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Russians, Chinese Get Better Acquainted - With Mixed Reactions With AM-China-Military, Bjt

December 15, 1992

BEIJING (AP) _ Malina, a 20-year-old nurse from far-eastern Russia, considered smoggy, overcrowded Beijing to be the land of opportunity.

Her salary at a hospital in Khabarovsk was about $4 a month - not enough to live on, she said.

So she answered a newspaper ad for Russian waitresses to work at a Beijing nightclub. She got a base salary of $43 a month, plus tips that can total hundreds of dollars.

But life in China was not been up to Malina’s expectations.

″Chinese people are rude and uncultivated,″ Malina, who refused to give her last name, said shortly before returning home after two months here. ″The Chinese are way behind Russia and eastern Europe in terms of culture.″

Her employer, Yu Changhua, who helps run the Sapphire Club, isn’t thrilled, either. He said the four Russian waitresses the club hired have served their purpose of drawing guests.

But he griped, ″Russians are lazy by nature. It’s not their fault; it’s part of their culture. You can that is the reason their economy is doing so poorly.″

For three decades, as their governments faced off across a border bristling with armaments, ordinary Russians and Chinese had virtually no contacts with each other. All they knew were the officially generated stereotypes: Chinese were portrayed as backward peasants that nonetheless threatened Russia by their sheer numbers; Russians were bossy and crude.

Over the past three years, ever since former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev came to Beijing to normalize relations, people-to-people contacts have exploded. Thousands cross the border daily in both directions to sightsee or trade.

About 40,000 Chinese are working in Russia, most on Chinese government- organized construction teams.

The Russian government says it does not know how many of its nationals are working in China. However, Russian diplomats in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang estimate 1,000 young Russian women are working at restaurants and nightclubs in the region as waitresses and sometimes prostitutes.

The increased contact has not erased the stereotypes, nor the habit of mutual suspicion.

″Russians are no good,″ said a Chinese surnamed Li who owns a clothing stall in Beijing’s Ritan Market. ″They try to be picky and act as if they could chose quality products, but they can’t afford quality products. Sometimes they order clothes in big quantity but never come back to get them.″

Li’s remarks highlighted one of the key features of the new relationship - the Chinese feel, for the first time, that they are on top and many can’t help gloating.

The last time the two sides had friendly contacts was in the 1950s, when war-ravaged China was just entering the industrial age with the help of the ″big brother″ Soviets. The Chinese studied Soviet science textbooks and imitated Soviet literature, art and architecture.

But with the Soviet empire dissolved and shrunken Russia’s economy in shambles, positions have been reversed. When Russian President Boris Yeltsin visits China beginning Thursday, one of his stops will be China’s economic reform showcase, the southern city of Shenzhen. He will listen to Chinese tips on how to attract foreign capital.

Wealthy Chinese businessmen rent private rooms at the Sapphire Club for $260 a night just for the thrill of being waited on by Russian women.

A newspaper in Shenyang, where there also are some Russian waitresses, said Chinese customers can’t help feeling a surge of ″national pride″ to see foreigners performing menial tasks for them.

A Russian newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, reported last month that some of the Russian waitresses in China have complained to their consulates of being humiliated or, even worse, kept like virtual slaves.

The newspaper’s reporter in Beijing, Andrey Kabannikov, said some of the Chinese employers confiscate the women’s passports, refuse to pay them until their contracts are up and pressure them into prostitution.

Khabarovsk, Malina’s hometown, banned Russian companies from placing women in jobs in China because of such cases, Kabannikov said.

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