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Family of Ethnic Russians in China
    2007-09-02 15:56:01     CRIENGLISH.com
Forming one of the 56 Chinese ethnic groups, nearly 15,000 Russian Chinese now live in China. In Yining of northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, one residential compound stands out as the home to an extended family of ethnic Russians, the entire place features the strong cultural influence of Russia.

Now, let's follow our reporter, Ning Yan, to pay a visit to this family compound and hear some interesting stories from the families living there. Seventy-six-year-old Nina and her big family have lived in this compound for more than 40 years. Altogether, there are over 30 people living here, Nina, her husband and their children's families.

Ethnic Russians in China are the descendants of those who moved here from Tsarist Russia at the end of 18th century, more came later after the Russian October Revolution of 1917. Nina's parents moved to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region about 70 years ago. When talking of her life in the quadrangle for about 40 years, Nina feels happy and satisfied.

"We have eight sons and four daughters. The children are all grown up. So, I am very glad that we can still live together."

Some of Nina's children are now living abroad, and some of them are working in other cities of China. The youngest daughter, Rida, just had a baby last year, so she stays at home taking care of the child. When recalling her childhood memories, Rida says:

"I was born in 1971. I have many brothers and sisters. We used to spend time playing here in the courtyard together, and it was a lot of fun."

Rida's husband, Nicola, is the headmaster of the local Ethnic School for Russians. It is the only Russian school in Yining City, and the only bilingual one teaching both Chinese and Russian in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Established in 1985, the school now has about 130 students from seven ethnic groups, including Russians, Uygurs, Tartars, Xibe and so on. Nicola says that the school has a well-established curriculum, including Chinese, mathematics, arts, PE and other trainings according to the national standard, providing the children with a good environment in which to study.

"The school has offered bilingual training since 1997. Currently, Russian is a major course in the school. Each week, our students have about five hours for learning the Russian language. "

Forty-eight-year-old Alexander has three kids studying at the bilingual school. He is the fourth son of Nina. Alexander owns a workshop where he fixes accordions. Recognised as one of the best accordion repairmen in Yining, Alexander is also one of the most renowned players in the city. For him, playing the accordion is a must before work every day.

"My parents have learnt about music. My mother plays an instrument called the trigon. My father can play both the guitar and the accordion. I have loved playing the accordion since I was a child."

Alexander has performed in many cities across the country, including Beijing and Urumqi. Composing music is also one of his talents. Rita is the youngest daughter of Alexander. She is so proud of her father.

"I think my dad is great. Although he is very busy repairing accordions, whenever he has the time, he will compose music and write lyrics by himself. Among the songs he's written, I like the song 'Yili River Trilogy' the most. He plays a lot at home, and it's fabulous."

Many local citizens say that Alexander is a person who regards music and accordions as his life. His workshop has been running for 20 years, but the time Alexander has worked with accordions is much longer. Before he opened the shop, he used to be an accordion repairman in Tacheng City, Aletai Region, in Urumqi, and many other places in Xinjiang, which made him a renowned professional of the region.

"I have been repairing accordions since I was 15 years old. I learnt it from my father who was also an accordion repairman."

Next to Alexander's repair shop is a bakery owned by his sister Dina. It is the only bakery that sells handmade traditional Russian breads in Yining City. Dina is the eldest daughter of Nina, from whom she learnt her bakery skills.

"I put in butter, eggs and sugar for making the bread. Besides them, homemade hops, like those for making beer, are also a very important ingredient. That makes the bread taste special."

The specialties of Dina's bakery, include typical Russian rye breads like khleb, apricot jam bread, and home-made buns. The business is quite good. Customers love Dina's Russian flavoured bread and many of them are regular clients.

"Dina's bread is yummy. Normally most other bread has too much cream in it and I don't like cream. The Russian bread here has a special flavour which tastes great."

When it's too busy for Dina to deal with the business alone, Lima will come and help. Lima was the wife of Nina's late son. Although she re-married and moved out of the compound, her bond with the family and the compound lives on.

"I am married again and so I moved out of here. But, I have family here. My children, parents, brothers and sisters are still here. I come here everyday to pay a visit and help with some housekeeping."

The whole big family now has a strong tie with the quadrangle. The youngest daughter Rida says that people in the family are all getting along well with each other, and with the yard.

"It would be sad to see any of us move out of this place. After all, we grew up together here, so we want to keep on living together. You see, the relations in our family are getting even closer."

The old courtyard has witnessed the growth and changes taking place in Nina's family. She says that they love the peaceful life here and will continue to enjoy living there.

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