Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

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The Origins of a Post-Soviet Alternative Russianness: The Harbin Diaspora in the Soviet Union
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a Russian History Workshop (kruzhok) with Laurie Manchester. Moderated by Catherine Evtuhov.

Approximately 126,000 Russians voluntarily repatriated from China to the Soviet Union between 1935 and 1960. Their families had moved to China either when the Russian Imperial State leased land from the Chinese government to build the C.E.R. railroad, or when the White Army retreated to Manchuria. In China, especially in Harbin, the capital of “Russian” China, stateless emigres expanded the Russian language infrastructure created by the pre-revolutionary settlers and established the closest replace to Imperial Russia after 1917. Most repatriated rather than migrating to capitalist countries, and their repatriation may be the most significant ethnic return migration motivated primarily by cultural, rather than political or economic reasons, in world history. This chapter on the Harbin Diaspora in the U.S.S.R. is chapter 9 of a 12 chapter monograph entitled From China to the U.S.S.R.: The Return of the “True” Russians. The majority of those who repatriated did so beginning in 1954, and were not repressed. The Soviet government greeted those who arrived in 1947 and during and after 1954 with official silence. Locals were not told who they were, and repatriates were not allowed to form official associations or publish newsletters. Instead, they formed an unground diaspora that included even those few who had repatriated in 1935 and survived the terror of 1917 which targeted them specifically. This chapter explores how this diaspora functioned underground, who was most active in it, and how it served an integral role in allowing repatriates after the fall of the Soviet Union to unite in opposition to “local” Russians to declare themselves the “real” Russians.

Interested participants should contact Yana Skorobogatov ( to receive a copy of the paper in advance of the workshop.

Laurie Manchester is Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University. She has been the recipient of research fellowships from institutions such as Fulbright, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her publications include Holy Fathers, Secular Sons: Clergy, Intelligentsia, and the Modern Self in Revolutionary Russia, which was awarded the 2008 Vucinich Book Prize. It has been translated into Russian and Turkish. She is the co-editor of Вера и личность вменяющемся обществе: Автобиографика и православие в России конца XVII — начала XX века. Her current research interests focus on ethnic return migration, national identity, and diaspora culture. She is presently completing a book titled From China to the U.S.S.R.: The Return of the “True” Russians. She has also published articles on gender and social estate in Imperial Russia, Russian historiography and statelessness in journals such as The Journal of Modern History, Immigrants and Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora and Kritika.