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In 1949, Eastern European states were among the firsts to recognize the new People's Republic of China only partly because they were fellow People's Republics. Another often overlooked connection was the heritage of refugees from the former Austro-Hungary to China.

In this talk, New York-based historian Mátyás Mervay introduces the fascinating political backdrop and personal stories of Jewish emigrants fleeing Hitler's Third Reich to Shanghai, and their locally settled benefactors from Habsburg Central Europe: Austrians, Czechoslovaks, and Hungarians.


After losing World War One, the Habsburg Empire's colonial endeavors in the Middle Kingdom, such as its participation in the Boxer War of 1900 or its possession of the Tianjin Austro-Hungarian Concession, were to fade into oblivion. Yet this was the era when the first generation of Central European China Hands and future philanthropists first settled in the Far East. Their interwoven social networks were present throughout China's turbulent early 20th century and made it possible to save refugee lives during World War Two.

You will learn about the experiences of ex-Austro-Hungarian soldiers fleeing Russian prison camps to China and how they impacted Jewish refugees' lives a generation later. How middle-class philanthropists Paul Komor and Eduard Kann helped Jewish refugees through the "International Committee" and how world-famous dermatologist Frederick Reiss founded the Shanghai Emigrants' Hospital and the first national leprosarium in China. Their stories will be presented against the backdrop of Sino-European diplomatic relations, the global and Sino-Japanese wars, and the diaspora's internal quarrels, to illustrate the significant role of the former Habsburg Empire in creating the Shanghai that became "the only safe haven" for countless refugees.


About the Speaker

Mátyás Mervay is a Ph.D. Candidate at New York University's History Department. His dissertation project focuses on the state administration and diaspora self-organization of post-Habsburg Central European refugees in Republican Era-China. He earned his B.A. in History at the Eötvös Lóránd University (Budapest, Hungary) and his Master's degree at Nankai University in Tianjin in Modern and Contemporary Chinese History. His M.A. thesis dealt with the internment of the Austro–Hungarian prisoners of war in China during World War I. His research was also published in academic journals both in Chinese and in English.

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