Outside of Russia

A conversation about global conflict, immigration, and diasporic cultural production


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Memory
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions

Slavics Without Borders, Slought


Alex Moshkin


Slavic Languages and Literatures, Comparative Literature and Theory, and English at the University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought and Slavics Without Borders are pleased to announce the lecture "Manchurian Memories" and the film screening of Harbin Echoes (2015, 60 minutes) on Thursday, March 19, 2015 from 6:00-8.30pm. The event will begin with a lecture by Thomas Lahusen (University of Toronto) at 6:00pm, followed by the premiere of the documentary Harbin Echoes at 7:00pm which explores how the once multi-national city of Harbin and the region of "Manchuria" in North-East China are remembered by their former inhabitants. The event will conclude with Q&A with the audience.

The film Harbin Echoes (2015) and lecture "Manchuria: Conflicting Memories" explore memories from and about a country whose existence and very name was and still is a matter of conflict: the state of Manchukuo, which was created by Japan in 1932 and disappeared with Japan's capitulation and the Soviet invasion of 1945. For the Chinese, Manchukuo remains "fake" (weiman) till the present day. However, Manchukuo, and more generally Manchuria, and especially Harbin, are not only the object of countless memories, but have provoked in the last ten to twenty years a real boom of "Manchuria nostalgia," originating from all over the globe, which is quite an achievement for a country that "never existed."

Using archival footage and photographs, and footage shot in 2009, 2013 and 2014, the film addresses the memories of Russians, Poles, and Jews who inhabited Manchuria and the city of Harbin, the memories of the Japanese urban inhabitants and rural settlers who lived in Manchuria between 1932 and 1945 (and their tragic exodus after the Soviet invasion of 1945), and the "local" residents, the Chinese, who emigrated to Manchuria when the Qing emperors opened their "preserve" to the impoverished inhabitants of different provinces within the Great Wall. In so doing, the film addresses the issue of the "memory industry" and its commercial and political use today.

While the multicultural mosaic of the city that was called the "Paris of the East" is now gone, the city is still engaged in a cultural dialogue with its past: the persistence of memories reveals itself in fascinating collages. Numerous domes and graceful arches of old buildings, built by Russians and other Europeans, echo endlessly in the domes and arches of the new high-rises and official buildings. A few surviving Orthodox churches, synagogues, and mosques share the city with Buddhist and Confucian temples.

Amidst the insane honking traffic of cars, buses, motorcycles, and pedicabs, there is a multitude of Chinese stores adorned with colorful signs share the street with McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and Russian souvenirs, made in China. Harbin mothers with beautiful toddlers and groups of young people in their Western clothes with cellphones glued to their ears walk past old peddlers and fortunetellers, sitting on the streets as they have for generations. The construction boom has not yet entirely destroyed the old streets and its Chinese Baroque buildings with their mysterious inner courtyards. The modern bustling and growing city of some eight million residents remains a place of memories, of dialogues, of old and new domes striving towards the vault of heaven.

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This event is part of the conference "Outside of Russia," which investigates this persistent yet diverse phenomenon of immigration. By focusing on transnational literary and cultural production over the last 100 years, we seek to understand how a range of possible "Russian identities" is fashioned or rejected in various places, times and regimes. Given the critical role of Russia and extraterritorial "Russian" populations in current geopolitics, we want to complicate "Russia" and "Russianness" as coherent geographic, linguistic and ethnic constructs, as well as investigate their peculiar ideological functions within larger global and geopolitical processes.

Grounded in Benedict Anderson's definition of the nation-state as an "imagined community" and "cultural artefact," this event will examine diasporic cultural and literary production in order to challenge the monolithic exclusivity on which dominant narratives of national identity and collective belonging have been based. Departing from the idealized conception of the Great Russian Culture—what Slezkine jokingly calls the Pushkin Faith—we ask: what can the people, places, and literatures "Outside of Russia" teach us about the multiplicity and hybridity of the "Russian" cultural experience and its global implications?

Thomas Lahusen is Distinguished Professor of Eurasian Cultural History at the University of Toronto, where he teaches in the Centre for Comparative Literature and the Department of History. His publications include How Life Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin's Russia (Cornell University Press, 1997) and the co-edited volumes Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s (New Press, 1995) and Socialist Realism without Shores (Duke University Press, 1997).

He has co-directed several documentary films, and is the director of Chemodan Films. In past years his film projects have engaged the history of the Soviet Far East and China, Soviet and post-Soviet film distribution and exhibition, as well as Central-Asian cultural and social issues.