Making Poles more Western in the Far East: The Sienkiewicz High School in Harbin, 1915- 1949


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Although an independent Polish state did not exist before 1918, Poles migrated to various parts of the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A considerable group of Poles arrived to Northeastern China (Manchuria) as Russian subjects when the Tsarist Empire started construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway in the late 1890s. Most Poles settled in Harbin, the newly created administrative centre and major railway junction. With the influx of Polish refugees as a result of World War One and the Russian Revolution, Polish schooling in Harbin emerged and expanded considerably in the early 1920s with several primary schools in operation. However, the most prominent Polish educational institution in Harbin was the Gimnazjum im. Henryka Sienkiewicza, founded in 1915. Part of a larger network of Polish schools abroad present in all centres of sizable Polish diasporic communities and funded by the government of the new Second Republic, it was the only Polish secondary school in Asia. Based on archival holdings and interwar publications, this paper discusses the Sienkiewicz High School until its closure in 1949. Beyond the obvious fact that the school aimed at maintaining a sense of Polishness in a culturally diverse environment, it will be argued that state and civil society organisations alike considered the institution as a resource for promoting Polish economic, political and cultural expansion in East Asia. Activists in both Warsaw and Harbin aimed at bringing the Poles out of the Russian‐Siberian migration regime, better connect them to the Anglophone Western communities in East Asia and familiarize them with the local Asian culture. This ambition was reflected in a series of reforms carried out during the 1930s. The school’s curriculum considerably enhanced English instruction, while Chinese and Japanese language classes were newly introduced as compulsory subjects and students were offered commercial classes. In this way, activists and community leaders saw the school as a tool to make the Poles in Manchuria more entrepreneurial, more modern and ultimately more “Western”. Copyright © 2018 ISCHE 40.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


Dittrich, K. (2018, August). Making Poles more Western in the Far East: The Sienkiewicz High School in Harbin, 1915- 1949. Paper presented at the International Standing Conference for the History of Education 40 (ISCHE 40): Education and Nature, Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

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