Home >> News

Travelog laced with history along the Heilongjiang

Updated: 2016-01-13 10:08:31

( China Daily )

Share on

Dominic Ziegler, Asia editor of The Economist magazine, takes Northeast China's Heilongjiang River as the subject of his new book, Black Dragon River, published by Penguin Press.[Photo provided to China Daily]

On his journey, Ziegler traveled to Nerchinsk, where in 1689 a treaty was signed between the Chinese emperor Kangxi and Peter the Great, the tsar who brought Russia into the modern world, which defined the border between the two countries.

It is the first treaty China signed with a Western power and, somewhat curiously, was written in Latin, an agreed neutral alternative to Russian and Manchu. This was due to the presence of Jesuit priests in the Chinese delegation.

"The town is still in the middle of nowhere, but at one point in history the two great gargantuan empires in Eurasia spun around each other in this spot," he says.

The journalist believes that even today as a result of this treaty China and Russia have a relatively stable relationship.

"The two sides negotiated on the basis of real strict equality, which is in contrast to all the later unequal treaties of the 19th century. I think personally, even if both sides are not aware, it still colors the relationship and gives it a grounding."

One major breach in the relationship did come in the 19th century. Muscovite Russians became obsessed with stories of the opening up of the West in the Unted States, and had an ambition to turn the Heilongjiang into the new Mississippi. They seized territory from China almost equivalent in size to France and Germany combined. They also thought they could bring French cognac and Hawaiian pineapples through the western mouth of the river.

"The Russians developed fantasies that their manifest lay in the Pacific. This is a river that freezes half the year and it is not navigable for all of its route, and even at the mouth there are sandbanks," he says.

Ziegler, 54, who has been with The Economist for 30 years and was its Beijing correspondent in the 1990s, says there is a sense in the Russian Far East that the real engine of their economy now comes from China in the south.

"I think there is a sense of Moscow being far away and that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is just letting them swing, and the area is becoming depopulated," he says.

The exchanges between the territories above the river and China are not all economic.

"You often see these tall blonde long-legged Russian women marrying the Chinese because they see them as both hardworking and drinking less than their own men. They take a pragmatic approach," he laughs.

Previous 1 2
Editor's Pick
Hot words
Most Popular