Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism

Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism

Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism

Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism


In this first social and cultural history of Japan's construction of Manchuria, Louise Young offers an incisive examination of the nature of Japanese imperialism. Focusing on the domestic impact of Japan's activities in Northeast China between 1931 and 1945, Young considers "metropolitan effects" of empire building: how people at home imagined and experienced the empire they called Manchukuo.

Contrary to the conventional assumption that a few army officers and bureaucrats were responsible for Japan's overseas expansion, Young finds that a variety of organizations helped to mobilize popular support for Manchukuo--the mass media, the academy, chambers of commerce, women's organizations, youth groups, and agricultural cooperatives--leading to broad-based support among diverse groups of Japanese. As the empire was being built in China, Young shows, an imagined Manchukuo was emerging at home, constructed of visions of a defensive lifeline, a developing economy, and a settler's paradise.


Today the words “Empire of Japan” evoke multiple meanings: one set of images for former colonial subjects, another for former enemies in the Pacific War, and yet another for the Japanese themselves. No epoch did more to inscribe these words with meaning than the period between 1931 and 1945, when Japan moved aggressively to expand its overseas territory, occupying first China and then Southeast Asia, and initiating a series of military conflicts against Nationalist and Communist forces in China, against the Soviet Union, against the United States, and against the British Empire. At the heart of the new empire Japan won and then lost in the military engagements of these years lay the puppet state of Manchukuo in Northeast China.

Although Manchukuo was created in 1932, its roots went back to 1905, when Japan acquired a sphere of influence in the southern half of Manchuria as a result of victory in the Russo-Japanese War. A mix of formal and informal elements, the South Manchurian sphere of influence was anchored by long-term leases on the Liaodong Peninsula and on lands held by Japan’s colonial railway company, the South Manchurian Railway, which the Japanese knew as Mantetsu. Over these leased territories, which represented but a small fraction of South Manchuria, Japan ruled directly through a formal colonial apparatus. Over the rest of South Manchuria Japan exerted influence indirectly, through the relationship with local Chinese rulers, through economic dominance of the market, and through the constant threat of force by its garrison army.

The first phase of Japanese involvement situated the sphere of influence in Manchuria within a rapidly expanding empire. By the end of World War I, the empire included Taiwan, Korea, the Pacific island chains the Japanese called Nan’yō, the southern half of Sakhalin, as well as partici-

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