Term Paper: Europe, the Russian Federation, and East Asia

Pages: 5 (1512 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: History - Asian  ·  Buy This Paper

Geography

Meeting Place of Two Worlds

On the Borders of East Asia and the Russian Federation

Location shapes human culture in more ways than many can imagine. The ruggedness of the terrain, the availability of water, the vegetation and climate; all have their effects on the development of societies. As well, the human factors - neighboring peoples with differing social and religious customs, and different forms of organization and political development - these too play their part in the story of a place. Some cultures develop in relative isolation, as on an island in the middle of the ocean. The inhabitants of such a place need only deal with the pressures of the natural world. In other cases, however, a region's population must contend with alien peoples; fighting over scarce resources, suffering frequent invasion, and existing in a state of almost competition. Nevertheless, these more exposed locations can also provide a laboratory for cultural change. The point at which numerous different cultures meet can be a setting for trade and cultural development and cross-fertilization. People in these areas may actually become more prosperous through contact with other peoples - and even other physical environments. The borderlands of East Asia and the Russian Federation are one of these places where different human and natural environments come together. For millennia, this region has been a crossroads of cultures, and a place where different topographies and biomes, and landscapes come together.

The place where the Russian Federation and East Asia converge is vast; the region extends from the North Pacific to the very heart of the Asian Continent. To the south of Siberia, in the Russian Federation, lie Mongolia, China, and North Korea.

In this far northern region, many different landforms can be found. There are deserts, steppes, and taiga forests. There are plains and high mountains. There are deep lakes and salt flats. In short, the thousands miles along which the Russian Federation meets Central Asia is a place of great diversity. And diversity of physical environments generally means diversity of peoples... As in this case.

The Russians and other Europeans are relative latecomers to this complex land. The Empire of the Russian Tsars only expanded to include Siberia, and the far Northeastern corner of Asia, in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Until that time, much of the Siberian taiga was inhabited by nomadic reindeer herders and hunter/gatherers - people like the Tungus, and the Yakut. Meanwhile, the highly advanced, and highly sophisticated, civilization of the Chinese had long held sway over the southern portions of these same lands. Chinese political, social, cultural, and religious ideas had long exerted a powerful influence over the peoples of Mongolia, Manchuria, Xinjiang, and even further North. Much of this area was desert or steppe. It was perfect country for nomadic herders and horsemen. The Mongols, Manchus, Uighurs, and others, became - during the European Middle Ages - among the most feared warriors in the World. Several times, these peoples invaded and conquered most or all of China. They adopted many Chinese customs, and were in turn themselves frequently under Chinese rule. The defeat of one East Asian people by another often had profound repercussions for areas far to the West - Mongol Hordes descended on what is now the heartland of the Russian Federation. Known to Russians as Tatars, these people brought East Asian ideas to the relatively backward lands of the northern Slavs; a people whose own rulers were actually of Viking descent.

The meeting of East and West produced a powerful impact on the Russian people and their civilization. but, centuries later Russia was to return to the borderlands - her Tsars ultimately bringing her hybrid East/West culture back into direct contact with the diverse people from Russia's own East Asian influences had originally come. Among the many potential cultural conflicts of this region is that between the members of different religions. Here one finds members of the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Buddhism, and other local faiths, including the time-honored beliefs of the Native Peoples. The conflicts among the followers of these different religious faiths is particularly significant for today's world given the rise of militant Islamic Fundamentalism, and the conflict between the atheistic communism of the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), and those of religious Faith. Islam was brought to the region across the trade routes that connected China with the Middle East and Central Asia. Along the Silk Road, and other less famous routes, Muslim traders, clerics, and warriors, brought a new creed to the people of modern-day Xinjiang and surrounding areas. Islamic Fundamentalism not only threatens Chinese notions of the ideal social society, but it is also an important source of nationalism in an increasingly troubled part of the world. Muslim residents of China - and of adjacent regions of the Russian Federation - frequently feel a greater sense of brotherhood and common purpose with peoples who live under other governments. The former Soviet territories of Central Asia now comprise a collection of independent - and predominantly Muslim - states. The peoples of the Eastern part of the Russian-East Asian border often seek the cultural and political independence they lost centuries ago to China and Russia. Here, religion is a potent rallying cry.

Real and potential conflicts between Russia and China, led the two to encourage (or force) their citizens to settle in these borderlands in significant numbers. Such large-scale immigration has changed the cultural landscape of many places. The Native pastoralists and hunter/gatherers of the North have been almost completely overwhelmed. And even in Xinjiang and Manchuria, Chinese populations have grown so enormously, over the past hundred years, that the Chinese far outnumber the original inhabitants - another cause of local nationalism and resentment. Both the Russian Federation and China have worked hard to develop the natural resources of this area. While farming is not especially practical, given the lack of water, and the often severe winters, there are fertile oases in Xinjiang that have long been home to thriving cities. Lead, tin, zinc, titanium, gems, and many other minerals are mined in the Tianshan and Altai Mountains. While necessary and profitable for the rapidly industrializing Chinese, and the cash-strapped Russian Federation, this vigorous exploitation of natural resources is causing another conflict - one that is potentially far more threatening... To our entire planet.

The race to build gigantic factories, and to produce more, and ever cheaper goods - cheaper than anyone else's - has led China to ignore many of the problems associated with pollution and destruction of the environment. The Russian Federation too, is at fault - its own regulations are frequently lax or non-existent - the relics of the former Soviet Union's push to outdo the West, and of the collapse of the Soviet system and the country's descent into economic chaos and social instability. Russia's drive to reclaim its position as a World Superpower, and China's drive to become an economic, political, and military superpower are placing enormous burdens on a fragile environment. Mining and manufacturing pollute rivers, streams, soil, and air. Already, clouds of pollutant-laden dust drift from China eastward over the Korean Peninsula, bringing environmental devastation to places not directly subject to Chinese resource exploitation. Many of the same contaminants threaten natural environments on the Russian side of the border as well.

The Russian Federation and East Asia share an enormous border, one that includes many different physical and human environments. The region has changed much over time - in particular during the course of the last century or so. In a land so vast, it is difficult to assess which factors exactly most influenced the area's transformation. In a land of deep forests, dry basins, arid plains, and high mountains, topography, vegetation, and climate… [END OF PREVIEW]

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