Frontier As An Artistic Concept


In the first half of the XX century, the specifics of the identity of the Russian and Chinese inhabitants of Manchuria are determined by special Spatio-temporal and mental coordinates. A distinctive feature of these Spatio-temporal and mental coordinates is the Far Eastern frontier, namely, the borderland, which formed the borderline mentality. After the Civil War and the emergence of the institution of emigration, the category “abroad” in the minds of the Russian population of Manchuria acquires existential and ontological characteristics. Existential characteristics of the border between life and death, emigration, and the mother country. Ontological boundaries are represented in the reflection of ideas about homeland and foreign land, Russia and China, past and future. In the 1920s and 1940s, the Russian Harbinl literature records the processes of the social, geopolitical, ethnocultural, and ethnoreligious identity of the Far Eastern emigration in artistic images and motives. Foreign consciousness was reflected in the work of the Harbin writers of the older and younger generations. In the dynamic development of the connotative chain of frontier images: border – emigration – homeland – borderland. The lyrical existence of the concept of “frontier” is replaced by the epic ontology of the concept of “frontier.” The borderland image becomes an artistic concept. This concept fills with everyday meanings, expressing the specifics of the geopolitical, ethnocultural, ethnoreligious identification of the Russian and Chinese inhabitants of Manchuria.

Keywords: Artistic ethnographyborderlandsforeign countriesidentitymentality


The specifics of the artistic self-knowledge of Russian emigrants in Manchuria of the 20–40s of the XX century developed in unique Spatio-temporal and mental coordinates of the Far Eastern frontier (abroad) (Zabiyako, 2016b). The Far Eastern borderland has become not only a contact zone, wherein the atmosphere of close interethnic interaction since the middle of the 19th century the fates of the Russian and Chinese, Korean, but Tungus-Manchu people were also united. The psychological, linguistic, and cultural boundaries of the compatibility and incompatibility of ethnic groups were formed. A particular type of mentality has developed in foreign countries, namely, the mentality of the Far Eastern frontier (Zabiyako, 2010). After the 1917 revolution, the Civil War, and the forced emigration of hundreds of thousands of Russians to Manchuria, the Far Eastern borderlands, in addition to spatial and geopolitical ones, acquired existential characteristics of the border between life and death, emigration and the mother country, and ontological ones related to the perception of the past and future, homeland and foreign land, Russia and China (Zinenko & Tszyuy Kun'i, 2015; Zabiyako, 2016a). Mainly, the foreign mentality was reflected in the art of Harbin writers and poets, primarily in the dynamic development of the connotative chain of frontier images-concepts: border – emigration – homeland – borderland.

Problem Statement

The study is based on the processes of artistic self-knowledge of Russian emigrants in Northern Manchuria of the 20–40s of the XX century, determined by the borderland (frontier). The artistic self-knowledge of Russian emigrants reflects typologically similar and individual characteristics of the ethnocultural, ethnoreligious, geopolitical identification of Russian emigrants and their conceptualization of the world.

Research Questions

The main research questions are the concept of an artistic concept, the mental characteristics of the Far Eastern frontier, the artistic self-knowledge of the Far Eastern emigration, the key images (artistic concepts) of Russian emigration literature in Manchuria; the image of the border as a reflection of the legality of emigrant identity; the image of perception of emigration in the works of Achair, Nesmelov, Kolosov, Shchegolev; the ambivalence of the image of perception of the motherland in the work of Harbin poets (homeland / foreign land); abroad (border, border, border) as the conceptual basis of the frontier imagery of Russian emigration literature; artistic ethnography of the literature of the Far East abroad in Manchuria of the 20–40s of the 20th century as a conceptual implementation of the different mental attitudes of Russian refugees in China (in the works of Baykov, Shkurkin, Shcherbakov, Mart, Yulsky, Severny).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the work is to explicate the critical ideas of frontier mentality, defining the processes of self-knowledge of Far Eastern refugees and reflected in literary art concepts, based on the literary and journalistic texts by Russian emigrants in Manchuria from the 20s and 40s of the 20th century.

Research Methods

The study used cultural-historical, historical-genetic, typological methods, methods of source study, lexical-semantic, immanent analysis of the literary text.


The artistic picture of the world is the result of the work of artistic concepts that incorporate both general linguistic meanings (critical ideas of the linguistic picture of the world) and individually poetic, diastyle meanings. The semantics of artistic concepts are more mobile in time, due not only to age, sociocultural, and gender factors but also to the artistic setting of the author. As noted by Zusman (2001), "a literary concept is such an image, symbol, or motive that has a "way out" to geopolitical, historical, ethnopsychological moments that lie outside the work of art" (p. 14). The concept of a literary image is made by mandatory inclusion in the associative network of culture.

An artistic concept is realized in work in artistic images, and, accordingly, in motives, "indecomposable elements of the text" (Nezvankina & Shchemeleva, 1987). Elements of the text are an integral part of the plot and actualizing sure signs of an artistic image and in figurative connotations. Thus, the concept of an artistic motive understood as an "indecomposable element of a text." The motive becomes close to the interpretation of the artistic concept: "the motive can be distinguished both within the framework of one or several works of the writer (for example, a certain cycle) and in the context of all his work, as well as any literary direction or literature of an entire era" (Nezvankin & Shchemelev, 1987, p. 229). The artistic concept is primarily associated with national culture; it is organically incorporated into the artistic consciousness of the author. However, his reflection in each case is comprehended and actualized in the work in different ways. Moreover, the totality of such artistic concepts of the world, based on typologically similar models of conceptualization of critical ideas of consciousness of a specific sociocultural and ethnocultural group, may indicate mental attitudes of this group, developing in the corresponding dynamics.

In our case, we are talking about Far Eastern emigration and key ideas implemented in the work of Harbin emigrants – poets and writers. The development dynamics of the artistic concept of foreign countries, reflecting the processes of self-knowledge of Far Eastern emigrants, is realized in a connotative chain of images: border – emigration – homeland – borderland.

This paradigm is representatively traced in the work of poets and writers Achair, Nesmelov, Kolosova, Shchegolev, Baykov, as well as in materials of the Harbin journalism, which seemingly are entirely different from the sociocultural experience and the artistic worldview.

The border is a line that cut off former citizens of the Russian Empire from a past life, native land, culture, relatives, and friends, becomes a coordinate containing existential and ontological meanings. This image was especially sharply imprinted in the minds of those who crossed the border - secret paths from Vladivostok through the Ussuri taiga (Nesmelov), Korea (Achair), Dzungaria (Kolosov); by sea ( Shcherbakov); on ice from Blagoveshchensk to Sakhalyan (Haydock).

Among the poets and writers who survived the dramatic situation, the motive for crossing the border is associated with the archetypal motive of crossing the other world – death as a citizen of their homeland, rebirth as a stateless emigrant (Achair "The Secret of the Northern Taiga"; Nesmelov "About Myself and Vladivostok," "Lenka the Red," "Our Tiger," "La' sourire," "On the watershed," "On the river"; Kolosov's "Swan Feathers" and others.): "It looked like a heavy coffin / A big boat and a Chinese rower, / And the oars plunged measuredly into the water ... / And the night hung, and it was / Starless, hopelessly black / And it promised rain and bad weather" (Nesmelov, 2006, p. 100); "Draw a line and say: the border! / And on both sides – living people. / And the relatives in separation dreamed drearily, / That there would be no meeting ..." (Kolosova, 1994–1995, p. 58); "It is so close, but my heart beats ... / Goodbye, Soviet paradise! / After all, not just a boat, but a door / From the "land of freedom" to China ..." (Kolosova, 1930, pp. 15-16).

Overcoming the border (line, boundary, crossing, border pillar) is accompanied by the lyrical subjects of older poets to clarify relations with their homeland and their relationship to the homeland. For one part of the refugees, this is an incentive to realize their mission in exile: "A foreign land did not dare us, did not bend us, / Although it bent us down to the ground, / And because our motherland drove us out – / We carried it around the world ..." (Achair, 2004, p. 32, Vol. 1).

Alexey Achair not only declared his positive program to overcome the state of emigration but also from the very beginning put it into practice. Alexey Achair worked as the Russian secretary of the Christian Union of Young People, educating and educating young people in Churaevka, organizing the literary and artistic life of Harbin, coordinating his intentions with the program of Siberian regionalism.)

In the artistic world of Alexei Achair, the connotations of illustrative embodiments of ideas about the Motherland reflected his desire to play the role of a cultural hero-enlightener and representative of "Siberian regionalism" in the Harbin diaspora. Alexei Achair reflected the idea of the Motherland in the works "Russian Land," "Universal Russia," "Holy Russia," and "Beloved Siberia." Alexey Achair appealed to the ancient forms of Russian ethnic consciousness, embodying the mythologized ideas about the Motherland as a guarantee of the unity and originality of Russian people. The writer was a Siberian Cossack and, at the same time, a passionate admirer of the ideas of Roerich. In his works, he expressed the aspirations and hopes of the older generation of Far Eastern emigrants (Feng, 2020, p. 225).

For the lyrical hero Nesmelov, farewell to the Motherland is farewell to the beloved and dear woman: "Let the days go by together, / But I do not need a stranger, / After all, you are a woman – oh, Homeland! .. / And, therefore, what is // All that is thrown by the heart in anger, / What is expressed in a rage: / We part in the right way, / To never bother // Each other more ... "(Nesmelov, 2006, p. 99).

Spatial, temporal, linguistic and metal literary connotations are woven into the motive of farewell: "Everything that has been acquired, / I will leave you forgiving debts, – / These pastures and pastries are for you, / And I have open spaces and paths, / Yes your language. I do not know the best / For foul language and prayers, / He, amazing, – from Tyutchev / To Mayakovsky is great" (Nesmelov, 2006, p. 100).

As a result, the image of the Motherland is just an excuse for metal literary and meta philosophical reflection: "My country, country of fate is dashing, / I recall only literary: / Some Paradise and some Pole: / Savodnikov cemetery urns!" (Nesmelov, 2006, p. 99).

The lyrical heroine of Marianna Kolosovoyne can reconcile herself with the fate of an immigrant: "The edge of the sky has a little bit of gold enchanted by the sky ... / Is there really no way home? /I'll fall directly on the rails with my chest, / And I whisper to them: "Even though I'll sleep on the railroad tracks, I'll leave!" (Kolosova, 1929, p. 26).

Due to the particular psycho-emotional organization and ethnoreligious attitude, the word emigration in the artistic picture of the world poetess ("emigrant fate") is synonymous with struggle: "There is such a formidable word," Fight! "/ In this word the emigrant fate" (Kolosova, 1929, p. 31).

To this struggle, the lyrical heroine Kolosova remains true throughout all five collections with specific titles: "Army of Songs" (1928), "Lord, save Russia!" (1930), "I Will Not Submit!" (1932), "To the sound of swords ..." (1935), “The Copper rumble” (1937).

The mental paradigm of "border – emigration – homeland" among the writers of the older generation is determined by real experience associated with the defeat of the White movement, the defeat of the Ice Camp, the steep path to emigration, and the painful awareness of oneself in this capacity. In the case of young writers, things were different. Many of them were either born in exile or did not remember how they ended up in it as children. Each of the young poets built their "relations" with their Homeland, relying on their rootedness in the national tradition and on their perception of the surrounding reality and foreign culture. In any case, this reflection was mostly literary in nature. Nina Zavadskaya, for example, was deeply worried about the situation when there was "no current bushes, / No birch trees to sing about ... / And do not know that land and homeland / For which to die!" (Zabiyako & Efendieva, 2008, p. 88). Most of the young people born in Manchuria could express their attitude to the Homeland in the words of Petrov (2005):

I have never been to Russia, I have not seen the beauties of my homeland, and therefore it seems to me that there is no country in the world better and more beautiful than my native Manchuria, nothing is more beautiful than a brilliant ribbon of a roadbed, breaking through slender cedar or birch forests, flying through fast mountain streams, knocking out between perched hills (p. 127).

Therefore, the image of the border in the work of the young generation determines their reflection of the present and future. Many of them felt that this future was not. Therefore, the state on the verge, at the limit, expressed a negative forecast of the emigrant's futility: "And maybe you should not try at all, / And rush around, and stall with a bird without wings, / And clinging to its claws dead on weight. / And maybe, in essence, it is equal to Russia / This seized, squeezed, peeled bitches" (Granin, 1996, p. 11).

Reflecting on the emigrant fate, the hero of the lyrics of Nikolai Shchegolev, on the one hand, shares the pessimistic moods of his generation: "Emigration – yes! – vegetation in the circle of strangers, / This is the same longing..." However, despite the synonymous series of images of emigration/vegetation/longing, they are opposed to a different, more active, scenario of emigrant being: "... this means learning in reserve / All crafts, languages, typescript, music, dancing, / Getting pennies, getting scorn sometimes" (Shegolev, 2016).

The connotations of the image of the border will be echoed in the works of N. Shchegolev with the title of an unpublished novel – "Crossroads" (1954). Crossroads – This is Harbin, located at the crossroads of times, cultures, ethnic groups, political landmarks. At the same time, this is the limiting state in which a young immigrant man is located, looking for his place in a foreign land and his understanding of what his homeland is (Archive of the Center for the Study of Far Eastern Emigration). So, Pereleshin believes China is its second homeland, and Shchegolev, Khaindrova, Slobodchikov, and other poets consciously strive for the homeland of their ancestors, which they carry out after the war, despite all the obstacles and obstacles.

Thus, the paradigm expressing the border (foreign) state of the young generation of Far Eastern emigrants takes on a different configuration: emigration – border – homeland. In this case, the second element of the connotative chain of images acquires the meaning of a crossroads. A crossroads is a Spatio-temporal, geopolitical, mental coordinate that involves overcoming an unstable state on the verge of "abroad," choosing a positive or negative scenario of self-identification.

Abroad according to philosophers, this is "the limit of a certain type of being, but not necessarily the state of its creative weakness. At the borders of its existence, existing reality can show impressive examples of vitality and creativity" (Zabiyako, 2016a, p. 28). This process is what happens with the culture and literature of Russian Harbin, which in the late 30s of 20th century in its dependence on the culture and literature of modernism, outlived complexes concerning Western emigration and the metropolis and gained a new understanding of its artistic mission in Manchuria.

 "Border life is a huge canvas, according to which it is possible to embroider patterns of countless, very complicated, burdened with complex fables, novels ... Not without reason, in the good old days, stories were written about smugglers, gloomy hunter hunters, incredible adventures, all this in connection with life on the border" (Argus, 1937, p. 18). These words were written in 1937 by the Harbin critic Argus. His words not only recognize the uniqueness of the different situation that emigrants in Manchuria found themselves in, but also call to see the potential for realizing their uniqueness in this frontier reality. This potential includes the possibility of new plots and to determine the originality of the literature of the Far Eastern emigration: "In our time, the border situation has become even more complicated.

Moreover, here, in the Far East, she became especially rich in all sorts of opportunities. The Hunghuz, self-defense units, the rank of the GPU, secretly making their way "to this side," all kinds of adventurers, defectors from the Soviet side, spies, tramps, adventurers. All these curious varieties of people created a bustling life full of dangers, adventures, warm-ups of ideological heroism; low-lying falls into the abyss of treason and betrayal, incredible greed in the pursuit of gold, and ephemeral power" (Argus, 1937, p. 18).

In our opinion, the ontological image of the frontier (borderland), and the whole psycho-mental complex that defines the connotations of the concept of frontier (Far Eastern frontier), containing creative potentialities, uniting the search for older and younger writers of the Far Eastern emigration, were.

In the works of senior writers, it began to be realized, first of all, in texts devoted to the Manchu taiga, its inhabitants, the "taiga law," which includes ideas about holy, sacred time and space, taboos and consequences for those who violated it (Baykov, Shkurkin, Shcherbakov). The Manchu taiga itself, its inhabitants (hunters, ginsengs, Hugh uses – Russians, Chinese, Manchu, mestizos), tiger, ginseng, sacred birds, theriomorphic images (Spirit of the Forest and Mountains), idols and other images. Young writers of Russian Harbin, who inherit the direction of artistic ethnography, developed the potential of this frontier (frontier) imagery in the artistic contamination of ethnographic observations, plots of classical Chinese literature and Russian folklore, classical Russian prose and poetry of the 19th century, adventurous plots of fiction of the 20th century (Yulsky, March, Severny).


Thus, the ontological category “abroad,” which determines the psycho-mental attitudes of the inhabitants of the Far Eastern frontier, has become the artistic concept of the literature of the Far Eastern, mainly Harbin emigration of the first half of the 20th century. In fiction, our reflection is the geopolitical, ethnocultural, ethnoreligious attitudes of the Russian and Chinese inhabitants of Manchuria. This concept has incorporated into its semantic field the dynamic development of a connotative chain of images — conceptual boundaries – emigration – homeland, reflecting the process of socio-political, sociocultural, ethnocultural self-knowledge of Far Eastern refugees. The result of this dynamic development is a conceptual front-line image-topos “frontier,” which overcame the existential meanings of the concept “frontier” in lyrics and approved the ontology of frontier being in epic. The artistic ethnography of the Far Eastern emigration (Baykov, Shkurkin, Shcherbakov, Mart, Yulsky, Severny) expressed a creative scenario for the development of the foreign mentality of the Russian and Chinese population of Manchuria in the first half of the 20th century as a form of geopolitical, ethnocultural and ethnoreligious identity of the inhabitants of the Far Eastern frontier.


The study is supported by a grant from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, project No. 20-012-00318. The theme of the project is “Images of Russia and China in artistic ethnography (based on materials from Russian and Chinese literature, journalism of Manchuria of the 20–40s of the XX century).”


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27 February 2021

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National interest, national identity, national security, public organizations, linguocultural identity, linguistic worldview

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Zabiyako, A. A., Zinenko, Y., Yishan, F., Xinyu, Z., & Shi, L. (2021). Frontier As An Artistic Concept. In I. Savchenko (Ed.), National Interest, National Identity and National Security, vol 102. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1172-1179). European Publisher.