Student Report on the Opening of the Statelessness Conference

Reported by Cody Schmidt, class of 2025

This talk is part of Duke Kunshan’s Statelessness Conference, a 2-day event held from December 1st to 2nd showcasing multi-disciplinary research conducted by faculty both in and outside of DKU. The Statelessness Conference focuses on the story of refugeeism in Asia and the Pacific during the Second World War.

Duke Kunshan’s Statelessness Conference began on December 1st, with a welcome and introduction led by Duke Kunshan’s Professor Kolleen Guy and Professor Jay Winter from Yale. The event was held at the IES Center in Barcelona, with additional guests joining over Zoom. The Statelessness Conference is a presentation of work by DKU faculty and guests focusing on statelessness and refugees in Asia and the Pacific during World War II. This project has been several years in the making, with DKU undergraduate students laying the foundation for the work prior to the COVID-19 pandemic by collecting and reconstructing narratives of stateless individuals. These students received a special thank-you from Professor Guy.

The events held throughout the conference’s two-day span were later introduced, with talks focusing on family narratives, Shanghai’s Jewish refugee population, the end of British and French Shanghai, and more.

Professor Winter also gave an update for the future of this work, explaining that the final goal will be to publish a full-length “book about a period of time [between 1930 and 1950] where statelessness was crystallized,” projecting a possible publishing date of 2024. Professor Winter pointed to this as a notable chapter in history where the League of Nations “clearly failed” in addressing statelessness and the rights and identities of refugees. Winter described statelessness as a “liminal world,” where these individuals were “half-way out of the desolation,” caught between the losing of their homes and identities, with a resettlement in new areas aided by the creation of stateless communities.

The stories of resettlement in Shanghai during World War II received special attention among the scholars, as they are particularly notable in shedding light on the crisis beyond Europe, transforming the city and having complex interactions with the city’s cosmopolitan character. Professor Winter emphasized the influence that metropolitan environments, such as Shanghai, have on statelessness, claiming that “[cities have] dynamic war economies” and the wars that cause such refugee flow can be looked at “from a metropolitan perspective,” further illustrating the importance of the study of cities such as Shanghai.


The first talk, which focused on Hannah Arendt and her view of statelessness, directly followed this event.