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  • Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism
  • Yoichi Nakano
Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. By Louise Young (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998) 487 pp. $45.00

English works about Japan’s imperial project in northeastern China during the 1930s and 1940s, which is known as “manchukuo,” have focused narrowly on economic and strategic aspects of Japan’s puppet state. Young’s Japan’s Total Empire offers a highly comprehensive and yet stimulating look at Japan’s multidimensional imperial project in Manchuria. Young effectively incorporates political, social, economic, and cultural dimensions of Japan’s development of “Manchukuo” into her lucid account.

The broad theoretical thrust of this work is to elucidate complex relations between modernity and empire building by examining ways in which Japan’s empire building in Manchuria “dialectically” interacted with its modern state and society at home. Young demonstrates how Japan’s imperial project in Manchuria and mobilization at home for the imperial project stimulated, and often transformed its various domestic modern institutions. Young discusses six such modern transformations: first, how the establishment of “Manchukuo” altered and expanded the role of increasingly commercialized and nationalizing mass culture in politics; second, how mobilization of various social groups at home for the empire building in Manchuria transformed the relationship between Japanese state and society; third, how the empire building in Manchuria produced close, yet tenuous, alliances between state and private economic interests both in Manchuria and at home; fourth, how the empire building offered a wide range of career opportunities for displaced Japanese Marxist and liberal intelligentsia in the Manchurian hinterland, where they were able to further their utopian social ideals and visions during the 1930s; fifth, how Japan’s empire in Manchuria after 1931 became a laboratory for experimenting with state capitalism and developmentalism, which subsequently left their imprints on Japan’s domestic economic structures; and last, how the process of empire building, particularly its emigration and colonization project, stimulated the expansion of state apparatus.

As its title suggests, Young’s work points to the “total” nature of modern empire building, and, in this regard, Young has made a considerable contribution to the comparative study of modern imperialism. [End Page 171] Her study of Japan’s total empire is likely to provide various comparative insights for students of modern European imperialism. Young argues that Japan’s empire in Manchuria was “total” because of its intense relationship with the metropolis and extensive mobilization of various social forces at home: “Like total war, total empire was made on the home front. It entailed the mass and multidimensional mobilization of domestic society: cultural, military, political, and economic” (13). Young suggests, however, that the inclusive and all-encompassing nature of Japan’s total imperialism in the 1930s and 1940s entailed inherent contradictions. Japan’s empire building in the Manchurian hinterland produced odd alliances among military officers, bureaucrats, capitalists, and left-wing intellectuals. Although unified under the utopian ideal of total imperialism, each group envisioned different versions of a total empire. These contradictory forces always held the process of empire building in a precarious balance.

The book might disappoint those who expect a purely cultural analysis of the culture of imperialism, even though chapters 3 and 4 offer a rich analysis of Japan’s imperial mass culture and government propaganda. Young’s approach is, rightly, comprehensive and eclectic, since her aim is a “total theory of imperialism” (10). Young might also disappoint those who seek a more interior look at “Manchukuo” itself and inklings about what “Manchukuo” meant for Chinese, Manchurian, and Korean others. By her own admission, she is more interested in the story of “Manchukuo” in Japan than “Manchukuo” in Manchuria. Nevertheless, this is a beautifully crafted and thoroughly researched account of modern Japanese imperialism. Young has made significant contributions not only to the study of Japanese imperialism but also to the comparative study of modern imperialism.

Yoichi Nakano
University of British Columbia

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pp. 171-172
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