Chinese Cross Border to Farm Russian Land Abandoned by Jews

Hundreds of Chinese peasants have taken over plots in the underpopulated Jewish Autonomous Region set up by Stalin, The New York Times reports.

Birobidzhan in the 1950s.
AP

Enticed by opportunities closed to them in their homeland, Chinese peasants are crossing the border to farm land in Russia's Jewish Autonomous Region, where barely 1,700 Russians now live.

Stalin had designated the region as a Jewish enclave well before World War Two. The Soviet Union used propaganda to promote the swampy region, with its capital Birobidzhan, inducing tens of thousands of Jews to migrate there. However, 99 percent of the Jewish community eventually abandoned Birobidzhan, which was bitterly cold in the winter and flooded in the summer. There are reportedly only a handful of Jewish families remaining.

Chinese farmers started entering the area after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, drawing protests from nationalist politicians, according to The New York Times.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed off an initiative in 2013 to revive the Jewish presence in the region, offering $8,000 to anyone willing to move to the enclave in order to halt what was termed as an impending demographic disaster. However, nothing has come of the initiative, as the lure of vast tracts of Russian land pulls in Chinese peasants deprived of territory within their own country, according to The New York Times.

Russia, one Chinese farmer told the newspaper, is a "tough place" to live, particularly in winter. However, he said, Russia provides opportunities he never would have had back home.

“There are too many people in China, and there is nothing for people like me over there,” said the farmer, Li Xin, who works an 82-acre plot with his father in the village of Opytnoe Pole.