Pork-Eating Muslims and Agile Swimmers: Qing Views of the Russians and the Emergence of a Borderland Culture, 1720–1800

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 8:30 AM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Gregory Afinogenov, Georgetown University
What was it like to live one's daily life in the eighteenth-century Russo-Chinese borderland? Relations between the two empires are typically studied through sources produced by diplomats or foreign travelers such as Tulišen and John Bell. Made compelling by the author's surprise and estrangement from his surroundings, such accounts have served to reinforce the notion of an unbridgeable cultural gap between Russia and the Qing Empire. But there are countless indications, especially for later periods, that Mongols, Buriats, Cossacks, Bukharan traders, and other inhabitants of a shared Russo-Qing world experienced cultural difference less acutely, interpreting their neighbors through the lens of the already familiar. This paper will use Qing sources like the "Stories of 120 old men" (Emu tanggu orin sakda-i gisun sarkiyan) as well as Russian archival documents to trace Qing perceptions of Russians on the eighteenth-century border. The results are often surprising. Far from assimilating Russians to the "westerner" category of xiyang ren, for instance, eighteenth-century Mongols compared them to Chinese Muslims (Hui) who happened to eat pork. The paper will conclude by discussing how ideologies of difference have structured scholars' understanding of Eurasian politics and how questioning them might redefine the entire field.
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