Japanese Imperialism/Colonialism in "Manchuria" Project

Mariko Tamanoi
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of California, Los Angeles

Project Description:

The proposed project asks the CIRA (Comparative and Interdisciplinary Research on Asia) to fund the "preparation for publication" phase for the collected volume entitled, quite tentatively, the "Japanese Imperialism/Colonialism in 'Manchuria'." This volume is a compilation of the papers presented at the workshop, also entitled "Japanese Imperialism/Colonialism in 'Manchuria'," which was held on January 12th, 2001, at the Faculty Center of the University of California, Los Angeles. Funded by the Nikkei Bruin Committee of the UCLA Center for Japanese Studies, the participants gathered to discuss varied imaginations of "Manchuria," or northeast China, in the ace of empire and afterward. All the papers presented at the workshop utilize a variety of materials, including Government documents, trial records, newspaper articles, popular journals, films, photos, architectural plans, and so forth. They also attempt to delve into the categories of thought which underlie concepts of nationhood, such as the notions of culture, race, ethnicity, and civilization, demonstrating that the construction of "Manchuria" in Japanese, Chinese, and other minds was a complex experience, comparable with the construction of identities in contemporary Asia and Europe. We, the participants of this workshop, believe that this collected volume is essential for scholars of imperialism and colonialism, who tend to concentrate on the European empire and simply neglect the Japanese experience.

As Mark Elliot has recently demonstrated, "Manchuria" was an undifferentiated frontier before the ascendance of China's Manchu rulers. In the seventeenth century, the Manchu rulers claimed it as their homeland, thereby transforming it from space to place (2000:603). However, it was not only the Manchu rulers who imagined "Manchuria" in their own way. The Chinese, Europeans, Russians, and Japanese also imagined "Manchuria," borrowing and lending each other's imaginations in the age of empire. The fall of the Qing, dynasty in 1912 resulted in an immanent tension among, 1) nationalist Chinese who claimed "Manchuria" to be part of China, 2) the Northeasterners who believed in the autonomy of the region, 3) the Japanese who claimed "Manchuria" to be a separate entity from China, and 4) other imperial powers who hardly abandoned their interests in this region. Historian Prasenjit Duara recently suggested that "Manchuria" should be seen as "a world without walls," where several transnational ideologies and movements crisscrossed. And yet, those intellectuals who espoused such transnational (or pan-Asian) ideologies and movements also embraced nationalism, as they tried to build their respective nation-states of China, Japan, the Soviet Union, or Korea (1998:116-117). This interplay between transnationalism and nationalism, then, calls for collaboration among scholars of various regions and disciplines, who could collectively approach "Manchuria."

It is ironic to note that such a collective endeavor began precisely in the age of empire. "Manchuria" in the earl twentieth century was a center of global attention, and spawned "a flood of Manchuria-related books, pamphlets, and articles in all languages" (Elliot 2000:639). However, these collective efforts fell on the lines of national boundaries for a long time. For example, China insisted on the exploitative and oppressive qualities of the Manchukuo puppet state and the Japanese imperial regime, while Japan either ignored it or restated the Utopian justifications for the creation of the modem independent state of Manchukuo (McCormack 1991). The recent, more critical, studies of Japanese imperialism by Japanese scholars largely accept China's official view of Manchukuo. Note that these narratives of Manchukuo have largely been shaped by nationalist politics, but that they tend to channel history into a very narrow passage. Of course, we should not diminish the need to denounce a brutal regime of Japanese imperialism/colonialism in "Manchuria." Rather, we advocate a new approach to the study of "Manchuria" that emphasizes the need to look into the colonial situation as "the product of a historically layered colonial encounter," not entirely dictated by the State (Stoler 1992:320).

The five papers presented at this workshop look at "Manchuria" as a transnational space and oppose a narrow nationalist interpretation of "Manchuria" and its history. Duara's paper presents a comprehensive overview of "Manchuria" and its history since the turn of the last century and attempts to answer several key questions. How did "Manchuria" emerge as a transnational space? Why did the region have the capacity to generate the resources to dominate the Chinese empire? How did "Manchuria" retain its sense of autonomy? How did such a sense of autonomy crash with the Sinicization of the area brought by the massive migration of Han Chinese? How did Japan, which had economic power but not sovereignty in the area until 1931, view "Manchuria"? How should we interpret the Lytton report that reflected the Western and Japanese "national" interests? I believe that Duara's paper will provide an excellent introduction to this volume.

In the morning, session, Baskett and Mitter followed Duara's presentation. Through the analysis of films and musicals, Baskett examined the notion of "goodwill" of the Japanese toward the Chinese in the two radically different historical contexts: the 1930s and the present. His paper looks at Manchukuo retrospectively, discussing the Japanese "goodwill," who presented the "continental goodwill" films produced during the Manchukuo era to the present Chinese government. It also discusses the recent musical production of the life of Ri Koran, a Japanese actress who was forced to disguise herself as a Chinese actress out of Japan's "goodwill." Mitter's paper focuses on the imagination of "Manchuria" of a particular individual, Du Zhongyuan, a self-made journalist and entrepreneur from northeast China. Writing primarily for the petty urbanites in Shanghai, Du cultivated the sense of "Chinese" nationalism among them, advocating the inseparability of "Manchuria" from the rest of China. Du's endeavor, however, inadvertently revealed his distance from the nationalist government, and the schism between the elite and the petty urbanite in terms of their sense of nationalism.

In the afternoon session, Tucker presented a paper on the Japanese architects' plan of the agrarian immigrants' villages. Interpreting "Manchuria" as a vast blank space, they introduced the notion of urban planning into building "modern" agrarian villages. His paper examines one of the most important agendas for the study of "Manchuria" in the age of empire, that of "modern," which the Japanese, Chinese, and Russians tested on the around of "Manchuria." The last paper by Shao explores the sifting (self)representations of Aisin Gioro Xianyu, a Manchu name for Kawashima Yoshiko (in Japanese) or Jin Bihui (in Chinese). Shao focuses on the trial records of this remarkable woman, a princess of the Qing royal family who was adopted by a Japanese entrepreneur. Convicted as a traitor to the nation of China, she was executed by the nationalist government in 1948. Shao argues: "after realizing the constructability of national identity, we need to ask ourselves what will be left to human groups without the construction and imagination of a community." "Manchuria" is the product of imaginations of many groups and individuals, who have defied national boundaries. It is these imaginations that we will attend collectively in this volume.

For this collected volume, I plan to invite a few more scholars. Prof. Thomas Lahusen (Literature, Duke University) has already agreed to contribute his paper to this volume. His work centers around the complex identities of the Jews in Manchukuo, whose origins of migration varied greatly. I will also contact Prof. Barbara Brooks (History, CUNY), who could contribute her paper on the Korean imaginations of "Manchuria." Lastly, in revising their papers, all the speakers have agreed to take into account the comments made by the two discussants, Prof. Joshua Fogel (on the papers by Duara, Baskett, and Mitter) and Prof. Miriam Silverberg (on the papers by Tucker and Shao). Although I served as an organizer of this workshop, I plan to contribute my own paper to this volume on the "memoirs" of Manchukuo written by the former Japanese civil servants.


Duara, Prasenjit. 1998 "Why is History Antitheoretical?." Modern China 24:2:105-20.

Elliot, C. Mark. 2000 "The Limits of Tartary: Manchuria in Imperial and National Geooraphies." Journal of Asian Studies 59:3:603-47.

McCormack, Gavan. 1991 "Manchukuo: Constructina the Past." East Asian History 2:105-24.

Stoler, Ann. 1992 "Rethinking Colonial Categories: European Communities and the Boundaries of Rule." In Colonialism and Culture, edited by Nicholas B. Dirks. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.


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Published: Thursday, October 10, 2002