China Friendly, Part Two: “There Are Lots of Them, and a Few of Us”

Russian literature is often credited with a rich tradition of satire, parody, and absurdism, a tradition associated with writers otherwise as different as Gogol, Dostoevsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Kharms, Ilf and Petrov, and Zoshchenko. But this is a misconception. All these writers were stone-cold realists. You only have to live in Russia for a time and know the language well enough to realize they did not make anything up. They just had to turn on their tape recorders, so to speak. As reporter Elena Rotkevich did for the following article.

There is also no little irony in the fact that this article was going to press just as reports had begun coming in that the almighty Chinese economy was going pear-shaped. Although that now-dubious omnipotence seems to have been achieved at a totally unacceptable cost.

“Our goal is communism!”


“The Hermitage is not particularly interesting to the Chinese”
Elena Rotkevich
July 6, 2015
Gorod 812

Red itineraries will be popular if they are pitched properly to tourists from the PRC. Tourist guide and interpreter Ekaterina Guseva shared her impressions of working with Chinese groups.

Are the Chinese really interested in Lenin?

I think the Chinese will find tours to Lenin and revolutionary sites interesting, especially the fifty-something generation. It is this generation that mainly comes to Russia, because they studied our history and know our literature and culture fairly well. The Chinese were raised on stories about the Soviet Union. It was Big Brother who helped them. They call us a great or militant nation, and they are very curious about how this great nation is faring right now. Do we still sing “Katyusha”? Do we respect Lenin? They often ask whether life under communism was good and whether we miss the communist regime.

They are very interested in domestic details: what our daily schedule is like, whether we eat black bread, how many benefits we have, whether there is still free medical care, whether apartments are provided for free. The questions are not always easy.

And what do you say to them?

We try and reflect the real facts when we answer them. For example, that apartments were distributed for free in the Soviet Union, but some people miss those times, while others don’t.

The most popular sight in Petersburg among the Chinese was the cruiser Aurora, but now, unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration. The main museums—the Hermitage, Peterhof—are not particularly interesting to them. They don’t like boring, highly detailed tours, for example, when the kinds of woods used in the unique parquet floor in the Throne Room are listed. They like something a little more fun.

Touring Lenin sites is not a bad idea. At present, they are not taken to Lenin museums. We only drive up to the Smolny, but we don’t go inside. The demand for red tours will hinge on the right advertising campaign and cooperation with Chinese tour agencies. We could combine Petersburg with Finland and Sweden: with the right revolutionary commentary, Scandinavia will also be popular. The main thing is pitching the material.

Have the numbers of Chinese tourists increased?

This year we had a 300% increase in the flow of tourists from China. We lack licensed Russian tour guides. We have gone public about the problem on more than one occasion since the deficit is made up for by illegals. Semi-legal Chinese tourist firms operating in Petersburg hire similarly illegal Chinese immigrants as tour guides. Someone lends them a young [Russian] woman licensed to lead tours in English or Spanish, and under the guise of this young woman, they show groups around the city. These illegals badly mangle our history, and they distort the characteristics of Russians and Russian culture. I myself once saw a female Chinese tour guide on the grand staircase [in the Catherine Palace] at Pushkin make a sweeping gesture with her hand, pointing to everything in the vicinity, and heard her say to her group, “The Russians stole everything you see here. They went everywhere with warriors, tried to conquer everybody, and stole and stole wherever they went.” We are trying to combat this, but there are lots of them, and a few of us.

Isn’t it time to do the signage on the streets, in the subway, and in museums in Chinese?

In terms of quantity, Chinese tourists outnumber all other foreign tourists, of course. But Chinese tourism is usually group tourism. Quite often they have a group visa, which theoretically does not imply they will be navigating the city independently. They don’t walk the streets or ride the subway on their own, only with a guide. So there is probably no need for this.

Is it hard to work with the Chinese?

It is a lot more pleasant to work with Chinese tourists than with Americans, for example, or Canadians because from the get-go they have a more positive attitude toward Russia and Russians. They buy the same souvenirs as everyone else: matryoshka dolls and scarves. And they love amber.

Translated by the Russian Reader. This article was published on page 19 of the July 6, 2015, print edition of Gorod 812. So far, it has not been published in the magazine’s online edition. This post is a sequel of sorts to a collage of translated material on Russia’s “Chinese turn,” published here last autumn.

China Friendly


Hotels in Petersburg Say “Ni Hao!”
September 30, 2014

Petersburg hoteliers have begun negotiations on joining the China Today program, which helps participants gain greater visibility among tour agents and tourists in China. They are doing this because they need to replace the falling number of tourists from Europe and the US. Fontanka found out what tourists from China want to see in cafes and restaurants.

In the light of this past summer’s political events, Russia’s economy has turned towards the countries of the East. The tourist business, which organizes leisure in Russia for foreigners, has not been fighting the general trend. After the imposition of sanctions, the flow of tourists from Europe has declined, as has been visible on the streets of Petersburg even taking the season into account. As Fontanka learned, several major Petersburg hotels have begun negotiations with the association World without Borders, which unites inbound tourism tour operators, about participating in the China Friendly program.

Participation in the program helps hotels obtain certification for compliance with the requirements of Chinese tourists, who are supposed to replace European guests in the new political and economic reality. Vetted hotels are eligible to use the China Friendly status in their ad campaigns. It helps them to attract the attention of both Chinese tour operators choosing Russian hotels to accommodate their own customers or a Russian operator for collaboration, and Chinese tourists who prefer to travel on their own. Mikhail Vislin, the association’s executive director, refused to name the Petersburg hoteliers ready to open their doors wide to the Chinese. (At present, no Petersburg hotels have this status, which is attractive to visitors from the Middle Kingdom.)

“Unlike tourists from Europe and America, tourists from China have significant cultural peculiarities. They have a quite particular mindset. Moreover, the language barrier is a much more acute problem for them. Despite the fact that the Russian tourist industry is gradually becoming more oriented towards the Chinese, to date only a few sites are comfortable for them to visit,” says the program’s official web site.

China Friendly’s compliance requirements for hotels are posted on the program’s information portal. Most of them concern duplication of information in Chinese. To obtain certification, a hotel must develop a Chinese-language version of its site, put location information in Chinese in its rooms, and hire employees who know Chinese. Rooms must also always have green tea with a tea set and electrical sockets with the standard plug used in the PRC. Guests’ breakfasts must be adapted to Chinese tradition.

“The buffet at the hotel restaurant must include some elements of Chinese cuisine. It should include boiled eggs, steamed vegetables cut into small pieces easy to grab with chopsticks, chicken, and baozi—small dumplings with different fillings. Chinese porridge, a watery, salty rice porridge similar in structure [sic] to broth, must also be cooked,” explained China Today project director Anna Sibirkina.



Russia and China Boost Student Exchange Programs
Anna Dolgov
The St. Petersburg Times
October 8, 2014

Russia and China plan to increase the number of students studying under mutual exchange programs to 100,000 in five years, Russian media has reported, shortly after Russia canceled a popular exchange program with the U.S.

The announcement came ahead of a meeting between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang in Moscow on Monday, when several dozen cooperation agreements on trade, investment, energy and cultural affairs were expected to be signed.

Currently, about 25,000 Chinese students are attending Russian colleges and universities, while 15,000 Russian students are studying in China. Moscow and Beijing plan to raise the total number to 100,000 by 2020, Interfax reported Monday, citing an unidentified source from the Russian Cabinet.

As part of the 2014-15 Russia-China Youth Friendly Exchange program — a bilateral year set up to strengthen cultural ties — more than 300 events in both countries were scheduled throughout the year, with more than 7,000 students having taken part so far, according to the spokesperson.

The spokesperson also announced that China had taken first place in the number of visits to Russia this year, with more than 500,000 Chinese citizens coming to Russia in the first six months of this year alone.

“Last year, China came in second by the number of tourists visiting Russia [with 370,000 visits]. But in the first six months of 2014 alone, China has already taken the leading position — more than 500,000 Chinese citizens have visited Russia so far, and 135,000 of them were on tourist trips,” the source was cited as saying by the TASS news agency.

The apparent surge in Russia’s popularity comes as the country pivots toward China amid deteriorating relations with the West.



Locals: Chinese Are Massively Eating Domestic Cats in the Leningrad Region

SAINT PETERSBURG, October 12. Cats have been disappearing without a trace in the village of Divinsky, in Leningrad Region’s Gatchina District. Locals have conducted their own investigation and concluded that Chinese are destroying the animals. And that they are not just killing them, but using them for food.

As local resident Roza Vasilieva told Rosbalt, she has recently lost three healthy cats. The woman had a total of five four-pawed favorites, but two of them are quite old and stay at home. She has lost forever the other cats, which she let out to walk. Her neighbors have faced similar problems. Residents have tried to find the animals and posted notices, but all to no avail.

“You might think the foxes were to blame. But the foxes have long lived in the woods and don’t touch the cats,” says Roza Vasilieva.

“Yesterday, my husband went looking for the cats. He walked through all the fields, but didn’t find a single cat. But he did discover bait set out by the Chinese. They lured the cats with a wrapper soaked in some kind of narcotic. We let our cat sniff it: she just went crazy. Apparently, they drive around in a car throwing the bait, and then collect the cats. At first, we couldn’t believe that it was the Chinese, but then we concluded it was them. We are sure that they are eating the cats,” says Roza Vasilieva.

Residents were alarmed, went to the village council, and began telling other people about the problem. (“Conducting propaganda,” Vasilieva calls it.) What they fear most of all is an invasion of rats. Life in the village would be impossible without any four-pawed hunters.

“The Chinese have two bases here—in the Luga District—the village of Krasny Mayak [Red Lighthouse] and near the village of Kuznetsovo. They have about a hundred greenhouses there. Around three hundred people live there. It’s not enough that they are poisoning our water and land with their fertilizers, but now they’re also catching our cats,” the woman complains.

However, she admits that residents have not found the remains of the animals.

“They hide it all, of course,” says Roza Vasilieva.

Nevertheless, she has no doubt about what has happened to the animals.


The Chinese Revolution in Migration
Gorod (812)
October 13, 2014


According to Zhanna Zayonchkovskaya, a researcher at the Institute for National Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Central Asian labor supply will run out in fifteen years or so. Instead, Chinese will work in Russia. They have now already densely “occupied” the Russian Far East and Siberia.

“Life without the Chinese is no longer conceivable in these regions. A survey was conducted in which one of the questions was, What is more important to you, relations with Moscow or relations with China? China took first place,” says Zayonchkovskaya.

The Chinese are actively cultivating the Moscow market. They have not made it to Petersburg yet. According to Zayonchkovskaya, the Chinese are good workers. They are quite adaptable, not prone to conflict, and know at least a minimum amount of Russian. In some sense, our country’s future belongs to them.

In Petersburg, the authorities have been making attempts to replace foreign guest workers with internal migrants from the provinces. According to Zhanna Zayonchkovskaya, this is a futile undertaking. The population of all the surrounding small towns has already been “licked clean,” and there is just no extra manpower in Russia.


This article was published only in the print edition of Gorod (812), on page 11. Photo, above, courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times.