The best books on Manchukuo (Manchuria)

Who am I?

I began formally researching Japanese occupied northeast China in the late nineties in graduate school at Harvard University. Manchuria always fascinated me as a confluence of cultures: even prior to the 19th century, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Russians, Eastern Europeans, Mongols, and indigenous peoples circulated within the region in China's periphery. In the 1930s until 1945, Japanese propaganda portrayed the area as a "utopia" under Confucian principles, but in the mid-1990s, the horrors of the occupation for colonized peoples as well as imperial Japan's biological weapons experimentation during the Asia-Pacific War came to light in Japan and elsewhere as former Japanese settlers as well as researchers began to tell their stories.


I wrote...

Glorify the Empire: Japanese Avant-Garde Propaganda in Manchukuo

By Annika A. Culver,

Book cover of Glorify the Empire: Japanese Avant-Garde Propaganda in Manchukuo

What is my book about?

I investigate what drew formerly leftist Japanese intellectuals to Manchukuo and led them to produce literature, art, and photography there that served as "unofficial" propaganda in a state-organized around rightwing socialist political ideals.   When I began this project, I was fascinated by the idea of how someone could so readily switch their political orientation in a different context or setting.  What I discovered is that, instead of a complete breakage with earlier political ideologies, these intellectuals in the Manchukuo context still perceived a certain continuity with what they had believed in the past.  Their work both celebrating and criticizing reflections of a fascist state is absolutely fascinating!

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Intoxicating Manchuria: Alcohol, Opium, and Culture in China's Northeast

Annika A. Culver Why did I love this book?

This excellent book illuminates the culture of intoxicants in northeast China under Japanese occupation. Smith examines Chinese literature, advertisements, and popular culture to show how liquor and opium were depicted in contemporaneous mass media and impacted local urban communities. He also investigates how popular conceptions of "health" tied in with programs initiated by the Japanese authorities to control local populations, while advertisers of patent medicines, cordials, and tonics also picked up on these themes. Some of the highlights of Intoxicating Manchuria include masterfully vivid descriptions and illustrations of cartoons revealing the uneasy relationship between law enforcement, retailers, public health practitioners, and corporations.

By Norman Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Intoxicating Manchuria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Intoxicating Manchuria reveals how the powerful alcohol and opium industries in Northeast China were altered by warlord rule, Japanese occupation, political conflict, and a vigorous anti-intoxicant movement. Through the lens of the Chinese media's depictions of alcohol and opium, Norman Smith examines how intoxicants and addiction were understood in this society, the role the Japanese occupation of Manchuria played in the portrayal of intoxicants, and the efforts made to reduce opium and alcohol consumption. This is the first English-language book-length study to focus on alcohol use in modern China and the first dealing with intoxicant restrictions in the region.


Book cover of Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism

Annika A. Culver Why did I love this book?

Young's now-classic book delves into the birth of Manchukuo during a precarious time for imperial Japan. Her excellent use of statistics from Japanese colonial sources illuminates Japanese settlement in the new state, and also reveals much of the ideology behind the Japanese colonists who developed and settled an area that served as a reservoir for individuals and corporations to realize their utopian dreams.

By Louise Young,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Japan's Total Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this first social and cultural history of Japan's construction of Manchuria, Louise Young offers an incisive examination of the nature of Japanese imperialism. Focusing on the domestic impact of Japan's activities in Northeast China between 1931 and 1945, Young considers "metropolitan effects" of empire building: how people at home imagined and experienced the empire they called Manchukuo. Contrary to the conventional assumption that a few army officers and bureaucrats were responsible for Japan's overseas expansion, Young finds that a variety of organizations helped to mobilize popular support for Manchukuo--the mass media, the academy, chambers of commerce, women's organizations, youth…


Book cover of Sovereignty and Authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian Modern

Annika A. Culver Why did I love this book?

One of the first scholars to write a full-length monograph on Manchukuo, Duara delves into the Chinese and Japanese writers who viewed northeast China under Japanese occupation as a means to envision their own Pan-Asianist ideals. He analyses this in the context of a broader "East Asian modern" in Manchukuo, and utilizes political and literary sources to unearth previous connections with previous iterations and currents of Chinese nationalism tied to the Pan-Asianism of the early twentieth century.

By Prasenjit Duara,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sovereignty and Authenticity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this powerful and provocative book, Prasenjit Duara uses the case of Manchukuo, the Japanese puppet state in northeast China from 1932-1945, to explore how such antinomies as imperialism and nationalism, modernity and tradition, and governmentality and exploitation interacted in the post-World War I period. His study of Manchukuo, which had a population of 40 million and was three times the area of Japan, catalyzes a broader understanding of new global trends that characterized much of the twentieth century. Asking why Manchukuo so desperately sought to appear sovereign, Duara examines the cultural and political resources it mobilized to make claims…


Book cover of Manchukuo Perspectives: Transnational Approaches to Literary Production

Annika A. Culver Why did I love this book?

In this edited volume with contributions from scholars from China, Japan, Korea, and North America, we investigate the intellectual climate of Manchukuo and interrogate how writers found both opportunity and peril in this new state under Japanese control. This study approaches Manchukuo literature from a transnational perspective, and most importantly, not all of the scholars in our collection agree with each other! We contest the "collaboration-resistance" binary that had been so persistent in much scholarship related to China under Japanese occupation by illuminating the complex choices made by cultural producers during their careers. One of our chapters features an essay by one of Manchukuo's last living writers.

By Annika A. Culver (editor), Norman Smith (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Manchukuo Perspectives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This groundbreaking volume critically examines how writers in Japanese-occupied northeast China negotiated political and artistic freedom while engaging their craft amidst an increasing atmosphere of violent conflict and foreign control. The allegedly multiethnic utopian new state of Manchukuo (1932–1945) created by supporters of imperial Japan was intended to corral the creative energies of Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Russians, and Mongols. Yet, the twin poles of utopian promise and resistance to a contested state pulled these intellectuals into competing loyalties, selective engagement, or even exile and death―surpassing neat paradigms of collaboration or resistance. In a semicolony wrapped in the utopian vision of…


Book cover of Heaven and Hell: A Novel of a Manchukuo Childhood

Annika A. Culver Why did I love this book?

In tandem with the "Manshû bûmu" [Manchuria Boom] in Japan from the late nineties until early aughts, numerous memoirs have appeared on the market by former Japanese settlers of Manchukuo. One of the more chilling and nuanced accounts is that of Takarabe Toriko, a celebrated Japanese poet, who was a child and preteen during the 1930s and 1940s in a family where her father served as a Kantô Army officer near Jiamusi in Japanese-occupied northeast China. She herself experienced and witnessed life under Japanese occupation, as well as the brutal revenge exacted upon Japan's overlords after defeat, where both Chinese and Russians wreaked violence upon their oppressors as the Japanese attempted to flee. As a young girl, Takarabe recounts personal memories of a horror that, ironically, had been experienced by the colonized only a short time before. This engaging memoir expertly translated by Phyllis Birnbaum is both fascinating and a compelling read, as Takarabe crafts a narrative from a child's viewpoint spun out of memories that still haunt with their contemporary resonance.

By Toriko Takarabe, Phyllis Birnbaum (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heaven and Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Takarabe Toriko's autobiographical novel Heaven and Hell is a beautiful, chilling account of her childhood in Manchukuo, the puppet state established by the Japanese in northeast China in 1932. As seen through the eyes of a precocious young girl named Masuko, the frontier town of Jiamusi and its inhabitants are by turns enchanting, bemusing, and horrifying. Takarabe skillfully captures Masuko's voice with language that savors Manchukuo's lush forests and vast terrain, but violence and murder are ever present, as much a part of the scenery as the grand Sungari River.

Masuko recounts the "Heaven" of her early life in Jiamusi,…


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