This volume lays claim to give nothing more than personal impressions of a journey made across Siberia and through Manchuria in the autumn of 1901. |
I went to Siberia on a mission of curiosity, with the average Britisher's prejudice against things Russian, and with my eyes wide open to see things I might criticise and even condemn.
If, however, I found little to bless in the great land beyond the Urals, I also found very little to curse. Through generations there has grown up in the public mind the idea that Siberia is a land of snow and exiles. There is much that is thrilling in stories of innocent prisoners, weary and starving, being driven through blinding storms with the whips of brute officials to urge them on. Yet the public, I am afraid, rather like that sort of thing, and a succession of writers have ministered to their appetite for sensation. So only one phase of Siberian life - a slight and a passing phase has been depicted.
Nurtured largely on such books, I went to Siberia half expecting to feed on horrors, and with the intention of writing one more volume to show how cruel the Russian is. Of course I saw much to condemn. But I saw something else. I saw that the popular idea about Siberia is altogether wrong. I saw a land capable of immense agricultural possibilities, great stretches of prairie waiting for the plough, huge forests, magnificent waterways and big towns, with fine stores, with great hotels, with electric light gleaming everywhere; in a word, instead of a gaunt, lone land, inhabited only by convicts, I saw a country that reminded me from the first day to the last of Canada, and the best parts of western America.
I look upon Siberia as the ultimate great food-producing region of the earth. The building of the mighty Trans-Siberian Railway has attracted the attention of traders. Americans and Germans are already in the country opening up commerce. Britishers, however, lag behind.
The title of this book is 'The Real Siberia,' because I endeavour to show that the Siberia of convicts and prisons is passing away, and the Siberia of the reaping machine, the gold drill, the timber yard, the booming, flourishing new town, is awakening into life.
Some of my conclusions may be wrong. But I looked about and kept my ears open. I am too small a man to pose either as a friend or enemy to Russia, I am simply a man who went out to see, and I have written about what I saw. Whatever be the faults of this book, it is, at least, an honest record.
JOHN FOSTER FRASER.
THE AUDITORS' CLUB,
WHITEHALL COURT, LONDON, S.W.
Chapter IV: In a Siberian Town
Chapter V: Siberia as an Agricultural Country
Chapter VIII: The Paris of Siberia
Chapter XI: Trade and Some Trifles
Chapter XII: Across the Great Lake Baikal
Chapter XXIII: The Homeward Journey and Some Opinions