Was There a Dating Tradition in Inner Mongolian Forest Among Chinese Men, Russian Women?

“But apparently this stems from a tradition whereby Russian ladies would meet Chinese men here in the forest and kind of go on dates. But I guess it’s evolved to become more of a, you know, all encompassing thing.”

Those were the remarks in a recent episode of Travelogue on CGTN, or China Global Television Network (formerly CCTV International), that piqued my curiosity.

In Inner Mongolia 2: Life in the saddle, the host of the program Tianran He walked through a virgin forest in the Hulunbuir region of Inner Mongolia, China, when he started talking about these small messages dangling from the trees: “…in the forest there’s loads of these little good luck charms, and most of them are for love, but this one’s like, I wish my dad, mom, granddad and grandma good health.”

And then he explained this came about because of these rendezvous in the woods between Chinese men and Russian women who were apparently lovers.

Naturally, I was intrigued and set off to find whatever I could about this secret tradition in one of northern China’s border regions.

And I looked…and looked…and looked. But nothing definitive surfaced among the many searches I made in Chinese. (Incidentally, the host’s description of those items as “good luck charms” is inaccurate. Chinese would call them 许愿牌, xǔyuànpái, which could translate to “wish cards”.)

To be sure, Inner Mongolia’s Hulunbuir is a very remote destination in China. It’s tucked right up in the northeast corner of the country, sharing a border with Mongolia and Russia.

The close proximity to Russia does add plausibility to stories of cross-border dating in a forest. And if parents back then were anything like today — after all, it’s not uncommon for families to oppose interracial or intercultural love — chances are couples like this would welcome the cover and privacy of all those trees.

But exactly where is this forest in Hulunbuir? Based on the trees in the video, I suspect it’s a virgin birch forest — and there is such a place in Hulunbuir: 白桦林, báihuàlín, the white birch forest or white birch corridor in Ergun (额尔古纳). This area of Hulunbuir borders Russia, making it the most likely candidate.

Chances are, I’ll have to travel there to get the full story from the locals.

Then again, given that China has a long border with Russia (and the fact that white women in China like me are often mistaken for being Russian), there are probably many more forests out there that have served as sanctuaries of Chinese-Russian cross-border love. What stories have you heard?

P.S.: If want to see the episode for yourself, watch it in full on the CGTN Youtube channel:

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One Reply to “Was There a Dating Tradition in Inner Mongolian Forest Among Chinese Men, Russian Women?”

  1. Interesting article, and funny thing too because my grand uncle’s ranch is near this location and he and his old friends also have many stories to tell about this wide expanse of forests, and they are not good ones at all. Apparently, during the lawless period between 1908 and 1949 this stretch of timber in the Hulunbuir region was a hideout for various gangs of bandits who used the cover of these same trees to hide from roving militia patrols, groups of vigilantes who would do anything to bring back their heads on stakes, or other bands they are engaged in war with. Incidentally, a large portion of my novel “Borderlands” take place in this region. A lot, and I mean A LOT of bad sh*t has happened there.
    My grand uncle recalled once when his father told him that during a particularly cold winter day in 1933 he had traveled into the “white paper forest” with two others from the town to try to shoot down an antelope or two for supper, maybe a few hogs if they got lucky. Grand uncle’s father, lets call him Zhang, had a steel recurve bow of about 100lb draw weight and a Colt Police .38 Special in a shoulder holster. Both of his friends were carrying Mausers, one of them with a scope and custom built 18-round mag extension. They had been in there for almost 6 hours, trying to locate signs of migrating game in these woods when Zhang noticed a trail of dark blood and gore leading from a ravine to the base of a tree. He saw a mass in the shadows which he thought was another hunter’s camp. Perhaps someone had killed an elk or something and left it dangling from a tree limb on meat hooks to bleed out. Apparently not though, because on closer inspection, he saw that 3 human skulls had been impaled on forked branches at the base of the tree, skinned and cleaned to near obsessive perfection in contrast to the bullet ridden and mangled corpses lying right next to them. Zhang recalled clearly that one of the skulls “still had the remains of it’s optic nerves dangling from the eye sockets. The three men decided then and there that it was REALLY the time now to start running out of there like madness. Screw the antelope, they can live without meat for a few days. And that was when ALL HELL broke loose. The three had all instinctively crouched low to the ground as soon as they saw the carnage ahead, keeping their bodies concealed in as much dead shrubbery and undergrowth as possible, and Zhang states that this was most certainly what had saved their lives on that day. Directly in front of them the tree line thinned somewhat and a clearing opened out. Several figures were running at full sprint away from an unseen pursuer. At least 4 men, running as if they were being chased by Satan himself, stumbling and tripping over obstacles with seemingly no regard for direction or their own safety. A few seconds later, Zhang and his friends saw what had been chasing the group emerge from the trees about 50 yards to their left. It was a vehicle, one of which today, would have been called a “rat buggy”. A box-truck sized ATV that seemed to be constructed from the meanest random parts scrounged from a junkyard. It’s engine and operator’s compartment was a framework of rusted metal with no glass or hood and fully exposed to the elements. Two men sat inside. One wore a burly coat of what looked like crudely cured buckskins along with a fur hat that seemed to be made from the entire hollowed-out carcass of a rabbit, with absolutely no attempt made at cleaning or stitching. The man’s face was adorned with a massive beard that stretched down to almost chest length. The second man had on a drab green hunting jacket that was stained with all manner of filth and dirt. No hat, but wore a mask that looked like a white woolen ski hat pulled all the way down to cover the entire face, with holes cut out for the eyes and a very crude and toothy smile drawn across the lower half with black ink The truck roared right up to within 20 yards of Zhang and his companions still hiding in the tree line. Two more of the same vehicles thundered up right alongside it. All of their occupants were hollering and laughing and from what could be heard, it was all mandarin Chinese, though uttered through throats rasped and raked by years of tobacco use. Zhang had feared at first that the men were Japanese since they were very close to the border with Japan-occupied Manchuria. They were Chinese after all, but that did not make their situation any less f*cked up now that they saw their true intentions. It was then that the masked man with the green jacket stepped out of the truck and opened fire after the fleeing figures with an automatic rifle. All of the vehicles lit up with gunfire, and for the next minute or so, they blasted the other side of the clearing with what felt to Zhang was hundreds of bullets, though it must have been far less. Once the shooting stopped, the men from the vehicles began to trudge forth into the gloom. They returned moments later dragging the bodies of the 4 men whom had been trying to run away just a minute earlier. More guttural, almost inhuman words in Chinese spoken by the killers, along with primal and savage laughter, as the corpses were flung onto the rear beds of the trucks as if they were sacks of garbage. That was also when all three of them noticed what was mounted on the engine grill of the lead truck. They thought it was a rotted melon or pumpkin, fixed to the metal with rods around it like a cage. It was a human face, completely detached from it’s head in one piece and stretched so that the lips and mouth were fixed in a grotesque scowl. One of Zhang’s friends, a boy of merely 12 years, completely lost it at this point. He dropped his gun, jumping up from his hiding place and ran screaming back into the forest behind them. Even in his older years, Zhang could not help but tear up as he recounted this story to my grand uncle. The boy had lost his head. Could not be blamed. Who wouldn’t in the face of pure f*ckery like what they had just witnessed? And they had shot him, almost instantly, right then and there. Zhang says that it was the masked psychopath in the green jacket, who had spun around as soon as he heard the commotion, drew a handgun from inside his clothes and blasted the kid four times. There were other weapons that also fired at the fleeing kid, but Zhang could still remember that it was four successive shots from Mr. Smiley-face that dissolved the boy’s head and chest into red mist and sent him tumbling head over heels lifelessly into the undergrowth. And Zhang? He and the remaining man with him bolted into the forest, without any word or noise. There was no way the kid can be saved. He was certainly dead, and to remain there was just asking for the same fate. The killers had pursued them into the trees, hooting and cheering all the while, and at one point, Zhang noticed a few silhouetted figures behind them, shooting randomly ahead at them. When a bullet cracked against the trunk of a tree beside him, Zhang had strung his bow, aimed at the closest silhouette visible in the mist and let the arrow fly. He said that he heard a hoarse, horrid and wet sounding cry of pain echo out into the trees and the shadow dropped. He was sure he had killed, or at least winged one of them, but he was sure as hell not staying there to find out. They kept running, and running, and running until they had emerged from the forest into the first barnyards at the edge of their town. Their pursuers did not follow them all the way. No strange individuals or vehicles arrived at the town itself, where a number of men-at-arms were always ready, whether to fight the Japanese or the Nationalists, or whatever feudal lord in the region that always attempted to seize their portion of the land. Who were these motherf*ckers in the forest? And what were they doing in there? No one found out. All Zhang knew was that after the liberation of the country in ’49 law was finally restored to the area and numbers of “questionable individuals” were rounded up in police and military raids. This may be a place for lovers today and a place of natural beauty, certainly, but from the knowledge of Zhang and my grand uncle as well as their friends, a great amount of sadistic and barbaric savagery had taken place in that very wilderness during a time when human lives were worth practically nothing. Every country seems to have a share of these places also. From stories told here where I am currently residing, I can imagine that the backwater sh*t dumps of Appalachia, West Virginia and North Carolina during the Civil War were no less f*cked up than in the Hulunbuir badlands during the Republic era.

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