Dr. Liliane Willens Lecture: Harbin, Manchuria – the Russian City in China 1900-1945 Event Recap


On Wednesday, July 10th, the CIUS Center welcomed Dr. Liliane Willens, a distinguished author and educator, in an effort to promote its ‘Academics and Research’ area of focus as well as strengthen its ties with Jewish community partners in Washington, D.C. Dr. Willens has a unique perspective on the topic of US-China and China-Russia relations, which is supported by her research in her book Stateless in Shanghai. She presented on her and her family’s experiences in China, between 1900 and 1945, as Russian Jewish refugees from the Bolshevik revolution.

Stateless in Shanghai LectureAs she spoke, it was clear that Dr. Willens is an educator and a performer. With the spirit of a child and the knowledge of a grandmother, hearing her speak was far from the boring lectures you may have experienced in a classroom. Dr. Willens began her lecture in the early 1900s, recounting the stories of her mother (which are also detailed in her book, she reminded the audience). She explained the importance of the city of Harbin, Manchuria, a city that housed over 150,000 Russian refugees, sharing pictures that show how much Russians influenced China during that period through their culture.

She gave detailed anecdotes about her life in Shanghai growing up as a “stateless” person. Since her parents left Russia as refugees and China would not grant them citizenship, Willens and her family remained stateless until she arrived in the U.S. through a quota system. Since then, Willens has lived in the U.S. as a U.S. citizen. When asked what culture she most identifies with – Russian, Chinese, or American – she stated that she simply identifies as “multicultural.”

As the evening wrapped up, Dr. Willens spent time signing books for her audience. An observer, in a line of people eager to speak with Dr. Willens, would witness a variety of conversations. Dr. Willens switched between speaking English, French, Russian, and Mandarin with attendees as seamlessly as Google Translate. She spoke quietly with the French speaker from the State Department, invited a woman and her sister of Russian decent to tea the next day, and kindly signed every book placed in front of her.

As Dr. Willens continues sharing her stories and experiences, the CIUS Center is so thankful that she took the time to share he stories once more.