Русский | Scout: military and Literary Journal. (Petrograd: V.A. Berezovskogo: 1886-1917) Vol. 14 1901, No. 550 (May 1). - 1901. - pp. 415-417
English translation by Igor Radev

Cossacks — Albazinians in China

In September 1900, together with the Russian army and the Russian Embassy, the Beijing Orthodox Spiritual Mission also fled Beijing for Tianjin, accompanied by many Orthodox Chinese and Albazinians, who have survived the latest massacres perpetrated by the Boxers. There they settled within a compound*) belonging to Li Hongzhang in the vicinity of the headquarters of the Chita Cossack battalion. The Mission was headed by Archimandrite Innokenty (native of Tobolsk Prefecture), who was assisted by Hieromonk Avraamy (native of Don Region). The living quarters were soon cleaned from garbage and were adapted for winter dwelling. Also, one of the houses was turned into a temporary church whose Iconostasis was artistically painted by Hieromonk Avraamy. The church got consecrated on November 28, to the great joy not only of the Mission members, but also of the Russian military personnel stationed in Tianjin.

There were 29 Christian Albazinians, including the children, who made their dwelling in the Tianjin Spiritual Mission. They are all shown on the photograph below. Till the latest Chinese uprising, the number of Albazinians was around 70 people, out of whom only 40 have survived, and among them there are 11, who stayed in Beijing, mainly hiding in the nearby villages in the houses of their Chinese relatives. In addition, two Albazinian boys have been taken and adopted by Russian servicemen.

On the photograph mostly men can be seen, while only two older girls №№ 14, 16 and two younger girls №№ 5, 30 are to be noticed. The absence of more women is explained by the fact that the Albazinians usually marry Chinese women and they also give their daughters in marriage to Chinese men. № 4 is a Chinese woman, who is a mother to an Albazinian boy from an Albazinian father.

The Albazinians don't possess written documents on their origins;**) however they keep certain oral traditions:

"Around two hundred years ago, somewhere on the northern borders of China, during a military clash, the Chinese attacked Albazin fortification, which was defended by Cossacks. The stronghold was eventually destroyed, and around 100 Cossacks were taken captives to Beijing. They eventually drew the attention of the Kangxi Emperor, who took them to his Court as bodyguards in the household troops, ordering them to marry Chinese widows of executed convicts."

Later, on the request of Chinese officials, the Albazinians were moved from the Imperial Palace, but remained part of the Imperial Guard being included within the framework of the Imperial Banner Armies under the First Yellow Banner. The Albazinians also speak how in the military headquarters of Beijing a picture of the Albazin crew ensign under which they have served the Russian Tsar is still kept. This ensign, they say, resembles the ensign used by the Trans-Baikal Cossacks and it also have two scallops, but it is all in yellow with a white cross on the diagonal, just like the regimental ensign of the Trans-Baikal Armies.

At present, Albazinians form one battalion under their own commander (№ 1), who for that honour has paid 200 Rubles to the Chinese government. Each Albazinian belonging to this battalion receives lifelong stipends in the value of 3 taels of silver (approximately 5 Rubles) per month and 4 sacks of rice yearly.

Going into exile, the Albazinians took with them the wonder working Icon of Saint Nicholas, the so called "Nicholas of Mozhaysk", which is kept to our present day. ***) They were also accompanied by a priest Fr. Ermolai, who hence became the first, although involuntary, Orthodox missionary to China.

In general, the destiny of the Albazinians was closely linked with the destiny of our Spiritual Mission in Beijing, where they have always found and still continue to find spiritual and material support. A succession of Missions periodically sent to Beijing bear witness to the fact that Russia never forgot her sons in foreign lands. However, perhaps due to difficult communications and the hardships of the life for Europeans in China at that time, for a period of over 30 years there wasn't an Orthodox priest in Beijing, and as a result some ten Albazinian families turned to paganism.

Still, due only to Orthodoxy, the Albazinians, regardless of their gradual loss of the native tongue, costume and facial features of their ancestors haven't yet been completely assimilated among the Chinese people. Even some Russian popular customs were preserved in Albazinian families, mainly those connected with a religious meaning, for example: New Year celebrations, egg painting ****) for Pascha, certain funerary rituals *****) and referring to each other by personal names. ******)

The formerly Russian surnames of the Albazinians were adapted according to the Chinese custom by using only its first syllable as a family name, but in the process of transcribing it with Chinese characters the pronunciation of those syllables got changed too. Nowadays, as can be seen from the ensuing name list there are only five Russian surnames (or at least their first syllables) that are still preserved, which are pronounced thus: Rost., Du, Yao, Ho, Hy… As a remark, there is no one alive at present bearing this last surname.

Which Russian surnames could stand for these initial syllables is very hard to tell. Perhaps, among those living now in Albazin there are some with surnames having the same initial syllables, but it could be hardly expected based on this photograph alone for them to recognize their own compatriots, so less so relatives, since two centuries of life in China has changed profoundly the Albazinians.

Name list of the Albazinians on the photograph

Names and kinship Age Surname
Chinese Russian
1Ivan, batallion commander (Izolin)28RunRost
2Simeon, son of Ivan12RunRost
3Alexander, brother of Ivan23ChenRost
4Chinese woman, wife of Alexander29  
5Maria, daughter of Alexander5ChenRost
6Mikhail, son of Alexander2ChenRost
8Josef, son of Vasily20HaiRost
9Leo, son of Vasily18HaiRost
11Nikolai, grandson of Vasily De22XiHo
12Grigory, second grandson of Vasily De17XiHo
14Pelagia, sister of Mikhail Rui21RuiRost
15Gordey (treasurer of the Albazinian corps)57XiuRost
16Daria, Gordey's daughter21XiuRost
17Theodor, Gordey's first son18XiuRost
18Ivan, Gordey's second son16XiuRost
19Nikita, Gordey's third son12XiuRost
20Ivan, first grandson of Gordey, Theodor's son5XiuRost
21Alexander, second grandson of Gordey, Theodor's son3XiuRost
23Vasily, son of Alexander Ai15AiDu
25Savva, brother of Theodor Xi12XiDu
27Daniil, son of Mikhail Wen6WenYao
29Ivan, son of Vasily Yin6YinRost
30Mary, daughter of Vasily3YinRost

G. Pavlov


*) This sort of compounds consists of many living and working quarters surrounded by a stone or earthen wall.

**) Those who would like to get acquainted in some detail with the origins of the Chinese Albazinians should consult the VIII Chapter of Mr. Korostovec "The Chinese and their Civilization", Sib. 1896.

***) This is the sole holy object that survived the pogrom, and at present is kept in the right compartment of the makeshift church in Tianjin. The icon's height is 2 ½ arshins and its width is 1 ½ arshins.

****) This Albazinian custom is well known among the Chinese too, who in order to curry favor with the Russians, after opening for trade of Beijing and Tianjin started selling painted eggs.

*****) The funeral itself in main part follows Chinese usage insomuch the coffin isn't buried inside a pit, but gets covered with earth while being put on the surface.

******) The Chinese in the course of everyday dealings seldom use their personal names, but instead refer to each other with words denoting kinship: uncle, brother, sister, elder uncle, younger brother, elder son etc…