The Harbin Polytechnic Institute as a center of Russian science and education in China (1920-1950s)

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This article analyzes the activities of the largest university in China in the 1920 to 1940s - the Harbin Polytechnic Institute (HPI), established by Russian emigrants to maintain the Chinese Eastern railway (CER). The fates of CER and HPI were closely associated. The establishment of the Institute was initiated and supported by the railway administration, which provided a building in Harbin and offered substantial funds for the maintenance of HPI. In turn, the Institute trained personnel for the railways and construction projects in Manchuria. The article places the history of the Institute in the context of the history of Manchuria and Russian-Chinese relations. Over its history of nearly one hundred years the Institute repeatedly changed its name. The turns in the political situation in China also led to changes in the governing structure of the Institute, in its educational activities and its teaching personnel. The present research builds on a broad historiographical and source base, including memories of graduates of the Institute, items from the Harbin press, and unpublished archival documents. Documents of the Board of CER, reports, personal files of teachers shed light on issues including the Institute’s corporate academic culture, its student composition, the organization of the educational process, and its sources of funding, as well as the USSR’s pragmatic approach towards the Institute. Established in 1920, the Institute survived several crises. The present case study reveals the role of higher education in strengthening Russian-Chinese relations and cultural diversity of China. In conclusion, the HPI made an important contribution to the preservation of national identity among the Russian youth in China and supported their adaptation. At the same time, it is fair to say that the Institute, and hence Russian emigrés, made a significant contribution to the establishment of a system of higher education in China.

About the authors

Zoya S. Bocharova

Lomonosov Moscow State University

Author for correspondence.

Doktor istoricheskikh nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Professor at the UNESCO Chair for the Study of Global Problems, Lomonosov Moscow State University

1, Leninsky mountains, GSP-1, Moscow, 119991, Russia

Maria V. Krotova

Saint-Petersburg State University of Economics


Doktor istoricheskikh nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Professor at the Department of International Relations, Medialogy, Political Science, St. Petersburg State University of Economics.

21, Sadovaya St., St. Petersburg, 191023, Russia


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Copyright (c) 2019 Bocharova Z.S., Krotova M.V.

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