In May 1915, Yuan Shikai’s representatives agreed to Japan’s Twenty-one Demands in order to win support from the Japanese government for his scheme to restore the monarchy. This incident sowed the seeds of discontent that led to the May Fourth Movement. (Photo courtesy of The National Museum of China)


1) Dai nippon Occupied Manchuria and Puyi became Emperor of Manchuria.

Manchuria Under Japanese Dominion


Table of Contents


1. Japan’s “Sole Road for Survival”: The Range of Views Within the Guandong Army over the Seizure of Manchuria and Mongolia
2. Transforming Manchuria-Mongolia into a Paradise for Its Inhabitants: Building a New State and Searching for State-Building Ideals
3. Toward a Model of Politics for the World: The Banner of Moral State Creation and the Formation of Manzhouguo Politics
4. “The Long-Term Policy of National Management Will Always Be in Unison with the Japanese Empire”: The Paradise of the Kingly Way Stumbles and the Path Toward the Merging of Japan and Manzhouguo
5. Conclusion: Chimera, Reality, and Illusion

Interview: How Shall We Understand Manchuria and Manzhouguo?
Appendix: On the Historical Significance of Manchuria and Manzghouguo
Chronology on the Modern History of Manchuria and East Asia


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.

2) Dai nippon Occupaied Tianjin and beijing

Japanese troops , which already occupied tianjin and beijing ,were now moving steadily southwards,. they met suprisingly strong resistance in nanking and, in retaliation, went on a terrifying spree of rape,looting and murder. over 3000.000 civilians and prisoners were torrtured and killed during the rape of nanking in 1937.
(a)January 1937
Fragment used Dr Sun singlecircle stamps 2×25 cent and 5 cent(rate 55 cent to indonesia) CDS Shanghai 7.1.37. and fragment Dr sun singlecircle 2x 5 cent with red village transit postmark.
(b)March 1937
fragment postcard Used Dr Sun single circle 25 cent CDS Shanghai 20.3.37.
(c)May 1937
Mao communist local post issued Soldier and fighting stamps three nominal.
(d)july 1937
Chiang and his military adviser tried to postpone the inevitable armed confilct, but in the early part of July 1937 the war broke out over a trifle. The Dai Nippon expected the chinese to yield- as had alwats happened before. But they did not take int account the new national spritit which had spread all over China.The patience of the Chinese was exhausted. In their despair they determined to hold up Dai Nippon aggression at any cost.
(e)August 1937


Two vintage picture Photos “Bloody saterday” in Shanghai in August,14th 1937 (P)
(f) ROC pst office issued provisibal surcharge on Dr Sun single circle stamps and peking martyr type stamps 1c n 4c,8c n 40 c,10c n 25 c, and 4c n 5c stamps.

Japanese pressure on China increased. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident of July 1937 marked a new level of Japanese intrusion into China, but Mathews was able to continue working.

Shanghai in 1941

The external tempo now picked up. The Japanese declaration of war on America at the end of 1941 further polarized relations among Japan, China, and foreign residents in China.

Japanese Troops Entering Shanghai, 1941

Shanghai was a virtually international city, with its nearly extraterritorial legation zones. It was entered by the Japanese Army in 1941, but for a time was handled with circumspection. At at the end of 1942, this changed (a moment that Reifler experienced in a different way, and in a different part of Shanghai), and CIM, which had already moved its quarters within Shanghai in 1931, now relocated more drastically, to Chungking in Szchwan, where the Nationalist Chinese government had also taken refuge. In 1943, the previous CIM compound in Shanghai was taken over by Japanese occupation troops, and the printing blocks as well as the copies of Mathews’ own revision of his Dictionary were destroyed. That left only the original edition, and the lack of copies of that edition suddenly became an urgent matter for the English-speaking nations involved in the Pacific War. Within a few months, Harvard University Press had issued a reprint of the original Dictionary. The March 1943 Foreword begins thus:

Shanghai in 1943.

In April 1943, Mathews himself, along with Violet, was interned by the Japanese at the Lunghwa Camp, the former campus of the Kiangsu Middle School, seven miles southwest of Shanghai and a mile from the Whangpoo River. With them were missionaries both Protestant and Catholic, businessmen and their families, and the officers and crew of the SS President Harrison, among hundreds of others. At 42 acres, this was the largest of all the internment camps in China, and one of the bleakest. Most buildings were of concrete, three of them were ruined, and the landscape was desolate, with “only one tree.” The prospect was not improved by the typhoon of 11 August 1943, which blew the roof off the West Dining Hall, and effectively destroyed that building; it also unroofed several small residence houses. A few Americans were repatriated in September of that year. The rest settled down to wait out the war. By and large, conditions were manageable. Ten acres were devoted to communally farmed vegetable gardens, and there were also a few private gardens. Hot showers were available, though since the well pumps were slow, the showers had to be brief. The animal population included two cows, hens, a flock of goats, and sixty pigs. Communications with the outside were possible, and the Shanghai Dairy donated an additional Holstein calf; eventually there was enough milk for all the camp children to get half a pint a day. Communications with the outside worked both ways, and there were four successful escapes, plus a few failed attempts, during the next two years. Nor were high spirits confined to escape attempts. One internee recalls that the single men, who were quartered in the Assembly Hall, “raised so much hell at night, laughing and telling jokes, that one night a guard took a potshot into our window to stop us from making so much noise.” As at some other camps, the guards were not Japanese Army, but drawn from the Consular Police. The bullets, however, were real.

Japan surrendered in August 1945, the Swiss temporarily took over the management of the camp, and the internees left later that month. Mathews, then 68, returned to Melbourne for a third and final time, to a well earned retirement. But China continued to loom large in the Australian consciousness, and Mathews’ linguistic skills were known to the Australian Department of Defense. In 1948 he was recruited to work part time on the translation of archival material and the compilation of glossaries. In 1951, this was increased to full time.

(a) January 1938
January.7 th.1938
Just before the resistent war against japan strated, a chines immigrant from Fukien by ship from amoy port went to Semarang Indonesia via Hongkong to have visa, The Chinese overseas passport with Nedeland consular revenue 6 gld with 0fficial stamped straight Consulaat general der Netherlandedn and the visa have signed by “De waarbemend Cosul-Geneal voor dezen De Vice Consul with official Consulate General of the Netherland Hongkong coat of arm stamped in vilolet.
(b)The Marcopolo Bridge incident triggered the war of Resistance against Japan in 1938

(c)Early 1938  after the nanking city was captured by the japanese . shanghai fell and chiang kaisek fled westward across china, up the yangtse river, deep into the mountainous province od sichuan. there he set up his wartime goverment in the town of chongqing. it’s not hard to image the tension and turmoil that these monumntous political upheaval imposed on chinese family life.

(d)July 1938
The Kuomintang provinsional congreess at Wuchang in March 20, 1938.and decided to organize a youth corps to give expression to the National cause among the young people and the young corps establish on july 9.
(d) Chiang presided over a military conference at Hengshan to review progress of the war effort . He reiterated that ROC would fight to the finish in November 25,1938.
(e) The famous godown of the four banks in Shanghai where “800 brave Soldier” heroically held out against one Japanese assault after another.
(f) Chiang and his General meeting in Chungking abaot the war capital
(g) Fan Szu-chaou . a 70-yearold guerilla leader fought the Japanese behind enemy lines.
(h) The National Gouvernment Building of ROC at Chungking and Japanese bombing that Temporary capital.
(i) ROC post office issued Palace half Button Chung Hwa printing $ 1 , 2 and 5,- top frame unshade.
I have this $2.- top frame unshade OC used cds Amoy Szeming, the years not clear.
(j) ROC post office issued 150th Anniversary American Constitution with USA and ROC flag with map. nominal 5,25,50 cent and $1.-


in 1939, sudenly and without warning, tianjin was drowned in a great flood. the disaster was of staggering propotion. the chinese called it “china’s sorrow” and went to the buddhist temple to burn incense and offewr prayers for relief. pro japanese newspapers printed in tianjin blamed the catastrope on chiang kaisek while the nationalist party press in chongqing accused the japanese


THE NANKING MASSACRE – two films to remind us

Why do I do this to myself? First I watch two intensely depressing dramatic recreations of war atrocities, intense enough to haunt me for days. Then I decide to review them, challenging my love of Japan with these accounts of atrocious conduct by their armed forces.

In 1937, when Japan was invading China, its armies conquered the (then) capital city of Nanking. The Japanese army then began killing the prisoners of war, then the civilians, to strike a psychological blow to the rest of China. Knowing full well that they were breaking international conventions of war, they disguised the massacre from the rest of the world.




These are two very different films about the siege, serving two audiences: one is obviously intended for ‘international cinema’, the other (possibly unintentionally) is ‘exploitation’.

Though they’re tough viewing, knowing that these events actually happened, I wanted to learn more about the depths that the Japanese army sank to. While I admire Japanese culture, pop and otherwise, I’ve mainly been learning about their history from their viewpoint. But after visiting several of Japan’s neighbouring countries and reading their news sites, I became increasingly aware of ‘old wounds’ and lasting hostilities.

While the US and Europe are hyper-conscious of the history of Nazi Germany, we mainly remember wartime Japan for Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. In China, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, Japan was regarded the same way we saw Germany. Indeed, the scale of Japanese war crimes and the variety of atrocities rivals Nazi Germany.

So I’m having trouble joining the dots between their peace-loving society of today and the extremes of their wartime mindset. How can a country change so quickly and so completely? I guess the answer is closer to home – my own country has much to answer for in it’s conduct abroad, both recently and historically.

I’m not going to boycott Japanese culture for the crimes of the past, but I’m not going to ignore history either. When I first heard of the ‘Rape of Nanking’, I naively assumed it happened centuries ago in more barbaric times. To find that it was only last century showed up a large gap in my historical knowledge.

(1994, Hong Kong, Hei tai yang: Nan Jing da tu sha)

Relentless glory propaganda

This is a weird film that would need much more research to determine what the film-makers were trying to do, if I was at all impressed by it. The director, T F Mou, denies it’s an exploitation film, and the size of the budget seems to lift the project out of that genre. But it’s an endless diary of gory re-enactments of war atrocities, with little story or drama, and a near absence of continuing characters. The Japanese soldiers storm around the city, killing and raping. The commanders take pleasure in trying out various methods of execution, from machine-gun to samurai sword.

It looks like a wartime propaganda film, but it was made 1994. I’m almost guessing it was intended to pressure the Japanese government on outstanding issues – maybe compensation, apologies, selective history books? The other likely result was to incite outrage amongst Chinese audiences.

Compare this blunt approach to any modern American movie about the Nazis. One moment in Black Sun made me remember a silent movie where Eric Von Stroheim throws a baby out of a high window. The scene looked comical: a swift but lazy cinematic shorthand to make you hate the character in seconds, and tell you what to think about all German commanders.

While City of Life and Death shows only one Japanese leader orchestrating the destruction of the city, Black Sun takes pains to name and shame many different commanders and their personal roles in the killing. This is perhaps another clue to the movie’s intentions.

After a while, the many shock moments reminded me of the climax to Soldier Blue, but in contrast with it’s involving characters, storyline and complex portrayal of the invaders as well as the invaded (Soldier Blue himself is shocked by his own sides’ misconduct). The Japanese soldiers of Black Sun are portrayed with a uniform hive mentality. It also doesn’t help that the Japanese soldiers all look very Chinese. Only the commanders look as if they’re played by Japanese actors. Lazily and inaccurately, the soldiers of both sides talk in Chinese.

I expected this to be far more cheaply made than it is. It looks largely authentic, uses a lot of extras and some extensive locations. The most spectacular scene illustrates how the Japanese burned the bodies of civilians before dumping them in the river. They could then claim that they’d only killed soldiers. The scale of the fire of hundreds of bodies along a riverbank rivals the inferno at the end of Apocalypse Now.

But if there’s any doubt that what we’re being shown happened, the catalogue of atrocities is verified onscreen, by cross-cutting with actual photographs and filmed footage. The power and importance of these images was not lost on the Japanese army who made every effort to destroy any incriminating material that left Nanking at the time, and they burnt any such evidence of their own when the war was lost.

There’s no doubt that all this and worse actually happened, but without any emotional involvement and a clumsy, one-sided approach, it’s a far less powerful and informative film than it should have been.

I watched the US region 1 DVD, which fills in much of the historical context with an informative old documentary episode of Frank Capra’s Why We Fight as a DVD extra.

In the UK, it’s purely been sold as exploitation, check out the crass DVD cover, which somehow borders on comedy, using a poorly staged publicity shot of one of the film’s most infamous scenes. Contrast that with the US DVD cover that uses an actual archive photograph.

This is actually the fourth in a series of films, called Men Behind the Sun, which I won’t be investigating any further. The first film in the series has an important subject, the horrifying human experiments of Camp 731, but the inclusion of animal cruelty and mondo footage (using an actual corpse for one scene) means I’ll avoid it. However, the story of Camp 731 has one hell of conspiracy storyline and I’d like to learn more about it.

Black Sun is a bizarre experience – as it abandons so many movie conventions – that it’s fairly silly to compare it to the professionally and artfully produced City of Life and Death. But I have.

(2009, China/Hong Kong, Nanjing! Nanjing!)

An involving man-made disaster

This major new film, shot in black and white, is still being premiered round the world. It’s also about the Nanking during the Japanese siege.

While Black Sun throws out plenty of factual context in captions and voiceovers, this has no such introduction and relies on small badly-written postcards to set up a little historical background. Black Sun also portrayed the Chinese, soldiers and civilians alike, as totally defeated. This begins with the army still defending itself, albeit with guerrilla tactics. It also sets up storylines with soldiers from both armies, one Japanese soldier being just as traumatised.

The success of the film is the emotional involvement with the characters, focussing on the family of the Chinese translator to John Rabe – a German envoy famous for his attempts to protect the civilians against impossible odds.

Unlike Black Sun, if anyone gets hurt, raped, slaughtered, the impact is devastating. There’s a dreadful scene that’s basically a point of view experience of being herded into a mass slaughter.

After the threat of counterforce has been systematically eradicated, the invading army are rewarded with ‘comfort women’, Japanese prostitutes rationed out to the soldiers. But as the siege wears on, the supply of women starts taking Chinese ‘volunteers’. The widescale use of civilian women for sex lends an awful, literal meaning to ‘the rape of Nanking’.

While the Japanese use of unnecessary force was meant to terrify the rest of China, it instead unified the regions of the massive country into an unbeatable foe.

The inclusion of a sympathetic portrayal of a Japanese soldier has drawn criticism from Chinese critics, complaining that the tone of the film wasn’t harsh enough on the Japanese. Perhaps they would have preferred a less-sensitive, less balanced film, like Black Sun perhaps?

I’d recommend City of Life and Death as a beautifully made and observed film on a harrowing subject.

It had a limited cinema release in the UK and there’ll be a DVD and Blu-Ray release in August. I watched a Chinese DVD, which may be slightly censored (missing some violence). The subtitles didn’t translate all the onscreen signs and nameplates.

The excellent WildGrounds site has an article comparing City of Life and Death to actual (and upsetting) photos from the siege.


Japanese soldiers marching along Queen's Road on Hong Kong Island in December 1941.

Japanese soldiers marching along Queen’s Road on Hong Kong Island in December 1941.
Main article: Battle of Hong Kong

In the autumn of 1941, the Third Reich was at its height of power. German forces had overrun much of Western Europe and were racing towards Moscow in the invasion of the Soviet Union. With France under occupation, England was enduring devastating German bombardment almost daily, having to fend off an amphibious invasion. In the Asian theatre, Japan was also experiencing spectacular victories and began consolidating its territorial gains. At the time, the United States was not participating in the war but was seen by the Axis Powers as an obstacle to further global conquest. This prompted Japan to launch a sudden attack against the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941. As part of a general Pacific campaign, the Japanese launched an assault on Hong Kong on the morning of December 8, 1941 (Hong Kong local time), less than eight hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. British, Canadian and Indian forces, supported by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Forces attempted to resist the rapidly advancing Japanese invasion but were outnumbered. After racing down the New Territories and Kowloon, Japanese forces crossed Victoria Harbour on December 18. After fierce fighting continued on Hong Kong Island, the only reservoir was lost. Canadian Winnipeg Grenadiers fought at the crucial Wong Nai Chong Gap that secured the passage between Hong Kong proper and secluded southern sections of the island. Hopelessly defeated, on December 25, 1941, British colonial officials headed by the Governor of Hong Kong Mark Aitchison Young surrendered in-person at the Japanese headquarters on the third floor of The Peninsula Hotel. On 20 February 1942, General Rensuke Isogai became the first Japanese governor of Hong Kong, ushering in almost four years of Imperial Japanese administration.


Rensuke Isogai

Rensuke Isogai

Throughout the Japanese occupation, Hong Kong was ruled as a detained terrain and was subjected to martial law. Headed by General Rensuke Isogai, the Japanese established their administration and commanding post at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon. The military government, composed of the departments of politics, civilian, economy, judiciary, and navy, enacted stringent regulations and established executive bureaus to have power over all residents of Hong Kong. On top of Governor Mark Young, 7,000 British soldiers and civilians were kept in prisoner-of-war or internment camps, such as Sham Shui Po Prisoner Camp and Stanley Internment Camp. Famine, malnourishment and sickness were pervasive. Severe cases of malnutrition among inmates, for example, occurred in the captivity camp at Stanley in 1945. Moreover, the Japanese military government blockaded Victoria Harbour and controlled warehouses. Early in January 1942, former members of the Hong Kong Police, including the Indians and Chinese, were recruited into a reformed police, the Kempeitai (Military Police) with new uniforms. The Japanese gendarmerie took over all police stations and organized the Police in five divisions, namely East Hong Kong, West Hong Kong, Kowloon, New Territories and Water Police. The headquarters was situated in the former Supreme Court Building. Police in Hong Kong were under the organization and control of the Japanese government. The onset of the new Japanese governor was the indicator for important administrative fluctuations. Japanese experts and administrators were chiefly employed in the Governor’s Office and its various bureaux. These Japanese experts occupied all key posts whereas the Chinese could only take the middle and lower ranks of posts. Under the Japanese control, the basic framework of Japanese administration was created by the division of Hong Kong Island into 12 districts and Kowloon into 6. Each district was under a Chinese who represented the needs of the district residents to the Japanese authorities. Also, a Civil Affairs Bureau was set up for policy-making, exercising control and supervision. The administrative regime re-designed by Governor Isogai was under instructions from Tokyo.


Japanese soldiers arrested the western bankers and kept them in a Chinese hostel.

Japanese soldiers arrested the western bankers and kept them in a Chinese hostel.

Economically, all trading activities were sternly guarded, and the majority of the factories were taken over by the Japanese. Having deprived the vendors and banks of their possessions, the Japanese replaced local dollars with Japanese Military Yen. The Hong Kong Dollar was outlawed and anyone caught with possession of it was tortured. The exchange rate was fixed at 2 Hong Kong dollars to one military yen in January 1942. Later, the yen was re-valued at 4 Hong Kong dollars to a yen in July 1942, which meant local people could exchange fewer military notes than before. While the citizens of Hong Kong became poor in forced exchanges, the Japanese government sold the Hong Kong Dollar to help finance their war-time economy. Later, the yen was made the sole legal tender for official purposes in June 1943. Prices of commodities for sale had to be marked in yen. Its gradual devaluation resulted in severe inflation and disruption of the economy, directly affecting Hong Kong citizens. The Japanese Military Yen was later declared worthless and the citizens, without possession of their original HKD, were completely destitute. Public transportation and utilities unavoidably failed, owing to the shortage of fuel and tho the augmentation of American air raids on Hong Kong. Tens of thousands of people became homeless and helpless, and many of them were employed in shipbuilding and construction. In agricultural field, the Japanese took over the race track at Fanling and the air strip at Kam Tin for their rice-growing experiments. A scheme of reclamation of Tolo Harbour was also discussed. With the intention of boosting the Japanese influence on Hong Kong, two Japanese banks, the Yokohama Specie Bank and the Bank of Taiwan, were re-opened. The Japanese banking experts were sent to liquidate enemy banks. British, American and Dutch bankers were forced to live in a small hotel, while some bankers who were viewed as the enemy of the Japanese were executed. In May 1942, Japanese companies were encouraged to be set up. A Hong Kong trade syndicate consisting of Japanese firms was set up in October 1942 to manipulate all overseas trade.

Community life, social services and public hygiene

Life in fear

Population decrease due to repatriation.

Population decrease due to repatriation.

The Japanese enforced a repatriation policy throughout the period of occupation because of the scarcity of food and the possible counter-attack of the Allies. As a result, the unemployed were deported to the Mainland, and the population of Hong Kong had dwindled from 1.6 million to 600,000 in 1945[1]. Furthermore, the Japanese reconstructed both government and private facilities for the sake of their own interests and developments. In order to expand the Kai Tak Airport, for example, the Japanese demolished the Kowloon Walled City and the Sung Wong Toi Monument in today’s Kowloon City. Buildings of some prestigious secondary schools such as Jesuits’ Wah Yan College Hong Kong, Diocesan Boys’ School, the Central British School (now King George V School), the St. Paul’s Girls’ College (now St. Paul’s Co-educational College) of the Anglican church and de La Salle brothers’ La Salle College were commandeered as military hospitals by the Japanese. Diocesan Boys’ School was even rumoured to be the execution place of the Japanese. Life was hard for people under Japanese rule. As there was inadequate food supply, the Japanese rationed necessities such as rice, oil, flour, salt and sugar. Each family was given a rationing license, and every person could only buy 6.4 taels (0.24 kg), of rice per day. Most people did not have enough food to eat, and many died of starvation. The rationing system was canceled in 1944.

Charity and social services

After the occupation of the Japanese, charitable activities were highly restricted. Although a fund which may be translated as “Far East Foundation Fund” was set up to collect donations, it was regarded as a means to collect money for the Japanese government, instead of providing welfare services for the Hong Kong people. The Bishop and the Chinese Representatives’ Association, as organizers of charitable activities for relief of the poor, demanded assistance from the government. In September 1942, the Japanese governor Isogai promised to accept their suggestion. The implementation of this suggestion involved money from the Far East Foundation Fund being given to the governor first, and then transferred to a relief fund for the local people of Hong Kong. This was seen as a credit to Japanese administrative policy. With the assistance of the Far East Foundation Fund, an association which may be translated as “Chinese Charity Association” was set up to organize fundraising and distribution work. In order to promote charity activities, a fundraising committee was established which created a network of donation movement. It selected famous people from trade unions to be the leaders of the fundraising groups. They were then asked to choose members to join their group and to help with activities. These members then took donations from different social strata so as to raise as much funds as possible. The activities also included propaganda works which promoted the program. This mass donation movement finally resulted in a collection of 55500 military yen (MY). Besides this, there were also charitable football competitions and drama performances which donated all of their profits for the Chinese Charity Association. The fund raising activities were continued in the following years. During the occupation, hospitals available to the masses were limited. The Kowloon Hospital and Queen Mary Hospital were occupied by the Japanese army. The Japanese also used the Tung Wah Eastern Hospital as a military hospital. Despite the lack of medicine and funds, the Tung Wah and Kwong Wah Hospital continued their social services but in a limited scale. These included provision of food, medicine, clothing, and burial services. Although funds were provided, they still had great financial difficulties. Failure to collect rents and the high reparation costs forced them to promote fundraising activities like musical performances and dramas. The charitable organization Po Leung Kuk was another important organization taking in orphans. However faced with financial problems during the occupation, their bank deposits could not be withdrawn under Japanese control. Their services could only be continued through donations by Aw Boon Haw, a long-term financier of Po Leung Kuk.

Health and public hygiene

There were very few public hospitals during the Japanese occupation as many of them were forced to be converted to military hospitals. With the inadequate supply of resources, Tung Wah Hospital and Kwong Wah Hospital still continuously offered limited social services to the needy persons.

Education, press and political propaganda

Through schooling, mass media and other means of propaganda, the Japanese tried to control the mindsets of Hong Kong people so as to build up a stronger administration regime. Japanization was a common means for restricting people’s thinking, and it prevailed in different aspects of daily life.

Japanese education

It was the Japanese conviction that education was an imperative means in infusing Japanese influence. Teaching of the Japanese language was obligatory, and students who received bad results in Japanese exams risked corporal punishment. English could not be taught. Some private Japanese language schools were established to promote oral Japanese. The Military Administration ran the Teachers’ Training Course, and those teachers who failed a Japanese bench-mark test would need to take a three-month training course. Also, Japanese culture, affairs, ethics and rituals were introduced through education. The primary aims of this Japanization of the education system were mainly to facilitate the Japanese control over the local people and to establish the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Therefore, what it was trying to create was a rush to learn Japanese.

A hand-out of a Japanese language learning radio programme.

A hand-out of a Japanese language learning radio programme.


Names of the roads were rewritten in Japanese.

Names of the roads were rewritten in Japanese.
Celebration of a "New Hong Kong" after Japanese occupation.

Celebration of a “New Hong Kong” after Japanese occupation.

The Japanese promoted a bilingual system of English with Japanese as a communication link between the locals and the occupying forces. English shop signs and advertisements were taken away, and in April 1942, streets and buildings in Central were renamed in Japanese. For example, Queen’s Road Central became Shōwa-dori and Des Voeux Road Meiji-dori. Similarly, the Gloucester Hotel became the Matsubara; the Peninsula Hotel, the Matsumoto; Lane Crawford, Matsuzakaya. Their propaganda also pointed to the pre-eminence of the Japanese way of life, of Japanese spiritual values and the ills of western materialism. The commemoration of Japanese festivals, state occasions, victories and anniversaries also strengthened the Japanese influence over Hong Kong. For instance, there was Yasukuri or Shrine Festival honoring the dead; there was also a Japanese Empire Day on 11 February 1943 centered around the worship of the Emperor Jimmu. The Japanese also built shrines to honor the war dead. A monument of the Japanese war heroes was laid at a site on a spur of Mount Cameron.

Press and entertainment

The Hong Kong News, a pre-war Japanese-owned English newspaper, was revived on January 1942. Ten local Chinese newspapers had been reduced to five in May. These newspapers were under press censorship. Radio sets were used for Japanese propaganda. Amusements still existed, though only for those who could afford them. The cinemas only screened Japanese films, such as The Battle of Hong Kong, the only film made in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation. Directed by Tanaka Shigeo and produced by the Dai Nippon Film Company, the film featured an all-Japanese cast but a few Hong Kong film personalities were also involved. This film appeared on the first anniversary of the attack. Horseracing continued to be held.

Strikes and anti-Japanese activities

During this period, people organized strikes and refused to buy or use Japanese products. Owing to hostilities to Japanese aggression, many Hong Kong trade unions which had disappeared in the past ten years again revived in the 1930s. They were moved by their patriotic feeling to renew their activities, this time against the Japanese. The Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong did not mean the immediate termination of Chinese anti-Japanese patriotism. In fact, these activities turned underground and continued in secrecy.

Gangjiu Da Dui Guerillas

Founded by the Communists in January 1942, the Guangdong Renmin Kangri guerrillas were established to reinforce anti-Japanese forces in Dongjiang and Zhujiang (Pearl River) deltas. The third and fifth branches under Cai Guoliang, which were sent to Hong Kong and Kowloon, became known as Gangjiu (Hong Kong-Kowloon) da dui (brigade) (港九大隊). Led by Wong Kwun Fong and Lau Hak Tsai, the guerillas endeavored to attack robbers, traitors and enemies, and secure farm produce and human lives in Hong Kong. In April 1942, the guerillas extended their influence over Lantau Island, which enhanced communication with Macao and Guangzhou. The spread of their activities into multi-ethnic Hong Kong Island, in particular, led to Chinese collection of classified information on Japanese strategies of South China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the force played a central role in saving British and foreigners of the Allied cause. 20 British, 54 Indians, 8 Americans, 3 Danish, 2 Norwegians, 1 Russian, and 1 Filipino were estimated to have been saved. The Gangjiu Da Dui helped undermine the Japanese military position in Hong Kong, and fostered friendships among Chinese, British and Americans.

Dongjiang Guerillas

Dongjiang Guerillas fighting in trenches

Dongjiang Guerillas fighting in trenches

During the Japanese Occupation the only fortified resistance was mounted by the Dongjiang guerillas (東江游擊隊). Originally formed by Zeng Sheng in Guangdong in 1939, this was mostly comprised peasants, students, and seamen. When the war reached Hong Kong in 1941, the guerilla force grew from 200 to more than 6,000 soldiers. In the wake of the British retreat, the guerillas picked up abandoned weapons and established bases in the New Territories and Kowloon. Applying conventional tactics of guerilla warfare, they killed Chinese traitors and collaborators, protected traders in Kowloon and Guangzhou, attacked the police station at Tai Po, and bombed Kai Tak Airport. Additionally, the guerillas were noteworthy in rescuing prisoners-of-war, notably Sir Lindsay, Sir Douglas Clague, Professor Gordan King, and David Bosanquet. The guerillas’ most significant contribution to the Allies, in particular, was their rescue of twenty American pilots who parachuted into Kowloon when their planes were shot down by the Japanese.

British Army Aid Group

The British Army Aid Group was formed in July 1942 at the suggestion of Colonel Lindsay Ride. After the fall of Hong Kong in December 1941, all British side personnel were sent into various prisoners-of-war camps on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon. Ride later escaped from his camp and arrived in Chongqing, where he formed the unit, with its headquarters in Guilin, Guangxi as a frontline base in the south. They mainly rescued POWs from the camps, smuggled medicine and other supplies in and out of the camps, and gathered intelligence for the Allied Forces. In the process, the Group provided protection to the Dongjiang River which was a source for domestic water in Hong Kong.


Japanese document of surrender

Japanese document of surrender
The document of surrender was signed by Japan on September 15, 1945 in Hong Kong

The document of surrender was signed by Japan on September 15, 1945 in Hong Kong
Japanese war criminals prepare for their transfer to Stanley Prison

Japanese war criminals prepare for their transfer to Stanley Prison
The British warship, Swiftsure, entering Victoria Harbour through North Point on 30 August 1945

The British warship, Swiftsure, entering Victoria Harbour through North Point on 30 August 1945
Liberation of Hong Kong in 1945. Picture taken at the Cenotaph in Central, Hong Kong.

Liberation of Hong Kong in 1945. Picture taken at the Cenotaph in Central, Hong Kong.

Japanese surrender

The Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong ended in 1945. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Another one was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. Japan finally surrendered on August 15, 1945. The British sovereignty over Hong Kong thus was restored. The Sino-Japanese War Victory Anniversary (“the Saturday preceding the last Monday in August” and “Liberation Day, being the last Monday in August” (重光紀念日) before the handover) became a public holiday, before being replaced by Labour Day and the PRC National Day

The end @ copyright Dr Iwan Suwandy 2011


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