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History General

Manchuria Under Japanese Dominion

by (author) Shin'ichi Yamamuro

translated by Joshua A. Fogel

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Initial publish date
Feb 2006
General, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2006
    List Price
    $65.00 USD

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From 1932 until the end of World War II, the Japanese established and maintained by bloody rule a puppet regime in the Chinese region of Manchuria. This region was composed of three northern provinces in China; the puppet ruler was the last Chinese Emperor, Pu Yi, and this rich industrial region was clearly coveted and managed by the Japanese as a critical element in their imperial dominion.
Yamamuro Shin'ichi's extraordinary book rereads this occupation under new light. The author shows that right-wing Japanese military and civilian groups thought of construction in this sparsely populated region as an effort to build a paradise on earth, with roots deep in Asian traditions. At the same time, Chinese and Korean populations in the region were abused by the Japanese military, and many Japanese were deliberately misinformed about what was being done in their name. Yamamuro examines the policies and events unfolding on the ground during this time. With close attention to the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans involved, and the links between the military and the home islands, he offers his own overall assessment of this distinctive instance of state-building. Making use of numerous sources in Chinese and Japanese, from legal documents and government decrees to memoirs and poetry, Manchuria Under Japanese Dominion goes beyond rhetoric to provide a unique assessment of the history of this period.

About the authors

Contributor Notes

Yamamuro Shin'ichi is Professor of History and Politics at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at Kyoto University. He is the author of numerous books in Japanese, including Questioning the Meaning of Modern Japan and Representations of Mutual Understanding and Misunderstanding Among Japan, China, and Korea. Joshua A. Fogel is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of many books, including The Literature of Travel in the Japanese Rediscovery of China and editor of The Teleolology of the Nation State: Japan and China, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Excerpt: Manchuria Under Japanese Dominion (by (author) Shin'ichi Yamamuro; translated by Joshua A. Fogel)

The Shadow of Manzhouguo
There was once a country known as Manzhouguo (also rendered Manchukuo). It emerged suddenly in China's northeast on March 1, 1932, and vanished with Emperor Puyi's manifesto of abdication on August 18, 1945, having lasted for just over thirteen years and five months.
For the Japanese who actually lived there, however, this country's final end was only the beginning of their real Manzhouguo "experience." What was Manzhouguo and how did it relate to them personally? They must have asked themselves these questions repeatedly as various images of Manzhouguo later took shape; virtually all of these Japanese went through gruesome experiences in the aftermath of the state's collapse, often lingering between life and death—the invasion of the Soviet Army, their evacuation, and perhaps their internment in Siberian camps—experiences that are exceedingly difficult to describe. Is it now possible for us to see through to the countless fragments of these images of Manzhouguo which continue to live in their memories now strewn through innumerable notes and memoirs?
For the great majority of Japanese who have since lived through more than a half-century longer than the thirteen and one-half years that Manzhouguo existed, that land has become little more than a historical term which conjures up no particular image of any sort. To be sure, the past half-century has been sufficiently long for many matters to pass from experience to memory and from memory into history, long enough perhaps for even the experience of hardship to be refined into a form of homesickness, for the crimes that transpired all around them to be forgotten as if the whole thing had been a daydream. For the Japanese in the home islands with no links to Manzhouguo, whether they have sunk into oblivion or, pent up with their memories, have taken their ignorance of Manzhouguo as commonsensical, today the scars left from Manzhouguo continue to live on in that land, be it as the issue of war orphans "left behind" in China or as that of the wives left behind. Although Manzhouguo has ceased to exist, for the people who continue to live there, and for the dwindling number of survivors of that era, the wounds of Manzhouguo continue to ache and will not heal or disappear.
In fact, the Japanese are by no means the only ones still affected. Indeed, the Chinese and Koreans who lived in Manzhouguo suffered far more and bore far heavier burdens. Certainly for descendants of those "suppressed" as "bandits" who opposed the state of Manzhouguo and Japan and for those who had their lands confiscated by such concerns as East Asian Industry (Tō-A kangyō) and the Manchurian Colonization Corporation (Manshū takushoku kōsha), the shadow of Manzhouguo always lingers close at hand and never leaves for long. So, too, for those who may have participated in Manzhouguo affairs or been pro-Japanese and were subjected to persecution by their fellow nationals, particularly at such times as the Cultural Revolution in China. Furthermore, among those Koreans who, in conjunction with the colonial policy of Japan and Manzhouguo, were forcibly moved there, many were mobilized by the Guandong (also transcribed as Kwantung) Army and taken prisoner in Siberia, and later—after the disintegration of Manzhouguo—wanted to return to home but were detained for economic reasons and must have been burning with homesickness for Korea.
Manzhouguo, a Puppet State
The number of people who have no knowledge of Manzhouguo increases with each passing day. However, like a piercing thorn that cannot be removed, the incessant pain it caused has left a residue of bad feelings in the minds of many Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and others. While the great majority of people now know nothing about Manzhouguo, for those who lived through it, much too short a time has passed for it to be forgotten. Any evaluation of Manzhouguo would be remiss not to stress the extraordinary artificiality of which it smacked.
In Japanese dictionaries and historical encyclopedias, its position has all but become fixed. The general narrative runs as follows: Manzhouguo—in September of 1931, the Guandong Army launched the Manchurian Incident and occupied Northeast China; the following year it installed Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, as chief executive (he was enthroned in 1934), and a state was formed; all real power in national defense and government were held by the Guandong Army, and Manzhouguo thus became the military and economic base for the Japanese invasion of the Asian mainland; it collapsed in 1945 with Japan's defeat in the war. Also, most designate Manzhouguo as a puppet state of Japan or of the Guandong Army.
In Chinese history texts and dictionaries, by contrast, Manzhouguo is described in the following manner: a puppet regime fabricated by Japanese imperialism after the armed invasion of the Three Eastern Provinces (also known as Manchuria or Northeast China); with the Japan-Manzhouguo Protocol, Japanese imperialism manipulated all political, economic, military, and cultural powers in China's northeast; in 1945 it was crushed with the victory of the Chinese people's anti-Japanese war. In order to highlight its puppet nature and its anti-popular qualities, the Chinese refer to it as "wei Manzhouguo" (illegitimate Manzhouguo) or "wei Man" for short. They frequently refer to its institutions, bureaucratic posts, and laws as the "illegitimate council of state," "illegitimate legislature," and "illegitimate laws of state organization." This language is not unique to mainland China, but appears in works published in the Republic of China (Taiwan) as well.
In addition to writings of this sort by people involved in the events, narratives of Manzhouguo in English and other Western languages frequently offer explanations such as the following: "Manchukuo" (or Manchoukuo): a puppet state established by Japan in China's northeast in 1931; although Puyi was made nominal ruler, all real power was dominated by Japanese military men, bureaucrats, and advisors; in so doing, Japan successfully pursued the conquest of Manchuria, which had been contested by China and Russia (later, the Soviet Union) for nearly half a century; in spite of the fact that many countries recognized it, Manzhouguo remained essentially a puppet regime; and it was destroyed with Japan's surrender in World War II.
Putting aside for the moment the actuality of who manipulated and ruled whom and in what way, if we consider a "puppet state" one in which—despite its formal independence as a nation—its government rules not on behalf of the people of that nation but in accordance with the purposes of another country, then Manzhouguo was a puppet state. One can scarcely deny that one of the forms of colonial rule was the very form this state took. In particular, for people who were mercilessly stripped of the wealth they had painstakingly saved on the land they worked for many years and who consequently suffered greatly, no matter how often they heard the ideals of this state recounted in elegant, lofty language, they certainly would not have accepted any legitimation for a state that threatened their lives and livelihoods.
Each person is likely to see the level of "puppetry" in Manzhouguo somewhat differently. While the concept of an illegitimate or puppet state may be too strong for many Japanese to accept, once exposed to the Chinese museum exhibits and pictures depicting excruciating pain in such places as the Museum of the Illegitimate Manzhouguo Monarchy in Changchun, or the Northeast China Martyrs Museum and the Museum of the Evidence of the Crimes of Unit 731 of the Japanese Army of Aggression in Harbin, or the Hall of the Remains of the Martyred Comrades at Pingdingshan in Fushun, comfortable images will no longer be acceptable.
Furthermore, it is certainly necessary to investigate the realities behind the "pits of 10,000 men" scattered about at various sites where it is said were buried roughly one million victims to plans for the development of the region from 1939, or the "human furnaces" at which human bodies were roasted on plates of steel to draw off their fat. However, when we realize that in most cases forced labor in general prisons or reformatories led to death and arrest itself was completely arbitrary, it would seem only natural that the horrifying shock this entails would necessitate calling Manzhouguo an Auschwitz state or a concentration-camp state, more than just a puppet state. The claims of the last two sentences raise the ante very high: I strongly recommend that some claims follow the presentation of the author's evidence to avoid a sense that this is empty rhetoric. Let's talk about this and, if you and I agree, find a way to discuss it with the author. I think that the point is an important one. I'm not familiar with the claim of human furnaces to "draw off fat." If, on the other hand, the author wishes to present this as among the charges that have been levied by the Chinese government or by others, that would be fine.
Manzhouguo, an Ideal State
In spite of all this, though, Manzhouguo was never simply a puppet state or just a colonial regime. Another view has continued unshakably to persevere even after 1945: Manzhouguo as the site of a movement to expel Western imperialist control and build an ideal state in Asia; its establishment then is seen as an effort to realize a kind of utopia.
Hayashi Fusao (1903-75) once wrote: "Behind this short-lived state lay the 200-year history of Western aggression against Asia. The Meiji Restoration was the first effective resistance against this [onslaught]; Manzhouguo was the continuation of this line of opposition…. Asian history will itself not allow us to disregard it by invoking the Western political science concept of a 'puppet state.' Manzhouguo still continues to live in the development of world history." It may take another one hundred years, he noted, to come to a proper evaluation of Manzhouguo.
Kishi Nobusuke (1896-1987), who worked as deputy director of the Management and Coordination Agency of Manzhouguo and became prime minister of Japan after the war, has also noted in a memoir that, in the establishment of Manzhouguo, "the ideals of ethnic harmony and peace and prosperity [lit. the paradise of the Kingly Way] shone radiantly. A scientific, conscientious, bold experiment was carried out there. This was a truly unique modern state formation. The people directly involved devoted their energies to it motivated by their sincere aspirations, and also the peoples of Japan and Manzhouguo strongly supported it; and Mohandas Gandhi, the Indian holy man, offered encouragement from far away. At the time Manzhouguo was the hope of East Asia."
Furumi Tadayuki (1900-83), who witnessed the last moments of Manzhouguo as a deputy director of the Management and Coordination Agency, firmly believed in it: "The nurturing that went into the establishment of the state of Manzhouguo was a trial without historical precedent…. It was the pride of the Japanese people that, in an era dominated by invasion and colonization, our efforts to build an ideal state were based on ethnic harmony in the land of Manchuria. That young Japanese at that time, indifferent to fame or riches, struggled for their ideals remains the pride of Japanese youth." Without the least doubt, he believed that the ideal of ethnic harmony—the founding ideal of the state of Manzhouguo—would continue to shine brilliantly for many years.
Guandong Army Staff Officer Katakura Tadashi (1898-1991), who promoted the establishment of Manzhouguo, saw Manzhouguo as the manifestation of a humanism based on the lofty ideals of peace, prosperity, and ethnic harmony. "In the final analysis," he averred, "as a cornerstone for stability in East Asian, it was an abundant efflorescence." Similarly, Hoshino Naoki (1892-1978), who worked as director of the Management and Coordination Agency, endlessly praised the formation of Manzhouguo: "Not only did the Japanese take a leading position, but all the ethnic groups of East Asia broadly worked together for development and growth. We were building a new paradise there in which the blessings were to be shared equally by all ethnicities."
In one line of his memoirs, Hoshino attached to Manzhouguo the heading "Atlantis of the twentieth century." (By "Atlantis" he was referring to the ideal society of the distant past, as described in Plato's dialogues, Timaeus and Critias, said to have been to the West of the Straits of Gibraltar.) It is unclear in what sense Hoshino was himself dubbing Manzhouguo the "Atlantis of the twentieth century," because he simply suggests this heading and says nothing about the content of Atlantis itself. However, the plot of a visionary state—beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, with an orderly, well-planned city and strong military organization, based on a national structure of harmony and single-mindedness, which having attempted the conquest of Asia and Europe now faced retaliation by Athenian warriors, and had sunk into the sea in a single twenty-four-hour period of great earthquakes and floods—remains eerily imaginable even now, corresponding in great detail to Manzhouguo. Like the tale of Atlantis as a dreamlike paradise, Manzhouguo would be passed down over the centuries, and perhaps a day would come many generations hence when it might occupy a kind of resuscitated historical position, such as that given Atlantis by Francis Bacon in his New Atlantis (1627).
Be that as it may, even if it cannot compare to the myth of Atlantis, which is said to have produced a wide assortment of books in excess of 20,000 volumes, Manzhouguo has continued to be portrayed in the image of such an ideal state. A good part of the reason for this is the exceedingly tragic experience that followed its dismemberment and the great suffering that ensued. One can readily imagine that an act of psychological compensation—not wanting that pain to go for naught—has been invested in this now defunct state.
All this notwithstanding, the examples given by these and other leading figures cannot sustain the view that Manzhouguo alone, in its search for coexistence and coprosperity among all ethnic groups, was qualitatively different from other colonies. This view would undoubtedly be the sentiment shared by those people who were on the spot as local officials or members of cooperatives, as well as those who were directly connected with them; so, too, among most Japanese who were linked to the formation and management of Manzhouguo in one form or another, such as the Japanese emigrants there and the Manchurian-Mongolian Pioneer Youth Corps. There were many who, supported by a sense of personal pride in the accomplishments of Manzhouguo, survived down into the postwar era. This being the case, we have to redouble our efforts to listen to the low, strained voices behind the loud, booming voices propounding the idea of an ideal state and try to ascertain the realities of this "ideal" in which not only Japanese but Chinese, too, gambled their lives.
Must we heed the view repeatedly put forward that one should rightfully look not only at the aspect of the Japanese invasion of the mainland leading to the creation of Manzhouguo but also at the aspect of its accomplishments? In other words, it has been emphasized that despite its short history a "legacy of Manzhouguo" has contributed greatly to the modernization of China's Northeast in such areas as the development and promotion of industry, the spread of education, the advancement of communications, and administrative maintenance. These attainments, the argument continues, cannot only withstand scrutiny from our perspective today—when ethnic harmony has become an important ideal in politics—but they also warrant significance as an "experiment for the future"—namely, what may be possible in the arena of cooperation among different ethnic groups in years to come. Can this argument be justified?
How would this argument about an ideal state, stressing the positive factors and legacy of Manzhouguo, echo among people from countries other than Japan? The issue of Manzhouguo refuses to leave us—not only must we evaluate its results but the "seeds it planted" as well. In fact, one may recognize its distinctive qualities as being surpassingly pregnant with contemporary implications.
Manzhouguo, a Chimera
On reflection, there may be nothing that spurs on human dreams and emotions quite like the reverberations of such words as "state-founding" or "nation-building," as hinted at by Goethe in Faust. Especially in the early Shōwa years, the Japanese empire towered overwhelmingly above the individual, and people were seized by a sense of being closed in and unsettled. When he committed suicide in 1929, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (b. 1892) left behind the expression: "bakuzentaru fuan" (a sense of being unsettled). For Japanese of that time, words such as "state-founding" or "nation-building" may have borne a distinctively seductive power offering an impression of liberation stirred up by a sense of mission hidden within. Thus, for many Japanese, the notion that "what drew them to Manchuria was neither self-interest nor fame, but a pure aspiration to participate in the opening up of a new realm and the building of a new nation" cannot be completely denied as false consciousness. That they firmly believed this in their own subjective minds would scarcely be strange, but selfless, unremunerated, subjective goodwill does not necessarily guarantee good deeds as a final result, especially in the world of politics. Also, no matter how pure the emotions behind one's actions, in politics responsibility for ultimate results is an issue, and one cannot elude the blame that one deserves. One individual's ideal may for one's counterpart be an intolerable hypocrisy, indeed a form of oppression.
In the final analysis, in what sense was Manzhouguo a Japanese puppet or colonial state? Should we instead recognize that this is merely a distortion, an arbitrary understanding dictated by the victor nations, the "historical view of the Potsdam Declaration" or the "Tokyo Trials view of history" which echo it; and insist that the historical reality of Manzhouguo was the creation of a morally ideal state in which many ethnic groups would coexist? As Kagawa Toyohiko (1888-1960) has noted: "In the invasion carried out by Japan, only Manzhouguo possessed a mixture of dreams and lofty ideals."
Before rushing to any conclusions, we need to begin by asking why Manzhouguo was established in the first place and then follow its traces where they lead us. Why in the world did this state of Manzhouguo have to have been created under Japanese leadership in China's Northeast? What was the process of its formation, and how were Japanese and Chinese involved in it? Furthermore, what actually were ruling structure and national ideals of the new state? Also, what were the mutual relations among Manzhouguo, China, and Japan in political institutions and legal systems, policy and political ideas? In sum, what was the distinctive nature of Manzhouguo as a state, and what place should it occupy in modern world history? Portraying this state of Manzhouguo through an analysis of these questions is the principal task of this book.
I set the task in this way because one reason the evaluation of Manzhouguo remains unsettled lies in the fact that each of the opposing views of this state that I have outlined stresses only one side of the issue. From the perspective that sees it as a puppet state, the organization and ideals of Manzhouguo are belittled as merely camouflaging its essence as one of military control by Japan; from the perspective that sees it as an ideal and moral state, its essence lies more in the lofty state principles it professed than in the background to its founding, and the actual mechanisms of rule are of scant interest.
Although Manzhouguo enjoyed a short life, still portraying the features of this state as a whole in more or less the correct proportions remains an exceedingly difficult task. Although the quantity of memoirs and reminiscences about Manzhouguo written since the end of World War II is absolutely immense, there is nonetheless a dearth of official government sources of sources, as much of the "primary historical documentation" from the Manzhouguo era itself was destroyed by fire or disappeared during the period when the state was in the process of destruction.
In considering all this, there may simply be no way to avoid the abundance of material in one arena and the rough and uneven quality of it in another, but by focusing on Manzhouguo as a state, I hope in this book to offer a portrait of Manzhouguo as I have come to understand it. I have attempted here to portray Manzhouguo by likening it to the Chimera, a monster from Greek mythology. Thomas Hobbes used the Leviathan, a beast that appears in the Book of Job, to symbolize the state as an "artificial being." Similarly, Franz Neumann (1900-54) used the name of the monster Behemoth to characterize the Third Reich of the Nazis. Drawing inspiration from these cases, I offer for Manzhouguo the Chimera, a beast with the head of a lion, the body of a sheep, and the tail of a dragon. The lion is comparable to the Guandong Army, the sheep is the state of the emperor system, and the dragon the Chinese emperor and modern China. What is implied here will be become clear as the argument of this book develops.

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