Project Details
Funding Scheme : General Research Fund
Project Number : 18600816
Project Title(English) : International Education in Manchuria? – Polish Schools in Harbin, 1890s-1940s 
Project Title(Chinese) : 滿洲的國際教育:哈爾濱的波瀾學校,1890s-1940s 
Principal Investigator(English) : Dr Dittrich, Klaus 
Principal Investigator(Chinese) :  
Department : Department of Literature and Cultural Studies
Institution : The Education University of Hong Kong
E-mail Address : kdittrich@eduhk.hk 
Tel :  
Co - Investigator(s) :
Panel : Humanities, Social Sciences
Subject Area : Humanities and Arts
Exercise Year : 2016 / 17
Fund Approved : 188,000
Project Status : Completed
Completion Date : 31-12-2018
Project Objectives :
Draw a picture of the institutional landscape of Polish schools in Harbin in their political, social and cultural context
Trace the key individual and institutional actors involved in Polish schooling in Harbin
Uncover the objectives of the actors who established Polish schools in Harbin
Analyze the interaction of school administrators with Polish, Russian, Chinese and Japanese authorities
Reconstitute the student bodies, curricula, languages of instruction and accreditation of final diplomas
Analyze the educational strategies of Polish families living in Harbin and surroundings
Inquire, through the lens of education, if the relationship between Westerners (Poles) and Chinese was different in character from that in other treaty ports and colonies on Chinese territory, for example Hong Kong or Shanghai
Abstract as per original application
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Manchuria was fiercely disputed between the Chinese, Russian and Japanese empires. As a result, it was also the destination of migrants from diverse backgrounds. In consequence, Manchuria, and especially the city of Harbin, soon developed into a microcosm of transcultural interaction. The first influx of Russian arrivals occurred with the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway in the 1890s. Among the supposedly Russian migrants were in fact many Poles. Poland had lost its independent statehood for more than one hundred years (1795-1919), being divided between the Russian, German and Austrian empires. Poland is usually displayed as a ‘victim’ of imperial politics. However, scholars have recently argued for the existence of a genuinely Polish form of ‘colonialism’ and have analysed the rhetoric of a Polish ‘civilizing mission’. In light of these debates, this project analyses the Polish community of Harbin from its beginnings in the 1890s to its end in the 1940s by focusing on institutions and practices of Polish schooling in that city. In particular, a Polish high school (Gimnazjum im. Henryka Sienkiewicza) with an adjacent elementary division opened in 1915 and was actively supported by the new Polish state and its Harbin consulate from 1919 onwards until its forced closure in the 1940s. Next to this (semi-)official landmark school, the Marian, Franciscan and Ursuline orders established several Catholic institutions for boys and girls where instruction was at least partially provided in the Polish language. It will be argued that these schools were powerful instruments of cultural diplomacy by which the Polish Second Republic tried to get hold of its diaspora and extend its influence internationally. Simultaneously, this project looks at the strategies deployed by Polish families on the spot in Harbin who sent their offspring to these schools. This research makes use of global and transnational approaches to historiography. It is part of a larger second-book project on schools for Western children in China, Korea and Japan before the Second World War that will discuss the East Asian beginnings of international schooling. Located on the crossroads of European and East Asian history, it engages with debates both in ‘general’ history and the history of education.
在 19 世紀後期以及 20 世紀初期,滿洲地區成為中國、俄國和日本的爭奪對象 。因而,滿洲也聚集了很多來自不同地區的移民。滿洲,尤其是哈爾濱 很快就 發展成了跨文化交流的據點。第一批俄國人蜂擁而至之後,建成了 1890 年代 中國東部的鐵路。其中一些俄國移民實際上是波蘭人,而當時波蘭已經喪失了 主權獨立超過 100 年(1795-­‐1919)。波蘭經常被認為是帝國體制的犧牲品, 一度被俄國、德國和奧地利瓜分。然而,學者們最近發現一種波蘭化的「殖 民 主義」,并在探究這種波蘭式的「文明教化任務」。本課題將延續這一命題的 討論,研究哈爾濱的一個波蘭社區,從 1890 年代出現到 1940 年代消亡的過 程。其中又會重點研究當地的波蘭教育機構,尤其是其中一所波蘭高中 (Gimnazjum im. Henryka Sienkiewicza)及其在 1915 年設立的初中部。這所學校 在 1940 年代被關閉之前,一直得到波蘭新政府以及其在哈爾濱的領事館的大 力支持。在 這所半官方學校的旁邊, 聖母會(Marian Order), 方濟各會、 圣 于爾絮勒會都建立了天主教的教育機構,而至少部分教學採用波蘭語。學校是 文化外交的有力工具,當時的波蘭第二共和國正是以此來凝聚流徙的國民以及 增強國 際影響力。與此同時,本文將探討波蘭家庭將子女送到此類機構的考量 。這一研究將全球化和跨國研究的方法融入了歷史研究。這一課題也可以被視 為二戰前在中 國、韓國以及日本的西方兒童教育這一系列的第二部,仍然探討 東亞國際學校的開端,在歐洲和東亞歷史的交融之下,本文既回應廣廣泛意義 的歷史問題,又回應教 育史的探討。
Realisation of objectives: For more than two years this PI has been working on Polish schooling in Manchuria during the first half of the twentieth century. This PI is extremely grateful to the URG for making the research possible. After preliminary work in the initial project phase, all relevant primary source materials could be collected, thanks to a two-months stay in Poland in 2017. Similarly, all relevant secondary literature not available in local libraries could be collected in Poland or purchased from the grant money. This is an important and lasting achievement, as this documentation constitutes the basis for future research work. The systematic analysis of the collected materials is still in progress. Notwithstanding the very limited time that this PI could invest in the project due to teaching constraints (no teaching relief granted; seven courses to teach during the academic year 2018-2019, four of them for the first time and far beyond this PI’s area of expertise), an initial screening of the source materials already allows us to understand the basic mechanics of Polish schooling in Manchuria. First preliminary results were presented at ten international workshops and conferences. The conferences addressed audiences in different fields of history, including global history, history of education, Asian history and Polish history. This PI could make himself a name as a researcher competent with Polish communities and schooling in East Asia. On these occasions this PI also received positive feedback that helped to further finetune the approach. These presentations constitute the basis for future publications. The following journal articles are currently in progress: - “Beyond Harbin: Educational Mobilities of Polish Students in East Asia, 1920s-1940s”, part of a special issue of the Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropaforschung on “Polish Worldwideness” edited by Markus Krzoska to appear in 2021. - “Das Gimnazjum im. Henryka Sienkiewicza in Harbin, 1915-1949: Eine polnische Schule in Ostasien”, to be submitted to Geschichte und Gesellschaft or similar. - “Poles in Manchuria: Challenging Dominant Perceptions of Transnational Lives”, to be submitted to the Asian Studies Review or similar. - “Poles in Transit: Registering for Polish Citizenship in Tianjin, 1918-1920”, to be submitted to the Journal of World History or similar. The research objectives have been fulfilled and, despite their preliminary character, clear statements can be made: - Institutionalised Polish education in Harbin started at the primary level. The Doctor Łazowski Primary School (Szkoła początkowa im. Doktora Łazowskiego) was founded in 1908, followed by the Primary School at the St. Stanislas Bishop Martyr Church (Szkoła początkowa przy kościele Sw. Wincentego à Paulo) in 1912. Later on one more primary school connected to another Catholic church was created (Polska szkoła przy kościele św. Jozafata). Moreover, small-scale schools (szkółki) that comprised only the initial grades temporarily operated in other cities with sizable Polish communities along the Chinese Eastern Railway. Eventually the Sienkiewicz High School (Gimnazjum im. Henryka Sienkiewicza) was established in 1915. As the only post-primary Polish school in East Asia, it played a key role for the Polish community in Manchuria. In addition, the Franciscan, Ursuline and Marianist orders ran schools in Harbin that partly employed Polish personnel and used Polish language. These institutions remained peripheral to the Polish presence in Harbin. - In the years before the First World War Polish primary schools were established from two groups of actors, the Polish parishes of the Catholic church and the cultural association Gospoda Polska which was run by middle class representatives of the Polish community in Harbin. The high school emerged out of the activities around the influential priest Władysław Ostrowski. After the creation of a Polish state in 1918 the Polish consulate in Harbin as well as the Polish Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also played a role in school administration. Influential individuals during the interwar period included the community leader and director of the Sienkiewicz High School Kazimierz Grochowski. Tadeusz Szukiewicz, teacher at the school during the early 1920s, became an influential promotor of Polish-Chinese relations after he returned to Warsaw. Jan Jaworski, professor of sinology at the University of Warsaw, was sent to Harbin as a diplomat and educational advisor in the early 1930s in order to carry out school reform. Aleksander Macedoński was particularly influential during the Second World War before being sent to a Soviet gulag in 1945. - The initial rationale for establishing Polish schools was to preserve Polish language and culture in a diasporic situation. In particular, Polish community leaders wanted to distinguish themselves from the Russian-dominated environment in Harbin. Accordingly, they saw Polish schooling as a means to counteract the perceived danger of “Russification” and “de-nationalisation”. While this motivation continued to play a role throughout the interwar years, a second rationale was brought forward from the 1920s on: Expert-activists in Harbin and Warsaw alike increasingly saw the Polish community in Manchuria as a resource for the new nation-state. In their eyes, schooling should play a role to train young people for Poland’s economic and cultural expansion in East Asia. Formally equipped with knowledge about East Asia, graduates were potential imperial agents in the service of Polish industry. - In the first decade of the twentieth century Russian authorities in Manchuria only permitted the operation of primary schools in Polish. Russians allowed for the creation of Polish high schools, both in Russia and the imperial extension of the railway zone, only in 1915 when this became opportune in light of developments at the eastern front of the First World War. After the end of Russian privileges in Manchuria school administrators had to cope with a new reality. Although Poland and China only concluded a Treaty of Friendship in 1928, Chinese authorities allowed Polish institutions to operate in Manchuria and interactions were comparatively smooth. This situation curiously continued when Harbin came under the administration of Manzhouguo in 1932. The schools were only forced to close after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. From 1945 until its closure in 1949 the Sienkiewicz High School could operate under Soviet administrative and ideological oversight. - The Sienkiewicz High School catered for the Polish community of Manchuria. Apart from foreign language classes instruction was exclusively in Polish. Starting in the 1930s, Chinese and later Japanese were added to the curriculum as compulsory subjects. Already in 1923 the school had been officially recognised by the Polish Ministry of Education. As a result, graduates could directly enter Polish universities. - Polish children also patronised other international schools in Harbin, including the YMCA College, the German Hindenburg-Schule and various Russian institutions.
Summary of objectives addressed:
Objectives Addressed Percentage achieved
1.Draw a picture of the institutional landscape of Polish schools in Harbin in their political, social and cultural contextYes100%
2.Trace the key individual and institutional actors involved in Polish schooling in HarbinYes100%
3.Uncover the objectives of the actors who established Polish schools in HarbinYes100%
4.Analyze the interaction of school administrators with Polish, Russian, Chinese and Japanese authoritiesYes100%
5.Reconstitute the student bodies, curricula, languages of instruction and accreditation of final diplomasYes100%
6.Analyze the educational strategies of Polish families living in Harbin and surroundingsYes100%
7.Inquire, through the lens of education, if the relationship between Westerners (Poles) and Chinese was different in character from that in other treaty ports and colonies on Chinese territory, for example Hong Kong or ShanghaiYes100%
Research Outcome
Major findings and research outcome: Beyond the findings outlined above, this PI would like to insist on the following. The ramifications of the Polish presence in north-eastern China considerably changed from its inception around 1900 to its end in 1949. Poles arrived to north-eastern China as Russian subjects. They were part of a Russian continental migration regime that promoted Tsarist imperial expansion towards the East. There is a small but significant detail that underlines how Poles distinguished themselves from the more Western European presence in East Asia: They arrived to East Asia by train, whereas representatives of other European nations usually arrived by steamer. The end of Russian imperialism in north-eastern China and the creation of a Polish nation-state after WWI changed the situation decisively. Experts and activists in Harbin and Warsaw tried to push the Manchurian diaspora out of the Russian-dominated sphere and to better connect it to the Western presence in the East Asian treaty-port world. The Manchurian Poles were increasingly seen as a resource for the Polish nation and as potential agents for Polish economic and cultural expansion in East Asia. From half-Russians in a Russo-Chinese borderland they turned into Europeans in East Asia, at least in the eyes of key decision makers. The Sienkiewicz High School was supposed to play an important role in this shift. From the early 1930s on, English instruction was considerably enhanced with native British teachers. The school also offered Chinese (and later additionally Japanese) as a compulsory component of the curriculum. A new subject “Oriental Studies” (Orientalistyka) was introduced. The school’s graduation diplomas became bilingual in Polish and Chinese. Moreover, fellowship programmes were set up to allow Poles attending colleges in China and Japan. Polish graduates from Harbin entered the University of Hong Kong from the early 1930s on. Poles also entered Chinese colleges, for example in Tianjin, that were usually frequented by Chinese students only. These examples indicate that Poles nurtured at times a closer and more egalitarian with their Chinese environment compared to what can be observed in the case of other European nations. Plans of Polish expansion in East Asia came to an end with the outbreak of WWII. Placing Polish schooling in Harbin in the context of the changing and intertwined dynamics of Poland, Russia, China and Japan was and remains the most fascinating aspect of this GRF project.
Potential for further development of the research
and the proposed course of action:
The first priority is to finalise and publish the research articles that are currently in progress. This work will be carried out during the coming years on a continuous basis. More importantly, the research on Polish schooling in Harbin is part of a larger project. In the years to come further international schools in East Asia will be researched, including German, French, British, American and Jewish institutions, enabling a comprehensive picture of the beginnings of international schooling in China, Korea and Japan. These further case studies will profit from the experience accumulated during the reported project period. They will allow to make comparisons and analyse entanglements with the Polish case. This PI has already located relevant source materials in European and East Asian archives. In particular, this PI is in contact with the German School Tokyo Yokohama where a history teacher is conducting the digitalization of the school archive. This PI is planning and preparing applications for GRF projects and other external funding in order to conduct this research in the future. Besides journal articles, the larger project will eventually result in a monograph published with a major academic press.
Layman's Summary of
Completion Report:
This project discussed the Polish community of Manchuria that consisted of several thousand individuals who initially arrived to north-eastern China in the late nineteenth century as Russian subjects when the Tsarist power started construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway. The project’s main focus was on Polish schooling in Harbin. Whereas primary schools opened during the first decade of the twentieth century, the Sienkiewicz High School was founded in 1915 and operated until 1949 when the last Poles were repatriated to Poland. The high school was a key institution for Poles in China. It played an important role for maintaining Polish language and culture far away from the mainland. Moreover, Polish activists saw it increasingly as a means for Polish economic expansion in China during the 1920s and 1930s. This research is important because it discusses a minor European diasporic community in China that has rarely been studied. Furthermore, the project studied this community through the lens of education. This is an innovative approach, as schools for foreigners in China only start to become the object of historical research. In this way the project contributes to the study of the beginnings of international schooling in East Asia.
Research Output
Peer-reviewed journal publication(s)
arising directly from this research project :
(* denotes the corresponding author)
Recognized international conference(s)
in which paper(s) related to this research
project was/were delivered :
Month/Year/City Title Conference Name
Copenhagen “Upholding Polishness in East Asia?: The Polish High School in Harbin, 1915-1949”  European Educational Research Association ECER 2017: Reforming Education and the Imperative of Constant Change: Ambivalent Roles of Policy and Educational Research 
Marburg Beyond Harbin: Educational Mobilities of Polish Students in East Asia, 1920s-1940s  International conference of the Kommission für die Geschichte der Deutschen in Polen: Reimagining Polish Worldwideness: Cross-Local Encounters and Global Arrangements 
Hamburg Foreign Language Instruction in East Asian International Schools during the Early Twentieth Century: American, German and Polish Perspectives  ECER 2019: Education in an Era of Risk: the Role of Educational Research for the Future 
Hong Kong The Harbin-Hong Kong Connection: Trajectories of Polish Students during the 1930s  Hong Kong History Project Conference. All Roads Lead to Hong Kong: People, City, Empires 
Hong Kong Making Poles in China: The Polish Independence Association in Tianjin, 1918-1920  International History Conference East Asia in Global Perspective: Transnational Movement and Exchange in the Age of Empire, c. 1850-1950 
Osaka Poles in Transit: Registering for Polish Citizenship in Tianjin, 1918-1920  Fourth Asian Association of World Historians Congress: Creating World Histories from Asian Perspectives 
Goettingen Making Poles more Western in the Far East: The Sienkiewicz High School in Harbin, 1915-1949  Workshop 'Polen postkolonial?' 
Berlin Making Poles more Western in the Far East: The Sienkiewicz High School in Harbin, 1915-1949  ISCHE 40: Education and Nature 
Hong Kong Beyond Harbin: Educational Mobilities of Polish Students in East Asia, 1920s-1940s  International conference 'Children and Youth in a Global Age' 
Other impact
(e.g. award of patents or prizes,
collaboration with other research institutions,
technology transfer, etc.):