- Remote Homeland, Recovered Borderland: Manchus, Manchoukuo, and Manchuria, 1907–1985 by Shao Dan
At a fateful point in the 1948 trial for treason that resulted in her execution, the Manchu Princess Aisin Gioro Xianyu (also known by her Chinese and Japanese names, Jin Bihui and Yoshiko Kawashima, respectively) queried of her Chinese persecutors, “What is nationality?” This question, and the price that the princess paid for her support of a Japanese-backed, nominally Manchu state, lies at the heart of Dan Shao’s important new study of Manchu (and Manzu) identities. After the Qing rulers lost sovereignty over their empire in 1912, new understandings of what being a member of the emergent Chinese nation meant issued forth from various regimes: warlords, the Republic, the Japanese, and, ultimately, the People’s Republic, which treated the [End Page 1013] once “remote homeland” of the Qing as a “recovered borderland” of China. The ramifications of “the deterritorialization of the Manchus’ homeland” and “the conceptualization of the Chinese nation” for the Manchus and their descendents are enumerated in this study (p. 286).
Shao works with an impressive array of Chinese, English, Japanese, and Manchu sources, focusing on the period from 1907 in the late Qing, as the provincialization of Manchuria began amid a growing Japanese presence, to 1985, when the first Manchu autonomous county was established in the People’s Republic of China. This covers a period in which the Manchus were transformed from privileged, though largely impoverished, masters of the Great Qing to hunted aliens whose suffering ranged from neglect or hatred to murder in bloody massacres. As the Qing faded in historical memory and with it the banner system that once held it together, Manchus were perceived to be less of a threat to Chinese patriots, who turned their attention to the Communist or Nationalist Party, or the Japanese. Manchus came to be forgotten or ignored, which eventuated in their revival and resurgence, to a current population of over ten million. Shao raises a particularly pertinent question—how is it that the Manchus (or the Manzu), one of the largest so-called “national minorities” in China, until the 1980s failed to achieve the autonomous status granted to other groups such as the Tibetans or Uyghurs, and even then were granted autonomy only at the county level? Their treatment suggests the problematic status of the region in the modern Chinese nation-state, as Shao ably demonstrates.
The Northeast of China, or Manchuria as it was called in the early twentieth century, had a special status in the Qing as the homeland of the rulers. Yet it was also used as a place of exile—a difficult place to live, beyond the Great Wall and outside of what might generally have been thought of as “China proper.” Shao recounts how revolutionary Zhang Binglin viewed the Manchus as more foreign than the Japanese, and even the “Father of the Republic,” Sun Yatsen, planned in the early twentieth century to lease the region to Japan. This unsettled relationship between China and Manchuria (or the Northeast) still lives on in politically charged decisions regarding how to name the region and its peoples. And it is still curiously common for studies of China to ignore them altogether.
Reasons for the troubled status are, as underlined by Shao, the historic separateness of the region, especially during the Qing dynasty, warlord independence, and the long-term Japanese presence, which was partly justified by supporters as a measure to guard against Anglo-American and Russian/Soviet imperialism but which both Communist [End Page 1014] and Nationalist regimes dismissed as national humiliation. All of these factors contributed to constructions and meanings—and the politicization—of Manchuness. Shao points to an important mid twentieth-century contradiction: despite Manchu identities often being invoked as essential to the Japanese establishment of Manchoukuo (Country of the Manchus), institutions to support or enhance those identities were not forthcoming; primary education, for example, was offered far more widely in Chinese, Japanese, Mongol, or Russian than in Manchu. Despite the...