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Russian Perceptions of Japan and China in the Aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution: A Comparative Case Study of Boris Pil’niak’s Travelogue

Alexander Bukh


This article joins the debate on Russian national identity and the role of the Orient in its construction. It analyzes Boris Pil'niak's travelogues written in the mid-1920s from Japan and China. Pil'niak was one of the most widely read writers in post-revolutionary Russia and one of the first Soviet writers to travel to China and Japan. While explicitly refusing to identify himself with the Marxist-Leninist ideology, Pil'niak was sympathetic to the revolutionary cause and professed a nationalist version of Bolshevism. By focusing on the writings of one of the prominent writers of the early Soviet era, this article seeks to shed some new light on the role of Japan and China as "others" in Russian national identity in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. The article critically examines and compares the two constructs. It argues that despite the seemingly internationalist nature of the narrative on China, Pil'niak reproduced the modernist hierarchy in the Russia/China nexus through a temporal difference between the two nations. Contrastingly, in the case of Japan, this article argues that Japan’s modern features made it impossible for the author to deploy the modernist hierarchy and his attempt to narrate the difference between Russia and Japan forced him to identify the former with the West.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229