Mikhail Drozdov: “Religion in China is Yuan”

Довольно любопытно, но мое интервью владивостокской газете «Конкурент» от 5 февраля 2020 г. оказалось переведено на английский язык. Кто сделал перевод и где оно было опубликовано, я не знаю. Мне оно случайно попалось на одном пакистанском (!) ресурсе. Что оно там делало, Бог весть! Но для истории, я решил его перепечатать и у себя на сайте.

Entrepreneur Mikhail Drozdov, who has lived in Shanghai for almost a quarter of a century, is a real Russian intellectual. With knowledge of the matter, he argues how the history of Russia has intertwined with Chinese, and what domestic business should not count on.

— Mikhail Vladislavovich, how random or deliberate was your choice — to live and work in China?

— In my youth I did not think that my fate would be connected with China. In the late 80s, he graduated from the law faculty of FENU and expected a career as a judge, prosecutor, investigator, at best a lawyer or legal adviser, as experts in the field of law were called then. But it so happened that in Russia socialism was ending, and I became interested in learning the Chinese language. In the 91st he got an internship in China.

I really liked the country, most importantly, I saw certain prospects in China. He began, as they say, to «look that way.» After graduation, he taught for some time, in the 96th he left for a two-year internship in Shanghai. In ’98, when it was necessary to return, another crisis occurred in the homeland. I did not want to work on a meager salary at the university. At my own peril and risk I decided to stay in China, which I do not regret. Since all my childhood and youth passed in Vladivostok, I chose the port of Shanghai.

At present, China has been 24 years old. Of course, if it were not for my first trip to China, life would have been very different.

— What unites the “Russian Chinese” more: the Orthodox faith, business, language, culture?

— When I arrived in China for the first time, communication was very much appreciated. There were no social networks, the ability to watch news on the Internet. The sense of isolation from Russia encouraged people to communicate more directly.

Of course, China had a powerful first emigration. In the mid-30s, only 35,000 Russians lived in Shanghai alone, and much more passed through the city. But in 1949, the Communists also came to power in the PRC. The Russians realized that the same thing started, from which they fled from the Russian Far East. In addition, there were many cases of extradition of individual emigrants of the USSR. And many of those who survived the cultural revolution ended up in local prisons.

Compatriots almost completely left the country. If in 1920-1930. in Shanghai there were many Russian organizations, then later this line was completely interrupted.

Our club in 1998 was the first in China. Culture, language, business — all this united. These motives are present now. My wife is Russian, I came here to study Chinese at one of the universities, we met her at one of the meetings of the Russian Club in 2000.

Then, following the example of Shanghai, Russian clubs began to appear in other cities of the PRC. In 2007, a coordinating council was formed, and I became chairman.

Today coordination councils of compatriots exist in more than 100 countries of the world. In 2015, I was elected chairman of the World Coordinating Council of Compatriots. The congress at which this happened was attended by Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders.

About 25 million former residents of the USSR and Russians live abroad. There are many of them not only in the countries of the former Soviet Union. There are large communities in Germany (up to 4 million), the USA (about 3 million). There are about 30 thousand Russians in China. For such a huge country there are not many. However, as a rule, these are people professionally associated with China, they came here of their own free will.

We protect the legitimate rights and interests of compatriots, contribute to the preservation of the Russian language, culture and traditions. The attitude of the Chinese authorities towards us is neutral. Our activities are not hindered or helped if it does not go beyond social events. And we do not intervene purposefully in politics.

— How do modern migrants differ from the post-revolutionary ones who fled from prison and death?

— People are looking for a stable, well-paid job. If 10-15 years ago, for this it was enough to speak Chinese and have a certain share of impudence, now real knowledge is appreciated. Many Russian universities began to teach Chinese, the number of Russian students in Chinese universities has grown many times. There are more and more specialists, the competition is growing.

Adaptation needed

— After the change in the social formations of the two countries at the end of the last century, the Chinese economic successes are known against the background of rather modest Russians. What factors caused such results?

— The Chinese began their reforms mainly with the economy. In the Soviet Union, they started with politics. The main reason for success in China, our failures is in this. On the other hand, reforms in China began almost 10 years earlier. The decade of the 90s, in my opinion, Russia has lost. That is, we are 20 years behind.

In addition, the Soviet system lasted 70 years, and in China, before the start of the reforms, only 30. In the PRC in the late 70s there were still whole generations of people who remembered what real business was. In Russia, capitalism was built according to the patterns of American militants.

China is characterized by high stability taken 40 years ago. If Russia manages to maintain a certain continuity for another 15–20 years, without serious upheaval, I believe that we will also achieve significant development results.

— The volumes of Russian food exports to China are growing. What, in your opinion, are the prospects for food products from Primorye to the PRC? What mistakes do Russian exporters make when promoting their products?

My company has been providing legal services to Russian business in China for 20 years. Hence, by the way, and funds for social activities. For 20 years, many Russians came, successfully started, but quickly “merged”. Until 2014, the main customers were entrepreneurs who placed production in China, even under their own brands. What was done was then transported to Russia. From 2014–2015 many businessmen are trying to bring Russian products to the PRC market. It became profitable after a sharp drop in the ruble exchange rate. They deliver confectionery, flour, cereals, drinks, including alcohol. There is a successful example of the promotion of toothpaste from Russia. Attempts are being made to market cosmetics, creams, shampoos.

But I would warn Russian manufacturers from the feeling that in China everyone is waiting for their goods to appear on the shelves. There is no such. This is completely unrealistic; there are no such fabulous partners. As an exception, a small batch may be sampled. You have to promote yourself, which will require hundreds of thousands, and preferably millions of dollars. It will require legal and marketing support. Adaptation of products is required. What the Russians like is not necessarily to the taste of the Chinese. Suppose, recently, Russian cookies appeared in Shanghai. I asked the Chinese employees of my company to try, they believe that the products are too sweet.

— As for the norms of Chinese law: what are their features compared to Russian?

— Chinese legislation, like Russian, refers to the continental system of law, based on regulations. The peculiarity is that if in Russia the legislator tries to spell out everything in detail, there are a huge number of gaps in the law of the PRC. Therefore, enforcement is based on a specific practice. In different provinces, it may be slightly different. Decisions depend on local officials. However, this does not mean that arbitrariness reigns in China. The Chinese rightly believe that in such a huge country it is impossible to approach Shanghai and Heilongjiang with one measure.

— Often, our businessmen complain that Chinese counterparties copy the trademark, and then release counterfeit products, delay payment of supplies, and deceive Russian partners. Is it possible to protect yourself from this?

— It’s not about counterfeiting. Russian brands are not familiar to China, maybe, with the exception of Kaspersky, what’s the point of faking them? Before entering the market, register a trademark (TM). In China, the one who first applied is right. One of the largest Russian confectionery companies was faced with the fact that all its names were registered to a private person from Suifenhe.

For what other reason do the Chinese try to register everything? It happened more than once that Russian companies ordered and manufactured products at a factory in China for years. Then they clashed with his leader, reported that they were going to transfer production to a neighboring factory. In this situation, the manufacturer takes out paper, from which it is clear that the brand is actually his, and he will prevent the loss of the customer.

As for fraud, it is necessary to competently conclude contracts, including on advance payment for products. Be sure to check the goods before sending to Russia. If a poor-quality cargo has crossed the border, making claims is difficult and expensive.

— How do you look at the prospects of creating an international arbitration court in Vladivostok?

— For such a court to gain credibility, it must be objective. Also, the parties to the contracts should include a clause that will agree with the decisions of this Vladivostok arbitration. The process of establishing such a court will not become fast.

— In Primorye, a year ago, power changed again. What steps could Oleg Kozhemyako take to intensify cooperation with China?

— Thanks to the WEF, Xi Jinping’s visits, electronic visas about Vladivostok in China, they learned. The trouble with the previous administrations of Primorye was that they built relations primarily with neighboring provinces. In the PRC, the northeast is considered quite backward. The center of economic life is the south of the country, the coastal strip. In addition, by betting on the northern provinces, you immediately reduce the level from international to regional.

— Surely you are often in Vladivostok. In your opinion, is there any progress in the development of the city, which Chinese practices would not hurt us?

— After 2012, the construction of bridges, I visited Vladivostok several times, my parents live here. In terms of infrastructure, little has been done since then. Look at the photographs of Vladivostok, Shanghai and Hong Kong at the beginning of the 20th century. You will not find much difference. But Chinese cities have stepped far forward in a hundred years, Vladivostok has used its potential much weaker.

It’s not the Chinese experience that suits you, but the Moscow experience. It is necessary to tidy up the center, introduce paid parking lots, pay attention to green spaces, pedestrian zones and public transport. At first, probably, motorists will be unhappy, but then they will feel that their life is improving.

— What is missing from Chinese tourists in the Primorsky Territory? Can we offer something other than shopping and catering?

— Not enough friendly attitude and smiles. Many citizens treat tourists with wariness, unfriendly. But Chinese tourists are able to make the lives of citizens better, now they are considered dear guests everywhere in the world.

Not in the Russian context

—  They say you know Patriarch Kirill well…

— I was so lucky in life that I met this man when in 2002, as a metropolitan, he made an unofficial visit to Shanghai. Cyril was here for four days. I keep this communication in my heart. The man is completely extraordinary, very bright. After he left, the connection did not stop. The future Holy Patriarch sent me books with his autograph, I gave him Chinese tea. Naturally, after intronization it became more difficult to communicate. But in 2013, the first ever visit of the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church to China took place. I was at a reception in Beijing, the patriarch came to me himself. I asked: do you remember me? The patriarch said: of course. Today I am in constant communication with the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, who are engaged in external relations and foreign parishes.

— China is a historically Buddhist country. How does this affect the life of China?

— The Chinese, it seems to me, are not very religious. Buddhism is more in Tibet, some distant monasteries. Of course, the general cultural influence of religion affects, since China has developed for a long time along with Buddhism. Something similar is the case with the Russians who lived in contact with the Orthodox culture.

When Metropolitan Kirill asked me what I think about religion in the PRC, I replied: “Religion in China is the yuan.” People pray for money, very fixated on making money. Cyril shook his head: «Yes, but this cannot go on all the time.» When a person satisfies primary needs, sooner or later spiritual needs begin to come to the fore. But while the Chinese have not made much progress in this regard.

— You have long been collecting rare books and paintings. What is the size of your collection at present?

— When I arrived in Shanghai, it was very important for me to find an “anchor” in order to feel good psychologically. I became interested in the history of Russian emigration. I began to collect books published by our emigrants in China, and found them around the world. Today I have a collection of more than a thousand truly rare books. There are well-known, little-known and completely forgotten writers. Fiction books, poetry, scientific works. These are publications that were issued, as a rule, in small print runs.

For example, Zhiganov’s album “Russians in Shanghai”, where about 2000 photos, was released in a circulation of 300 copies. There are books from the library of Alexander Kerensky, autographed publications by famous philosophers and authors such as Berdyaev, Aksenov, Solzhenitsyn, Voinovich, Sinyavsky. There are books of poets who are associated with Vladivostok: these are Elagin, Yankovskaya, Andersen. All of them are autographed. As for the paintings, there are works of historical interest in the collection, but there are paintings by contemporary artists, including seaside ones. Such as Cherkasov, Kungurov.

— What do you especially like about Chinese culture? Can Russians and Chinese understand each other?

— I will not say that I really love Chinese prose, I need to get used to it. Like poems of the poets of the Song and Tang Dynasties. In painting, I am attracted to Qi Baishi’s watercolors. Contemporary Chinese art, in my opinion, is also interesting and enjoys increasing success in the West. In 2012, the Nobel Prize went to Chinese writer Mo Yan. I read with interest his novel «The Land of Wine».

We can reach mutual understanding, we are all human beings. It seems to me that the culture of China is not entirely in the Russian context. For more understanding, we need to strengthen cooperation, be more interested in each other’s history, culture. Now the Russians are growing up, who grew up in China. They have the most opportunities to establish such a dialogue.

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