skip to content

Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit


Khabarovsk and Vladivostok were founded in 1858 and 1860 respectively in the newly acquired Russian Far East. These dates correspond to the Treaty of Aigun and Convention of Peking which transferred these vast Northeast Asian territories from the Qing Empire to the Russian Empire and shaped the new border. The two cities have been claiming regional leadership ever since. Khabarovsk, for instance hosted the Far Eastern Council of People’s Commissars after the October Revolution of 1917, while Vladivostok was the seat of several anti-Bolshevik provisional governments, including the Amur Zemstvo Region which was supposed to become the center of Russian Tsarist restoration in 1922. Khabarovsk is now the capital of the Far Eastern Federal District, but it is Vladivostok which hosts the Far Eastern Federal University and the Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East.





In the early twentieth century the two cities, then still very young, grew very rapidly into major urban centers of Asian Russia. The territories around them, the Russian–Qing borderland, became home to people of different ethnic, political, religious, professional, and social background. The Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Ukrainians, Tatars, and Jews joined the Nanai, Udege, Ulch, Oroch, Orok, Negidal, Nivkh, and other indigenous groups. The territories closer to Lake Baikal also had large Buryat-Mongol and Evenk populations.  There were Christian (Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Catholic, Lutheran, and other), Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish religious communities between Lake Baikal and the Pacific Ocean, and people were the subjects of Russian, Qing, Japanese, and other empires. The most numerous social estates were peasants, Cossacks, and aliens, the main  occupational groups were crop farmers, livestock herders, hunters, fishermen, traders, and miners. With the collapse of the Qing and Russian Empires in 1911 and 1917 the state structures which bound these numerous cultural and social groups into an entangled transboundary environment collapsed, triggering complex processes of disentanglement, i.e. the construction, articulation, and projection of social boundaries onto institutions and territories.  

To better grasp the contemporary social and political challenges, it was crucial to investigate the complex history of spatial configurations in the region, particularly on the 1910s–1920s, the period when the crisis and collapse of the Qing and Russian empires triggered the reconfiguration of regional power structures and led to emergence of new political entities, such as the Far Eastern Republic and other provisional state formations. There were also non-territorial disentanglement projects which were challenged by economic and political splits within the institutionalized groups. In the case of the Far Eastern Republic, for instance, there was a plan to have Koreans, Ukrainians, Tatars, and Jews form their exterritorial national unions. Furthermore, such states as the Republic of China, the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, and Mongolia all date back to the 1910s–1920s. 

The main research questions for this project related to the formation, articulation, and institutionalization of disentanglements and their institutional and territorial consequences in a post-imperial context: what major ethnic, economic, and political identities were articulated? How were communities and non-communities imagined? How did alternative identities split social groups?  

Ivan Sablin looked at the region from the perspective of transcultural or global history and studied it as a zone of interactions between various vaguely delineated populations. He relied on the social identity theory and the concept of disentanglement. The main documents studied were the memoirs of Chinese and Korean partisans, records of the Ministry of National Affairs of the Far Eastern Republic, documents of various political organizations, historical newspapers, and other materials from the Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East in Vladivostok and the State Archive of the Khabarovsk Krai. The formation and articulation of group loyalties, as well as various attempts to govern diversity, are especially relevant for the present when such transcultural dynamics extended to global scale.