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Manzhouguo: The True Story of a Short-lived, Ideal State in Manchuria



The True Story of a Short-lived, Ideal State in Manchuria
By Huang Wenxiong
When the name “Manchuguo” (Manchukuo) is mentioned, three questions
immediately come to mind, and it is these questions that, in part, served as
the inspiration for this book.
First, how does one explain the fact that each year, over a million Chinese
flooded into Manchuguo — a place where the Japanese had perpetrated a
three-all operation(kill all, plunder all, burn all), or a place that the
Japanese colonized and then proceeded to brutally exploit, depending on
which Chinese postwar account one reads?
Second, how did a powerful industrialized state capable of producing
fighter planes suddenly emerge after the establishment of Manchuguo, in a
land beyond the Great Wall and Chinese fortresses, once deemed suitable
only for farming and grazing?
And third, if that state characterized by harmony among five peoples
(Koreans, Manchurians, Mongolians, Chinese and Japanese) had not died
such an early death, how would the present-day nation-states in Asia have
On the other hand, the majority of the Japanese people seem to regard
Manchuguo as one of the three main former colonies of Imperial Japan, the
other two being Taiwan and Korea.
The images of Manchuguo as an “illegitimate state” (a term created by
the Chinese and embraced by some Japanese) or a Japanese puppet state are
postwar ones, and are obvious indications of a masochistic historical
perspective. However, I wish to make it clear, for once and for all, that they
represent inaccurate perceptions of history.
These images distort Manchurian historical fact; they were formed due to
the lack of comprehension of the historical process of building nation-states
at the time of the Great Powers in the modern and contemporary era.
In China, the name “Manchuria” is despised as much as “Shina” (used by
the Japanese to designate China), and indeed has become taboo. Instead, the
Chinese are so Sinocentric as to insist that the Japanese refer to the region
as “the Northeast,” which merely indicates direction. They stubbornly hold to
the notion that together with Mongolia, Manchuria is sacred territory,
indivisible from China, even claiming the ancient Korean kingdom of
Koguryo was a part of Chinese province.
They Chinese refer to the Mukden Incident (1931) as the “September 18
Incident,” making it a symbol of anti-Japanese movements. Every year
September 18 is designated as National Humiliation Day.
Why was China compelled to build the Great Wall in pre-Qin times? This
question alone reveals that the Chinese have fabricated their history. In
actuality, the Chinese have regarded Manchuria, located in the north beyond
the Great Wall, as existing in a different sphere, both geographically and
culturally, from China proper, since ancient times.
The assertion that Manchuria has been Chinese territory for century upon
century was first made by the Chinese government in the 20th century. The
belief that all things under heaven belong to China has been held since the
dawn of Chinese civilization. However, to claim that Manchuria is Chinese
territory is to distort historical fact.
Historical fact indicates not that Manchuria was inexorably linked with
China, but rather that Manchuria and China have ever been two completely
separate worlds on opposite sides of the Great Wall. The two have utterly
dissimilar environments (for instance, totally different vegetation), and have
constantly competed and clashed, culturally and politically. Each of these
two worlds in constant confrontation has been following its course as a
nation, experiencing prosperity at times, and ruin at others. Their stories
are in the annals of North and East Asian history, not Chinese history.
Sun Yatsen once attempted to negotiate the sale of Manchuria with Japan.
But the Republic of China had never controlled Manchuria. After the
Russo-Japanese War, Manchuria was under Russian rule in the north and
Japanese rule in the south. The very fact that Yamagata Aritomo declined
Sun Yatsen’s offer to sell Manchuria eloquently describes the actual situation
of Manchuria at that time.
Early in the 17th century, the Manchus breached the Great Wall,
conquered China, and established the Qing dynasty. Ever since then,
Manchuria was a forbidden land, where Chinese people were not allowed to
settle. The Chinese had long considered Manchuria as a desolate, alien place;
and no one dared to cross the Great Wall to go there. Manchuria’s
inhabitants were Mongols and Tungus, Chinese who ignored the prohibition
and engaged in illegal activities there (farming, mining, poaching and
logging) and Koreans unable to obtain farmland south of the Yalu River. It
was not until the Muslim mutiny at the end of Qing dynasty that Chinese
were allowed to settle in Manchuria. They were followed by Russians from
the north and Japanese from the east.
After the Russo-Japanese War, Manchuria was divided north and south,
and was subject to the influence of the two powers. This vast land equivalent
to the area of Germany and France combined was, interestingly enough,
situated at exactly the same latitude as those two European countries.
Subsequent to the Mukden Incident, a state called Manchuguo was formed
in Manchuria by diverse but harmonious peoples.
The perception of Manchuguo as a colony or a puppet state of Japan
reveals ignorance of the background of the state’s establishment and is a
distortion of history. Without question, the Japanese devoted themselves
wholeheartedly to the tasks of establishing and restoring Manchuguo. The
claim that Manchuguo was born of a Guandong (Kwantung) Army
conspiracy is spurious. After the fall of the Qing dynasty, Manchuria was
ransacked by bandits, and its inhabitants subjected to exorbitantly excessive
taxation by military cliques. What the people in Manchuria longed for was
secure borders and a peaceful life within them. The establishment of a
united state known as Manchuguo must be interpreted in the context of
public concerns and trends of the time.
To view Manchurian history after the Russo-Japanese War as invasion,
massacre, plunder and exploitation on the part of the Japanese Army is to
fabricate history. In the first place, to the Chinese people living south of the
Great Wall, the land beyond the wall was wasteland that harbored
pestilences. Well into the 20th century, the land there had still not been
reclaimed; modern industry was nowhere to be found except in Guandong
(Kwantung) province of (Japan’s leasehold on Liaotung Peninsula), and on
property belonging to the Manchurian Railroad.
During the thirteen-and-a-half-year period following its establishment,
Manchuguo became the center of heavy industry in Northeast Asia, and a
modern nation with the capacity to produce automobiles and aircraft. This
development can only be described as one of the miracles of human history.
One might also refer to it as the crystallization of the technologies the
Japanese had been feverishly cultivating ever since they had emerged from
isolation and launched the Meiji Restoration. They have every right to take
pride in these achievements.
The short life (13½ years) of Manchuguo ended when Imperial Japan fell.
Although the founding ideal, the creation of a utopian state, was never fully
realized, Manchuguo was unquestionably a paradise for the Chinese. It was
both last resort and asylum for the Chinese, desperate after years of unrest
and famine caused by unceasing internecine conflicts. Approximately one
million refugees a year crossed the Great Wall and entered Manchuria.
Why did such a huge number of immigrants pour into Manchuria?
According to the current Chinese viewpoint, wasn’t Manchuria a colony and
a puppet state of Imperial Japan? This is the question that most
embarrasses the Chinese during discussions of modern and contemporary
Manchurian history.
The collapse of Manchuguo after such a short life was a tragedy for the
people of Asia; it was also a tragedy for the people of China. The loss of a
state aspiring to shelter diverse peoples and enabling them to live in
harmonious prosperity meant the loss of the prototype of a burgeoning
multi-ethnic state in postwar Asia. But it was more than that: with the fall of
Manchuguo, the Chinese lost the ability to ask, “What is a modern state?”
That is why, even today, premodern phantoms of the Chinese Empire still
roam the earth of East Asia.
Still, Manchuguo left us a monumental legacy. Mao Zedong once said, “We
can accomplish a socialist revolution as long as we retain the northeastern
region, even if we were to lose all our other bases.” In fact, Manchuria has
accounted for 90% of China’s entire postwar heavy industrial production.
Civil war between the Guomindang (Kuomintang) and the Communists over
the legacy of Manchuguo lasted for three years, finally ending with a
Communist victory. As a result, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) was
established. The legacy of Manchuguo proved to be the mainstay of the PRC.
After the Chinese had drained the legacy, they launched a new policy leaning
toward reform and liberalization.
To me, the image of Manchuguo is not at all a gloomy one. When I was a
little boy in Taiwan, I used to sing “Manchurian Girl” and other Manchurian
songs. Many people in my neighborhood moved to Manchuria. Even to the
residents of Taiwan, the land of eternal summer, Manchuria seemed a utopia.
This flourishing state in northeastern Asia filled us with dreams and hopes.
The first foreign minister of Manchuguo and later ambassador to Japan was
Xie Kai-shek, a native of Xinzhu, Taiwan, who graduated from Meiji
University and later taught the Taiwanese language at Takushoku
University in Tokyo.
Why and how was this nation-state born and why did it die so young?
What contribution did it make to human history? What legacy did it leave?
This book aims to make these historical points clear. Through the publication
of this new edition, I would like to share the true facts of history with as
many readers as possible.