Why Chinese farmers have crossed border into Russia’s Far East

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Russia

Organisation: BBC News Russian

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 11 Jan 2019

Credit: Text and data analisys: Andrey Zakharov, Anastasia Napalkova. Editors: Alexandra Zaytseva, Georgy Neyaskin. Design: Olesya Volkova. Photo and video: Kiril Glazkov. Producer: Ekaterina Venediktova

Project description:

BBC Russian calculated that Chinese companies either owned or leased at least 350,000 hectares (3,500 sq km) of Far Eastern land in Russia. We went to the places where they have largest territories and discovered how they build relationships with locals, how their life and business is organised. For this project we’ve made a database of more than 20,000 agricultural land plots in 5 regions of Russian Far East that border China. Ownership structure was analised. The actual territory owned or rented by could be higher, the BBC has learned.Such data were not publically available and was collected from several

Impact reached:

The text was translated to several languages within BBC and was widely quoted in Russian media.

Total page views on BBC News Russian were nearly one hundred thousand. It is a large number for Russian market. Total page views of English translation were nearly three hundred thousand. With all the translations total impact of the text could reach approximately half a million page views. 

After the publication we got a reaction from Chinese Foreign Ministry. The Ministry’s spokesman commented on the issue at the press conference.


Techniques/technologies used:

Russian land registry data is publicly available but getting it requires a lot of manual work.

We used several ways to reduce manual work and build a list of land plots to be analysed. Data scraping was one of the main instruments. 

Also, we used mouse movement emulation to request data from official database (we did it via 1 stream not to overload the server).

Besides we dealt with a wide range of different databases for instance database of deals with state owned land, Russian companies’ databases, Russian land registry, database of companies who hire foreign workers.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The full list of Russian land plots doesn’t exist. One can find only outdated lists of land plots in Russian Far East. 

Actually we created our own list by combining old avaliable lists and finding new land plots by scraping data from cadastral map. From this list we’ve chosen agricultural plots by scraping the data. Afterwards we requested ownership data for more than 20,000 land plots from official registry.

As a result we got a database of more than 20,000 land plot registration data for Russian Far East. We analysed that data to find out land plots owned or leased by Chinese companies. It is a way to make one of the first estimates of Chinese presence in agricultural sector of Russian Far East.

Our list cannot be considered as a full list of Chinese owned land although it’s the largest database available.


What can others learn from this project?

The presence of Chinese farmers in Russian Far East is highly debated issue in Russian media and society. We can see a lot of rumours and unconfirmed data. We even asked Russian official on the figures. However we haven’t got any hard data covering all the Far East region.So we got our own estimate.

Using this precise data with addresses we were able to visit Chinese businessmen on land. Combining data research and field reporting we could build a multidimensional image of Chinese business presence in Russia.



Project links: