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Russian Orientalism

Russian Orientalism: Asia in the Russian Mind from Peter the Great to the Emigration

David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nq5fp
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  • Book Info
    Russian Orientalism
    Book Description:

    The West has been accused of seeing the East in a hostile and deprecatory light, as the legacy of nineteenth-century European imperialism. In this highly original and controversial book, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye examines Russian thinking about the Orient before the Revolution of 1917. Exploring the writings, poetry, and art of representative individuals including Catherine the Great, Alexander Pushkin, Alexander Borodin, and leading orientologists, Schimmelpenninck argues that the Russian Empire's bi-continental geography, its ambivalent relationship with the rest of Europe, and the complicated nature of its encounter with Asia have all resulted in a variegated and often surprisingly sympathetic understanding of the East among its people.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16289-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. NOTE ON DATES AND TRANSLITERATIONS
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS RUSSIAN ORIENTALISM?
    (pp. 1-11)

    The Age of Exploration some five hundred years ago was one of European geography’s most important epochs. Beginning in the late fifteenth century, captains, merchants, and other adventurers burst free from their small continent and journeyed the globe, bringing back reports of entirely new worlds with fabled riches and wondrous inhabitants. The Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias first rounded the Cape of Good Hope, while his compatriots Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan did much to chart the Pacific Ocean. Others, like Christopher Columbus and John Cabot, found enormous realms across the Atlantic.

    One of the lands Europe “discovered” in those...

  6. 1 THE FOREST AND THE STEPPE
    (pp. 12-30)

    Long before they thought of East and West, Europe and Asia, or Christian and pagan, for the people who eventually became the Russians, forest and steppe defined their notion of self and other. The East Slavs, from whom Russians derive their ancestry, first settled Europe’s wooded northeastern periphery sometime in the latter half of our era’s first millennium.¹ Precisely what enticed them to this dark, primeval land during the era of the great migrations that followed Rome’s collapse remains obscure.

    Some of these Slavs eventually came to pay tribute to the Khazars, a more powerful nation of nomadic Inner Asian...

  7. 2 THE PETRINE DAWN
    (pp. 31-43)

    The story of orientology as an academic discipline in Russia begins with Tsar Peter the Great’s reign at the turn of the eighteenth century. Motivated by his commercial and political ambitions in Asia, as well as by a genuine desire to learn about the world around him, the tsar laid the foundations for the systematic and scientific study of the Orient among his subjects.¹ As with many of his efforts to drag his empire into European modernity, Peter acted on the advice of a foreigner. The German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz had long been fascinated with China.²...

  8. 3 CATHERINIAN CHINOISERIE
    (pp. 44-59)

    Few sovereigns have celebrated their silver jubilee more extravagantly than did Empress Catherine II of Russia. In 1787, to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of her accession to the throne, the German-born monarch invited a select group of diplomats and courtiers on a seven-month journey to admire her latest acquisition, the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. Organized by her erstwhile lover and current viceroy of the region, Prince Grigorii Potemkin, at a cost roughly equivalent to a quarter of the imperial government’s annual revenues, the southern excursion fully confirmed Catherine’s reputation among European contemporaries as one of their richest and...

  9. 4 THE ORIENTAL MUSE
    (pp. 60-92)

    On 30 Floréal, year VI, or May 19, 1798, according to the French revolutionary calendar, a distinguished group of 167 scientists, engineers, scholars, and artists sailed from the Mediterranean port of Toulon. These learned men were joining a flotilla under the ambitious Corsican general Napoleon Bonaparte, whose aim was to wrest Egypt from Ottoman control. While the venture was primarily motivated by the Directoire’s desire to cut Britain’s links with India, Napoleon also had more intellectual aims. Along with dealing a severe blow to the colonial prosperity of France’s hated maritime rival, possession of the lower Nile would enable his...

  10. 5 THE KAZAN SCHOOL
    (pp. 93-121)

    After flowing eastward from near Moscow toward Asia for some 800 kilometers, the Volga River sharply veers southward, eventually emptying into the Caspian Sea, which washes onto the shores of Iran. At this bend it is joined by the Kama, whose headwaters originate in the Ural Mountains, thereby continuing the riparian path to Siberia. The strategic and economic importance of this juncture is clear: in an age when much long-distance travel was by water, the confluence of the Volga and Kama rivers provided a three-way maritime link between Europe, the Near East, and East Asia.

    The Turkic Bulgars were among...

  11. 6 MISSIONARY ORIENTOLOGY
    (pp. 122-152)

    Kazan University’s primacy over Russian orientology effectively ended with the transfer of its faculty to the imperial capital. There was a brief revival of instruction in Turkish, Arabic, and Persian during the 1860s, but it soon foundered in the face of student apathy.¹ Nevertheless, the discipline did not entirely vanish from the city. In 1854, the very year Nicholas I officially shut down the university’s chairs in orientology, the Most Holy Synod in St. Petersburg authorized the Missionary Division at the Kazan Theological Academy, with sections devoted to the languages and religions of the empire’s Eastern minorities. The new department...

  12. 7 THE RISE OF THE ST. PETERSBURG SCHOOL
    (pp. 153-170)

    Compared to its cousin on the Volga River, the St. Petersburg school was a late bloomer. Russian orientology’s birth as an academic discipline had roughly coincided with the founding of the city on the Neva by Peter the Great at the turn of the eighteenth century. But, as we have seen, the groundwork Peter laid for studying the East did not prove particularly fertile in the decades after his death. Aside from a few other false starts, the autocracy made no more attempts to teach Asian languages until Catherine the Great’s time. As for the Academy of Sciences, it played...

  13. 8 THE ORIENTAL FACULTY
    (pp. 171-198)

    A curious structure stands in Staraia Derevnia, at St. Petersburg’s northern edge. On 91 Primorskii Prospekt, the busy thoroughfare that stretches along the Bolshaia Nevka River’s right bank, a three-story block of roughly faceted grayish violet granite, topped by bands of vivid yellow, blue, and red brick, rises amid the trees of what had once been a quiet neighborhood of dachas. On closer inspection, the edifice displays features startlingly out of place in Russia’s most westernized city. The unsuspecting visitor who enters by its southern gate will be puzzled by a massive four-pillar portico entirely unlike the neoclassical variants favored...

  14. 9 THE EXOTIC SELF
    (pp. 199-223)

    No musical composition is more closely associated in the West with the tsarist Orient than Aleksandr Borodin’sIn the Steppes of Central Asia. A track on virtually every bargain-basement recording of Russian classical hits, the orchestral sketch was commissioned to honor the twenty-fifth anniversary of Alexander II’s reign in 1880. The celebration’s grandiose plans featured a conversation between “the Genius of Russia” and “History,” to be illustrated by various orchestraltableaux vivantshighlighting the monarch’s achievements. In addition to Borodin’s contribution, other pieces included “Slava” (Glory), a chorus by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and a march by Modest Mussorgsky commemorating the capture...

  15. CONCLUSION: ASIA IN THE RUSSIAN MIND
    (pp. 224-240)

    Russians have always known the East. But they only became conscious of Asia as a separate continent when they began to regard themselves as European under Peter the Great. In turning to the West, Peter taught his subjects to think more systematically about the East. Indeed, it was one of the tsar’s more learned men, the polymath Vasilii Tatishchev, who definitively set the continental boundary along the Ural Mountains.¹ Peter also launched orientology as an academic discipline in his realm, albeit it partly at Gottfried Leibniz’s suggestion.

    Educated Russians never identified themselves more closely with the West than during Catherine...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 241-292)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 293-298)