Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Taz – What Chinese Assimilation of the Peoples of Russia Looks Like

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – Perhaps the greatest if typically unspoken fear among Russians about China is not that Beijing will occupy this or that portion of the Russian Federation but that because there are so many more Chinese than Russians, the former will assimilate the latter through intermarriage, something they fear could spell the end of the Russian ethnos.

            Such concerns are almost certainly exaggerated even over the very long haul, but the publication of a photo album by the Regnum news agency of the Taz, a small ethnic group which arose a century ago as a result of intermarriage between Chinese, autochthonian and Russian peoples in the Russian far East, may bring them to the surface.

            Alyona Shilonosova, a journalist who put together the collection of photographs of members of the Taz ethnos, provides some information about a group few have ever heard of. According to the 2010 Russian census, none of those who identifies as a Taz speaks the language: they use Russian instead (regnum.ru/news/society/2550941.html).

            During the second half of the 19th century, many Chinese moved into the Russian Far East. Most were men looking for work, and they married women from among the indigenous numerically small peoples, the Udygey, the Nanay, and the Orochi. “Thus arose a new ethnic group, the Taz,” a term that is the russified variant of the Chinese “tadtszy” – or “alien.”

            “The first relatively reliable data about the numbers of Tax comes from 1872, Shilonosova says. “Then there were 638 of them in the Ussuri kray.” They did not live separately or in a different way than the peoples they intermarried with.

            In Soviet times, they were initially supported but then suppressed, with their language being viewed as a pastiche of Chinese, Russian, and minority tongues rather than the separate language of a separate people.  In 1938, Moscow decided to concentrate them in one place, the village of Mikhailovka in the Olgin District.

            The culture of the Taz nonetheless survived, and the evidence of the intermixing of the Chinese, aboriginal and even Russian peoples can be seen in the faces of those pictured in Shilonosova’s article. 

            Today, she continues, the number of Taz in Mikhailovka is hardly more than a few dozen. Their language has died out, and their formerly unique culture has been overwhelmed by the larger cultures of those they live among. If there are Taz in China, they are almost certainly more Sinified than those in Russia which have been Russified.

            Even more than their concentration in a single village in 1938 under Stalin, however, the Taz in the Russian Far East suffered from the anti-Chinese campaigns of the Soviet government from the 1950s to the 1970s. The Taz were not “officially” subject to suppression, but their number declined to approximately 250.

            In 2000, however, the Russian government extended official recognition to the Taz as a nationality when they were included in the list of numerically small indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation.

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