). The most common 2019 girl’s name in Norway, according to the link above, is Emma.

  39. John Cowan says:

    So perhaps in some parallel world people speak of the Kari-dialect, the Karen-dialect, and the Karin-dialect of Modern Scandinavian? (Cf. Shtokavian, Chakavian, Kaikavian.)

  40. Kate Bunting says:

    I know of two British-born Karens with Norwegian mothers; perhaps chosen because it’s an identifiably Scandinavian name, but not ‘foreign-sounding’ to English speakers.

  41. Sashura says:

    /the presence of China in American popular culture during that period dwarfed the awareness of China in the USSR./
    and it came back to the Soviet Union, partly, via American movies on videos and some such

  42. J.W. Brewer says:

    Fortunately by my own childhood (and Vanya’s as well if he is reasonably close to my own age), the old-timey Orientalization has ended and the CBS Saturday morning cartoon lineup for fall 1972 featured animated Chinese-American kids being fully integrated into the mainstream of American Saturday-morning-cartoon life by getting both to solve mysteries a la the Scooby Doo gang *and* have their own vaguely-rock-oriented band a la Josie and the Pussycats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amazing_Chan_and_the_Chan_Clan This was only two years after the death of the last member of my extended family who had served as a do-gooder Protestant missionary in China. (Great-great-aunt Regina, 1894-1970.)

  43. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve used Egkavian and Jagkavian for the dialects defined by the ek/jak isogloss. Also Kakavian, Håkavian and Vakavian for the hv- isogloss. Nynorsk is Ekavian and Kakavian, the three other Standard languages are Jakavian and Vakavian, None is Håkavian, though there are a few Håkavian elements in Standard Swedish (notably hur “how”). But it would be informative with a set of terms based on the treatment of feminine definite articles: Enkavian (Karen), Ankavian (Karin) and Akavian (Kari). All classifications are incomplete, though, leaving out a number of minor kavians along the edges.

  44. John Cowan says:

    I just finished Karen Memory; I like Huck Finn stories, even if her vocabulary is bigger (for very understandable reasons) than Huck’s. I look forward to re-reading it and to the sequel, Stone Mad, a title that I am predisposed to look on favorably thanks to Eamonn Kelly (who performed the one-man play I saw first) and Sean Murphy (who wrote the book I read second).

    I don’t know what’s with the Memory/Memery thing: both titles use the first and both texts the second. The first book is dedicated to Karen Memery Bruce, though.

  45. Elizabeth Bear is such fun, and enjoys language so much! and the Karen Memery books are delightfully pointed in their skewering of both general u.s. myths about the 19thC and the specific imperial/white nationalist nostalgias baked into a lot of steampunk fiction. Nisi Shawl’s Everfair is also lovely in similar ways (if much less of a Girls Own romp) – though i’m surprising myself by realizing that i don’t remember anything i thought about language while reading it (i musta thought something; it’s set in Leopold’s Congo colony, after all).

  46. Which kavian has jär for här? as in:

    Among the literary prizes awarded to him was the Finlandia Prize for Fiction for the poetry collection Jär (‘Here’) in 1989.

    Gösta Ågren

  47. It’s just occurred to me that I know a male Karen. I and some hundreds of million of other people. I am talking about Karen Shahnazarov. Apparently, Karen is a reasonably common Armenian name. And of course, Wikipedia has it all.

  48. Trond Engen says:

    Jär for här would be a minor kavian of its own. I believe it’s fully contained within Ja(g)kavian, but crosses the border of Hå- and Vakavian.

    It’s specifically Northern Swedish, I think. Ostrobothnian Finland Swedish belong to Northern Swedish.

  49. “Ostrobothnian” is one of the best words ever.

  50. Ostrobothnia

    Pohjanmaa “bottomland’ in Finnish.

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Ostrobothniac” would be even better.

  52. SFReader says:

    Pohjanmaa “bottomland’ in Finnish.

    Come on, everyone who’s read Kalevala knows that “Pohja” means north.

  53. Trond Engen says:


    It’s of course awesome because it’s been latinized into the realm of Medieval Fantasy. The Swedish name Österbotten is simple and straightforward, and the English counterpart would be the equally unremarkable Easterbottom.

    Botten “bottom” is an old name for the Gulf of Bothnia. The same element botn is used in Norwegian for the inner end of a fjord (fjordbotn) or the upper end of a valley (dal(s)botn). Since there are uncountable valleys and fjords, there are also uncountable toponyms ending in -botn.

    In the ballads Trollebotn is a world far north where trolls live and heroes go to rescue princesses and/or be tricked into marrying ogres. The northern end of the Gulf of Bothnia is called Gandvik “Witchcraft Bay” in the sagas, so the later Trollebotn was quite likely identified with or even based on the gulf of Bothnia.

  54. Indeed, Easterbottom sounds so unremarkable (if pleasing) that I’m rather surprised that Google Books tells me:

    Your search – “Easterbottom” – did not match any book results.

  55. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, I almost wrote “positively hobbitesque” but regrettably withdrew to “equally unremarkable”.

    SFR: Come on, everyone who’s read Kalevala knows that “Pohja” means north

    Finnish pohja “North” is etymologically “bottom”. If I remember correctly, “bottomwards” for “northwards” was originally a dialect usage from central Finland, possibly used by travelling traders making annual journeys to Pohjanmaa. But as we’ve seen, the idea of a “bottom” in the far north was common also among the Scandinavian neighbours.

  56. John Cowan says:

    Such a book would probably be the subject of fundie book-burnings in the U.S.

  57. David Eddyshaw says:

    You could claim it was translated from Kusaal: gbin, “buttock, bottom, foot (of tree, hill, etc); meaning.”

    “The Bottom of Easter.”

    I can see it now. A stirring story of intrepid missionary folk in West Africa. It’ll sell millions in the US. There’ll be crocodiles. The American Christian reading public can’t get enough of crocodiles.

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    In any case, it is surely illogical for a Fundamentalist to object to Bottoms.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    There’ll be crocodiles. The American Christian reading public can’t get enough of crocodiles.

    Oh, that explains the crocoduck…

  60. John Cowan says:

    Yes, it’s the association of Easter with bottom that will produce objections. Fundamentalists are crypto-Arians at heart.

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think you must mean crypto-Monophysites. Arians believe in the two Nates.

  62. John Cowan says:

    I think you must mean crypto-Monophysites.

    You’re right, of course; I was thinking of the one who told me that Jesus could not have had nocturnal emissions because they are inherently sinful, which seemed to me like denying his humanity.]

    Arians believe in the two Nates.

    Nathan Detroit and Nathan Brazil, I suppose. It reminds me of the Jews who converted to Christianity to avoid persecution, until it was discovered that the Trinity they were praying to was God, Shabbetai Tzvi, and Jacob Frank. Frankism, which was frank Gnosticism by that time, lasted into the 19C if not longer.

    (Nathan Brazil is not God, no matter what he says. In fact, most of the time you can’t believe anything he says. He does have demiurgic powers. though only rarely.)

  63. David Marjanović says:

    because they are inherently sinful

    So, the dreamless ones caused by lying in an uncomfortable position are due to original sin?

  64. January First-of-May says:

    Not really about China as such, and not exactly the most famous Russian literature, but the Russian speakers (…well, readers) in the LH audience would probably enjoy Anna Korostelyova’s Цветы корицы, аромат сливы (Flowers of Cinnamon, Smell of Plum, aka Guihua meixiang, aka 桂花梅香 – a supposed Chinese idiom that might or might not have actually been invented by Anna herself).

  65. Shabbetai Tzvi was a piece of garbage. He took the coward’s way out and converted to Islam when the Sublime Porte had him pulled in as a threat. Hugely popular up to that point, his earnest followers dissipated almost immediately. Although he still tried to maintain that he was the messiah, and maintained ties to the Jewish community, after his apostasy he was rightly reviled as faker and conman by the overwhelming majority of Jews.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    The choice was between conversion to Islam or being impaled.

    I’ve always been proud to be a confessing coward.

  67. I would convert rather than be executed too, but I’m not claiming to be God’s anointed one.

  68. SFReader says:

    13 (14). And when they meet those who believe, they say: “We believe!” And when they stay with their shaitans, they say:” We are with you, we are only mocking.”

    14 (15). Allah shall mock them and strengthen their delusion in which they roam blindly!

    15 (16). These are the ones who bought error in exchange for the right path. Their trade was not profitable, and they were not on the right track!

  69. Looking at the 20th century, consider the output of Russian émigré writers based in Harbin and Shanghai. Although not very well known in Russia, it is a considerable body of work. For example, German Kochurov punished Ли Чжоу, a “novel from Chinese life,” in 1939, and another one, The Last Chinese [Woman] (Последняя китаянка), in 1941 in Shanghai.

    Also, don’t forget Vassily Alexeyev’s translations from Pu Songling. There is nothing like them in Russian lit. It’s also worth mentioning Viktor Pelevin’s СССР Тайшоу Чжуань as well as some of his other fiction populated by foxes and werewolves, drawing on Pu’s magical worlds in Alexeyev’s translation.

  70. Although not very well known in Russia

    Or anywhere else — thanks for that, I knew nothing about them!

  71. solokso says:

    My private teacher of English in mid-80s in Ufa was Mikhail Lorens, who had spent his childhood in China in 1930-40s, his parents being part of Russian community in China – you know the history of the Trans-Manchurian Railway. His family was repatriated in the USSR in 1945 and settled in Ufa. He wrote a dozen of short stories inspired by his childhood in China (in English) for English teaching purpose. I find them very charming. He was bilingual as he had studied in an American catholic school. Your post made me realize that in his stories the Chinese were almost absent.

  72. Very interesting!

  73. SFReader says:

    I wondered what kind of Russian surname was Lorens and in the genealogical index of Russians in China (1926-46) discovered someone called William Georgievich Lorens.

    Perhaps Mikhail Lorens was actually Michael Lawrence and that’s why he was fluent in English.

  74. I’m afraid this pop song and video full of stereotypes may well be the most popular Russian literary engagement with China (plus Indochina?). I remember it being played on the radio in the 90s.

  75. Bathrobe says:

    When I was first studying Japanese in 1972, I had an old teacher called Mr Telesnitsky. He had a strong Russian accent and taught us kanji. Apparently he was a refugee from the White Russian community in China. (By White Russian, I assume he came from that line of people who didn’t follow the Bolsheviks.) But I never did know much about his background and I guess I’ll never find out now.

    He did leave behind a book, ‘Kanji no seisei to bunseki = Analysis of Chinese-Japanese characters / compiled by N. Telesnitsky’, which can be found listed here: https://trove.nla.gov.au/people/634296?c=people

  76. PlasticPaddy says:
  77. Apparently also spelled Telesznica; odd that none of the Wikipedia articles I’ve looked at explains the name.

  78. Twenty years ago I was introduced to a rather old lady who had grown up in Harbin and graduated from a Russian gymnasium there in the 1920s (if I’m not mistaken). Her gymnasium upbringing gave her a perfect posture – her way of sitting straight and proper, even in her nineties, was inimitable. Her father was an engineer with the Chinese Eastern Railroad. At some point during the 1930s, she decided to return to the USSR – the only one from her family (her sisters moved out to the West). Luckily, she was not imprisoned or exiled and lived to see the end of Communist rule. She died in Israel at the age of 100.

  79. Man, there are so many amazing stories out there…

  80. Sashura says:

    amazing story! Can we have more details?

  81. @Sashura: There’s not much I can add at this point (except note she quit smoking at 80) – the lady was a friend of my wife’s grandmother and her sisters, all of whom have passed away.

  82. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat 10 July
    cielę = “calf” is used in Polish place names. There is even a Cieleśnica. The East Slavic reflex is with initial t. So I would go for an East Slavic (Rusyn or Russian) origin for the name Telesnica.

  83. One less thing to worry about — thanks!

  84. @Bathrobe (By White Russian, I assume he came from that line of people who didn’t follow the Bolsheviks.)

    I think more likely he (or his family) came from Byelorus — i.e. White Russia squashed between Russian Russia and Poland — which would explain his Polishesque moniker. Was it a Russian accent he had, or a White-Russian?

    (I remember when scanning the ‘A’ Level exam schedule, and having just covered WWI and the October Revolution/early 1920’s in History, seeing ‘White Russian orals’ as an exam, and wondering why the counter-revolutionaries had a special language. Oh, the uselessness of the exam syllabus!)

  85. SFReader says:

    Googling Telesnitsky, discovered this fascinating character straight from O’Brian novels.

    Stepan Mikhailovich Telesnitsky (before 1770 – after 1821) – captain of the 1st rank, Order of St.George; state councilor and freemason.

    In 1773 he entered the Naval Cadet Corps. He was promoted to midshipman on January 1, 1782. In 1782-1784 on the ship “David Solunsky” he sailed from Kronstadt to Livorno and back as part of a squadron under the command of Vice-Admiral V. Ya. Chichagov; On May 1, 1784 he was promoted to warrant officer. Until 1788 he served in the Baltic Sea; On January 1, 1787 he was promoted to lieutenant.

    During the Russian-Turkish war in 1788, Telesnitsky, under the guise of a merchant, was sent to Italy for reconnaissance and secret mapping of Messina, Syracuse and other cities. After that, he was sent to the island of Malta. Here he recruited a team of 165 people into the Russian service, armed privateer frigate “Labondanz”, sailed to the Syracuse, and from there to the Ionian Islands, where he began to attack Turkish ships. In May 1789, near the island of Sifanto (Sifnos) “Labondanz” was discovered by a squadron of 14 (according to other sources – 16) Turkish ships. An unequal battle lasted for more than three hours, and after the threat to blow up the ship, Telesnitsky managed to escape from the enemy. Was awarded the Order of St. George, 4th class. In 1790, Telesnitsky repeatedly carried out secret orders from the command, which consisted in the delivery, disembarkation and return of scouts, topographic surveys, depth measurements in areas convenient for landing troops, drawing up plans for fortifications, etc. For this purpose, he bypassed the island of Corfu and the coastline of Morea , shuttled between Livorno and the Levant. In 1791-1792, he commanded another ship of the same kind, a 40-gun frigate “Lafam”. In 1793 he “returned by land from Livorono to St. Petersburg”.

    On February 2, 1794, he was promoted to lieutenant commander and transferred to Kherson.

    In 1798-1800 he served as a historiographer of the fleet in the Mediterranean campaign of Vice-Admiral Ushakov.

    In 1801, Telesnitsky was appointed captain of the Odessa port. It was at this time that the Harbor Development Commission in Odessa, under the leadership of military engineer E. Kh. Foerster, was expanding the port. He was a member of the Odessa Construction Committee. Telesnitsky’s activity was marked by the conferment of the rank of captain of the 2nd rank on January 15, 1803, and on November 26, 1804, he received the Order of St. George of the 4th class, officially “for 18 naval campaigns”.

    In 1807 he took part in the 2nd Archipelago Expedition and on May 28, 1808 he was promoted to captain of the 1st rank.

    Telesnitsky was dismissed from military service on March 1, 1810 and was renamed the rank of state councilor.

    In the house of S.M. Telesnitsky on Catherine Square, the first meetings of the Odessa Masonic Lodge “Pont Evksinsky”, formed at the end of November 1817, were held.

  86. Fascinating, thanks for digging that up! And of course we all remember Anna Pavlovna’s outrage in the opening scene of War and Peace: “Англия с своим коммерческим духом не поймет и не может понять всю высоту души императора Александра. Она отказалась очистить Мальту.” [England with its commercial spirit does not understand, and cannot understand, the full loftiness of Emperor Alexander’s soul. It has refused to vacate Malta.]

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