- Fusing Russian Nationalism with Soviet PatriotismChanging Conceptions of Homeland and the Mass Repatriation of Manchurian Russians after Stalin's Death
In February 1946, the émigré widow of the Harbin police chief wrote to her daughter in San Francisco describing the Soviet army's liberation of Manchuria from the Japanese in 1945. Émigrés in Harbin greeted the soldiers with what she described as "spontaneous nationalism." But within weeks of this initial encounter, she noted, Soviet soldiers raped numerous women and many Manchurian Russians "disappeared."1 Up to 10,000 individuals, mainly men, were seized and sent to the Gulag. All émigré organizations were disbanded, access to the press was restricted, and almost all Russian-language schools were transformed into Soviet schools.2
Despite this ambiguous reunion, between 1954, when the right to return was announced, and 1962 approximately 100,000 Russians repatriated to the USSR from China. Most came from Manchuria, where they had been born, and many left China as soon as the right to return was announced [End Page 529] in 1954.3 Their return constituted the largest repatriation of Russians born abroad in the history of the Soviet Union, and they composed the majority of Russians living in Manchuria.4
One could attribute this mass repatriation to families wishing to reunite with members forcibly repatriated in 1945, but only half of those who repatriated by June 1955 were women.5 One could also ascribe the "push" to factors following the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Yet many Manchurian Russians had repatriated or signed up to do so before 1955, when Chinese became the language in all higher educational institutions and pervasive economic discrimination against Russians prevailed.6 Alternatively, one could credit the Soviet propaganda that inundated Manchuria after 1945, an explanation seemingly bolstered by the fact that the decision for individual families to repatriate was often made by the younger generation, who completed their education in Soviet schools. Yet many families who repatriated did not include young adults in this demographic.7 Finally, one could point to the undeniable fact that it was considerably easier to repatriate than to migrate to capitalist countries.8 [End Page 530]
I argue in this article that although these factors may have often facilitated the decision to repatriate, they were not enough to overcome the mass arrests that Manchurian Russians witnessed with their own eyes.9 Nor were Manchurian Russians nine years later naive about the possibility of Soviet state violence: Soviet consulate reports noted one rumor, which circulated widely in 1954, that after crossing the border, children would be separated from their parents, who would be sent to labor camps.10 This article argues that the number who repatriated would have been significantly reduced if some Manchurian Russians had not melded the Russian nationalism rampant in Manchuria before 1945 with newfound Soviet patriotism. Between 1945 and 1954, the Soviet Union was transformed for many into the homeland to which émigré institutions had taught them before 1945 to return. Because of what they knew about the Soviet Union, it was cultural preference, not politics, economics, or family reunification that chiefly informed the decision of some Manchurian Russians to repatriate.
Since this article attempts to capture how Manchurian Russians felt about the Soviet Union before they repatriated, it draws wherever possible on a wide variety of contemporaneous sources from the immediate post–World War II period.11 Such sources include letters, the interwar émigré press, a journal published by Manchurian Russian youth after the war, and reports by an informer working for the Chinese government, Soviet officers, Soviet officials, and Manchurian and Soviet clergymen.
I also employ a much larger corpus of retrospective personal narratives. These include hundreds of memoirs published in repatriate newsletters and journals in post-Soviet Russia, unpublished memoirs written during the Soviet period, and memoirs published since the 1960s by Manchurian Russians who migrated to capitalist countries. Personal narratives examined also include 65 semi structured interviews I conducted in 2012–18 with repatriates who left [End Page 531] Manchuria after Stalin's death. Forty-two repatriated in 1954, as soon as they could; ten repatriated a year later.12 The Manchurian Russians I interviewed were...