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The White Russians of Shanghai

The White Russians of Shanghai

The problem of Russian emigration in China in 20th-30th years of the 20th century is relatively little-studied. A huge mass of people were forced to leave their homeland after the Civil War and settled in many parts of the world, including China. The main cities, where Russian immigrants settled, were Harbin, Shanghai, Tientsin and Beijing (Moustafine 2013).

Between the World Wars, in Shanghai, as well as in Harbin, there was a large Russian Diaspora – the representatives of the first wave of emigration. In 1937, there were about twenty five thousand Russian in Shanghai. Most of them emigrated from the Russian Far East, where black buffer of the white movement lasted until the fall of 1922. Two revolutions of 1917 and the Civil War between the Red and White Armies in Russia were the main causes of emigration and refugees of almost two million Russians, who did not want to put up with revolutionary dictatorship of the victorious proletariat in Russia and wanted to escape from the terror and hunger, as well as defeat by the revolutionaries of Russian culture, which was called the Silver Age. Schaufuss (1939) states that the main reasons of White Russian refugee movement are “the overthrow of the czarist regime and the establishment of Bolshevist rule in Russia in 1918, the collapse of the Russian White Armies in European Russia in 1919-20 and in Siberia in 1920-22, and the famine of 1921” (45).

At the end of the 19th century, the royal government has actively invested in Manchuria, which had a positive effect on trade with China. When the regular steamship service between Shanghai and Vladivostok was established, Russian tea merchants started to settle in the commercial capital of China – Shanghai. In 1905, about 350 Russian citizens were living in the Shanghai International Settlement. They were employees of Russian-Asian Bank, shipping company of the Volunteer Fleet, and Russian tea and fur trading companies. Consulae General of Russia was opened in Shanghai in 1896 in order to protect their interests.

In the period between Yihetuan Movement (the Boxer Rebellion) in 1990 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, the number of Russians in Shanghai increased to several dozen. During the Russo-Japanese War, Shanghai became one of the most important bases of food supply for Russian Army and the point, through which intelligence activities against Japanese side were conducted. Many sick and wounded soldiers of Russian Army were treated in Shanghai. After the end of Russo-Japanese War many freed prisoners returned home through Shanghai.

After the October Revolution in 1917, the White Russians “fled east across Siberia, ending up in China” (Lary 2007). White emigration, which reached massive proportions in 1919, was formed in several stages. The first stage is associated with evacuation of the Armed Forces of South of Russia, under the command of the General Staff, Lieutenant-General Denikin from Novorossiysk, in February 1920. The second stage is related to the evacuation of Russian Army, under the command of Lieutenant-General Wrangel from the Crimea in November 1920. The third stage is associated with the defeat of the troops of Admiral Kolchak and evacuation of Japanese Army in 1920-1921. The vast majority of immigrants were soldiers, nobles, businessmen, intellectuals, the Cossacks, clergy, government officials, and members of their families. A characteristic feature of the emigrant colony in Shanghai was a large number of Cossacks (officers and enlisted men). The group of Lebedev arrived directly from Vladivostok to Shanghai. Individuals and small groups of Cossacks arrived in Shanghai as part of Far East Army, which retreated with General Diterihs, as well as in the Siberian Cossack group under the command of Borodin.

Most of the residents of the Russian colony in Shanghai emigrated there from Vladivostok after the fall of Amur Region at the end of the Civil War.. Sharp increase in the number of Russian community members in Shanghai was due to the arrival Siberian flotilla ships from Vladivostok. In the last months of the Civil War, this flotilla was one of the most loyal units of the white mode. Rear Admiral Stark was at the head of the fleet. All vessels of the Siberian flotilla, which left Vladivostok, gathered in the Korean port Seishin. Hence, part of the fleet went to the Philippines, the other part – to Shanghai, where cadets landed, the Far Eastern Cossack force under the command of Lieutenant-General Glebov. They all joined the Russian colony of Shanghai.

Many Russian, who were attracted by the dynamic development of Shanghai economy, moved to the coast of Manchuria in 1920s. Financial situation did not allow most of them to move to Paris or Berlin, where large Russian emigrants’ colonies were. Thus, they flocked in Shanghai, which at the time was a free port. There was no need of a visa or a residence permit to settle there.

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Russian emigration in China during 1917-1945 years was divided into two camps because of the different political positions: one supported the October Revolution and the Soviet regime, the other opposed it. The oppositionists were commonly referred to as the Whites. Some of the Whites participated in the feuds of Chinese militarists. After the events of September 18, 1931, Japanese invasion of the north-eastern provinces of China and formation of Manchukuo, a small number of White Russians took a pro-Japanese stance, sided with Japanese invaders. Some of Russian immigrants have participated in the Russian Fascist Party. However, the majority of Russian emigration has refused to cooperate with Japanese imperialism. Some of Russians have made a valuable contribution to the struggle of Chinese people against Japanese invaders. After Japan occupied Northeast China, many Russian immigrants moved to Shanghai. There were more than 25,000 White Russians in Shanghai by 1937 (Newham 2005).

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