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Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit


The Republic of Buryatia is situated in Eastern Siberia, in the Russian Federation. Buryatia borders Mongolia in the south, and is sandwiched between Irkutsk Oblast in the west and Zabaikalsky Krai in the east. The region has a strong Siberian identity, which at times differs starkly from the Russian majority. After it became part of the Russian Empire in the 17th century, Buryatia gradually became russified. It nonetheless retains strong links with Mongolia, with which it shares a cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic heritage. 

Tunka (Тунка) is one of the districts of the Republic of Buryatia with a population of about 21,000. In 1992, within the border of Tunkinsky district was created Tunkinsky National Park, which enjoys Federal status and which, on account of its abundant natural resources has become a magnet, attracting small groups of Chinese workers. This district neighbours both Mongolia and the Irkutsk oblast.






Over the last decade, the Republic of Buryatia has been actively promoting cultural and economic ties with neighboring Mongolia, but also with China with whom it does not share a border. We were interested in looking at the evolution of perceptions about the Chinese in a rural part of Russia, and in particular in an area with a strong indigenous culture. We felt the peripheral nature of Buryatia would offer a different standpoint from which to investigate the operation of state institutions and state security. The questions driving this research project have been concerned with the ethnic dynamic of the region. We wondered in particular how Chinese migrants and entrepreneurs were received by the local population, and whether they would be subject to the same fears witnessed in the ethnic Russian part of the Russian Far East. Using participant observation and in-depth interviews, Olga Shaglanova investigated the strategies employed by Chinese migrants to navigate the complex Russian legal system. She found that they occupied a semi-legal position, in a wide network encompassing district authorities, local communities' leaders, farmers and local residents. This research on the relations between Chinese and local people also illuminated wider issues concerning the legitimacy of state institutions from a regional/local point of view and allowed the analysis of the tension between trust and distrust, and legality and illegality as they are currently conceptualized in Russia.