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Thomas Lahusen

Manchurian Sleepwalkers

Film - Documentary | March 16 | 4-6 p.m. | 180 Doe Library


Thomas Lahusen, Documentarian and Distinguished Professor of History, University of Toronto

Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES), Center for Chinese Studies (CCS), Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS)


Harbin, Manchuria, was a temporary, provisional home for several hundreds of thousands of émigrés, who came to live there from Russia, Japan, and many other countries, as colonizers, military personnel, adventurers, or refugees, during the first half of the twentieth century. They were forced to leave after 1945. Many years later, the memory of their previous home has become an obsession for them. They collect and exchange photographs, write memoirs, get together in associations, etc. What unites them is a persisting, indelible, and often haunting memory of their life in China, which they transmit from generation to generation.

Footage was shot in China, Japan, Poland and Germany in 2009, 2014, and 2015. It includes interviews with Poles and Germans, born in China, and repatriated after 1945 to a homeland they had never known. Other interviews were conducted in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, among former rural settlers who survived the debacle of 1945, Soviet labor camps, and collective suicide. Interviews and street scenes alternate with archival footage and photographs. Sound is an essential part of the film: the different languages spoken, together with the Russian, Polish, or Japanese songs and tunes from before, alternate with the sounds and voices of the Chinese street. The nostalgic or tragic reminiscences of the former émigrés are challenged by images and sounds of present-day Harbin and other places in Northeast China, which have turned the remains of the foreign presence, such as Orthodox churches, synagogues, mosques, and cemeteries into food for the memory industry.


510-642-3230