Repatriation to a totalitarian homeland: The ambiguous alterity of Russian repatriates from China to the USSR

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In the 1950s, approximately 100,000 Russians repatriated to the Soviet Union from China. It was the largest repatriation ever of Russians born abroad. Many were the children of those who fled Russia following the defeat of the White Army in the Civil War. These voluntary repatriates were not persecuted upon repatriation, unlike smaller waves of voluntary and involuntary repatriates from China in 1935 and 1945-1948. During the Soviet period, no articles were published about them in the Soviet press; officially, they did not exist. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, they formed associations and began publishing newsletters. On the basis of hundreds of contemporaneous autobiographies in these newsletters, oral histories, and other memoirs, this article argues that repatriates born in China see themselves as distinct from Russians born and raised in the Soviet Union. Their collective identity-which verges on defining themselves as a new ethnicity-demonstrates how a diaspora within its own historic homeland, without a state to back them, and without an intellectual elite to lead them, can craft its own identity even after being silenced by almost half a century of state censorship. Yet repatriates do not believe that they will stay distinct from local Russians forever; they see themselves on a mission to convert local Russians into the "true" Russians, imbued with prerevolutionary values and traditions, that they see themselves as embodying. The article focuses on their explanations for why they repatriated, their recollection of their initial arrival in the Soviet Union, their sense of otherness from local Russians, their concept of homeland, and their mission. Retrospective sources, including Communist Party reports, diaries, and letters, are employed to gauge the extent to which the passage of time has shaped repatriates' memories. Lastly, the experience of Russian repatriates from China are contrasted to those of repatriates of various nationalities to other historic homelands and of other nationalities to the Soviet Union.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-388
Number of pages36
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2007


  • China
  • Ethnicity construction
  • Return migration
  • Russian diaspora
  • Soviet Union

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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