The tradition of great oral epics survived on the Inner Asian steppe perhaps as long as any other place on earth. At the dawn of the 20th century scholars managed to record bards singing stories that might have been five centuries or more in the retelling, embellishment and polishing. Jangar is one such epic, belonging to the Kalmyk people, once the left wing of Genghis Khan’s armies, now a minority people in the Russian Federation. Russian-educated Kalmyks collected these tales, and their work somehow survived the Russian Civil War and Stalin’s ferocious persecution of the Kalmyks and their literature. Translated into English for the first time by Saglar Bougdaeva, non-Russian, non-Kalmyk readers can now appreciate these tales.
At the end of the Second World War, about 600,000 Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner after the Soviet Union swept through Manchuria in the very final days of the war. Instead of returning them to Japan, the Soviet Union held them in prison camps in the Russian Far East for over a decade. The last group was released in 1956, eleven years after the Japanese surrender.
Kazakhstan, like Ukraine and Belarus, temporarily became a potential nuclear weapons power after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviets had deployed 104 SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) containing more than 1400 nuclear warheads in the Kazakh steppe. These were the largest and most threatening land-based Soviet nuclear weapons, and their future control was uncertain in the wake of the Soviet collapse. Togzhan Kassenova, a senior fellow at the University of Albany, a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a native Kazakh whose father was head of Kazakhstan’s Center for Strategic Studies at the time, tells the story of the diplomatic minuet between Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United States in the early- and mid-1990s that resulted in Kazakhstan’s surrender of any claim over those weapons in her new and timely book Atomic Steppe.
As China and Russia have grown closer over the past few years, Sino-Russian relations have been the subject of new attention; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has thrown these into even higher relief. Here is a re-cap of books which cover the past and present of the subject.
It’s a great pleasure to welcome Colin Thubron to the Asian Review of Books podcast. Travel writer and novelist, Colin has written countless books that bring faraway sights and peoples to English-speaking readers—many of which covered regions in China, Russia, Central Asia and elsewhere on the Asian continent.
Sergei Tretyakov is on something of a roll. The Soviet writer has featured in several recent books, including a new translation of (among other plays) Roar, China!, a new biography and a study of the Soviet-led drive for a “Leftist Literary Commons”. He also is a main character, arguably the protagonist, in Edward Tyerman’s Internationalist Aesthetics: China and Early Soviet Culture. China loomed large, both politically and culturally, in early Soviet thinking; this renewed attention coincides with today’s ever-closer Sino-Russian relations.
The border between Russia and China is one of the world’s longest, spanning thousands of miles. It’s one of the few extended land borders between two great powers, subject to years of history, conflict and cooperation. Yet for such an important division, there are surprisingly few crossings, with not one passenger bridge in operation.