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Manchuria under Japanese Dominion (review)

From: The Journal of Japanese Studies
Volume 34, Number 1, Winter 2008
pp. 109-114 | 10.1353/jjs.2008.0027

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This is a long-awaited translation, and it is well done and no less elegant than the original prose. When Yamamuro's book, Kimera: Manshukoku no shōzō, was first published in 1993, it caused a sensation among Japanese readers and gave the author almost celebrity status. Dozens of editions have been printed since then. An expanded edition published in 2004 included a new section answering as many as 25 kinds of questions from readers. This was not only a commercial success but also a great academic achievement. Although largely ignored in the West (except in Prasenjit Duara's work), Yamamuro's book is now a classic in the Japanese-reading world of students of Japanese imperialism in general and specifically Manchukuo (1932–45). As Japan's puppet state in Manchuria, Manchukuo was the historically contested region in East Asia that is today called the "Northeast" of China (Dongbei) by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Manchukuo remains a hazy field in East Asian studies, a place where barriers are set along the boundaries of nation-states, thereby making students focus on Korea, Japan, and China proper instead. There have not been studies of Manchukuo, except in Japanese. Because of its historical stigmatization as a "puppet" state, most of the few works on Manchukuo seldom deviate from the rigid theme of its "puppet" nature, contributing to the general perception of Manchukuo (held by the Chinese official historiography) as a place of brutal fascist rule and heroic resistance on one side and as an object of the nostalgia of colonial development or total ignorance on the other (held by some Japanese or the Japanese government). It was an "intentionally repressed" place. As I have argued elsewhere, however, Manchukuo is best understood as a black box for contemporary East Asian countries. It was the incubator of the leadership of both the North and South Korean regimes in the postliberation period. It was a major resource base for the Japanese autarky system (the so-called Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere) that led to Japan's doomed total war against the West in the early 1940s. Finally, it was an anvil of the CCP victory over the Kuomintang (KMT) forces in the late 1940s. With the wave of poststructuralist thought such as insistence on blurring boundaries, Manchukuo has now become a center of attention in East Asian studies in the West as a "place of paradoxes." It is, as Duara aptly describes, a place where it is difficult "to disentangle imperialism from nationalism, modernity from tradition, frontier from heartland."

The translation of Yamamuro's book is a very timely work in this fascinating field. The original book was developed from the elaborate group work on Manchukuo by the Humanities Institute of Kyoto University. This project rotates around the rise and fall of Manchukuo, largely focusing on its political history—its state formation, state ideology, maintenance, de-mise, and influence on Japan. As such, Yamamuro's book might pair perfectly with the work on Manchukuo's economic history written by his colleague, Yamamoto Yuzo.

Yamamuro's work has numerous good points. Let me list only four here. First, it employs incredibly abundant (and almost exclusively) primary data, covering the whole span of Manchukuo's existence, which surpasses other works on Manchukuo in these terms. It minutely searches how various forces led to the making of Manchukuo and how they operated and were transformed. As such, it is a kind of dictionary on Manchukuo.

The translator, Joshua Fogel, points out that Yamamuro is not the first scholar to discuss Manchukuo but does so in an unusually balanced manner. A second strong feature of the work is Yamamuro's broad observations on the state-making process which involved several actors. Yamamuro shows how the Japanese military—in particular, the garrison army, the Kwan-tung Army (which waged war without directives from Tokyo in 1931)—conspired to found Manchukuo, how the army worked to gain Chinese com-plicity, and how Puyi, the emperor of Manchukuo, played along. Yamamuro reveals that the creation of Manchukuo involved the chemistry of several groups: the Kwantung Army, Chinese landlords, lieutenants of the previous warlord regime, and Japanese settlers...

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