A Snapshot of the Chita Community, 1918

The 1917 revolutions and Civil War were a time of unprecedented upheaval for the Chinese diaspora in Russia, paralleled perhaps only by the massacre at Blagoveshchensk during the Boxer Rebellion. Wartime workers were stranded in European Russia, while in Siberia and the Russian Far East migrants became collateral damage in the fighting between Reds, Whites and Allied interventionists. When White leaders came to power in autumn 1918, the Chinese community became a target for robbery and murder in the ensuing atamanshchina.

As far as they were able, Chinese diplomats, border officials and civic organisations attempted to keep track of the community’s losses. This was a tall order. By 1917, China had only been permitted to establish consulates in Vladivostok and Irkutsk, leaving vast swathes of the diaspora without easy access to consular representation. Civic actors – mainly chambers of commerce in the Russian Far East, or Chinese-sponsorsed aqsaqals in Semirech’e – stepped in to fill the gap, although their reach among non-mercantile segments of the diaspora could be limited. Border officials sometimes commissioned their own investigations, although this depended on personal initiative. Despite all these constraints, however, the accounts produced offer a snapshot into the Chinese community, as the following report shows.

chitabazaar
Bazaar in Chita. Source.

查自俄國肇亂,俶擾有年,所有西伯利亞一帶華僑,於歐戰前后,直接間接所受損失,實重且巨。經派員前往赤塔、伊爾庫次克等處確實調查,茲據查復,造具各該處華僑所受損失事由及數目,分別繕冊呈報前來。並稱此項冊報,事實與當地商務會領事館所存檔案均屬相符等情。本署覆核無異,除冊內數目未詳各起,及仍待調查者,應俟查明另報,並分咨外,相應照抄原冊,咨請大部查照施行。

Since the beginning of the troubles in Russia, there has been more than a year of disorder. The direct and indirect losses experienced by Chinese migrants across the whole of Siberia, both during and after the European War, are indeed immense. A representative was dispatched to Chita and Irkutsk to conduct a thorough investigation. Now, based on the enquiry, an account of the circumstances and sum of the losses to Chinese migrants in these areas has been prepared and submitted. It also states that the facts of the report are in accordance with the records maintained by local commercial organisations and consulates. My office has reviewed this and concurs. The various instances in the account where the sums are unknown, or which are still awaiting investigation, will be reported on separately once they have been clarified. Apart from that, the original account is copied here for Your Ministry’s reference and implementation.

What followed was a lengthy account of losses to individual migrants in Chita and Irkutsk. Selections from the Chita report are reproduced here. Taking in robberies and two murders from when the city was still under Red rule, it depicts a community of traders, peddlers and farmers, with the former dealing in consumer goods such as cloth, sugar, meat and tobacco. The sums involved were also much smaller than those in Irkutsk, where the losses often ran into thousands of pre-depreciation rubles.

chitajhq
Headquarters of the Japanese 3rd Division in Chita. Source.

調查赤塔城華僑損失冊
茲將調查赤塔城華僑於民國七年因俄亂損失物品、款項各數目,繕冊呈請鑒核。計開:
王好祥於正月初七日,在赤塔頭站三號火車上,被紅牌隊翻去白漂布十疋,每疋二百元,合計二千元。
石曹陽在赤塔菜園子,二月初四日,被紅旗隊搶去沙槍一杆,計俄幣一百二十元,靴子一雙,計八十元,裌毯衣一件,計五十元,銅元三元七角,好錫十斤,計一百二十元,鏡子一個,計三元,帖子包一個,計五元,內有俄幣二元七角,藥水一瓶,計一元五角,共計俄幣三百八十五元九角。
馮有謙、張春永、合盛、孫榮茂、黃玉林、劉清國六人,在赤塔八雜市作買賣,於二月二十七日,被多數黨搶去線襪子等貨共計俄幣一千八百元。
郭義德、陳堯新二人來報,三月十三日,張清堂被俄人打死在赤塔小西屯菜園子。
王玉宗於四月十七日,在赤塔七裡心子街,被俄人搶去表一個,計俄幣八十元,又俄幣八百六十元,共計俄幣九百四十元。
馮春貴於六月十八日,在赤塔頭站賣油果為生,被多數黨之軍隊奧人買去油果,伊遂跟到車前要錢,被此奧人手執大槍打死。此案前呈海參崴領事署存案,証見人王盛三。
張操於八月二十七日,在赤塔麻林四克街小鋪,晚九點鐘,被白旗黨搶去表一個,計俄幣一百元,護照一張,趙仁帖包一個,內有俄幣二百元,共計三百元。
幸印千於八月二十五日,在赤塔頭號祃雜裡,被多數黨搶去塊糖二十二斤,四五合俄幣九十九元,畫糖六十斤,四元合俄幣二百四十元,又茶葉十四斤半,二十合俄幣二百九十元,共計俄幣六百二十九元。
程希賢於八月二十五日,在赤塔頭站開小鋪,被多數黨搶去煙卷五千支,四十元合俄幣二百元,木八邪糖二十二斤,五元合俄幣一百一十元,洋燭二斤,合俄幣一十元,共計俄幣三百二十元。
王宗來在赤塔五蘇五街,開洗衣房,於八月二十五日,被多數黨將門劈開,搶去俄幣三千五百元。
蕭臣於五月十三日,在赤塔作買賣,被多數黨翻去煙絲十斤,什葛列子煙卷二千一百五十支,灌腸一布特。
王協文於四月十三日,在赤塔五菜立街作買賣,被多數黨翻去塊糖三布袋,計俄幣六百元。

Record of the investigation into Chinese migrant losses in Chita
An account of the losses to Chinese migrants in Chita in 1918 due to the disorder in Russia, including the number of items and sums involved, is hereby presented for your reference.

Wang Haoxiang was on the No. 3 train at Chita main station when, on 7 January, Red soldiers robbed him of ten bolts of calico, each worth 200 rubles. Total 2,000 rubles.
Shi Caoyang was at the Chita vegetable plots when, on 4 February, Red soldiers robbed him of a shotgun, value 120 rubles; a pair of boots, value 80 rubles; a padded jacket, value 50 rubles; 3 rubles 7 kopeks in copper coins; 10 jin of good-quality tin, value 120 rubles; a mirror, value 3 rubles; a purse, value 5 rubles, containing 2 rubles 70 kopeks and a bottle of medicine, value 1 ruble 50 kopeks. Total 385 rubles 90 kopeks.
Feng Youqian, Zhang Chunyong, He Sheng, Sun Rongmao, Huang Yulin and Liu Qingguo were all six trading at the Chita bazaar when, on 27 February, they were robbed by the Reds of socks and other goods worth 1,800 rubles.
Guo Yide and Chen Yaoxin came to report that on 13 March, Zhang Qingtang was beaten to death by Russians in the vegetable plot of the small village west of Chita.
Wang Yuzong was on Selenginskaia ulitsa, Chita when, on 17 April, he was robbed by a Russian of a watch, value 80 rubles, as well as 860 rubles in cash. Total 940 rubles.
Feng Chungui sold dough balls at the Chita main station for a living. On 18 June, an Austrian soldier in a Red unit purchased some from him. He followed the soldier to the front of the train to ask for the money, whereupon the Austrian beat him to death with a rifle. This matter was previously brought to the Vladivostok consulate, with Wang Shengsan as witness.
Zhang Cao was in a small shop on Mariinskaia ulitsa when, at 9pm on 17 August, he was robbed by Whites of a watch, value 100 rubles, a passport, a zhaoren[?] wallet containing 200 rubles. Total 300 rubles.
Xing Yinqian was in the main Chita bazaar when, on 25 August, he was robbed by the Reds of 22 jin of lump sugar, at 4.5 rubles per jin value 99 rubles; 60 jin of refined[?] sugar, at 4 rubles per jin value 240 rubles; 14.5 jin of tea leaves, at 20 rubles per jin value 290 rubles. Total 629 rubles.
Cheng Xixian, who runs a small shop at the Chita main station, was on 25 August robbed by the Reds of 5,000 ciagrettes, at 40 rubles [per thousand] value 200 rubles; 22 jin of mubaxie[?] sugar, at 5 yuan per jin value 110 rubles; 2 jin of candles, value 10 rubles. Total 320 rubles.
Wang Zonglai, who ran a laundry on Ussuriiskaia ulitsa, on 25 August had his shop broken into by the Reds, who took 3,500 rubles.
Xiao Chen, a trader in Chita, was on 13 May robbed by the Reds of 10 jin of tobacco, 2,150 shengeliezi[?] cigarettes and one pud of sausages.
Wang Xiewen, a trader on Ussuriiskaia ulitsa, was on 13 April robbed by the Reds of three bags of lump sugar, value 600 rubles.

Letter from Bao Guiqing, 18 March 1919 (sent 11 March). Zhong-E Guanxi Shiliao: E Zhengbian yu Yiban Jiaoshe (2), Minguo Liunian zhi Banian, pp. 97-100.
chitazhukovsky
The Zhukovskii Garden in Chita, originally the site of the 1899 Agricultural Exhibition. The Garden included a chapel built in 1903 by a Chinese migrant. Source.

Such reports were compiled as proof of the community’s tribulations, as well as to provide grounds for future compensation. In so doing, the Chinese authorities adopted an approach that had itself been applied to China in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion: imposing a penalty on a foreign government for damages inflicted on one’s diaspora. The Boxer Indemnity of 1901 obliged China to pay 450 customs taels – equivalent to £67 million – for violence committed towards foreign residents, such as the murder of Christian missionaries and siege of the Beijing legations, as well as for the destruction of foreign-owned property. Even as the Beijing government sought to shake off Russia’s share of the Indemnity, therefore, Chinese officials could claim to be using international best-practice in seeking redress for migrant losses.

Yet there is something quixotic about these accounts. Republican China, anxious to gain legitimacy among the Great Powers, continued to pay the Indemnity incurred by the Qing government. But Soviet Russia, whose representatives perpetrated most of the robberies listed in the Chita report, was bound by no such scruple and had repudiated the imposition of indemnities tout court. Even a White government as eager to secure international recognition as Kolchak’s might balk at compensation. Without a recognised Russian state willing to take up the financial burden – and without the clout to enforce compliance – reports such as this became a dead letter.

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