This paper explores legal and illegal forms of trade along the China–Russia border in the Russian Far East in the early twentieth century as a case-study for understanding the relation between the state, regional economies and consumption desires. 1 Mass consumption of illegally trafficked liquor and opium by frontier populations put China and Russia border officials into a difficult situation: Chinese authorities blamed the Russians for making opium-poppy planting possible on the Russian side; Russian officials in turn accused the Chinese authorities of provoking mass alcoholism and opium addiction among Russian settlers, which was viewed as a serious threat to Russia’s colonising project in the Far East. The article then shifts attention to the legal aspects of the ‘Liquor and Opium’ conflict resolution, not only on the local level but also involving central authorities. It also discusses the socio-economic context of such illegal forms of frontier economy and the symbiotic activity of border smugglers. Historical ethnography suggests that, despite the various prohibitions and official resolutions imposed, the authorities of both sides were aware of the fact that liquor and opium, which were objects of mass desire for Russians and Chinese respectively, had already made local border economies totally dependent on these products and interdependent on one another. Thus, paradoxically, strict adherence to the mutual official agreements would undermine local frontier economies.
Inner Asia – Brill
Published: Aug 19, 2014
Keywords: China; Russia; Far East; opium; liquor; illegal border trade