03.01.2018 change 03.01.2018

Researchers are looking for traces of Polish co-founders of a Chinese city

Building of the Association "Gospoda Polska" at Głucha Street in Harbin. Built with the contributions of the Polish community as a company with shares in the years 1912-1914. It housed a theatre stage, a primary school, clubs and associations, and in the years 1920-1936 it housed the consulate of the Second Republic of Poland on the top floor. The picture from 1932 shows members of the Polish Youth Association. Building of the Association "Gospoda Polska" at Głucha Street in Harbin. Built with the contributions of the Polish community as a company with shares in the years 1912-1914. It housed a theatre stage, a primary school, clubs and associations, and in the years 1920-1936 it housed the consulate of the Second Republic of Poland on the top floor. The picture from 1932 shows members of the Polish Youth Association.

The city of Harbin in north-eastern China was co-founded around 120 years ago by Polish engineers who built the Chinese Eastern Railway. However, traces of this several thousand strong community have been disappearing quickly in recent years, which is why scientists want to document them.

Polish workers came to Manchuria at the turn of the 20th century. Tsarist Russia was buildig the Chinese Eastern Railway, which is a branch of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Alongside the Chinese and Russians, there were many engineers, technicians and workers from Poland. They were refugees, specialists, as well as people looking for a better place to live, including the intelligentsia.

The Polish community concentrated in the city of Harbin - the area for development was selected and plans for the city drawn by Eng. Adam Szydłowski - it was in his opinion the perfect place to reload goods due to the favourable location near the Sungari River. Earlier there was a village with the same name. According to one of the translations, Harbin in Manchurian means "a place of drying nets", which indicates that it was a fishing village. Currently, the city is one of the largest urban centres of Manchuria, a region in north-eastern China.

"Several buildings built and used by Poles and many places associated with them have been preserved in the city space to this day, but there are fewer of them every year, which is why we intend to go to the field and document them digitally" - told PAP Dr. Łukasz Miechowicz from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, leader of the project aiming is to record traces of the presence of Poles in this region of China.

For now, the team has made a comprehensive archival query and selected places to visit in the field. These include two churches, an inn building, a small palace, a cigarette factory, the Ursuline convent and residential buildings. Researchers are also interested in traces of the presence of Polish people outside the city of Harbin, in the entire Manchuria.

According to Miechowicz, the Polish community in Manchuria back them belonged to the richest. "The Poles not only held key positions in the railway administration - one of the directors of the Chinese Eastern Railway was engineer Kierbedź - they would also run mills, workshops, sawmills, factories" - said the archaeologist.

In the peak period, in 1917-1920, up to 10,000 Polish people lived in Harbin. The situation changed in the 1930s, when the Japanese invasion took place, as a result of which the puppet state of Manchukuo was created - from that moment, the size of the Polish community gradually decreased in favour of the Chinese. At the end of the Second World War it was 1.5 thousand people, while by the 1960s it dropped to just 30 Polish people.

Scientists are now looking for funds for a field expedition. Using photos taken with drones and photogrammetry, they want to prepare 3D models of historic buildings related to the presence of Polish people in Manchuria. Subsequently, these models will also be added to the database in the Geographic Information System - GIS. Researchers plan to publish the results of their work on the specially prepared website "Virtual Museum of the Polish community in Harbin", which will be available in Polish, English and Chinese. There are also plans to make a popular science film about the Polish community in Harbin.

The project's partner is the Pomeranian Library in Szczecin, which has vestiges of the former Polish residents of this Chinese city, and the Harbin Club that associates them. (PAP)

PAP - Science in Poland

author: Szymon Zdziebłowski

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