Networking the Diaspora: Russian Musicians and Musical Activities in Inter-war Shanghai

  • YANG, Helan H L (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This multifaceted and interdisciplinary project brings together three researchers of very different backgrounds to address issues pertinent to the role of music in migration, cross-cultural contacts, and transculturation, anticipating many of the features of globalization. The ‘port of last resort’ - Shanghai - became a Russian diaspora in the East, home of hundreds and thousands of Russian refugees in the 1930s, among them were many musicians who used music for various purposes – from community building to making ends meet. The main objective of this project is to formulate a theoretical framework to unravel how the émigré Russian musicians interacted with the larger Shanghai community during the interwar period through their musical activities. Drawing on the construct of actor-network, the project hopes to reveal how music is used by different actors/actants in their negotiation for space, identity, nationhood, and livelihood, which contributed to Shanghai’s metropolitanism on the one hand and Chinese modernity on the other.

Treating Shanghai’s musical scene as a big network with many smaller networks, the project will examine three communities, the Russian community with a focus on social clubs, the international community represented by the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra, and the Chinese community, focusing on Chinese students of Russian pedagogues, each forming a network of its own, but all linked by Russian musicians who were the key actors and through whom connections were made to other actors/actants. Two case studies of Russian composers who had close connections with the Chinese community and whose works showed Chinese influences are included to illustrate the reciprocal nature of links in a network.

Though findings of this project are likely to corroborate the notion that music has the power to unify people and breaking down boundaries, they will challenge the generally accepted view that the émigré communities in Shanghai lived in self-contained enclaves that had little connection to the local Chinese population. Moreover, they will introduce Russian musicians who in most cases are completely forgotten due to their émigré status. Furthermore, the theoretical framework formulated will open up new grounds in the study of music and diaspora, particularly regarding music’s role in cultural contacts and transculturation. The resulting publications will be pioneer studies to address such a topic and affiliated concerns. Last but not least, such a study provides a historical perspective for a deeper understanding of the impact of immigration and multi-culturalism on a society’s socio-cultural texture.
Effective start/end date1/06/1430/11/16


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