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In the Japanese colonial state of Manchukuo (1932–45) a critical Chinese-language literature emerged to shine a light on the failure of colonial authorities to actualize the socio-political ideology through which they sought to legitimize their rule. This article analyzes Dan Di's literary legacy to problematize received interpretations of Japanese rule in Manchukuo. Dan was partly educated in Manchukuo and in Japan, and used the educational and career opportunities offered her to establish a career as a cultural critic. Under Japanese colonial auspices, she aspired to realize her potential as a Chinese new woman writer, determined to act as a spokesperson for the underprivileged. Ironically, the critical nature of her writings fueled the anti-Manchukuo narratives that led to her own downfall, as any success in such an oppressive context was deemed suspect. Dan Di's career underscores the vital endurance of Chinese May Fourth-inspired ideals of the new woman in a Japanese colonial context.