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Chinese nationalists annoyed by colonial-era place names

Astart After a three-day visit to Moscow on March 20, Chinese President Xi Jinping was welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin for a feast featuring quail, venison and pavlova. At home, the minds of some Chinese nationalists are focused on another Russian city — a city known for sea cucumbers, a popular Chinese delicacy. In China, the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok is traditionally known as Haishenwai, which means “sea cucumber bay”. What’s more, as these patriots point out, it was once ruled by China.

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At a time when Russia-China relations are booming — they said in a joint statement on March 22 that they had reached “the highest level in history” — some Chinese dared to recall how their country would include Vladivos Large swathes of territory, including Tok, were ceded to the Tsar’s empire in the 19th century. Over the past month, they have taken to social media to rage over the “unequal treaties” that have seized the land.

An order issued by China’s Ministry of Natural Resources in February piqued their interest. It repeats a 2003 decree requiring that Chinese-language maps marking any of the eight Russian sites listed must show their historical Chinese names in parentheses after their Russian names. These places, most of them cities, are in former Chinese territory. One of these is Vladivostok, the largest Russian port in the region.

Some commenters were blunt. On March 22, one of them, who has 54,000 followers on the blogging platform Baijia, wrote that the ministry’s order indicated that “recovering homes ceded by unequal treaties would not be ruled out in the future.” An academic in Beijing with some 5,000 Baijia followers says Russia is right to be concerned about China taking back territory – at least if China’s giant neighbor “falls into chaos”. Another with 10,000 followers appealed: “Never forget our national humiliation.” Using Chinese names for Russian place names would “encourage our country to recover these territories as soon as possible,” the blogger wrote.

Censors have been trying to calm the situation. In early March, talk show star Zhou Libo found his social media accounts blocked after posting to his millions of followers suggesting that China should work to reclaim land ceded to Russia.Mainstream media—even Global TimesA nationalist tabloid in Beijing likes to blame foreign powers for 19th-century colonialism – but avoids the subject.

Global Times I have been paying more attention to another name: “Tibet”. Since 2021, its English version has frequently used the Chinese word for the region, Xizang (see chart). Some Chinese diplomats have also adopted it. The China Media Project, a Hong Kong research group, said it could start in 2021, when a statement about a meeting between then-Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that “Russia firmly supports China’s stance on Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Issues of Tibet and Human Rights.” In that list, the anglicized Cantonese name Hong Kong (“Hong Kong”) was an anomaly of the colonial era. Maybe people in Hong Kong should prepare to change their name to Hong Kong because the Mandarin pronunciation of the name is a transliteration.

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