The Manchurian Crisis and Japanese Society, 1931-33

The Manchurian Crisis and Japanese Society, 1931-33

The Manchurian Crisis and Japanese Society, 1931-33

The Manchurian Crisis and Japanese Society, 1931-33

Synopsis

The repercussions of the 1931 Mukden Incident threw Japan into crisis. The event has occupied a central place in writing on modern Japanese history ever since. This study re-evaluates its social and political consequences.

Excerpt

On the night of 18 September 1931, a minor explosion occurred on a section of the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railway near Mukden (now Shenyang) in the north-east of China. Japanese troops, stationed in Manchuria since 1905 to protect the railway and its associated operations, moved swiftly and decisively to defend Japan's interests. Meanwhile their leaders loudly asserted to the world that Chinese soldiers were responsible for the explosion, which was branded as only the latest in a series of anti-Japanese 'outrages'. Actually, damage to the railway had been slight, and the 'incident' had in any case been perpetrated not by Chinese soldiers but by Japanese troops, as part of a wider plan to extend Japanese power in Manchuria. The explosion on the railway did in fact become a pretext for extensive military action against Chinese troops loyal to Nanking in the south. Fighting quickly spread across southern Manchuria, then to the northern region. International opinion was especially shocked by the aerial bombing of Chinchow, a city some distance from the original scene of the fighting, towards Peking, in October 1931. Within a few months of the explosion on the railway, all of Manchuria had fallen under Japanese control.

Further conflict between Japanese and Chinese troops erupted in Shanghai in late January 1932. The fighting was contained relatively quickly, but not before world opinion had again been shocked, more than five years before Guernica and well before the bombing of civilians in the Second World War, by the use of incendiary bombs and artillery in urban areas. Meanwhile, political moves consolidated military success in Manchuria, and on 1 March 1932 'Manchukuo', in reality a puppet state of the Japanese, 'spontaneously' declared its 'independence' from China. By now, however, China had appealed to the League of Nations to intervene on its behalf, eventually prompting the League to send a commission of enquiry to investigate the Sino-Japanese dispute. When the commission's report, which included important reservations about the Japanese version of events, was accepted by the League Council in February 1933, the Japanese delegation walked out in protest. In May of the same year the Truce of Tangku officially ended hostilities between Japan and China in Manchuria, but only after the region had been firmly if informally incorporated into Japan's empire, to join Taiwan, which had been colonised by Japan in 1895, and Korea, annexed in 1910.

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