The best books about Manchuria

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Manchuria and why they recommend each book.

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Intoxicating Manchuria

By Norman Smith,

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

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.

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!

Japan's Total Empire

By Louise Young,

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

When people ask for book recommendations on Japan’s empire, Louise Young's Japan’s Total Empire usually tops my list. Young focuses on the empire in Manchuria from 1931 to 1945, and highlights Manchuria as more than a Japanese military conquest—it was also a vast cultural project that mobilized the nation behind state intervention at home and imperial expansion abroad. To tell this story, Young focuses on much more than the army and civilian bureaucracy—she also shows how an ideal Manchukuo was imagined by multiple actors, from the mass media and business groups to intellectuals, settlers, and grassroots associations. Empire in Manchuria mobilized the Japanese state and society to an unprecedented degree, and transformed it in enduring and irrevocable ways.  


Who am I?

Jeremy A. Yellen is a historian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research focuses on modern Japan’s international, diplomatic, and political history. He maintains a strong interest in the history of international relations and international order.


I wrote...

The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: When Total Empire Met Total War

By Jeremy A. Yellen,

Book cover of The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: When Total Empire Met Total War

What is my book about?

My book traces the rise and fall of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan’s empire during World War II, and its vision for a new order in Asia. It tells two connected stories: one of Japanese high policy and the other of its reception in wartime Philippines and Burma. I show that Japan never had any well-defined plan for the Co-Prosperity Sphere. Far from it, ideas were hazy and vague, and Japanese elites remained unable to decide on how to reorder Asia until it was too late to implement effectively.

At the same time, I focus on “patriotic collaborators” in Burma and the Philippines and show how they exploited the political changes to jockey for agency and a say in the future of the region. 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

By Haruki Murakami,

Book cover of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

A deeply engrossing story, where characters are transported back into time from contemporary Japan to zoos in Manchuria on the eve of Japan’s 1945 defeat. Although the narrative is disjointed, its characters are haunting, and the work is unforgettable. A mesmerizing tale by the greatest living novelist of Japan today.


Who am I?

I have been fascinated with history in general, and the history of Japan, since I was in junior high when I read a book on the samurai. After attending summer school at Harvard in 1985, I resolved to devote myself to the study of Japan. Since then, I have studied at Michigan, Stanford, and Kyoto before teaching Japanese history at first Bowdoin College and now, Princeton University. Although I primarily research Japanese history, I find scholarship pertaining to medieval and early modern Europe to be fascinating as well. 


I wrote...

Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD

By Thomas D. Conlan,

Book cover of Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD

What is my book about?

This volume provides an overview of Japanese battles, weapons, and fighting techniques and reveals that much of what we had assumed to be true of the samurai has been misremembered or misunderstood. Covering centuries, and exploring the significance of bows, swords, guns, and cannons, this book should be of interest to scholars, students, and those curious about the samurai.

The Making of Japanese Manchuria, 1904-1932

By Yoshihisa Tak Matsusaka,

Book cover of The Making of Japanese Manchuria, 1904-1932

This skillful history links politics, economics, and military concerns to the development of Japan’s empire in Manchuria. Beginning with the end of the Russo-Japanese War and concluding with the takeover of Manchuria from 1931, Yoshihisa Tak Matsusaka shows how Manchuria remained a looming presence within Japanese political life. More strikingly, he argues against the idea that Japanese imperialism in the 1930s represented a radical break from the past. Far from it, he shows the construction of Manchukuo and Japanese foreign policy “as the denouement of an older story as much as the beginning of a new.”  


Who am I?

Jeremy A. Yellen is a historian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research focuses on modern Japan’s international, diplomatic, and political history. He maintains a strong interest in the history of international relations and international order.


I wrote...

The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: When Total Empire Met Total War

By Jeremy A. Yellen,

Book cover of The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: When Total Empire Met Total War

What is my book about?

My book traces the rise and fall of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan’s empire during World War II, and its vision for a new order in Asia. It tells two connected stories: one of Japanese high policy and the other of its reception in wartime Philippines and Burma. I show that Japan never had any well-defined plan for the Co-Prosperity Sphere. Far from it, ideas were hazy and vague, and Japanese elites remained unable to decide on how to reorder Asia until it was too late to implement effectively.

At the same time, I focus on “patriotic collaborators” in Burma and the Philippines and show how they exploited the political changes to jockey for agency and a say in the future of the region. 

Sovereignty and Authenticity

By Prasenjit Duara,

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

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.

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!

Japan at War 1931-45

By David McCormack,

Book cover of Japan at War 1931-45: As the Cherry Blossom Falls

This book follows the course of the Empire of the Sun's ultimately unequal struggle against the great Allied powers. It provides the reader with piercing strategic and political insights which may debunk many of the enduring myths which encompass Japan's apocalyptic drive for hegemony in South East Asia. Why did Japan invade China? Was war with America and the British Empire inevitable? Why was the Japanese mobile fleet defeated so decisively at Midway. Why did the Japanese continue fighting with defeat was inevitable? Was its Emperor merely a puppet of the militarists? Why did the Japanese people acquiesce in the occupation of their homeland? 

This book tells the story.


Who am I?

My father was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore on the 15th of February 1942. He spent three and a half years slaving on the Thai Burma railway. During my early years growing up, my father rarely talked about his experiences, and it wasn't until after he died in 1990 that I became interested in what he went through as a prisoner of war. Since then, I've spent my time researching the Japanese prisoner of war experiences and have read countless books on the subject. I myself have published four books and I consider myself one of the leading experts on the Japanese prisoner of war experience.


I wrote...

Frank Pantridge MC: Japanese Prisoner of War and Inventor of the Portable Defibrillator

By Cecil Lowry,

Book cover of Frank Pantridge MC: Japanese Prisoner of War and Inventor of the Portable Defibrillator

What is my book about?

This book tells the life story of Doctor Frank Pantridge, the inventor of the portable defibrillator. When Pantridge returned from the war he began to specialise in diseases of the heart and particularly heart fibrillation. He reasoned that if a person had a heart attack, ventricular defibrillation should be applied where it occurred as many people were dying before reaching the hospital.

He produced the world's first portable defibrillator in Belfast in 1965, initially operating from a specially equipped ambulance. American President Lyndon B Johnston's life was saved by a Pantridge defibrillator in 1972 when he had a heart attack. This biography tells the story of a man whose invention has saved countless lives over the last half-century.

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