Student Report: Statelessness Conference Overview

Reported by Mateja Bokan, Class of 2025

Co-sponsored by the Humanities Research Center and the Arts and Humanities Division at Duke Kunshan University, the Statelessness Conference took place on December 1st and 2nd in person and online in Barcelona. This project aims to tell the story of statelessness in Asia and the Pacific during the Second World War by building upon Hannah Arendt’s classic account of the plight of the stateless. Throughout the two days, the focus was to review chapters of the book expected to be published by 2024, as the conclusion to this research project.

During the first day, participants were able to hear about the impact of Hanna Arendt and her understanding of statelessness, and how it allowed for a creation of personal narratives of those who occupy a third space between being outcasts and being free men and women. Participants were able to listen about the international politics of refugee settlement in Shanghai, but also Chinese and Japanese policy towards Jewish refugees in Shanghai. Both of this research provided important insight into the political climate before and after the Second World War, but also the status of those that were refugees of the time. This day concluded with poetry by Peter Balakian, and remarks on China’s approach to the Second World War.

During the second day of the Conference, a larger emphasis was placed on individual stories of individual living, going to, and fleeing from China during the Second World War. First, the participants were introduced to Russians in refugeedom in the Second World War, an analysis of the acceptance of Russians in China, and their long-lasting influences on the Chinese. With that, the focus shifted to an investigation in the end of British Shanghai through the lens of a story of a criminal boxer and his family, and their complicated family tree that exemplified what migrations looked like in the focus period. Finally, the participants looked at the End of French Shanghai, and ultimately held an open discussion on where the research may lead next, and how the book could be improved for its publishing.